Archive for the 'Languages' Category

It’s Greek to me: No confounded sentences!

Friday, November 20th, 2015

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Luke 11:2 Codex Sinaiticus

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

It’s not unusual to meet people in the Christian church who don’t understand one of the fundamentals of New Testament Greek. Whether the early Greek manuscripts used uncials (capital letters) or cursives (running writing), there were no marked sentences like English with punctuation marks.

I made this statement on a Christian forum, ‘NT Greek uses no sentences as we understand in English’.[1] This is not stated as well as it should have been. I should have said: There are no punctuation marks like we have for English sentences and words are run together with no space between them. So, there are no clearly marked sentences as in English.

Somebody came back to me with this objection:

Who told you this? It’s wrong. NT Greek most certainly does use sentence structures that are understandable in English.
http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/HTML_Common/greek_grammatical_terms.html[2]

What are the facts about Greek manuscripts?

My reply included the following details.[3] The facts are that there are no punctuation marks in Greek manuscripts and words are joined together. Sentence structure is based on Greek grammar and syntax. How do I know? I’m a teacher of NT Greek and have studied the Greek language quite intensely.

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Matthew 6:4-32 (Codex Sinaiticus) (Courtesy Wikipedia)

This website on ‘Punctuation in Ancient Greek Texts, Part 1‘ by Micheal Palmer, stated it simply and clearly:

The ancient Greeks did not have any equivalent to our modern device of punctuation. Sentence punctuation was invented several centuries after the time of Christ. The oldest copies of both the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament are written with no punctuation.

In addition, the ancient Greeks used no spaces between words or paragraphs. Texts were a continuous string of letters, with an occasional blank line inserted to mark the end of a major section, though even this was not always done.

They also had no equivalent to our lower case letters. Texts were written in all capitals [uncials, or all running writing known as cursive].

While this clearly creates some challenges for Bible translation, those challenge[s] are seldom very large. As a simple test, try reading the English text in the following line:

WHATDOESTHISSAY

With very little difficulty you can probably tell where the spaces should be and what kind of punctuation belongs at the end. You can tell this because you are a native speaker of the language in which the text is written, so you can easily recognize the words as well as the implication of the word order. Native speakers of Ancient Greek, in the same way, could recognize where one word ended and another began even though the spaces were not written. They could also distinguish a question from a direct statement without the need of punctuation.

Here’s the real problem: You and I are NOT native speakers of Ancient Greek.

While I read Ancient Greek quite well, I did not grow up speaking it. All modern scholars, including those who grew up speaking Modern Greek, are in this same situation.[4]

Micheal has added two further articles by way of explanation of punctuation in the Greek language:

The first of these additional articles contains a copy of a portion of Codex Sinaiticus:

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Philippians 2:1-2, Codex Sinaiticus

(Courtesy Micheal Palmer)

As a Greek teacher and student, I am blessed by Michael Palmer and other scholars who have gone the extra mile to provide us free online material with simple explanations of what could be complicated for the laity to understand.

Another assessment of the punctuation of the The Greek New Testament states:

It is important for the reader to keep in mind the lateness of some of the editorial devices. The earliest uncial manuscripts were even without breaks between the words. Breathings, accents, and punctuation marks-which often greatly influence the translation-are later editorial additions and should be treated as such.

We know this is so as a copy of Codex Vaticanus of the Gospels demonstrates:

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Luke 17:34-18:8 (Codex Vaticanus 354)
(Courtesy Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Vaticanus_354)

We know that punctuation was brought in over time in bits and pieces but not in the early days of Greek manuscripts. One of the great Greek grammarians of the 20th century, Dr. A. T. Robertson, in his massive, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (1934) explained the nature of Greek sentences:

The oldest inscriptions and papyri show few signs of punctuation between sentences or clauses in a sentence, though punctuation by points does appear on some of the ancient inscriptions. In the Artemisia papyrus the double point [:] occasionally ends the sentence. It was Aristophanes of Byzantium (260 B.C.) who is credited with inventing a more regular system of sentence punctuation which was further developed by the Alexandrian grammarians. As a rule all the sentences, like the words, ran into one another in an unbroken line (scriptura continua), but finally three stops were provided for the sentence by the use of the full point (Robertson 1934:242, emphasis added).

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Gospel of Matthew 8:1-10 in Vaticanus 354

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

Conclusion

In spite of the objection from the person ignorant of these basics on an Internet Christian forum, the facts remain that in the early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, it was a general rule that all of the words and sentences ran into each other in an unbroken line. There were no spaces between words, so this meant that it was rare to indicate the end of a sentence. Occasionally there was a clue of the end of a paragraph with a spare line or some other mark.

It’s a shame that people don’t become informed about the writing of the early New Testament koine Greek language before expressing their ignorance on an Internet Christian forum.

