Newly Published JETS Article by BibleMesh Contributors

Biblical_GreekThe Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society’s most recent issue (March 2016) contains an article on the Greek verbal system by three contributors to BibleMesh’s Greek courses. The article, coauthored by Nicholas J. Ellis, Michael G. Aubrey, and Mark Dubis, is titled “The Greek Verbal System and Aspectual Prominence: Revising Our Taxonomy and Nomenclature.” (Download here.)

This article describes BibleMesh’s approach to the Greek verbal system, particularly as advanced in our Greek courses. Building on the insights of D. S. Bhat, who argues that languages can give prominence to either tense, aspect, or mood, Ellis, Aubrey, and Dubis argue that the morphology of Greek provides important evidence that Greek is an aspect-prominent language, though one that also incorporates tense within the indicative mood. Aspect can take three distinct forms in Greek: perfective, imperfective, and combinative. Aspect describes a situation’s internal temporal structure. For example, “he ate” is perfective in aspect, being presented as a simple whole, with no reference to anything that happened between the initiation and conclusion of the event. By way of contrast, “he was eating” is imperfective, describing a situation as being in process. “He has eaten” is combinative, describing a complex situation in which a perfective event (“he ate”) leads to a situation with ongoing results or relevance (e.g., the resulting relevance of having eaten previously may well be that no additional food is presently needed).

Using an extensive series of tables, Ellis, Aubrey, and Dubis walk readers through Greek’s verbal system and demonstrate that Greek has a simpler and more straightforward organization than that which appears in traditional Greek grammars. Instead of being organized by the traditional six principal parts (present, future, aorist, perfect, perfect middle, and aorist passive), Greek’s fundamental arrangement is around its three aspects. Indeed, most of Greek’s verbal paradigms (that is, the nonindicative paradigms) make no use of tense, employing only aspect. It is only in the indicative mood that tense is layered on top of Greek’s fundamental aspectual organization, with the presence of the augment distinguishing past from nonpast forms. The resulting analysis of the indicative mood (in the active voice of the ω conjugation) is as follows[1]:

Greek

[1] Note that the combinative subjunctive and optative are left blank since they do not appear with distinct grammaticalized forms.

The above chart displays that regular perfective forms share a σ (or sometimes a κ, as with the “kappa aorists”); this σ is an “aspect marker” for perfective aspect (not a tense formative!). The imperfective forms share an unmarked lexical core (though in the μι conjugation, imperfective forms are explicitly marked by reduplication, e.g., the δι in δίδωμι). Ellis, Aubrey, and Dubis dub the final aspect as “combinative” since it derives from a typical combination of imperfective and perfective aspect markers (both reduplication as an imperfective aspect marker and a κ as a perfective aspect marker). Since these combinative forms describe a past completed action with ongoing results or relevance, this morphological combination of aspect markers is not surprising: the past completed action is naturally referred to by the perfective aspect marker and the ongoing results or relevance of that completed action are naturally referred to by the imperfective aspect marker.

In each of the three aspects, the lexical core along with its aspect markers constitute the aspect stem. Thus all of the forms of λύω in the chart above can be broken down into three aspect stems: the perfective λυσ, the imperfective λυ, and the combinative λελυκ. With the inclusion of an augment, the indicative forms of these three aspects subdivide into past and non-past forms. Thus aorist and future indicatives are both perfective, present and imperfect indicatives are both imperfective, and perfect and pluperfect forms are both combinative.

The full article applies this aspectual analysis in greater depth to μι conjugation verbs as well as middle-passive forms (which, following Carl Conrad, are viewed as a single voice encompassing both middle and passive functions, so that Greek has only two instead of three voices).

