Hebrew and Greek: A Great Help

So in an article put out by Crossway I recently read several suggestions of how to continue to use and develop Hebrew and Greek by ministers. This article gives a variety of suggestions that were incredibly beneficial. But one that I took and modified was memorizing vocabulary words. 

As I read through the Bible in the mornings, I normally proceed to my prayer time. But now, rather than going straight into my prayer time, I spend a few minutes working through flash cards of verses as well as words from Hebrew and Greek. I have stated out with three for each category, and as time permits I will add anywhere from one to three new words as I get them down. I know it isn’t much, but for right now it’s about do right now.

Another suggestion, and I haven’t been able to do quite yet, is to read my devotions from the original languages . While this would be amazing, I’m not yet that proficient. But for an aspiring Ph. D student, it’s an imperative!!

What are ways you continue to use the original languages throughout your busy life? I would love to here about your successes and failures.

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Hebrew Syntax

Syntax is described as “the scientific study of word usage in clause construction. Syntax considers the ordering and arrangement of works into sentences as well as the linguistic study and analysis of sentence structure.”[1] For Biblical Hebrew (hereafter BH), syntax plays an enormous role in linguistical studies and proper interpretation. Arnold and Choi note the importance of understand BH syntax when they write, “At the heart of biblical interpretation is the need to read the Bible’s syntax, that is, to study the way words, phrases, clauses, and sentences relate to one another in order to create meaning.”[2] Before syntax can be understood a basic knowledge of language structure must be examined.[3] There are five basic levels of “language structure”.[4] The authors of A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar list those levels: phonetic, morphological, syntactical, semantic, and textual.[5] As Choi and Arnold pointed out, the basics of phonetics and morphology cannot provide proper interpretation.[6] However, once these basics of have been understood then the work of examining syntactical structures can begin.[7]

Several grammars for BH are divided into similar categories in dealing with syntactical studies: nominals, verbs, particles, and finally clauses.[8] The basic structure for these grammars is similar. They work through individual words (nominal, verbs, and particles) and then examine the functions of clauses (both dependent and independent). For nominals this includes several aspects: number, gender, or the construct position.[9] Verbs require more examination as they contain more information in single Hebrew words.[10] In fact, the vast majority of grammars spend massive amounts of space dealing with verbals.[11] Particles are dealt with next in grammars, and these words (including prepositions, adverbs, negatives, conjunctions, relative, accusative, and existential particles)have an enormous impact on BH.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for the student of BH to accomplish is to master the ability to comprehend and correlate clauses. A clause is “the most basic form of a complete thought, whether all or part of a complete sentence.”[12] There are three types of clauses (though they can further be divided into even more distinct clauses): main, subordinate, and coordinate clauses.[13] The basic idea behind a clause is “a group of words containing a subject and only one predicate.”[14] The clause marks a unique transition from a single unit (a word such as a noun or verb) into a more complex unit of thought.[15]

Understanding these words and groups of words will enable to the student of BH to analyze and interpret the Bible. It is necessary to move from the basic structure (simply a word) to the more detailed clauses. Students must learn the terms and employ them in their exegetical work.

[1] Todd J. Murphy, Pocket Dictionary for the Study of Biblical Hebrew (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 165.

[2] Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 1.

[3] Choi and Arnold note the need for more than a basic knowledge, noting, “Students often learn to discern the elementary phonology and morphology in order to ‘read’ the biblical text.”, 1.

[4] Christo H. J. Merwe, Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 51.

[5] Ibid., 51-52.

[6] Choi and Arnold, 1.

[7] Pratico and Van Pelt spend twenty-two chapters laying the necessary foundation of phonology and morphology before they even touch on syntax. See Gary Davis Pratico, and Miles V. Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 271. They write, “Because you have already encountered numerous verbal sentences in your study of the Qal stem, the following discussion should simply make explicit what you  probably already know implicitly. In other words, the point of the following discussion is to organize and clarify many issues of verbal syntax with which you should already be familiar.”

[8] See Arnold and Choi; Merwe; Ronald J. Williams and John C. Beckman, Williams’ Hebrew Syntax (3rd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007); and Malcolm John Albert Horsnell, A Review and Reference Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Hamilton, Ont.: McMaster University Press, 1998).

[9] Williams, 1, 5, and 7. They include additional information though for the sake of brevity the list chosen will remain the same.

[10] For example, the Hebrew word שָׁמַר has within it person (third), number (singular), and gender (masculine). In addition to this there is tense, voice, and mood.

[11] Perhaps the most detail is given in Horsnell’s work, on pages 286-307; Williams covers pages 56-95; and Arnold and Choi cover pages 36-92.

[12] Murphy, 41.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Choi and Arnold, 162.

