A Very Efficient Greek Word

On Saturday evening I was reading my Sunday School lesson when I noticed something interesting. (Well, interesting to me, anyway.) I always read whatever the scripture is in my ESV, and then I also read it in my Greek NT. This interesting bit came from the Greek.

First, some vocabulary. The greek word ἔρχομαι (erchomai, with a Scottish ‘ch’) means “to come” or “to go.” There is a preposition ἐις (pronounced “ace”), which means “into” or “in” or “among.” When you combine those two together, you get ἐισέρχομαι (pronounced ace-erchomai), which means “to come in(to)” or “to go in(to)” or “to enter.” Now, there is another preposition σύν (pronounced soon), which means “with.” If you combine all three together, you get συνἐισερχομαι (pronounced sun-ace-erchomai) which means, as you might have guessed by now, “to enter with” someone.

I bring this up because in the text of John 18 – 19, specifically John 18:15, we find this

Ἠκολούθει δὲ τῷ Ἰησοῦ Σίμων Πέτρος καὶ ἄλλος μαθητής. ὁ δὲ μαθητὴς ἐκεῖνος ἦν γνωστὸς τῷ ἀρχιερεῖ, καὶ συνεισῆλθεν τῷ Ἰησοῦ εἰς τὴν αὐλὴν τοῦ ἀρχιερέως,

Notice the highlighted word. That’s a third person singular aorist (past tense) indicative of συνεισἐρχομαι, which means “he/she/it went in with” or “he/she/it entered with” Jesus. As soon as I saw that word, which I had not seen before, I could tell instantly what it meant, just from looking at its parts. I like that. In some ways, Greek is a bit long-winded, and in others, like this word, it’s extremely efficient.

The full translation (mine) of that verse is

Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another disciple. And that disciple was known to the high priest, and he went in with Jesus to the court of the high priest,

I don’t have any big theological point to make about this. I just thought it was neat that this one word, formed from three other words, retained each word’s individual meaning and encapsulated an entire thought in a single word.

Lunch Time Translation

Today during lunch I translated 1 John 1:5 – 2:5 from Greek into English. It was presented as an exercise in Dr. Mounce‘s workbook, which is why it sort of just ends at a strange place. I’m going to include the text twice; first broken down by verse, with the Greek on top and the English below it, and then just as one big block of English text, like you’d expect to see it.

If, by some chance, your browser isn’t displaying the Greek properly, you can download a PDF.

If you want to critique my translation, feel free. Just be kind, OK? I thought I did pretty well with it.

1 John 1:5 – 2:5

5Καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγελία ἥν ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὁ θεὸς φῶς ἐστιν καὶ σκοτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδεμία.
And this is the message which we have heard from him and we proclaim to you, that God is light and there is no darkness in him whatsoever.
6Ἐὰν εἴπωμεν ὅτι κοινωνίαν ἔχομεν μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τῷ σκότει περιπατῶμεν, ψευδόμεθα καὶ οὐ ποιοῦμεν τὴν ἀλήθειαν·
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and we walk in the darkness, we lie and do not do the truth;
7ἐὰν δὲ ἐν τῷ φωτὶ περιπατῶμεν ὡς αὐτός ἐστιν ἐν τῷ φωτί, κοινωνίαν ἔχομεν μετ᾽ ἀλλήλων καὶ τὸ αἷμα Ἰησοῦ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ καθαρίζει ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἁμαρτίας.
But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his son, cleanses us from every sin.
8ἐὰν εἴπωμεν ὅτι ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔχομεν, ἑαυτοὺς πλανῶμεν καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἡμῖν.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9ἐὰν ὁμολογῶμεν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν, πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος, ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ καθαρίσῃ ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσησ ἀδικίας.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, that he might forgive us our sins and he will cleanse us from every unrighteousness.
10ἐὰν εἴπωμεν ὅτι οὐχ ἡμαρτήκαμεν, ψεύστην ποιοῦμεν αὐτὸν καὶ ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἡμῖν.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.
1Τεκνία μου, ταῦτα γράφω ὑμῖν ἵνα μὴ ἁμάρτητε. καὶ ἐὰν τις ἁμάρτῃ, παράκλητον ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν δίκαιον·
My dear children, I write these things to you in order that you might not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the father, namely Jesus Christ, the righteous;
2καὶ αὐτὸς ἱλασμός ἐστιν περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν, οὐ περὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων δὲ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ περὶ ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου.
And He is an atoning sacrifice for our sins, not only for ours but also for the whole world.
3καὶ ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐγνώκαμεν αὐτὸν, ἐὰν τὰς ἐντολὰς ἀυτοῦ τηρῶμεν.
And in this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments.
4ὁ λέγων ὅτι ἔγνωκα αὐτὸν καὶ τὰς ἐντολὰς αὺτοῦ μὴ τηρῶν, ψεύστης ἐστὶν καὶ ἐν τοῦτῳ ἡ ἀλήθεια οὐκ ἔστιν·
The one who says “I have known him” and is not keeping his commandments, he is a liar and the truth is not in him;
5ὅς δ᾽ ἄν τηρῇ αὐτοῦ τὸν λόγον, ἀληθῶς ἐν τούτῳ ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ τετελείωται, ἐν τοῦτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐσμεν.
But whoever keeps his word, truly in this one the love of God has been perfected. In this we know that we are in him.

