Book Review: Charles Lee Irons, A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament

Irons, Charles Lee. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2012. 608 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel

irons-syntaxThis new publication from Kregel follows in the tradition of Sprachlicher Schluessel Zum Griechischen Neuen Testament by Fritz Rienecker (translated and edited by Cleon Rogers, Jr., published as Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan 1982), or The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, an updated text by Cleon Rogers, Jr. and Cleon Rogers, III (Zondervan, 1998).

In the introduction to the volume, Irons distinguishes his syntax guide from a reader’s guide for the Greek New Testament. In a reader’s guide, vocabulary words under a certain frequency are listed verse-by-verse in order to assist the reader rare words. There are several stand-alone volumes such as Michael Burer’s A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Kregel, 2008) or Zondervan’s A Reader’s Greek New Testament (edited by Richard J. Goodrich, Albert L. Lukaszewski, 2007).

A typical page in this syntax guide will have brief entries highlighting idiomatic phrases, often using modern English Bibles (ESV, NASB, NIV). For example, in Acts 20:20 Irons glosses κατʼ οἴκους as “from house to house.”  In Hebrews 10:12, εἰς τὸ διηνεκὲς is glossed as “for all time.”

Second, the guide occasionally identifies syntactical categories. For example, in τῆς πολιτείας is identified as a genitive of separation, citing Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics, 107-8. Not every syntactical category includes reference to a grammar. In Eph 3:8, πάντων ἁγίων is identified as a genitive of comparison without a citation. In John 19:22 γέγραφα is identified as an extensive perfect. In Romans 5:1 the circumstantial participle Δικαιωθέντες is identified as causal, although there are other options.

irons-pagesThird, Irons may include brief comments on unusual uses of vocabulary. For example, in Acts 15:6 the phrase ἰδεῖν περὶ τοῦ λόγου is glossed “to consider this matter” (τούτου is omitted from the comment). For this use of λόγος Irons cites BDAG 1aε. In 1 Tim 3:14 the phrase ἐν τάχει is glossed as “quickly,” periphrasis for an adverb, citing BDAG ἐν 11.

Fourth, there are occasional helps for identifying forms. In 1 Corinthians 5:13 κρινεῖ is identified as “future (note accent).” Perhaps called this a liquid future would have been helpful (there is a minor variant on this verse with a different accent making the form present).

Fifth, Irons comment on textual critical issues, although the goals of the book prevent the entry going into too much detail. In Romans 5:1 he mentions the famous variant for ἔχομεν (present indicative) vs. ἔχωμεν (hortatory subjunctive). He does not provide witnesses, but cites Metzger’s conclusion. His notes on Galatians 2:4-5 are more detailed, but limited to four options based on syntax rather than textual evidence. He does not mention textual variants for John 7:53-8:11, 1 John 5:8, or the longer ending of Mark.

Following the verse-by-verse syntactical guide are indices of syntactical elements identified in the guide. These include Septuagintisms, foreign words (Aramaic, Hebrew, Latinisms and Semiticisms), discourse structure (asyndeton, coordination, parenthesis and period), and figures of speech (16 varieties). Under “atypical constructions” Irons includes anacoluthon, mixed and difficult constructions, pregnant and rare constructions, solecisms and other “peculiar” constructions. These indices are valuable to teachers of the Greek New Testament for finding examples of various syntactical features.

There is always a danger with a tool like this that it will become a crutch for students rather than a helpful tool. When I took Greek as an undergraduate some students relied on Sakae Kubo’s A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon or The Analytical Greek Lexicon which parsed every verb and noun form in the New Testament. These tools have been largely replaced by Bible software which identifies all grammatical elements of words and can open BDAG with a simple click. What once was a crutch has become more like a mechanized robot suit! These tools enable people with a little Greek to comment on the text more intelligently, but run the risk of giving someone information without understanding. Just knowing a Greek word is in the aorist tense (for example) does not interpret the text. A student needs to be familiar with how an aorist tense verb can be used in a given context in order to shed light on a text.

Irons’s book does not strike me as a crutch, but a helpful guide to some of the syntactical problems a second year Greek student or busy pastor will encounter as they try to make sense of a particular verse in the Greek New Testament. Despite best intentions, most people do not keep up on their Greek after seminary, so a handy book like this will assist reading of the Greek without becoming a crutch.

The book is published to look like a companion to the UBS Greek New Testament. It is the same size and color, although published in hardback on bright white paper for easy reading. Although I would hesitate to recommend it for a student who is currently taking Greek, A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament should be a valuable help for reading the Greek New Testament for those seeking to hone their syntactical skills by reading the Greek Bible closely.

