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Entries in Greek (8)

Friday
Jun292018

Translating Greek in context

I was working on translating Philippians 3:1-2 today. Verse 2, I translated this way: Beware of the dogs; beware of the evil workers; beware of the mutilation.

In my lexicon, the word κατατομή (katatome) had only one possibility: mutilation. In my A Reader's Greek New Testament, there was a note with the possibility of "cutting in pieces." But what does that mean? And how do the various versions translate it?

As I did my work, I thought of verse in Galatians where Paul wishes that those who were troubling the Galatians would "mutilate" (Gal 5:12, NASB) themselves. The ESV says "emasculate." I had a look at the section in Galatians to see of the word used in Phil 3:2 had a similar root, and it did not. In Galatians 5:12 the word is ἀποκόπτω (apokopto), which actually means to cut off or castrate.

Knowing Paul's teaching in Galatians helps to translate the passage in Phil 3:2. The translators of the NASB render the phrase: "beware of the false circumcision" and the ESV "those who mutilate the flesh." The translators of the NASB have actually provided a more interpretive rendering than the ESV in this case. However one translates it, knowing the larger context of Paul's writings helps in the process. The idea of someone just sitting down and making a "literal" translation of the text is not possible if one is going to make it readable.

Tuesday
May012018

Bring your hammer to the argument

I love it when things I have heard from a lecture pop up again in my reading. In March, at my school's Ministry Leadership Day, our president encouraged preachers and teachers to make their teaching an act of worship by ensuring that our content is the text, not what we bring to it. As I was reading Andy Naselli's How to Understand and Apply the New Testament, that sentiment was echoed:

The main question we should be asking when approaching a text is not "What can I say about this text" or even "What does this text mean for me?" but instead "What does this text say?" And the single best way I know of to answer that question -- especially for New Testament letters -- is to trace the argument.

That task of following the argument is something I have been working to do for the past few years. While I got my feet wet with Precept Ministries' Bible studies, its emphasis on marking individual words, while initially helpful, ultimately did not help me follow the argument of a text. Learning how to do phrasing (Bill Mounce teaches this on his website) was more helpful. In the chapter I am reading, Naselli goes into detail on this topic.

Naselli quotes a letter from C.S. Lewis to a friend shortly after his conversion:

I should rather like to attend your Greek class, for it is a perpetual puzzle to me how New Testament Greek got the reputation of being easy. St. Luke I find particularly difficult. As regards matter -- leaving the question of language -- you will be glad to hear that I am at last beginning to get some small understanding of St. Paul: hitherto an author quite opaque to me. I am speaking now, of course, of the general drift of whole epistles: short passages, treated devotionally, are of course another matter. And yet the distinction is not, for me quite a happy one. Devotion is best raised when we intend something else. At least that is my experience. Sit down to meditate devotionally on a single verse, and nothing happens. Hammer your way through a continued argument, just as you would in a profane writer, and the heart will sometimes sing unbidden.

As an aside, don't you love the way he describes Paul as being "opaque" to him? 

I have found my heart also singing "unbidden" when I have been wrestling with a difficult passage. The malaise of most readers today is that we rush through things. Sometimes, in our efforts to get through a book quickly (so we can contribute to that big number of what we've read by the end of the year) we may miss things. That has carried over to our Bible reading. At least it has for me, and I'm not unique in any way. But to wrestle through an argument in Scripture means we have to slow down. 

Monday
Dec182017

Holiday Reading

I'm looking forward to reading for fun. Not that reading this past semester wasn't fun. It was very interesting. However, reading without having to submit a reflection or use it to complete an assignment is always nice. Once Christmas is done with, I have a  couple of weeks and I hope to get a few things read.

Right now, I'm reading Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflelctions, which is by Stan Fowler. He was my Systematic Theology and Moral Theology professor. He did his doctoral dissertation about Baptist perspectives on baptism, and this is a more popular level book addressing the subject. I have had it for a while, but just had not got around to it.

I also started John Stackhouse's Canadian Evangelicalism in the 20th Century: An Introduction to Its Character. I've had this for a while, too. It's not too late to fit in another book focusing on Canada in this year of Canada 150.

I also plan to read Road to Renewal, which is by Wayne Baxter, my Greek professor. Prayer is something I've been thinking about a lot over this past year. I suppose I could include this as another book for Canada 150, since Dr. Baxter is Canadian.

Because I can't get enough of Hildegard, I'm looking forward to reading Hildegard of Bingen's Medicine. Some of the weird and wacky ways she treated illnesses made me curious for more about this subject.

For comforting, easy to manage bed time reading. I am planning on reading Monk's Hood (still on that Medieval Monastic theme) by Ellis Peters. I really enjoy the Cadfael series of books as well as the television series.

I don't know how much of it I will get into over the holidays, but because my term paper next semester is going to be on the subject of the influence of Menno Simons on Anabaptism, I decided to start early and begin The Complete Writings of Menno Simons. Last semester, I wish I'd started reading Hildegard's own words earlier so that I would have been able to include a wider variety from her in my term paper. This time, I'll start early. I always say that, and I always start early, but I still always find myself working on the paper right up until the end. There must be something helpful about that working under pressure thing.