 

Works consulted

Robertson, A T 1934. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Notes


[1] OzSpen#12, ‘The reason you cant lose your salvation is?’ ChristianForums.net, available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-reason-you-cant-lose-your-salvation-is.54780/ (Accessed 29 July 2014).

[2] Ibid., chessman#13.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#22.

[4] Micheal (correct spelling) originally wrote this on 27 December, 2010.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

Jesus’ death and God’s foreknowledge of it

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Open Bible by mahanaim - Vectorisation of an open Bible

(courtesy openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

If you want to see a Calvinist duck and weave in discussions, raise the issue of God’s foreknowledge in relation to Jesus’ death. They can get especially uncomfortable if you engage them on God’s foreknowledge in relation to a person’s salvation. They see that as aligned with one of their chief enemies – Arminians.

I met such a person on a leading Christian forum. He wrote:

Crucifixion. Planned and predestined.
“For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27, 28 HCSB)[1]

Someone responded with a perceptive point:

Yet Acts 2:23 states; this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.

God’s plans are always based on His foreknowledge, Just as Paul teaches in Romans 8:28-30, and 11:2, and as Peter teaches in 1 Peter 1:2 and 20. [BTW, they are all from the NASB.][2]

The Calvinist’s response was predicted: ‘”the predetermined plan”. Exactly. And it doesn’t say “foreknowledge of the crucifixion”’.[3] This is typical of his one-liner kind of response. He does this ever so regularly. He is not known for his lengthy expositions to explain his positions.

A Calvinist commentator on God’s foreknowledge

My response was as follows:[4]

Simon Kistemaker (courtesy Reformed Theological Seminary)

 

Calvinist commentator on the Book of Acts, Simon Kistemaker, refutes your understanding of Acts 2:23 with your wanting to exclude foreknowledge of the crucifixion. He wrote:

23. “This man was given up to you according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you by using lawless men nailed him to the cross and killed him.”

We note these two points:

a. God’s purpose. Peter intimates that the audience is fully acquainted with the trial and death of Jesus Christ. He employs the personal pronoun you in this verse to involve his listeners in assuming responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion. However, he views their accountability from a divine point of view. God is in complete control even though the Jews brought Jesus to trial and the Roman soldiers killed him.

Peter says that Jesus’ death occurred according to “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” The expression set purpose denotes a plan that has been determined and is clearly defined. The author of this set purpose is God himself (see 4:28). Peter removes any doubt whether God acted rashly in formulating his purpose to hand over Jesus to the Jewish people. He adds the term foreknowledge. With this word, Peter points to God’s omniscience by which every part of his plan is fully known to God in advance (I Peter 1:2). In his first epistle, Peter writes that “[Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world” (I Peter 1:20, NIV). And last, through all the Old Testament prophets, God foretold that Christ would suffer (3:18).

b. Man’s responsibility. Peter holds his audience responsible for Jesus’ death. In their view, “Jesus’ messianic claim and his death on the cross were irreconcilable, self-contradictory opposites” [Dulon 1975:473]. They know that “anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed [by God]” (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13). Peter opposes this view by pointing to God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge.

Here is an unresolved tension between God determining the death of his Son and man being held responsible for perpetrating the deed (see 3:17–18; 4:27–28; 13:27). God himself handed Jesus over to the Jews, who put him to death by nailing him to the cross. The Jews could not exonerate themselves by blaming Jesus’ death on the Romans, whom the Jews called “wicked men,” for they themselves had engaged the help of the Romans. Peter teaches that the Jews must be held accountable for killing Jesus (3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39). The Jews must see all the aspects of God’s plan. Thus Peter says,

24. “God raised him up, having freed him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for him to be kept in its power” (Kistemaker 1990:93-94).

Günter Dulon in his examination of the etymology of the Greek word horizw used in Acts 2:23 explained that

‘Jesus’ messianic claim and his death on the cross were irreconcilable, self-contradictory opposites for the Jews. Peter wished to counter this offence by showing that it was God’s “deliberate (hwrismene) will and plan’ (Acts 2:23 NEB) by which Jesus was crucified by blinded Jewry. Similarly in Lk. 22:22 the Son goes the way “determined” by God for him, “but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed”. It is this Jesus who is the one “ordained” by God to be the judge of the last judgment (Acts 10:42).
Paul made a similar statement to the Areopagus. After God had “determined” allotted periods and boundaries for the men that he had created so that they should seek him, he “appointed” a man to judge the world on the day appointed for it (Acts 17:26, 31)’ (Dulon 1975:473).

In this Calvinist poster’s response here, in my understanding of NT Greek, he has violated some fundamentals of the Greek grammar of Acts 2:23 and Kistemaker, a Calvinist from his own camp, and Dulon have exposed some of his exegesis of this passage. The facts are that Acts 2:23 teaches God’s set purpose in the trial and death of Jesus involved God’s foreknowledge.