 

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

 

 

Paul and Empire – Romans 13:1-7

bush-worst-everIn the previous post, I argued that Paul commands obedience to the government.  I pointed out that the Roman government at the time was as oppressive as any in history and permitted any number of practices that we modern American Christians would not put up with more a moment.  Yet Paul said quite clearly that the Christian was to submit to the government because it was God’s appointed minister of justice!

The recent US election resulted in a bad person taking the office of president. I might have written this at any time in the last fifty years and made at least 50% of the US population happy. But in the days following this election the protests seemed louder and more bitter than the anti-Obama or anti-Bush protests. As an American, people have the freedom to protest within the limits of the law and there is nothing illegal about these kinds of protests. It is almost a traditional now to have a small segment of the population enter into a kind of apoplexy when their candidate loses.

Like the Occupy Wall Street movement a few years ago, many anti-Trump protesters are law-abiding and legal protests. Most of the time the people involved work with city officials, obtain permits, etc. The issue that they are raising is important as well: America is incredibly rich and ought to do more to care for the less-wealthy. There is no way anyone in America should be hungry, malnourished, uneducated, or lack access to health care. For most of these protesters, electing a billionaire who appoints other billionaires is not going to solve the problems American faces (unless you are a billionaire already).

Despite the fact Paul says to obey the government in Romans 13, I am not as happy with the  solution offered by the Occupy Wall Street or any presidential candidate. They essentially argue the government is the solution to the real problems of America. The government needs to do something to “spread the wealth.” The highly charged rhetoric of the Trump campaign appealed to people by saying the government can “make America great again.” Trump got elected by saying he could save the country and make people prosperous gain.

trump-neroFor me, this is not a capitalist/socialist issue. It is a matter of responsibility.  I do not think the government should be caring for the poor in a society, but rather the Church.  As I read Romans 13, I see nothing about the government providing a social safety net. The government is ordained to enforce law and keep the peace. The church is to care for the poor and needy and do the job so well there are no poor and needy people. If we are looking to the government for our physical salvation or the president (emperor), are we really any different than the Romans who looked to Caesar as “lord and savior,” the one who makes the world peaceful and prosperous?

I hinted at the end of the last post that Paul did in fact have rather subversive plan to reverse the evils of the Empire.  Like Jesus, Paul is interested in transforming people from death to life. These members of the new creation will then transform society.  Paul was interested in caring for the poor and underclass, and the followers of Jesus modeled their meetings after the table fellowship of Jesus himself.  All shared food and fellowship equally.  That all are equal in the Body of Christ is amazingly subversive in a society which was predicated on social strata and inequality.

An example of the sort of subversive action which had an impact on poverty in the early church is found in 1 Clement 55.  In this letter written at the end of the first century, Clement praises Gentile Christians who have risked plague in order to save fellow citizens, allowed themselves to be imprisoned to redeem others, and sold themselves into slavery in order to feed the poor. I cannot imagine anyone in the twenty-first century taking out a second mortgage and donating the money to a local inner city ministry that cares for the poor. Someone may have done this, but it is exceedingly rare.

I think the church does a good job on some social issues, but given the wealth flowing through most American churches, much more could be done. I am not necessarily talking about throwing money at the problem. There are many creative low-cost efforts to relieve the conditions which cause poverty.

What would happen if the Church dedicated itself to solving poverty in the inner cities of America instead of building big glass churches? What if a single mega-church dedicated their offerings to poverty relief rather than building improvements?  What if we spent as much on helping African orphans as we do on the sound systems for our churches?

Remember that Paul is not talking only to modern America. Every Christian in the world had to work out what it means to “submit to the government” and impact their culture in order to present the gospel to their culture in a meaningful way. I would love to hear from some international readers on this issue, since I am sure my American eyes are not seeing things clearly.

Should Christians Submit to the Government? – Romans 13:1-7

The transformed life ought to effect one’s relationship with government. This is based on common idea from the Hebrew Bible that God ordains the rulers and the nations.  Since Paul is speaking about the Roman empire, it must mean that the Christian ought to obey even an evil government. Paul uses the same verb here in Romans 13 as he did in 8:7, with reference to submitting to the will of God.

Paul therefore means the transformed believer must obey the government because it is God’s appointed authority. By extension, when you obey the government, you obey God.