[15] Ibid., 163. They write, “Thus, sentences combine to create texts, which may be further analyzed in terms of text-linguistic conventions of cohesion and rhetorical organization. So the grammatical hierarchy moves from word to phrase to clause to sentence to discourse.”

Textual Criticism

Textual Criticism has been defined as “the study of copies of any written work of which the autograph (the original) is unknown, with the purpose of ascertaining the original text.”[1] Some scholars question the ability to recover the original text because of the absence of those autographs.[2] However, this should not alarm the student of textual criticism, for in the case of the Hebrew Bible (hereafter HB) there is a 90% agreement rate; the Greek New Testament (hereafter GNT) enjoys a variation rate of less than 7%.[3]

An understanding of the basics of Textual Criticism (both for the HB and the GNT) will enable the student to have a greater appreciation for the Scripture that believers now hold in their hands, “When holding the modern Old Testament text in our hands, it is difficult to comprehend all the lives and talent dedicated to preparing it for more than three thousand years.”[4] In addition, the student of the HB must have an understanding of the variations found within as well as the ability to examine those variations in order to determine the original text (or, in some cases, the final text).[5] To begin with, textual criticism, specifically that of the HB, has a greater difficulty than that of the GNT. For one, until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (here after DSS) there were only a “few extant, early manuscripts or fragments of the Old Testament…”[6] The oldest extant manuscript was from “the ninth century A.D.”[7] With the discovery of the DSS scholars had a wealth of new manuscripts, both complete and incomplete.[8]

However, as much information was provided for scholars and academics, the discovery also generated questions that have created debates.[9] The discussion centers around the evidence of that there existed families of texts from which the HB has developed throughout its history. Wegner describes the situation, “It is fairly well accepted among scholars that the Dead Sea Scrolls give evidence that at least three textual traditions were prevalent about the third century B.C…”[10] The manner of how many families (or textual traditions) and how they came to be is debated.[11] Regardless, this information makes it difficult for the textual critic to determine which variance should be favored over the other. The other aspect of the HB that creates difficulty is determining if the text was corrected at a later point of its creation (e.g., the book of Genesis and the added gloss of “Dan”) or whether the original was lost through transmission and scribal errors.[12] For example, Wegner writes, “In Genesis 14:14, the city of Laish (Judg 18:29), or Leshem (Josh 19:47), is called ‘Dan’ before its name was ever changed to ‘Dan,’ and no manuscript evidence suggests a different reading. It is most likely that an editor later changed it so that his readers would understand which city was being indicated.”[13] Wegner provides two additional examples of how scribes have apparently added information that would clear up the confusion that might have occurred in the original.[14] These glosses that were added seem, as Wegner notes, to have been a part of the original text.[15] The reason that this causes trouble for the textual critic is that it seems one of two things are possible: either the original text was not complete, in the sense that the additional gloss was necessary for proper understanding; or the original text was complete but somehow the gloss made its way into what would come to be defined as the authoritative text.

Added to the difficulty of the HB textual critic’s work is the proposed goal. There are many goals that textual critics hope to achieve, and while space does not allow a thorough treatment of these goals, a summary of them should provide the student with a basic knowledge of them. There are three main divisions of goals that Wegner further divides into six.[16] The first division attempts to find the original text. The second division attempts to restore the original texts, i.e. several authorized texts. The final goal attempts to publish all variants of the HB.[17]

Once the understanding of the extant materials has been gained (at least in part) and the goal has been established, the textual critic must then work through the available evidence, determine the most accurate reading, and then supply the necessary reasons for the proposed change.[18] The steps are incredibly meticulous and must be constantly reexamined in order to determine what would be the most plausible original reading.[19]

The last thing the textual critic must do in order to properly execute this most sacred work is to understand the materials available. This requires a great deal of work, as the evidence available is large and complex.[20] The terms primary source and secondary source delineate what type of evidence it is. Primary sources are those that contain parts of the HB.[21] The secondary sources are those that may be translations, commentaries, etc.[22]

Textual criticism, specifically that of the HB, requires work, scholarly integrity, and an understanding of several areas of research. But the goal of attempting “to establish the most reliable reading of the text” is a high one, and one that the textual critic must attain.[23]

[1] J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament, Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1.

[2] Jason Sexton, “NT Textual Criticism and Inerrancy.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 17, no. 1 (2006), 51

[3] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic/InterVarsity Press, 2006), 24-25.

[4] For an extensive treatment of the subject, see: Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic/InterVarsity Press, 2006), 89; Bruce M. Metzger, New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis : Essays in Honour of Bruce M. Metzger (Oxford: Clarendon Press ; 1981).

[5] The transmissions, development, and variations found in the HB are detailed in Wegner, 58-78.

[6] Wegner, 26.

[7] Ibid., 89.