OK. So that’s the verse-by-verse translation. Here it is in a more readable format.

1 John 1:5 – 2:5

5And this is the message which we have heard from him and we proclaim to you, that God is light and there is no darkness in him whatsoever. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him, and we walk in the darkness, we lie and do not do the truth; 7But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his son, cleanses us from every sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, that he might forgive us our sins and he will cleanse us from every unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

1My dear children, I write these things to you in order that you might not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the father, namely Jesus Christ, the righteous; 2And He is an atoning sacrifice for our sins, not only for ours but also for the whole world. 3And in this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments. 4The one who says “I have known him” and is not keeping his commandments, he is a liar and the truth is not in him; 5But whoever keeps his word, truly in this one the love of God has been perfected. In this we know that we are in him.

Biblical Greek Word Games

In my Sunday School class, we’re currently working through a book on the Gospel of John, by a man called Mark A. Matson. The book is pretty good, but in yesterday’s lesson he explained something in a way that fundamentally misses a very important point. It involves Biblical languages and playing word games.

The scripture in question is John 3:1 – 21, in which a Pharisee called Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Verses 2 and 3 are rendered by the ESV as

2. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

3. Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Now, ignoring the fact that Nicodemus didn’t ask a question yet, Jesus’ answer is interesting because it confuses Nicodemus. He responds to Jesus in verse 4

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Mark Matson has this to say about this exchange

The basis for the miscommunication lies in the double meaning of the phrase used for “born again.” The Greek adverb anothen, which modifies the verb “to be born,” has two possible meanings. It can mean “again,” as Nicodemus interprets it, or it can mean “from above.” The latter meaning is what Jesus suggests (contrary to bumper stickers that claim you cannot enter the kingdom of God “unless you are born again”) and serves as the basis for his subsequent discussion about being a man from heaven who tells of heavenly things (cf. 3:12 – 13). He is “from above,” and he brings the Spirit that allows others to be born “from above.”

That explanation sounds great and appeals to our desire to find deeper or hidden meanings in biblical passages. But there’s a huge problem with this explanation:

Jesus did not speak Greek.

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus most likely didn’t speak it either. As 1st Century Jews in that region, they would have been speaking Aramaic. Even though the books of the New Testament were written in Greek, the predominant language of the region was Aramaic. There are several instances in the Gospels where a direct quote from Jesus in Aramaic is written down, and then followed by a translation into Greek (or into English in English bibles). One example is in Mark 5, when Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter. Mark 5:41 records this

Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

If Jesus were speaking Greek, there would have been no reason to provide a translation.

Basically what I’m getting at is that Matson is wrong in trying to argue that Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was saying because of confusion on the meaning of a Greek word. I believe that Nicodemus didn’t understand because he was listening on a completely different plane than where Jesus was speaking. It’s just that simple. Jesus was speaking of things far beyond Nicodemus’ experience or intellect, and he was naturally left wondering what Jesus was saying. In my class, we also found it interesting that in other instances, mostly in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus goes out of his way to try to explain things in language that his listeners will understand. His parables are great examples of this, because he explained deep things using language and examples that the people listening could grasp. But in this case, he comes at Nicodemus from a much higher point. I can only guess that Jesus assumed, since Nicodemus was “a ruler of the Jews,” he would be able to comprehend the lesson.

I must say, however, that it’s very easy to fall into the trap that Matson has. During the first year or so that I was studying Greek, it happened to me all the time. The trick is to step back and remember that even though the text was originally written in Greek, that was a translation of what was spoken. In most cases, these dialogs were spoken as much as a hundred years before they were written down, preserved in an oral tradition.

I fully believe that learning Greek so that you can read the ancient texts is a worthwhile endeavor, and that’s why I have spent so much time pursuing it. But you have to remember that these books were not dictation from God, and try not to read too much into the way things were written.

Georgia Republican Wants Obama to Make 2010 Year of the Bible

From FOX News comes this little gem Georgia Republican Wants Obama to Make 2010 Year of the Bible. According to the article, GA Representative Paul Broun has introduced a resolution calling on President Obama to declare 2010 the “Year of the Bible.”  The article makes the point that the great Ronaldus Magnus already did this back in 1983, so I guess it’s not completely unheard of. Still, this strikes me as somewhat silly and a waste of Rep Broun’s time.

A bit of the resolution reads

“The president is encouraged … to issue a proclamation calling upon citizens of all faiths to rediscover and apply the priceless, timeless message of the Holy Scripture which has profoundly influenced and shaped the United States and its great Democratic form of government, as well as its rich spiritual heritage, and which has unified, healed and strengthened its people for over 200 years.”

He wants “people of all faiths” to “rediscover” the Bible. I wonder how he would react if some other representative offered up a resolution calling upon Obama to declare 2010 the “Year of the Koran” and asked “citizens of all faiths to rediscover the priceless, timeless message of the Holy Koran.” I doubt he’d support that one. Yes, you could argue that the Bible did influence our founding fathers and that the Koran did not, but still. Calling on people of “all faiths” to read your holy book has a name. It’s called proselytizing.