But most people immediately ask: if that government abuses its power and rules unjustly, is it then appropriate for a Christian to rebel to change that government?  Usually Christians will say they will obey the government insofar as the government commands that are not contrary to God’s commands.

What if the government restricts my personal freedom?  What if the government wants to take my guns away?  What if the government permits same-sex marriage, abortion, or the use of marijuana?  What if the government were to be controlled by Islam and Sharia law is imposed on us?  Should we rebel against the government then?

impeach-obamaI think it is critically important to realize that in the first century, no member of Paul’s congregation would have ever asked this question. No one would have plotted the fall of the Roman empire, nor would a Roman Guy Fawkes attempt to blow up the Roman Senate. Rome really did bring peace to the world and Rome really did provide services which raised the social and economic fortunes of everyone.  No one would have considered joining the “Occupy Appian Way” movement to protest the outrageous economic practices of the Roman Empire, nor (in the interest of being fair and balanced), would anyone dream of complaining about their taxes and joined the Tea Party.

Those categories simply do not exist in the first century, and if they did, Rome would have silenced them with extreme prejudice!  It was impossible for members of Paul’s churches to protest their emperor or hold up “Impeach Nero” signs in public.

Consider what the Roman empire was like in the mid-first century. They did oppress people, the enslaved millions, they promoted the worship of every god imaginable, and they imposed their religious laws on everyone.  Infanticide was practiced and homosexual relationships were permitted (although nothing like gay marriage really existed).  Paul does not add any sort of condition to the command to obey the established government, despite the fact that the Roman government was one of the most oppressive regimes in history!

I do not read anything in Romans 13 or in Paul’s relationship with Rome that sounds anything like a protest against the government.   Paul’s method for dealing with social ills was far more subtle than mass protests – and much more effective.  He told the church to fix the problems themselves by caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan.  There is nothing in Romans 13 which would support the overthrow of Rome, either in the first century or the twenty-first.

Book Giveaway Winner! – NIVAC Galatians by Scot McKnight

mcknight-galatiansToday is the day I pick a winner for a hardback copy of the NIVAC commentary by Scot McKnight on Galatians.

There were 23 comments (after I deleted some duplicates), so I pasted your names in a spreadsheet, sorted them randomly, then generated a random number at random.org.

And the winner is…..

Sam Van Eerden

Congrats to Sam! His favorite commentary on Galatians was Leon Morris, but I think F. F. Bruce was the most popular among the comments, with Luther getting honorable mention. Please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will drop the book in the mail ASAP.

If you have not already done so, head over to Jennifer Guo’s blog, she is giving away the NIVAC volume on Psalms by Gerald Wilson. You have until 11/13 and several ways to enter to win the Psalms commentary. Better luck next time for the rest of you, I have another book or two to give away soon. You can follow this blog or follow me on twitter (@plong42) to hear about future book giveaways.

Thanks to Zondervan for providing this book for the giveaway. Zondervan is offering the 42 volumes of the NIV Application commentary for $4.99 each for a limited time. You have until November 13, 2016 (11:59pm ET) to purchase any volume of this series in an eBook format for only $4.99. They also have a few “bundles” which offer more savings.

Romans 12:1 and the Scapegoat

Paul uses a metaphor for the Christian life in this verse: the “in Christ” people are to be like “living sacrifices” to God. This is a metaphor that a Roman, Greek, or Jew would fully understand. Typically a sacrifice is killed on the altar, but here Paul says that the sacrifice acceptable to God in the present age is to remain alive.

scapegoatNobuyoshi Kiuchi suggested that the background for this living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to the Lord is the Hebrew Bible, specifically the Azazel-goat in Leviticus 16:10-22. As a part of the Day of Atonement ritual, two goats were selected. One would be sacrificed, the other was “presented alive.”

As the high Priest laid his hands on the goat he confessed the sins of the people and the goat was released “into the wilderness” or “for Azazel.”  The Mishnah reports he would say to the goat: “Bear our sins and be gone!” (Yoma 6.4).  As Kiuchi points out, this is the only sacrifice for sin in the Hebrew Bible that is a “living sacrifice.” The tradition that the goat was pushed over a cliff and killed comes from the Mishnah and is not found in Leviticus.

A potential problem for Kiuchi is that the Azazel-goat is never called a living sacrifice in Second Temple literature. In the Mishnah and other texts it is the “sent-away goat” since it represents the sin of the people being carried away into the wilderness. While Kiuchi suggests that Paul’s allusion to the Azazel-goat is intended to draw attention to Leviticus rather that contemporary practice (p. 259), it is hard to see how this is helpful for unpacking the metaphor since it is Jesus that bears away the sin of the believers. Jesus is the “living sacrifice” who solved the problem of sin and human estrangement from God. In this view of the metaphor, the sacrificed goat would be Jesus and the believer is the “living sacrifice.”