The significance of this article is at least twofold. First, Greek grammar has a simpler organizational structure than that which appears in traditional Greek grammars, and a realization of this (and a corresponding restructuring of Greek paradigms) makes Greek easier for professors to teach and easier for students to learn. Second, some traditional grammatical labels misconstrue the true structure of Greek, particularly those that treat Greek as though it were, like English, a tense-prominent language (e.g., the use of “present” outside of the indicative mood or the use of “tense formative” for morphemes that are really aspect markers). Consequently, we need to reform our descriptive labels and our general conception of Greek accordingly. In doing so, we will see the simplicity and beauty of the Greek verb for what it is and, more importantly, we will be better equipped to interpret the message of the New Testament without imposing the alien constraints of our own language upon it.

To download the full article, click the following bibliographical link:

Nicholas J. Ellis, Michael G. Aubrey, and Mark Dubis. “The Greek Verbal System and Aspectual Prominence: Revising Our Taxonomy and Nomenclature.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 59/1 (2016): 33–62.

To see descriptions of BibleMesh’s Greek courses, go to http://biblemesh.com/course-partner/biblical-languages-courses.

 

 

 

Was Jesus Omniscient During His Earthly Life?

The short answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. But a longer answer may be more helpful in processing the biblical data. That’s because Scripture, at first blush, appears to make contradictory statements about Jesus’ knowledge. On one hand, He knew people’s thoughts (Mark 2:8), was able to distinguish true believers from non-believers (John 6:64), knew “from the beginning” Judas would betray Him (John 6:64), and in fact knew “all things” (John 16:30). On the other hand, He “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52) and did not know the day or hour of His second coming (Mark 13:32). How do we put these statements together? How can one who knows all things also not know the time of His return? How can one who knows all things also increase in wisdom?

BiblepagesThe answer lies in a doctrine articulated some 1,500 years ago at a gathering of Christian leaders known as the Council of Chalcedon. That meeting yielded a now-famous statement declaring Jesus to possess “two natures . . . the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons.” In other words, Jesus possessed (and continues to possess) both a divine nature and a human nature. But He doesn’t somehow have a split personality or, like the Trinity, possess distinct persons who interact with one another within the same essence. No, the single, unified person of Jesus is both fully God and fully human.

Scripture, while making it “perfectly evident that only one person is intended,”[1] makes some statements that seem to apply specifically to one nature or the other. For instance, Romans 1:3-4 says Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness.” Similarly, Philippians 2:6-8 says He “was in the form of God” and also was “found in human form.” Someone might be tempted to ask, “Which is it? Was Jesus in the form of God or in human form? Was He descended from David or the Son of God?” But the doctrine of His two natures in one person allows us to respond, “It’s both.”

This truth is instructive when it comes to understanding Christ’s knowledge. Statements of omniscience during His earthly ministry reference His divine nature while statements of limited knowledge reference His human nature. Theologian Wayne Grudem explained it this way: “Jesus learned things and had limited knowledge with respect to His human nature but was always omniscient with respect to His divine nature, and therefore he was able any time to ‘call to mind’ whatever information would be needed for His ministry.”[2]

If this seems confusing or even fanciful, consider an analogy: You and I have a body and a soul yet within one undivided person. The body is material, with all the properties of physical matter and, in itself, none of the properties of an immaterial soul. The soul, on the other hand, is non-physical and has properties like eternality, consciousness, and intelligence. Some statements predicated of a single, undivided person are made with singular reference to either body or soul. For instance, “Bob got burned” references Bob’s body while “Bob is intelligent” references his soul. “Bob craves pizza” references his body while “Bob is morally virtuous” references his soul. At times, statements about Bob may appear contradictory because of his body-soul union within one person. For instance, “Bob is eternal” yet “Bob will die and decay.” Obviously, analogies have limits, but you get the point.[3]

If the interplay between Christ’s omniscience and His limited knowledge still seems a bit fuzzy to you, don’t worry. As with, many of the Bible’s great doctrines, our job is to trust God, and then give praise for “the depth of the riches and wisdom of God,” whose judgments ultimately are “unsearchable” and whose ways are “inscrutable” (Romans 10:33).

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Endnotes

[1] Louis Berkhoff, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1938), 323.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 561.

[3] This analogy is drawn from Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, [1871]), 378-80.

