DIGGING DEEP – 5 by Abidan Paul Shah
Some preliminary remarks about language(s):
- It is possible to communicate God’s Word in human words without any errors.
- Avoid claims that one language is intellectually superior to another.
- The main purpose is to understand how the language works at a particular stage and not how it has evolved. For e.g. Grammar and glamour are related.
Recognize language families:
- Semitic (Hebrew and Aramaic)
Our focus is Northwest Semitic, which is divided into Canaanite and Aramaic
Abraham probably spoke an ancient form of Aramaic, coming from the Aramean region, Upper Mesopotamia (Deut. 26:5)
They must have adopted a form of Canaanite that later became Hebrew.
Hebrew probably had its glory days under David and Solomon but did not spread beyond the borders of Israel.
Aramaic became an international language under the Assyrians.
Later the people of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) were taken into exile to Babylon where they adopted Aramaic.
When they returned, they kept both Hebrew and Aramaic but the later became more prominent.
98.5% of the OT was written in Hebrew. Parts of the OT were in Aramaic: Genesis 31:47; Jeremiah 10:11; Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; and Daniel 2:4b-7:28. Also, Jesus more than likely spoke Aramaic based on evidence of inscriptions, Aramaic words in the Gospels, Aramaic papyri evidence, presence of Aramaic in the Jerusalem Talmud and targums.
Hebrew can be divided into various periods: Early Biblical Hebrew (oldest poetic composition), Classical Biblical Hebrew (pre-exilic to post-exilic), Late Biblical Hebrew (Persian Period).
Hebrew almost became a dead language after the destruction of the temple and hence the Masoretes had to insert vowels into the text.
- Indo-European (Greek)
Mycenean Greek goes back to the 13th century BC.
It was fragmented – Ionic (Western coast of Asia Minor), Attica (Athens), Aeolic (Thessaly), Doric (Corinth)
Athens became the cultural center and hence Attic played a big role in Greek literature.
Because of Alexander the Great (356-323BC), it became the lingua franca.
It went through some radical changes and became koine, the language in which the New Testament was written.
Koine is not “Holy Spirit” Greek, just common Greek of the time.
For our purpose of studying the Bible in depth, language can be broken down in 3 parts:
- Word – is the building block of language. But, without a context, words are almost meaningless. For e.g. “Set that on the counter” and “Counter that argument.” One of the most common mistakes in word studies is “Root Fallacy” – meaning is determined by etymology (origin of the word). For e.g. “Good-bye” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “God Be With You.” But, the word “nice” comes from the Latin necius, which means “ignorant.” Other examples: bureau, express, beef, and pork.
Common Greek Misuse: “agapao” vs phileo. Agapao = divine love and phileo = brotherly love. But it is not so clear-cut. There are many overlaps. In Sam 13:15, agapao (LXX) is used for Amnon’s rape of his sister. II Tim 4:10 – Demas left Paul because he loved this present, evil world. Again, John 3:35 – Love =agapao but John 5:20 – Love = phileo.
Along with the syntax, we need literary and historical context. Also, the speech patterns of biblical Hebrew and Greek culture must determine the principles for word study. This does not mean that every root word study is useless.
- Sentence – It’s not enough to look at what the Bible contains but what it communicates. Sentence is a complete thought. Some cautions here as well regarding excessive use of grammatical categories. For e.g. Aorist in Romans 6:10
- Paragraph – Sometimes the Bible indicates where it starts and ends but many times it doesn’t. The context is key. There are many complicated tools to recognize shifts in paragraphs but just being sensitive to the context can help a lot.
- Difference in meaning of the words “faith,” “works,” and “justify” as seen in Romans 4:1-5 and James 2:14-26.
- What is the place of “faith” in Mark 11:22 vs. Galatians 2:16, Acts 3:16, Colossians 2:12?
- How specific is a usage? Philippians 1:27 and Galatians 1:12
- Is this too much grammar? Matthew 7:7
- What is the flow of Romans 1:16-18?