What is the Benefit of Greek & Hebrew?

Some say reading in Greek and Hebrew versus reading in English is like the difference between watching a show in color versus black and white. Others might say something like 2D versus 3D. I don’t think these metaphors are the best ways to describe the experience. Reading in Greek and Hebrew slows me down and helps me rummage around in the text and reflect. For me, that’s the core idea. It gives me something to do.

I’m asking and answering this question as someone who initially learned the languages to read and teach Scripture. I’m going to write more about other benefits and things that flow from this rummaging and slow down, but in this post I just want to lay the foundation. How many times have you sat down to prepare to teach or preach and you read your passage and think, “Ok, now what?” If you are reading in the original languages you have so many different resources and tools to explore, and I’m thinking primarily about lexicons and concordances. If you don’t regularly read and work with the original languages, all you can do is skim the surface of an entry in BDAG or HALOT. Exploring contemporary literature, figures of speech, the metaphors used in your passage, looking at a words full range of meaning and determining which meaning is relevant for your passage — these are things you can actually engage in yourself if you can read the language.

But in my opinion, those things are not the primary benefit of the original language slow down. The real benefit comes in your day-to-day reading. It’s about stripping away the familiarity of your natural language and lingering over the original words. Especially for the first few years of reading, you have to decipher every word and phrase, and the fog never really lifts. Sure, after a few years, you may be able to read one or two or four chapters in an hour, but it’s still not English. You’re moving slower, and when I do this, I find that I make connections with other portions of scripture that I wouldn’t make otherwise. With certain phrases come flashes of other stories or scenes, and my imagination takes off. This sort of reading isn’t about exegesis. It’s about rummaging. It’s about trying to step through the wardrobe into the real world of God’s presence.

Reading the GNT Online

As classes were wrapping up and I was encouraging students to read Greek over the summer, I found myself wishing I had written something on the best way to read the Greek New Testament online for free.

The best way to do this is with James Tauber’s MorphGNT or the Bible Web App. As for lexicons, the online LSJ or Logeion app or website are superb.

MorphGNT

The MorphGNT site is beautifully simple.

Click the book, click the chapter, and if you want to check a parsing, either hover over the word (laptop) or click the word (mobile). James tells me that he has much more in store for the site, including an entirely new reading environment. The current site is nice so I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve.

Bible Web App

I just discovered the Bible Web App. Its appearance is similar to MorphGNT — super stripped down and clean. One added benefit of this site is that you can click on a word and get basic lexical help. One shortcoming: the words are not fully tagged. As you can see below, all you get for ψηλαφάω is “verb.”

The tagging for nouns and adjectives is better. For ἀρχῆς in 1 John 1:1 you get “noun: genitive, singular, feminine.” For some words the popup feature takes a while to load or never does. I clicked ἥτις in 1 John 1:2, waited a full minute, and it never loaded.

If you click on a word and select Find all occurrences, Bible Web App will open a parallel tab and display every form of the word in the GNT. This is impressive.

By clicking the three grey bars at the top left of the site you can select Settings and adjust the font size, background, and more. Again, wow. I don’t know how I am just discovering this site. You can do more here besides read Greek so do click around.

The text used by MorphGNT and the one I link to on Bible Web App is the open access SBL Greek New Testament edited by Michael Holmes. You can learn more about it here. It’s so nice to have a recently edited, open access Greek New Testament.

Online LSJ

The lexical helps provided by the Bible Web App will supply basic definitions of words you have yet to encounter, but for the idioms and less frequent meanings, you will need something more. The MorphGNT website does not yet provide definitions of any kind.

You can, however, open the online LSJ in a separate tab or in split view and easily look type in whatever word you want to look up. As you type, a drop down appears, allowing you to select the exact form.

Logeion

The Logeion website works the same way. It provides the full entries from LSJ, “Middle Liddell,” and more. Middle Liddell is a concise version of an older edition of LSJ, but it is still widely used as a reading lexicon.

If you have an iPad, the Logeion app is a must have. It is free and glorious. It can be used offline and works well in split view, too.

There are plenty other options for reading the GNT online, but these are the ones I’ve tried and recommend.

Last Day of Greek 3, Year 4

We finished Greek 3 this year by reading Revelation 21. Last year we read Acts 27, which was fitting because some would call it the most difficult Greek in the New Testament. Revelation 21 was nice, however, because the vocab is more familiar. It’s a beautiful picture of the “last day” on the last day of class.

Revelation 21

Several aspects of Revelation 21 reminded me of passages from the beginning of the book.