A Christian Nation on First Impression

In 2008, Times columnist Matthew Parris wrote a surprising piece entitled, “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God.”[i] He built part of his case on first impressions:

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away.

I thought of Parris’s account when reading recently a series of reports written some 180 years earlier by a Frenchman visiting the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville. His hefty Tocquevillebook Democracy in America chronicled his impressions, which were basically favorable. He’d seen the fruit of the French Revolution, and now he was reflecting on the outcomes of the American Revolution. He didn’t give our budding nation a clean bill of health, for Andrew Jackson, famous for pushing the Cherokees on a Trail of Tears, was in the White House, and the Civil War that would end slavery was decades away. Furthermore, he was skeptical that the arts could rise to European levels, but he was impressed with the spirit of the people, a spirit he found to be informed by their faith. In his estimation, they had “brought to the New World a Christianity” he could not “depict better than to call it democratic and republican . . . From the beginning, politics and religion were in accord, and they have not ceased to be so since.”[ii]

He noted that “the sects in the United States are within the great Christian unity, and the morality of Christianity is everywhere the same.” He granted that there must be hypocrites and those who followed “their habits more than their convictions,” but concluded, “America is . . . still the place in the world where the Christian religion has most preserved genuine powers over souls; and nothing shows better how useful and natural to man it is in our day, since the country in which it exercises the greatest empire is at the same time the most enlightened and most free.” [iii]

He admired the separation of church and state, but insisted religion should “be considered as the first of their political institutions” for “it singularly facilitates their use of” freedom. He went on, “I do not know if all Americans have faith in their religion—for who can read to the bottom of hearts?—but I am sure they believe it necessary to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion does not belong only to one class of citizens or to one party, but to the entire nation; one finds it in all ranks.”[iv] Not surprising, for, in his view, it was “religion that gave birth to the Anglo-American societies: one must never forget this; in the United States religion is therefore intermingled with all national habits and all the sentiments to which a native country gives birth; that gives it a particular strength.”[v]

He went on to say that Islam could not support an America,[vi] and lamented the comparative loss of faith in his homeland: “I am ignorant of what one would have to do to give back the energy of youth to European Christianity, God alone could do it.”[vii] And while giving the predominating Protestantism its due, he was pleased to report, “America is the most democratic land on earth, and it is at the same time the county where, according to trustworthy reports, the Catholic religion is making most progress.”[viii]

Psalm 33:12a says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,” and, arguably, Tocqueville saw this truth reflected in some measure in America. Of course, we must ask what he would see if he returned today, either to America or to his native Europe. What evidence would he find of Christian devotion and its concomitant blessedness? Were his investigations discouraging, we could at least join him in a hope for revival, all the while granting that “God alone could do it.”

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Endnotes

[i] Matthew Parris, “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God,” Times, December 27, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/matthewparris/article2044345.ece (accessed March 18, 2016).

[ii] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Translated, Edited, and with an Introduction by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000), 275.

[iii] Tocqueville, 278.

[iv] Tocqueville, 280.

[v] Tocqueville, 406.

[vi] Tocqueville, 419, 420.

[vii] Tocqueville, 288.

[viii] Tocqueville, 424.

Clash of Worldviews—”Man: A Course of Study”

In 1963, Harvard psychology professor Jerome Bruner convened a group of scholars in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their purpose was to develop a new social studies curriculum for America’s schools. Intoxicated with visions of the Great Society, many evolution.earthbelieved that the social sciences could solve the nation’s greatest ills. The National Science Foundation eventually awarded Bruner’s team $4.8 million to develop Man: A Course of Study (MACOS), a curriculum designed to teach fourth through sixth graders a purely naturalistic view of human nature.1 Many hailed it as a groundbreaking advance in educational theory. Christian parents, however, recognized it as a dangerous tool of social manipulation and secular indoctrination.

