Showing posts with label Greek. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greek. Show all posts

08 May 2013

Jesus in proper context

In their book, 'The Shaping of Things to Come', Frost and Hirsch point to Jesus' Jewish background as key to understanding his life, death and his mission. Any attempt to understand him based on Romano/Greek culture or 21st century western culture will cause distortions to the truth.

The Shaping of Things to Come
I'm currently reading The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.

Here's a brief quote from Chapter 7.

...the Jewish heritage is the primordial matrix out of which Christianity was birthed, and which we would argue is the only matrix out of which it could be organically understood in its fullness. Except for Luke's writings (he was in all likelihood a proselyte of Judaism), the New Testament is a document written by Jews. Therefore biblical Christianity's 'genetic code', its kinships, its plausibility structures, its genius, are all Hebraic to the core and back.

The point is this. Because Jesus is a Jew, rooted in Jewish society two thousand years ago, if we want to truly understand him we need to view him, read him, hear him and watch him in action from a Jewish perspective.

Not to do so is to risk misunderstanding much that he said and did. And what is true for Jesus is also true for his church; this comes out clearly in the extract above.

Have we missed something? - Perhaps this is something the church has overlooked over the centuries. We have often tried to understand Jesus in terms of the Romano/Greek culture of his day or in terms of today's western culture. But neither of these is appropriate and both may mislead us.

How are we going to tackle the task of refocussing and recalibrating? A good place to begin is by reading and re-reading the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Perhaps a rhythm in which these books are read regularly might help us.

The Shaping of Things to Come is a good book, even a great book. It examines the phenomenon of church in a new light and shows the developing western model of the past 1700 years to have been missing the mark. It's accessible, enjoyable to read, and should provoke much thought.

The book was published in 2003 but a new edition is now available.

Questions:

  • How often do you cover the gospels in your Bible reading?
  • What might the effects be of taking Jesus out of his historical context?
  • Have you read 'The Shaping of Things to Come'?
  • If so, would you leave a comment sharing your thoughts about it?

See also:

29 October 2012

Biblos

< Bible Gateway | Index | Online Bible Tools >

Bible Hub is a complex tool with extensive facilities for Bible research including dictionaries, commentaries, interlinears, concordances, versions in original and modern languages, word studies, parsing information and more.

The Bible Hub home page
The Bible Hub web-based Bible tool manages to do a very great deal. The only problem with this breadth of coverage is that it can be tricky to find your way around. But most users will find just a few features that they use regularly and will soon become familiar with those. In other words, don't be put off by the complexity of this tool but focus on learning the parts you need.

Home page - Here's some of the stuff you can find right away on the home page.

  1. Along the top, a row of national flags allow you to choose a language other than English.
  2. Below the flags are drop boxes for Bible book, chapter and verse, Bible chapter outlines, and to select a translation or commentary or original language version or a whole host of other things. The chapter outline autoupdates as you change the book or chapter, a nice feature.
  3. Next is a search box with options for topical, library, Strong's number and multilingual search.
  4. Below that comes a toolbar with 23 icons for all manner of options including advanced search, reading plans, devotions, biblical weights and measures, apocryphal books and more.
  5. And then there are two more toolbars and a set of tabs.
  6. Finally, a set of 28 large icons provides further ways into the data.
Below all of this the home page continues with masses of additional material. There's just about everything you might need for a detailed study of any verse, word, idea or theme in the Bible.

Let's try it out - Starting from the home page I've just used the drop boxes in row 2 to select John 14:1. I immediately see multiple English translations of the verse in the main column with cross references to the right. Further down are concordance links for the key words in the verse and extracts from several commentaries and word studies.

Part of John 14 in an interlinear display
Next I click the Greek icon in row 4 and right away I see a page of Greek interlinear. Bible Hub has unhelpfully forgotten I was in John 14 and shows me the interlinear for Matthew 1. Hmm.

Back to the drop boxes in row 1 and I'm soon back in John, but that was not as smooth as it might have been.

But the interlinear is well done (click the image for a larger view). There are five lines. First come the Strong's numbers with transliterated Greek words below and the original Greek in line three. The Strong's numbers and the transliterated Greek are clickable and bring up definitions, concordance entries and more. The original Greek is not clickable, sadly, neither is the English equivalent in line four. Line five offers useful parsing information (part of speech, case, tense etc).

Serious research - Bible Hub is a good place to do serious bible study for free and online. It contains everything you need in one place, but there are several ways into most of the information and this results in a cluttered and confusing interface.