[8] Ibid., 27-28; see also Thatcher, Tom, Mary L. Coloe, and Society of Biblical Literature. John, Qumran, and the Dead Sea Scrolls : Sixty Years of Discovery and Debate. Society of Biblical Literature: Early Judaism and Its Literature. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011)

[9] Wegner, 90-92.

[10] Ibid., 90.

[11] Ibid., 63-70. Table 3.1, Figures 3.5 and 3.6 are extremely helpful in provided an illustration in how these families are believed to have come down through time.

[12] More information about the errors that occur in transmission can be found in Wegner, 44-57.

[13] Ibid., 30.

[14] Ibid., 30-31. Wegner interestingly notes, “Since these parts appear in all the extant Hebrew manuscripts and ancient versions, they must have been put into the text fairly early and apparently were part of the authoritative text maintained by the scribes. Thus our understanding of the final form of the text must include at least these types of modifications of the text.”

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 31.

[17] Wegner breaks them down the following ways: Restore the original composition; restore the final form of the text; restore the earliest attested form; restore accepted texts; restore final texts; restore all various “literary editions” of the Old Testament. See Wegner, 31.

[18] Wegner provides a detailed treatment of the topic, 120-135.

[19] See specifically Wegner, 127-129.

[20] Ibid., 140-201.

[21] The primary sources are: the Silver Amulets, DSS, and the Nash Papyrus. Wegner, 140-161.

[22] The main secondary sources are: the Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, and the Targums. Ibid., 166-200.

[23] Ibid., 24.

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 21

This chapter is loaded with applicable truths. And it will take some time to make our way through all of them.

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To begin with, God keeps His promises! God promised Sarah and Abraham that they would have a son. And “at the time of which God had spoken to them” (21.3) Abraham and Sarah had Isaac. What an amazing lesson that we need to grasp today! God has made so many promises, and yet we often (or should I say “I”?) live as though we did not believe them.

Secondly, God cares for people. Though He had promised Abraham a son, and though Abraham attempted to circumvent God’s will, God still cared about Ishmael. In fact He said He would bless Him!

And finally we see how two people (here are people of power) can handle conflict. They communicated the problems between them and addressed them accordingly. How can we learn from this! So often our arguments are so petty and they can be solved from a simple discussion!

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 20

In Genesis chapter 20 we encounter a King who has incredible morals: Abimelech. It is from this pagan king, rather than the prophet of God, that we can learn some valuable lessons.

First, Abimelech acted in integrity when he discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife as opposed to his sister. Through a deceiving half truth Abraham reported that Sarah was his sister. Under this assumption Abimelech took her into his own house. Now, what Abimelech saw in a 80+ year old lady is not given. What we are told, however, is that Abimelech was warned in a dream not to touch her and he didn’t. This speaks much to his character, and unfortunately for Abraham little for his. None of us would blame him, for we would all seek self-preservation. But Abraham’s half truth ended in a completely lie and almost cost a man’s life and ultimately his nation.

Second, from Abrahm we learn that a half truth is not truth but a lie. The reason God spared Abimelech was because he was an upright man. He was operating under the impression that she was Abraham’s sister as opposed to his wife. We must be careful in this day and age that we aren’t speaking with these half truths. Let our no’s be no’s and our yes’s be yes’s.

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 19

Chapter 19 is perhaps one of the saddest chapters in the Bible. The destruction of the cities is bad enough, but Lot’s own love for the city as well as the sinful acts of his two daughters causes us to wonder how the Bible could refer to him as “righteous Lot” (See 2 Peter 2.7). Additionally, the utter depravity of the men of Sodom is explicitly seen. And again, Lot’s own wickedness is displayed in the offering of his two virgin daughters to the men for sexual gratification. The entire chapter from beginning to end is sickening. Let us take the lesson that being with the wrong influences can lead us as believers to commit the same sinful actions.

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 18

Chapter 18 is another wonderful account of Abraham’s interactions with God, his hospitality, and his pleading for a city.

These are the three areas from which we can focus and glean truths for our lives. To begin with, Abraham had another extended conversation with The Lord. It’s interesting to see how they talked to each other. It was a simple, normal conversation, not unlike a conversation a couple of friends may have. This is encouraging to is because we know we can talk to God with a friendly approach. Care must be exercised though that we do not treat God flippantly, for He is still Lord of the universe. But we can talk to God as a Person! What a profound thought!

The second thing to note is Abraham’s hospitality. Middle Eastern customs were similar to what Abraham would do for his three guests. But we can learn from him today! While it is not normal for us to offer our home and insist someone stay for a meal, we as American Christians really need to improve on our hospitality.