  • There is another appearance of τὸ ἄλφα καὶ τὸ ὤ, the Alpha and the Omega (Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).
  • The description of Jerusalem in chapter 21 reminds me of the description of Jesus in chapter 1. Both are bright and shining and full of glory, and both are characterized by precious metals and stones.
  • Jesus is associated with living or rushing water in both chapters. In chapter 1, it’s his voice that sounds like rushing water (ὑδάτων πολλῶν), and in chapter 21, he says he will freely give living water to those who thirst (21:6).
  • John is ἐν πνεύματι in Rev 1:10, 4:2, 17:3, 21:10.
  • The apostles are mentioned (Rev 2:2; 18:20; 21:14).
  • Several precious stones and metals are mentioned in the first few chapters and are a significant portion of chapter 21 — for example, ἴασπις and σάρδιον (Rev 4:3; 21:11).

Thoughts After Four Years

This class is a highlight of every week, but I’m not sure I’ve figure out the best way to do it. It is an elective that meets only once a week for 45 minutes to an hour. This hour is likely the only time throughout the week that students look at Greek. To me this is understandable in light of how much math and Latin homework they have. I’ve tried giving quizzes every week, but this makes shorter the already short hour we have to read. I also don’t think the quizzes helped very much.

My plan this year has been to improve the 9th grade Greek 3 class by requiring more of the 7th-8th grade Greek 1 and 2 classes. If I can help them to better internalize the basics, the hope is that they will will enter 9th grade better able to read and parse, even after the three month knowledge leak called summer.

I spent the last five minutes of the Greek 2 classes encouraging the students to purchase a reader’s Bible as soon as possible. If they read a couple verses a day over the summer, I think they will retain most of what they learned over the past two years. It would be nice if we required Greek 2 students to purchase a reader’s Bible at the beginning of the year. There are good online resources, but they are far less likely to use those than a physical book.

Another year in the books. I’m looking forward to next year, but I think we are all tired and ready for a break.

From Framing Houses to Framing Discourse

An Ιnterview with Steve Runge

discourse grammar

Last month, Steve Runge taught a class at SBTS on his Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. While he was in town, he shared with us a bit of his story — a story I thought you would enjoy, too.

BWDSteve, thank you so much for making the trek to Louisville and sharing your research with us. We have thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to discuss with you your Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. You also shared with us a bit of your own personal story, and that is what I would like to ask you a few questions about here.

Before you began your journey into the world of academic biblical studies, you owned your own construction company. Is this correct?

Steve Runge (SR): Yes, I ran Academic Construction as a front to fund my two grad degrees. I worked roughly 8-9 months of the year, spending the balance of my time writing and researching. I mainly subcontracted the framing of single-family houses, occasionally venturing into siding and decks when things got slow. My BA in Speech Communication never resulted in gainful employment, so I spent 18 years doing full time what I had intended would just be my part-time summer gig for HS and college.

BWD: How does one go from framing houses to studying cognitive linguistics and writing Greek grammars? What drew you to pursue a PhD?

SR: In my view it was the only logical career switch, though some have had trouble accepting this. The skills needed for each have a fair amount of overlap. After coming to faith my freshman year in college, I decided that I would try to get some Bible training if opportunity allowed. I was very involved in middle school ministry at my church when I graduated, so I decided to try seminary part-time a few years later. I doubted that I was smart enough to survive, so I decided to stay local and commute to Trinity Western Seminary about 35 minutes away in British Columbia. Based on my academic track record, I decided it would be better to fail quietly, locally, rather than to move somewhere and potentially fail more spectacularly. I wasn’t going to win any scholarships, I really had no idea what I was after other than wanting to be a skilled lay-teacher in our church. I took a job driving deliveries for a local lumber yard, working 3-10 hour days and every other Saturday. That gave me two days for classes, and at 6-9 semester credits, I could pay for it as I went. I moved back to building after completing my coursework.

After a few semesters of study, the demise of Biblical languages really began to weigh on me — what Hybels calls a “holy discontent.” I saw guys who wanted to be teaching pastors have to drop out of the MDiv because they couldn’t memorize. I saw others take the MRE (Masters in Religious Education) because they saw no practical ministry value in learning Greek or Hebrew. This was affirmed by the youth pastor who mentored me. He suggested I take something really useful like counseling. My wife and I spent 2 months in rural Ethiopia the summer of 1993, which only sharpened my discontent. I saw speakers of Amharic, a Semitic language, floundering learning Hebrew because it was taught via translation-English. They were using hand-me-down textbooks and learning our Western theological baggage, which had little to no relevance to their context. What was needed, in my view, was learning original languages so they could develop exegetically-relevant materials directly from Greek and Hebrew, without passing through English or the West. However, those teaching the languages specialized in Missiology or Church Planting, not Greek or Hebrew.

