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Entries in Mounce (2)

Tuesday
Jul082014

My kind of problem solving

I always hated word problems in math. I was never good at them. I suspect my underlying dislike arose out of an inability to do them, and that arose from a third grade teacher, who when I had struggles and questions, sent me to the library to organize the card catalogue. For anyone reading who does not know what a card catalogue is, Google it.

When I took calculus in university, I was engaged to my math major hubby, and I had excellent tutoring. I had a glimpse into what fun math problems could be. However, it wasn't until I met Koine Greek that I realized that there are other kinds of problems to solve which are a whole lot more fun. Translating Greek sentences feels like problem solving to me.

I dragged out my Basics of Biblical Greek recently and began re-acquainting myself with what I studied so many years ago. I have also been listening to Bill Mounce's lectures. When I studied Koine Greek, we began with verbs, and Mounce begins with nouns. I don't know why, but in any case, I find myself remembering quite a lot, and realizing that I didn't understand a lot, either. 

Yesterday, I did some exercises in the study guide to his book. I've just finished the unit on adjectives. If you want to learn English grammar, study another language. Being forced to evaluate the grammatical structure of one language means you have to understand it in your own language. When you translate a Greek sentence, you must account for every word. The article (or its absence) is crucial for determining meaning in many cases, as well as indicating when you must rely on context. As I go through these exercises, I am forced to slow down and concentrate; that can only be good in the long run.

The teacher I had in university for Koine Greek, Dr. Kooistra, was a lovely old gentleman, and he loved the language. The fact that I can remember so much now is a testimony to his teaching. However, he was not a translator; he was a professor and a pastor. What I like about Bill Mounce's material is that he speaks as a translator as well and addresses translation issues, which makes learning more interesting.

This is my kind of problem solving, and it almost makes up for being a mathematical dunce. Almost.

Monday
Apr142014

Want to study the bible? Find those phrases!

I'm half finished Bill Mounce's book Greek For the Rest of Us. This is an excellent book, and for keen bible students, it's worth a look. I took three semesters of Koine Greek in university, but I have largely forgotten it, so this is a way to get my feet wet getting back into the language.

The subtitle of the book is "Using Greek Tools Without Mastering Biblical Greek." You won't learn about declining nouns, or translate anything, but Mounce promises a few things:

  1. You will be able to understand why translations are different.
  2. You will discover the meaning of the Greek that lies beneath the English.
  3. You will learn the basics of exegesis.
  4. You will learn to make good use of commentaries. 

The chapter where Mounce discusses why translations are different is very eye-opening and dispels some common misunderstandings about translations. If you read this chapter alone, you will be left appreciating the very difficult and complex process that is translation, and you will understand why good translation is done by committee rather than an individual. This chapter re-inforced my stubborn refusal to use The Message when I study the bible.

The chapters that discuss basics of exegesis rely on something Mounce calls "phrasing." Some people call this block diagramming, and Precept Ministries offers courses (I took them all) based on similar principles, and calls it "structuring." Bible Arcing also resembles this process, but is much more involved.

When we do phrasing we take a passage of scripture and evaluate its component parts, its thought units. When Mounce calls it "phrasing" he does not necessarily mean the grammatical term for phrase; clauses and phrases alike are thought units, and he refers to them all as phrases when he discusses this process.

The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate each phrase, and determine the main flow of thought by separating the main thoughts from the modifiers. Phrasing has been one of the most helpful tools I have used in bible study. It forces me to slow down and really engage with the text.

First, the text is broken down into sections by identifying the topics in the passage. This step is especially important when reading an epistle, because that helps us establish the context. After the sections are identified, we separate the individual pieces further.

Here is my initial breakdown of James 1:2-4. This section, obviously, is about what to do when confronting trials:

Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet with trials of various kinds
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect
that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

The bold words are the main phrases. The others are modifiers. When I do phrasing, I write it out by hand, and I put the main phrases at the left hand margin. "When you meet with various trials," is placed on a separate line, indented underneath "Count it all joy" to demonstrate that it modifies that phrase. "For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" would also have its own line, indented underneath "Count it all joy" because it provides the reason why we are to "count it all joy." Once you get started, you will find yourself asking questions of the text as you determine what modifies what. It's time consuming, but time well spent.

This book is well worth your time. It's good to recognize that we need to know how to study our bibles better, but for many, they don't know where to begin. This might be helpful for someone. I know it's helped me, and I've been studying my bible for years. We all may not have classes available, but we can certainly start ourselves with the help of some good tools.

Also check out Biblical Training for free lectures of Mounce's material.