Bruner was perhaps the nation’s premier “expert” in educational matters. After a stint with the Army during World War II, studying the effects of propaganda on public opinion, he turned his attention to public education. He published several books including The Process of Education and The Culture of Education.2 Rejecting the traditional model of a teacher imparting knowledge to students, Bruner advanced a more liberal theory of education based on the free expression of ideas—students would learn more from creating answers than from reading them in books.3

True to Bruner’s philosophy, MACOS rejected an objective moral standard; right and wrong were determined solely by one’s environment. For instance, one segment of the course focused on the Netsilik Eskimos, among whom euthanasia and infanticide were common. Of course, such practices were unacceptable in American society, but who was to say they were absolutely wrong in a harsh environment where food was scarce? The course also denied any fundamental distinction between human and beast, inviting students to draw conclusions about humans from the behavior of salmon or apes.

Again and again, MACOS pressed the idea that no belief or behavior had value apart from its cultural context. “Our hope,” said Bruner, “is to lead children to understand how man goes about understanding the world, making sense of it; that one kind of explanation is no more human than another.”4 Congress eventually defunded MACOS, but by 1974, it had been purchased by some 1,700 schools in forty-seven states.5 And though its day has passed, it lives on through its many offspring, found in public schools throughout the land. In fact, the spirit of MACOS even lives on in other parts of the world.6

Christian parents may hope their schoolchildren are being taught firm morality, consistent with God’s Word. Unfortunately, many young people are being tutored in cultural relativism, the notion that all ethical judgments are subjective and arbitrary. Without trust in a transcendent, righteous, Creator God, many teachers make man the measure of all things—and a poor measure at that.7 Public schools may be the best option for a particular child’s education, but Christian parents must know their children are learning more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They may be absorbing a worldview that can undermine and destroy the Christian values instilled at home.

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Endnotes

1 Dorothy Nelkin, The Creation Controversy (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982), 48.

2  Mark K. Smith, “Jerome Bruner and the Process of Education,” The Encyclopedia of Informal Education Website, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/bruner.htm.

3 This summary of Bruner’s educational philosophy taken from Nelkin, 49-51.

4 Ibid., 50.

5 Ibid., 51.

6 In the 1970s, MACOS “kits” found their way to Queensland, Australia where parents quickly objected to their children being told stories of wife-swapping Eskimos. Although MACOS was stopped, an indigenous version was created, the Social Education Materials Project (SEMP). The SEMP curriculum taught that all values and behaviors are equal, and it encouraged teachers to avoid any moralizing or criticizing. Although the government banned SEMP in 1978, the promotion of “progressive” education has not faltered. See Dan O’Donnell, “Ethics and Values in Education: Can Schools Teach Right and Wrong?” (a paper presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Newcastle, Australia, November 24, 1994), The Australian Association for Research in Education Website, http://www.aare.edu.au/94pap/odond94077.txt (accessed June 28, 2005).

7 This is exactly what teachers in Hong Kong are tempted to do. In a 2002 survey, a group of teachers indicated an appreciation for a humanistic curriculum that makes students “the crucial source of science curriculum” (italics added). Pun Hon Ng and Derek Cheung, “Student-teachers’ Beliefs on Primary Science Curriculum Orientations,” New Horizons in Education 45-46 (May – November 2002), 44. The MACOS worldview is evident: objective truth and the mastery of science takes a back seat to “personal liberation and development.”

Praying for the King

Vintage Balance Scale1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!

Psalm 72:1-3 (ESV)

Britain’s constitution recognizes that all government comes from God and depends on Him if it is to be godly. Each parliamentary session opens with prayer, one of which begins, “Almighty God, by whom alone Kings reign, and Princes decree justice; and from whom alone cometh all counsel, wisdom, and understanding; we thine unworthy servants, here gathered together in thy Name, do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations . . .”1

When Israel first demanded a king, they sinned, because they wanted one like the nations around them (1 Sam. 8:4-9). However, Samuel had warned them that such a king would not rule them justly, but would be greedy for personal gain (1 Sam. 8:11-14).3 Years later, King David recognized that if his son was not to be like the sinful rulers of the world, prayer was vital.