The final lesson we can learn from Abraham in chapter 18 is to plead with God for people. In this case, God made known to Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. After learning about this, Abraham and God went back and forth about sparing the city for the sake of those righteous people living there. And God, in His wonderful mercy, would promise Abraham that He would spare it for the number which would end finally at ten. We must approach God in a similar way! Have you spent time praying for lost loved ones? For friends? And for nations who have never heard of God and His Christ? Plead with Him as Abraham did! Remember God said He would spare Sodom and Gomorrah, and perhaps He will spare our loved ones, friends, and those for whom we pray from the destruction of the Lake of Fire.

I hope you have enjoyed our journey through Genesis. It is a wonderful book filled with amazing accounts as well as biblical truths for us to apply. We still have much ground to cover! So as we move through this amazing book, pray and ask God to show you new things in His Word!

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 17

In chapter 17 Abram becomes Abraham in another meeting with God. The covenant is made through circumcision, and God promised to be with Abraham and bless him with nations and kings. But the focus tonight will be the last thing, and without a doubt the most important thing, that He would be their God.

The past few nights for our church have been devastating. A precious little angel was taken from a wonderful family. And it has affected our church. We mourn as if our own daughter has passed away. We all met tonight and prayed, cried, and took comfort in God’s Word. We lifted the family up in prayer, begging God to be with them in such a mighty and powerful way that they would find comfort in this tragedy. We wept, and not just the simple shedding of tears, our church family wept bitterly. As I held my son and prayed and talked to God, wondering why did this happen, God reminded me of Psalm 23.4, “Even thigh I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The valley of the shadow of death is not said to be easy. This valley in the life of this dear family and our church family is dark, terrifying. But God is with us. He is our God, that Great Comforter Who knows our sorrows and our griefs. And it is into His arms that we must run, for no other place can offer grace or comfort like Him Who is called Grace and Comforter.

When Abram saw God He fell on his face (17.3). Tonight we fell on our faces. But as God promised to Abram, so He promises to us, He will be and is our God.

As Isaiah reminds us of this God, we take comfort in his beautiful description, ““Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but  l they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings  like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40.28-31)

I end this by imploring to pray for this dear family, our church, and for our pastor and his wife, Rit and Shannon. We all need God’s amazing grace, especially the family of that little angel.

Walking Through Genesis- Chapter 13

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In Genesis chapter 13 Abram and Lot separate paths. It all began with fighting between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. Verse seven makes the additional statement, “At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.” Verses 8-13 then cover the details of the split, initiated by Abram. The chapter ends with God’s promise to bless Abram with land (verses 14-15) and offspring (verse 16).

There are several interesting parts of this account. To begin with, many times Lot received the raw end of the deal for separating from Abram. But upon closer examination Abram actually told Lot to separate from him. Now, could Lot have chosen a better, more moral place? Of course! But this does show us that sometimes even good people can make wrong decisions. Perhaps Lot could have stayed with Abram and found another way around the conflict between their workers. Undoubtedly the two men could have brought their workers under control and instructed them on how to deal with conflict. Before we move on, I will say that it is easy to pass judgment from the present looking back, but we must remember that unfortunately we do not have all the details of the situation.

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Another important fact to note is verse 7 were the writer informs us that Canaanites and Perizzites still inhabit the land. It would have made sense economically speaking for Abram and Lot to remain together for the security and added protection against these two groups of people.

A final thought is the reasons Lot used to determine which direction to choose. Now, before we get too hard on Lot, he had cattle, and cattle need grass and water. It made perfect sense. In fact, to choose otherwise would have been foolish, at least in the eyes of the world. The Christian must not make decisions on what makes sense solely. That is, while we should do things that are logical, believers should not bypass the all important step: prayer. One aspect of Abram’s life is that he was constantly building altars (see 12.7, 8 and 13.18). One part of building altars was praying to the deity, which in this case is God (Abram also prayed at one of the altars upon his return visit, see 13.4).

So, from this chapter of Genesis, we have learned:

• Sometimes good people can make the wrong decision or can influence others to make the wrong decision.

• Strife often becomes a barrier to protection, encouragement, and good relationships. Proverbs tells us that pride brings contention (Proverbs 13.10). And we learn from Christ’s example that humility cures hardships on relationships (see Philippians 2.3-8).

• When making decisions, follow Abram’s example of seeking God’s face. He knows the best way to take, and while it may appear to be the opposite of what makes sense humanly speaking, God’s ways are above ours (Isaiah 55.8).

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Revelation: For Youth

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I recently read a very well written article on teaching the book of Revelation to youth. The article is from The Gospel Coalition. The principles can apply to all walks of life, whether one is older and more mature in the faith or whether one is young and relatively new to the faith. Either way, you should take the time to read it and put it into practice. The book of Revelation is a wonderfully encouraging book, and if heeded can provide comfort and direction for the believer.

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