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Archive for the ‘Greek-extra-lite’ Category

Two short notes on marriage, drawn (without too much thought, and through very bad exegesis) from the study of ancient languages.

1) In (Sahidic) Coptic, “to dwell with” sometimes means “to be married”. “Dwell” can also be taken as “sit”. So, (and kids, this is bad, bad, BAD usage of etymology):

“to be married” = “to sit with”

Which is an interesting thought.

2) In Ancient Greek, σύζυγος means

“yoked together”, or, “marriage partner”

(if used as a substantive).

Which is another interesting thought.

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In the story in Acts 27:33-35, after everyone on the wildly drifting boat has fasted for 14 days, Paul assures everyone that salvation is at hand; he then takes bread, gives thank to God “in front of everyone“, and after breaking the bread, starts eating.

Civilized folk (and communists) will be glad to know that in some ancient manuscripts (e.g. 614 and 2147), Paul did this “after also giving to us” (επιδιδους και ημιν).

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Reading a story as a story can be a beautiful thing! (With this, I don’t mean to imply that things aren’t necessarily true; I’m just referring to the concept of narratology – yes, it’s a word – where one looks at the characters, plot, scenery, action, etc. of a story.)

The same can be said of the Gospel of Matthew as a whole. By looking at Matthew’s depictions of his characters, the time in which the narrative is set, the “atmosphere” that is created, etc., one learns a lot about what he is trying to say. In this vein, I’d like to make a few remarks upon Matthew 25:31-46 – the so-called Last Judgement section.

Just to give a bit of background, Matthew has five big discourses cemented in-between the narrative parts. The first and most well-known of these is the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Chapters 23-25 forms the last one; of which verse 31-46 forms the last part.

At the start of this section of text, we are told that the Son of Man will “sit” on his “throne of glory”. “Sit” is very important here – because the bigger discourse starts with the pharisees and the scribes “sitting” on the “seat of Moses”. But wait! There is more! We are also told right at the start of the discourses, in the Sermon on the Mount (chap 5:1), that Jesus “sat” and taught the disciples.* So RIGHT at the start and RIGHT at the end we’ve got a reference to teaching (and to authority, and interpretation of the Law). We’ll return to that shortly.

Two ways to stress something (if one doesn’t have recourse to bold or italics etc.), is by repeating something or saying it V-E-R-Y   S-L-O-W-L-Y. Matthew does exactly this in his story of the Last Judgement. Which is kind of strange, because we tend to remember the following as being the main thought of the passage:

The Son of Man will come, He will judge people by separating them into “sheep” on the right and “goats” on the left, the former will go to heaven and the latter to hell.

Very well, a summary is always shorter than the main text. But what is interesting is that Matthew repeats a VERY long piece of text (by the standards of discourse in the Gospel; and seeing that words were used rather more sparingly in ancient texts). He repeats it not twice, not thrice, but FOUR times! It reads (NIV):

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

This is repeated two times in the positive** – for the “sheep”; and two times in the negative, for the “goats”. In other words, Matthew repeats this AND makes us read it V-E-R-Y   S-L-O-W-L-Y. Obviously, for Matthew, this thing that happens in the very present, not somewhere in the future (the judgement somewhere in the future / eschatology), is a key theme in the passage.

Now, back to the pharisees/scribes (P/S) vs. Jesus debate, into which I won’t go too much here. Matt 5-7 is generally seen as a “new” take on the Law – against that of the P/S. In the bigger scheme: Jesus taught with authority (7:29); the P/S were given authority but used it hypocritically (chap 23). There is also a final contrast between chap 23 and chap 25 – the final two opposites. In light of the P/S’ hypocritical nature, the drawn out and repetitive theme of actually doing and caring as being THE decisive factor becomes critical. The Last Word on Judgement, then, is not on the interpretation of the Law, but on doing it. We should always, always add this element to our eschatological understanding of this passage.

P.S. Gosh! I love what I do for a living.

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FOOTNOTES:

* Sitting was the normal position for someone to teach in the ancient world.

** Matthew does some fancy footwork here. For the surprise of the “sheep” surprises the reader: these people were given permission to enter, yet still they pause to ask why. Although this may naturally serve some other purpose, it gives the opportunity to repeat this key theme in the speech of the “sheep” again!

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So, here’s another one of those posts. Bear with me, even though I mention the word “Greek”, this is more like Greek-extra-lite. With a “to the side”. Seriously.

There’s this thing in Greek. It’s called the genitive absolute, and mark my words, it’s absolutely fabulous. I’ve been trying to point this out to students, but, I fear, many of them just … don’t see the point. It’s all too grammary for them. So, maybe this will help – even for the unitiated. It’s a very short story in Matthew (9:32-34), here’s the first part in the updated NIV version:

32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

Now, I won’t go on about blah blah you’ve got to read the Greek to understand it. I’ll just imply that and continue. Notice how there is no mention of the action of driving out the demon, at least what concerns the story-line: the mute man comes, the ex-mute man speaks. One can see this in the English (“and when the demon was driven out”), but it’s even more clear in the Greek: enter the aforementioned champion grammar-thingy of the day, our genitive absolute.

To explain the important work of the GA in lay-man’s terms: it takes two sentences, scrunches them together; the most important sentence pops out on top. Thus, and mostly so in narrative, the GA kind of pushes one sentence to the side, while the main sentence is placed in the spotlight. This is exactly what happens at the start of verse 33. Not only the act of exorcism, but also the demon itself has been assigned a second place in the grammar. In Matthew’s story, the poor thing had no chance! There’s no battle, no reprimand, no … nothing. Just a storyteller who tells us: let’s leave this to the side for now, it would’ve happened anyway. (In plain Afrikaans: Gaan sit in die hoekie, demoon, die grootmense wil bietjie gesels.)

I feel obligated to point out that one shouldn’t go overboard with genitive absolutes (or grammar, for that matter), sometimes it’s just – grammar. For instance, verse 32 also starts with a GA, but in this case, it simply sets the scene for what is to follow. (The people left, they’re not in the picture anymore, a new stage is being set.)

Also, the story continues – verse 34 is still part of the story.

34 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

But since I just wanted to highlight something in the story, and not explain the story itself, I’ll leave you to it. (But here’s a tip: Matt 12:24 and following might help.)

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FOOTNOTES

Verse 33 starts like this in Greek: καὶ ἐκβληθέντος τοῦ δαιμονίου ἐλάλησεν ὁ κωφός.

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