David longed for Solomon, his firstborn son, to rule with God’s justice and righteousness. “Justice” when used together with “righteousness” represents an ideal of social justice. In Israel, where the king was also a judge (e.g., 1 Kings 3:16-28), it was vital for him to judge people justly, especially the poor. Rather than abusing his power to grab what he could, a godly king would treat even his poorest subject rightly. Whilst David longed for Israel to prosper after he died, he wanted that prosperity to be founded on righteousness (v. 3).

David’s prayer was answered. When the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon, she saw a wise ruler of a prosperous nation, executing justice and righteousness (1 Kings 10:6-9). Nevertheless Solomon eventually turned from the Lord, his justice and righteousness were imperfect, and his sin led to the division of his kingdom. The full answer to David’s prayer would have to wait until the arrival of the true Son of David—Christ Jesus, who rules with perfect justice and righteousness, giving decisions for the poor, and whose prosperous kingdom will have no end.

However, although the psalm speaks mainly of the Lord Jesus, it also has secondary applications to all those in authority, whether kings, prime ministers, or presidents. If Israel sinned by wanting a king like the nations around them, Psalm 72 explains what it means to be a godly king unlike the sinful rulers of the world. David’s prayer tells us what God values in any ruler: righteousness and justice, which leads both to prosperity for the nation and justice for the poor.

Such qualities are not found naturally in fallen men; they are a gift of God. Happy then is the nation where Christians and their pastors entreat the Lord for rulers endowed with His justice and righteousness.

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Endnotes

1 Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords (London: The Stationery Office, 2003), Appendix K, http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld/ldcomp/ctso01.htm (accessed October 16, 2003).

Holy Sarcasm?

questionmark26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”

1 Kings 18:26-27 (ESV)

For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves!

2 Corinthians 11:19 (ESV)

At its root, “sarcasm” means “the rending of flesh,” for “flesh” in Greek is sarx. Here, of course, it applies to feelings, not skin. Even so, it is a harsh practice, as anyone who has felt its sting can attest. So some believers might rush to the judgment that sarcasm has no place in Christian writing and speech. After all, following the Golden Rule, who would wish to be on the receiving end of sarcasm? So how could one be warranted in using it?

The problem with condemning sarcasm is that Elijah and Paul used it in godly fashion. The former entered into a theological duel on Mount Carmel, one in which he demonstrated the power of Yahweh over the fictitious god, Baal. When the false prophets failed to elicit fire from heaven to light their sacrifice, Elijah suggested sarcastically that maybe they needed to yell to get his attention or that perhaps he was simply away in the “bathroom.” These were not genuine suggestions; Elijah did not believe in either of them. He merely raised them to embarrass the idolaters.

In Paul’s case, the Corinthian church, which he had founded and to which he had written before, was sliding into heresy. The church had fallen under the thrall of “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13), and the people were proud that they had followed their lead “up to the next level.” Paul made fun of their folly by saying they were so sharp that they were able to work with people who enslaved, devoured, defrauded, looked down on, and battered them (2 Cor. 11:20). He then “confessed” that he was simply too weak to handle that feat (2 Cor. 11:21). It was sarcasm, pure and simple.

Of course, these verses do not encourage sarcasm, much less demand it of God’s people. Some find it constitutionally awkward, if not virtually impossible. Many are convinced that it is always unnecessary, essentially counterproductive, stylistically arrogant, and spiritually toxic. But if they dismiss it utterly, then they rebuke Elijah and Paul – an act of arrogance in its own right.

Certainly, one can overdo it. Indeed, some people trade on an excess of sarcasm, and their presence exhausts the patience and joy of all their listeners. But there is a countervailing danger: Today’s Church has drunk deeply at the well of political correctness and the cult of inviolate sensitivity. In so doing, they have stifled and disarmed prophets, condemning them for “wounding” sinners. They forget that the biblical prophets par excellence used harsh invective of many sorts to make their points. And unless the Church desires to turn its back on them, it should leave the way open for some practice of sarcasm.