I'm not going to neglect my Greek, either, over the holidays. I hope to find time for vocabulary review and parsing practice. I recently discovered a really great tool, Daily Dose of Greek. Two minute videos are featured daily, showing a brief exposition of a Greek passage. It is very helpful. It does include material I haven't yet learned, but so far, it's also cemented things I've already learned.

I still have knitting to accomplish before December 25th, and I've been binge watching Vera, one of my favourite British mystery shows. If I finish her before the knitting, I'll find something else from Acorn, where I get my fix of British t.v.

Happy last week before Christmas!

Thursday
Oct052017

It's all about the endings

He spoke the word.

Who is doing the speaking? If you're an English speaker, you know that it is "he" who is doing the speaking. That's the subject of the sentence. Generally, in English, the subject precedes the action of the verb. Now, if you're Yoda, you could say, "The word, he spoke," but you're taking a chance if you copy Yoda because someone could conclude that we're actually saying something like "The word which he spoke." Word order is really important in English. English is not an inflected language.

Koine Greek is an inflected language. That means word order doesn't matter. Αυτος ειπεν λογον, "he spoke the word" can also be written ειπεν λογον α­­υτος or we could move the words around again. What tells me what is the subject of the sentence is the ending of the word, in the case of "he," the pronoun αυτος, with its -ος ending indicates that the word is in the nominative case, and hence, the subject of the sentence. The word λογον with its -ον ending tells me that it is in the accusative case and that means in this sentence, it is the direct object, or the receiver of the action.

These endings are crucial for understanding what all the grammatical components of the sentence are. And what is more interesting is that when it comes to prepositions, the meaning can change, depending on what the ending of the noun is. Adjectives also have different endings, and the way one tells which adjective goes with which noun is the ending of the word. These endings are something students must learn. Once we learn what the endings are, it's just a matter of recognizing them in context. When we do translations in my Greek class, it's like putting puzzle pieces together. I've never been good at number puzzles, but so far, I'm good at this kind of puzzle. It does take time, though, and one has to be careful and pay attendion, because even the absence or prescence of an accent can make a difference in meaning.

This is probably mind-numbingly boring to most people, but it is fascinating to me to see how words work. And it is a great reminder to me that paying attending to little details as we learn to read Scripture is really important. Maybe you don't have any aspirations to learn Koine Greek, but if you're a Christian and you want to grow, you'll want to open your Bible up. It requires time and attending to read in English, too. Just why did the author use that particular word? What modifies what? Where is the main verb? Why did the writer draw that conclusion?

We are fast learning to become skimmers rather than readers. If you consume a diet of mostly online content, unless you're reading academic journals and abstracts, you can get by on skimming. But is skimming really the best approach to Bible reading? The art of reading slow needs to be preserved. Slower reading means more reflection, and that's a good thing.

Monday
Sep252017

Empty Nesters Love Greek

I love my Greek class. I knew I would, and I hope it stays that way. Even though we are not required to necessarily know why the language works as it does (we are only there to learn how to read it), I want to know the why's. I want to have a better understanding of the language in general. Theory and practice go together.

Not everyone needs to learn Greek. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for it. I recognize that for Bible study students, it isn't necessary. We have good English translations. Yet, having an understanding of the original language, especially if we are teachers, can only be a good thing. No, knowing Koine Greek does not make one more holy or more godly. You can know Koine Greek like a champ and yet be a total boor. But when one is teaching, and especially if one is expecting others to take her seriously, Greek isn't a bad use of her time. And the bonus is that our prof promises that knowing Greek will have an impact on our devotional life.

There are a lot of things that women can do when the nest empties; valuable things and not so valuable things. I want to do the valuable things. We all have our areas of strength. The point is to stay active and productive. I did not have a career to return to when my kids grew up, and for that I am thankful. I am glad my heart was not divided between my kids and a career. Some people may think that makes me "just a housewife," and hopelessly out of touch. Perhaps that is true, but I know that today, I have the time and opportunity to learn Koine Greek, and that's exciting. To know the original languages of the Bible is exciting to me. I'd rather be doing this than hanging around in a board room in a meeting or navigating the dog-eat-dog world of an office environment.

I have met my share of blank stares from others when saying I attend seminary. Saying I'm taking Greek is even more entertaining. There is often suspicion. Why would I need that? Am I involved in a theological coup? Some look at me as if I've just said that I like to kick puppies and kittens. I can't change someone's opinion of a woman learning Greek. I trust that, ultimately, I will be a better student of the Bible and a better teacher.

There are many ways now to learn biblical languages. Many seminaries offer online classes for students who want to learn. Bill Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek is very user friendly, and one can benefit from the online resources he provides at his website. We can all claim we are too busy. But if we look at how we spend our time, there may be way to make time. Cut back on television watching or social media time. Get up a little earlier every day. If you want to be inspired for learning Greek, check out Bill Mounce's Greek for the Rest of Us.

I won't say that having my children leave home and become independent has been easy. It's been five years since our last one left home, and I'm still adjusting. Adult kids have their own lives and are in the process of establishing their independence. They don't need us as much. Empty hours can be a bad thing. Why not fill it with something? For me, seminary is helping fill those hours. And Greek is contributing in a particularly exciting way.