The solution is to see the sacrifice in Romans 12:1 as a reference to the new life of the believer in Christ. From a Gentile perspective, living a morally virtuous life is of more value than the worthless dead sacrifices happening in the temples. Even if the Jewish sacrifices are in mind, a life that is lived as a “spiritual form of worship” is better than the daily sacrifice in the Temple.

One aspect of this metaphor of a living sacrifice that is rarely mentioned is the fact that the early Church had virtually no ritual elements compared to other ancient religious movements. Christians did not go to a temple to sacrifice to their god like virtually everyone else in the world at that time. Paul says here that the acceptable sacrifices are not animals, but the worshipers themselves.

How would person living in the first generation of the Church actually go about being a “living sacrifice”?

How radical is this calling that Paul describes here?

Bibliography:  Kiuchi, Nobuyoshi. “Living like the Azazel-goat in Romans 12:1B,” Tyndale Bulletin 57 (2006): 251-61.

Book Giveaway – Scot McKnight, Galatians (NIVAC)

mcknight-galatiansI have a brand new copy of Scot McKnight’s Galatians commentary in NIV Application series. I made some comments in a previous post about this series which is on sale right now for $4.99 a volume in several eBook formats.

McKnight is a very well-known and respected New Testament scholar, known for his work in the Gospels, but also several popular books (Jesus Creed, Blue Parakeet). This commentary follows the pattern of the rest of the NIVAC series. After a short expositional section McKnight sets a given passage into the context of the first century, then attempts to “bridge the gap” by applying the passage to a modern Christian context. These pastoral comments will illuminate how the text might be understood and model a pastor’s heart for interpreting Scripture. This is a very “readable” commentary which will be valuable for anyone who wants to read the book of Galatians closely.

I will send a physical copy of McKnight’s commentary to a randomly selected person who leaves a comment below with their name and their favorite Galatians commentary (other than McKnight, of course).

Since I am leaving for the ETS/SBL meetings next week, this is a fast giveaway: I will pick the winner Friday, November 11.

NIV Application Commentaries eBook Sale

Zondervan is offering the 42 volumes of the NIV Application commentary for $4.99 each for a limited time. Starting on November 7, you can purchase any volume of this series in an eBook format for only $4.99.

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This series features the work of many world-class scholars who have contributed major commentaries on a book. For example, Douglas Moo, who wrote a major commentary in the NICNT series, contributes the NIVAC volume on Romans. It is possible many busy pastors and teachers who do not have the time to wade through all of the exegetical intricacies of Moo’s 1000+ page commentary on Romans will find his comments on Romans in this series more accessible.Image result for NIVAC genesis

Each section of the commentary begins with as section entitled “original meaning.” Here the author provides a narrative commentary on the text. In most cases the commentary reflects the author’s work in the original although there is little reference to Hebrew or Greek. I would characterize this as an exposition of the text rather than exegesis.

After the exposition, the commentary has a short section entitled “bridging contexts.” Since the world of the Bible is different than our world, the authors attempt to set scripture in context of the first century and then provide some analogy to a modern situation. In Scot McKnight’s commentary on Galatians, for example, he describes the challenge of the Judaizers to Paul’s ministry, then draws an analogy the challenge faced of strict fundamentalists today.

Image result for NIVAC galatiansFollowing this section, the author’s offer some application of the text to contemporary Christian life or church practice. This “contemporary significance” is often very personal, McKnight’s comments on fundamentalism are draw from his own experience. These sections will help a pastor or teacher apply the text, but will also be encouraging to general readers.

In fact, the NIV Application series is designed to be an accessible commentary for general readers. Any volume of the series would make a good companion volume to supplement a layperson’s reading of a biblical book. There are footnotes pointing to other literature for readers who want to read the technical, scholarly details and the bibliography will point readers to other more extensive commentaries.

Each commentary is only $4.99 in an eBook format (Amazon/Kindle, Barnes & Noble/Nook; CBD/eBooks; iTunes/iBooks). There are several bundles collecting several NIVAC volumes, starting at $17.99 (Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, Gospels and Acts, Pauline Epistles, General Epistles and Revelation).

The sale ends on November 13, 2016 (Sunday) at 11:59pm ET.