However, it is too easy for us to think of God’s foreknowledge from our human perspective. That is not the case when we are dealing with the attributes of God.  Richard Lenski’s commentary (he was a Lutheran) helped me gain a better handle on how God’s ‘deliberate will and plan’ involved ‘foreknowledge’ in Christ’s death:

‘In what way God delivered Jesus up to die on the cross [Acts 2:23] is indicated by the weighty datives [cases] of means. The success of the betrayal by Judas, which placed Jesus into the power of the Sanhedrin, was due to no cunning or power of men (Matt. 26:53, 54; Luke 22:53b). The death of Jesus was due to “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”; the perfect participle horismene, “having been fixed or determined on,” places the counsel of God back into eternity. God formed his plan of salvation, which involved the sacrificial death of his Son, in eternity and therefore alone gave him over to the murderous Jews. The divine counsel comes first, and on it rests the divine, infallible foreknowledge. The relation of the two is not one of time – in God no before and after exists – but of inward connection. When we consider the actions of men, this relation is reversed; what God determines in eternity regarding them rests on his infallible foreknowledge. “Counsel” and “foreknowledge” are not identical; to make them one and the same is to misunderstand both. The “foreknowledge” is misunderstood when it is regarded as an action of the will, a determination to do something and thus knowing it in advance’ (Lenski 1934:83).

So Acts 2:23 involves God’s ‘set purpose and foreknowledge’ but understood from the perspective of God’s attributes and actions. I find the Calvinistic poster was dodging the issue when he wanted to exclude God’s foreknowledge in relation to Jesus’ passion.

A Calvinist’s piffling response

How do you think the Calvinist who doesn’t believe in God’s foreknowledge in Acts 2:23 would respond to the exegesis I provided above?[5] His unreasonable and irrational response was to ask a question: ‘Why do you think that refuted my understanding?’[6]

So my response was very pointed: I go to all of the effort of showing you the exegesis of Acts 2:23 to demonstrate that you are WRONG in your denial of God’s ‘foreknowledge’ regarding the death of Jesus, and you have the audacity to give me this one liner:

This again demonstrates that you are not serious about giving answers of substance. You have proven to me that I waste my time giving extended responses to you. I wrote 1,054 words to refute your perspective and you come back to me with 8 words. That’s a disgrace.[7]clip_image001

How much clearer can it be?

Please take a read of all of these translations of Acts 2:23:

New International Version: This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
English Standard Version: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
New American Standard Bible : this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
King James Bible: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

New King James Bible: Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;
Holman Christian Standard Bible: Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him.
International Standard Version: After he was arrested according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified this very man and killed him using the hands of lawless men.
NET Bible: this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.
Aramaic Bible in Plain English: “This one, who was separated to him for this, in the foreknowledge and will of God, you have betrayed into the hands of the wicked, and you have crucified and murdered.”
Jubilee Bible 2000: him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,
King James 2000 Bible: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
American King James Version: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
American Standard Version: him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay:
Douay-Rheims Bible: This same being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain.
Darby Bible Translation: — him, given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye, by [the] hand of lawless [men], have crucified and slain.
English Revised Version: him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay:

Revised Standard Version: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

New Revised Standard Version: this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

The New Living Translation says the same thing but in simpler language:

New Living Translation: But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.

What do these translations teach in regard to God’s foreknowledge? All of them make it clear that Jesus was delivered over to the Jews and lawless men according to the determined plan AND foreknowledge of God. It cannot be stated more clearly, but this Calvinist has great difficulty in accepting the teaching of Scripture that affirms the foreknowledge of God in understanding the trial and death of Jesus.

Conclusion

Acts 2:23 is crystal clear. The Trinitarian Lord God Almighty exercised his attributes of a set purpose and foreknowledge in the trial and death of Jesus. But it is foreknowledge from God and not a human being’s perspective.

Works consulted

Dulon, G 1975. Horizw, in C Brown (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 1, 472-474. Exeter, Devon, U.K. / Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Paternoster Press / Zondervan Corporation.

Kistemaker, S 1990. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic. Also available HERE (accessed 17 May 2014).

Lenski, R C H 1934. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (edition assigned from the 1961 edition by Augsburg Publishing House).

Notes


[1] Hammster#181. 17 May 2014, Christian Forums, General Theology, Salvation (Soteriology), ‘Why do Arminians…’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7820790-19/ (Accessed 17 May 2014).

[2] Ibid., stan1953#199.

[3] Ibid., Hammster#205.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#208.

[5] At ibid., OzSpen#208.

[6] Ibid., Hammster#211.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#218.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.