I came back from that summer determined to find some way of reinvigorating interest in the languages. Whatever the solution was, it had to demonstrate the practical payoff for ministry or no one would bother with it. Schools would just continue to cut back the credits required, pastors would continue telling new students it was just a hazing ritual, and national pastors would keep learning English to learn Greek or Hebrew.

Eventually, I found a topic and a doctoral advising team that would provide the theoretical framework needed to develop practical solutions, or at least baby steps in that direction.

BWD: When and how did Logos Bible Software enter the story?

SR: I have lived in Bellingham since moving there for undergrad in 1985. Logos moved there from nearby Oak Harbor in 2002. We had some initial discussions early on, but all I had to offer was some arm-waving about some ideas, nothing concrete and no terminal degree.  By September of 2006, I had nearly completed my dissertation, nearly died of a heart attack, and pretty well prototyped a database approach which marked up discourse features in the Hebrew text. They offered me a two-year gig to turn my idea into a product, which resulted in the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament, which shipped in June, 2008. Next, after much begging and negotiation, came the Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, written between Memorial and Labor Days of 2008.  It was first published by Logos in 2009, then in print by Hendrickson in 2010. Both of these projects were proof-of-concept for a larger suite of materials I envisioned while framing houses.

BWD: How often do you teach classes like the one you just finished here at SBTS? Is this something you would like to continue to do?

SR: I get a couple weeks a year to do something that fills my tank and gives me ideas for new projects. Teaching is the best route I’ve found for this. Part of the reason I’m at Logos is that it’s the best fit to tackle the issues raised by the decline of biblical languages. Another reason is that no school ever expressed interest in me, save one interview. So teaching intensive courses has really been my only choice, but this requires an invitation. Sam Lamerson gave me my big break in 2009 at Knox Seminary, then Dallas Seminary in 2012. I’ve also had the pleasure of leading workshops in the UK in conjunction with ISBL meetings in 2011 and 2013. I hope to continue doing this as there is opportunity like Southern offered this year. Mainly, I am interested in partnering with schools interested in adopting discourse grammar into their coursework.

BWD: You make a distinction between discourse grammar and discourse analysis. What is the difference?

There is an interesting difference we see in the application of linguistics to Greek versus Hebrew. In NT studies most of what we have seen has been focused on analyzing books, i.e. discourse analysis. That’s the sexy area everyone wants to get in on.  Not so in Hebrew bible; there, folks have mainly focused on describing features of discourse, ostensibly based on the idea that we need to understand the basic building blocks before we move on to do higher level syntheses of these features at the book level. Longacre’s Joseph is the main exception. I’m a carpenter, and there is a process to building a house. If you learn how to build a wall or frame a floor then you can work on adapting those basic skills to create what the architect has drawn. The better you get at the fundamental building blocks, the better able you’ll be to handle the complexity of real life applications.

The same holds true for language. I’d say it’s only been in the last two years that I’ve felt like I had a decent enough grasp of the fundamentals of discourse grammar to be ready to move on to analysis of books. I have published a commentary on Philippians for lay folks which is essentially my conclusions drawn from a discourse analysis of the Greek text. A handbook tracing my exegesis will be out by summer. A similar commentary on Romans is in press with a handbook following later this year.

I have always been interested in doing discourse analysis, but my inner carpenter has cautioned me to be patient. I have learned it is easier to build things correctly than to rush ahead only to tear it apart later. I got the nickname “rip-n-tear Runge” because of how good I got at disassembling things. Initially it was my own mistakes I tore apart, later it was the work of others who hadn’t invested enough time in their apprenticeship mastering the fundamentals. This is why I constantly stress the importance of a sound theoretical framework and a mastery of basic discourse features. I want to understand how and why things work the way they do.

BWD: Rip-n-tear Runge! That is fantastic. One more question for you, Steve. What is the master plan? Is there any hope that we will see a discourse grammar of the Hebrew Bible?

lexham-discourse-hebrew-bible-bundle

SR: I have a vision and some hopes, but not really a complete plan. The only plan I have is to equip folks who are smarter and younger than me with what I have learned, cast a vision for the potential payoff, and get out of their way. When I’ve done this I feel like I end up benefiting more than the other person. These folks provide the challenge and support to keep growing and learning from what they are doing. One of those folks is Josh Westbury, my colleague at Logos. He is nearing completion of his PhD in biblical languages with my mentor Christo Van der Merwe. He will head up the Hebrew side of Logos discourse projects going forward, including a Hebrew discourse grammar along the lines of the Greek volume. We have finished marking the discourse features for Genesis-Jeremiah; Ezekiel and the Twelve should ship by Easter. The initial version of the database should be completed this summer. The plan is for Josh to work on the discourse handbooks for the Hebrew bible. If interest in these projects continues to grow, I’d like to see analyses of the DSS, LXX and AF along with at least some handbooks before I die.