For looking up a word or two in Strong's, studying a few verses in depth, or translating short passages from Greek or Hebrew it's probably all you need. Bible Hub can even meet some unusual requirements, for example it can display the Old Testament in Septuagint Greek and the New Testament in modern Hebrew or even in Aramaic.

Reading online - I can't recommend Bible Hub for Bible reading online. Bible Gateway is a much easier and cleaner way to do this in a wide range of languages and versions. But in a web browser with BibleHub open in one tab or window and Bible Gateway in another it's quite possible to use the two together to look up details and definitions while reading.

< Bible Gateway | Index | Online Bible Tools >

16 September 2012

Keeping watch

We consider the Koine Greek word 'episcopos' and see how Luke uses it in Acts as he records how Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem. It seems that Paul was most concerned with preventing misleading teaching from confusing and scattering the believers.

A flock of sheep
Let's take a look at another Greek word used in the New Testament and usually understood as a leadership term. The word is ἐπίσκοπος (episcopos) and is variously translated bishop, overseer, ruler or supervisor.

It literally means someone who looks around, or across, or on. Does it have the sense of governing others in some way, or might it rather have the sense of keeping watch and staying alert as a way of serving others?

There is a widespread perception and presumption that New Testament authors intended it in the former sense.

We can rule out 'Bishop' in the formal sense used by Anglicans, Catholics and others. The early church had no hierarchical structures anything like those of these groups. Nor is the term 'episcopos' understood in this way by methodists, baptists, or most other more recent church groups. They usually retain some form of structure and government, but often limited to the management of local congregations. Terms like overseer, elder, deacon, pastor, moderator may be employed, but are not normally used to denote hierarchical position.

To understand 'episcopos' properly we need to examine how it is used by the original authors and how readers at the time might have understood it. There are five passages where it's used in the New Testament. We'll check them out one by one. (Note that the word ending varies in Greek, depending on context and the rules of grammar.)

Saying goodbye to the Ephesians - ἐπισκόπους is used in Acts 20:28. To properly understand this passage we need some context, I recommend reading Acts 20:13-21:1. Paul has called the elders from Ephesus to meet him on the coast before he sets off for Kos on his journey to Jerusalem. (We'll look at the term 'elder' in a later article.) It's an emotional meeting, a final farewell. For Paul it's a short pause on a long journey.

In verses 17-21 he reminds them how he lived when he was with them. He was humble and severely tested, but he spoke only what was helpful and taught in their homes about repentance and faith.

In verses 22-25 he explains why he's leaving and that he won't be back.

In verses 26-36 he reminds them again of his teaching and tells them to keep watch and act as shepherds. They have a duty to keep watch, and it's very clear that this means guarding against wrong teaching. They are to be on their guard against the things he warned them of over and over again.

They were appointed by the Spirit (not by men, not even by Paul). They are called not to govern but to be alert for error and to be shepherds. In other words their responsibility is to be aware of the right way and trustworthy in walking it so the sheep will be safe in following them.

Paul commits them to 'Elohim and the word of his grace'. They are to be built up by the Lord, set apart for him, helping the weak by working hard to supply their own needs, giving not receiving.

ἐπισκόπους evidently has a sense of being vigilant and guarding against wrong teaching. There's an emphasis on bearing in mind the dangers and pitfalls, and on humbly serving and leading by example so that the sheep remain safe.

Next time we'll look at  the use of this word in Philippians 1:1.


11 September 2012

More on leading

In an attempt to pin down what the New Testament writers meant by the ideas of leader and leadership, we take a look at some of the words that have been translated into English as 'leader'.

A famous leaderFollowing my previous post I noticed Alan Knox's repost of his earlier article, 'Follow the Leader or Simon Says?'

I left a comment on Alan's post, referring back to my own blog. I was perhaps too hasty and didn't really make my meaning clear. When Alan replied, I tried to clarify, but the exchange of views had the side effect of making me think harder about the underlying issues.

As Alan rightly mentions, 'Scripture uses the Greek term for “leader.”' But then he goes on to add, 'I don’t see any problem with having leaders among the church.'

Issues with leadership - Nonetheless I do still see issues with human leaders. And these are issues that were already arising very early on in church life. This is made quite clear in 1 Cor 1:10-17 for example. In verse 17 Paul explains that he was sent for a purpose.