There is much to do, and we are working on creative ways to get more folks involved, like the discourse internships we are offering this summer at Logos. Presently there aren’t many options for pursuing a cognitive-functional approach to Greek within NT studies, but hopefully that will change. I’ve also had the privilege of informally advising some folks in their doctoral studies, helping them learn the fundamentals. I have tried to help them in the same way others have helped me, through directing their reading and discussing it on Skype or at conferences. Had it not been for folks like Christo, Stephen Levinsohn and Randall Buth investing in me, none of what I am doing would have been possible.

BWD: Glad to hear that you guys are almost finished with the Discourse Hebrew Bible, and I’m very excited to hear that you hope to do something similar with the DSS!

Steve, it has been such a pleasure to have you spend some time with us in Louisville. I really hope you will be able to return and teach this class again. The campus has been a buzz with conversation and excitement over it. Thank you for taking the time to share a bit more of your story with us.

Steve and Josh have bio pages at Logos where you can find more information about the projects they are working on. Steve blogs at New Testament Discourse, where you can learn more about the internships in Greek discourse grammar Logos is offering this summer.

Two English Idioms with NT Precedent

There he was, lying on the side of the road half-dead. “No need to get all up in the air about it,” said everyone except the Samaritan.

Both the italicized expressions are used in Luke–the first in the story of the good Samaritan, the second in Jesus’s teaching concerning anxiety.

The thugs in the parable of the good Samaritan leave the victim ἡμιθανῆ (Luke 10:30; lexical form: ἡμιθανής). The prefix ἡμι– denotes “half” (cf. ἥμισυς, noun, “half”); –θανής is related to the common word θνῄσκω, “to die.” We generally use the expression “half-dead” hyperbolically, meaning “really tired,” but once could use the expression to say “severely injured,” as it’s used in Luke.

In Luke’s version of Jesus’s “don’t worry” sayings (Luke 12:22-31 // Matthew 6:25-33), Jesus says μὴ μετεωρίζεσθε. The verb μετεωρίζομαι means “to be lifted up, elevated” (BDAG), but in this context it means, metaphorically, “to be anxious, worried.”  Bauer notes, “compare our ‘be up in the air’ about something.”

Luke 1:45 as Narrative Voice-Over

Are they the words of Elisabeth or the narrator?

Blessed is the one who believed that there will be a fulfillment to that which was spoken to her by the Lord!

There are several reasons to understand the speaker here as Elisabeth. But if you know the rest of the story, it is not difficult to hear an exhortation from the narrator to the reader. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

The way this verse is worded might make it difficult for some men to hear it as an exhortation. The blessing is for the one who believes what the Lord has spoke to her (αυτη). In this part of the story, however, Mary’s response to the angel’s good news stands in contrast to Zechariah’s (Luke 1:18-20). Zechariah gets smitten; Mary gets the stage to perform the Magnificat.

Sure, these are Elisabeth’s words to Mary, but Mary is being held up as an example. Blessed is the one who, like Mary, believes what the Lord has spoken. The Old Testament promised an eternal kingdom for a Davidic king. Luke’s Gospel promises that Jesus of Nazareth is this king (Luke 1:26-33). After hearing the end of his story, Luke intends for the reader’s heart to burn with confidence that this is true and is hope giving (Luke 24:30-35). Luke 1:45 hangs over the Gospel and directs the reader as to how she, or he, should respond.

Morphologically Tagged SBLGNT Online

This just came across my Twitter feed and is worth your attention:

Thanks to James Tauber and the MorphGNT project (as well as Logos and Michael Holmes), the SBL Greek New Testament is now online and morphologically tagged. As James mentioned in the comments, he is responsible for the morphological tagging. The SBLGNT has been available online free of cost since 2010, but as of today one can access the text with morphological tagging via the link above. Just hover your mouse over a word to see its parsing. The project has a Twitter account you can follow for updates: @morphgnt

James, thanks so much for all your hard work!

You can find more information about the SBL Greek New Testament here. I’ll update this post with more info as it comes out.