We are all called for a purpose, and for most of us that is likely to include some elements of leading others. During a local meeting all should bring something. In other words, to a degree, everyone should lead (and everyone should follow).

The fact that the Greek word for 'leader' is used in the New Testament is not enough, in itself, to suggest we should follow human leaders. There are a number of Koine Greek words translated 'leader'. Let's look at them in turn.

  1. ἀρχηγός (archégos) - has the sense 'prince' or 'founder'. It's used in Hebrews 12:2.
  2. ὁδηγός (hodégos) - here the sense is 'instructor, 'teacher' or 'trainer'. When Jesus says the lawyers and Pharisees are blind 'guides', this is the Greek word used (Matthew 23:16, Matthew 23:24 for example).
  3. πρωτοστάτης (prótostatés) - the sense is chieftain or ringleader and it's only used once, in Acts 24:5 in the 'ringleader' sense.
  4. ἡγεμών (hégemón) - this word means a ruler, commander or governor and is used in Matthew 27:2 of Pontius Pilate and in Acts 23:26 of the governor Felix. The English word 'hegemony' comes from this source.
  5. καθηγητής (kathégétés) - meaning teacher or leader. Jesus tells us in Matthew 23:10, not to be called masters or leaders. This is the word used in that verse.
There are two further Greek words that I might write about, sometimes used for leaders in more specific ways - episcopos and presbuteros. But that can wait for another article.

Meanwhile, is it fair to conclude that the five words listed above for 'leader' don't really fit our role in 'one anothering'?

Conclusion and some questions - I would argue that we should not think in terms of leaders and leadership in church life. We can all lead by example (and I encourage everyone to do so) but that's as far as it should go.

Is this fair? How do you think Jesus intended the church to be led? Did he intend you to lead, and if so how? Did he intend you to follow, and if so how?

Can you find other examples of leaders in the New Testament? What are they? What does this say about church structure and government?

See also: 

14 February 2012

Has the Bible been modified?

If we are to trust the Bible we need to know that it faithfully reproduces what was written by the original authors almost two thousand years ago, or earlier. It turns out that the Bible stands up to scrutiny better than any other ancient book.

Damaged papyrus of Matthew's gospelThe Bible is not really a book in the normal sense, rather it is a library of books written at different times and by different authors. Some versions of the Bible may include or exclude particular books for a variety of reasons.

But what can we say of the accuracy by which the books have been copied over the years and centuries since they were originally written? And how do the books of the Bible compare in terms of reliability with, say, Plato or Aristotle, Caesar or Cicero?

Surprisingly, we have a great deal of evidence for the reliability of both Old and New Testament books. Far more than we do for any of those other ancient books.

This is well-summarised in a web document by Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).  Here's a claim made on that web page. Take a look at the page itself for the supporting argument.
The New Testament documents are better-preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writings. Because they are so numerous, they can be cross checked for accuracy... and they are very consistent.
Notice especially the table that shows how other respected ancient documents don't even come close in terms of early copies.

This section from an article on Wikipedia supports the accuracy of the New Testament, while another article, Textual variants in the New Testament, actually lists them for us. The majority are very minor indeed.

Whatever we may say about the comparisons to be made between the Bible and other ancient books, we may be quite certain that the Bible we read today has been faithfully copied. The New Testament we can buy and read today is very, very close to the original works written almost 2000 years ago. For the vast majority of the text (99.5%) the match is perfect across all copies.

Translation - Doesn't translation affect the meaning of the text, changing it from the originally intended sense? The purpose of good translation should always be to render the original meaning in a different language as accurately as possible. Many of the Bible translators have gone to extreme lengths in research, learned debate, discussion, checking, inviting critical comment, reviewing and revising. All this before they even consider printing a new version.

A far greater danger would be lack of translation, with less knowledgeable people trying to understand the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and probably making mistakes.

Paraphrase versions, like the Living Bible and idiomatic translations like The Message do their best to make the text more readable. These are not intended to replace the formal equivalence of more typical translations, but they can be an excellent way to introduce the Bible, making it more accessible and providing impact and immediacy.

Study aids - For serious study I recommend reading several modern translations along with Hebrew or Greek interlinears, good commentaries and Bible dictionaries (giving the range of meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words). There are excellent tools online, take a look at Bible Gateway and Biblos, but there are others out there. Try some out and bookmark those you find most useful.

And rest assured, the source material you are using (directly or indirectly) is of high quality and pretty much identical with what was originally written.

(Check linked articles on other blogs - please explore!)

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