ἰῶτα in Matt 5:18: Which “Law”?

It’s interesting that Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that not a ἰῶτα will pass away/fall away/disappear from the law. That’s a Greek letter. Could this mean Matthew/Jesus are referring to the Septuagint translation of the Torah, specifically? Or at least had the Greek translation in mind, alongside the Hebrew Torah?

More questions, maybe unanswerable: Was Jesus speaking Aramaic here? Or Greek? Or Aramaic and then said ἰῶτα in Greek?

Here’s John Nolland, from his NIGTC commentary:

“To what does Matthew intend ἰῶτα to refer? While ἰῶτα is the simplest of the Greek letters (a vertical line), it does not make a particularly striking image for a tiny detail of the wording of the Law. The synagogue practice of giving the reading from the Law in Hebrew, followed by translation, may suggest that Matthew has the Hebrew text in mind. In that case ἰῶτα could represent yod (as frequently claimed), the smallest of the Hebrew consonants, and one which sometimes contributes nothing to the meaning.”

I find this less than compelling. If Matthew had the Hebrew Law in mind, couldn’t he have put a Greek transliteration of yod (or some other Hebrew letter) on Jesus’s lips?

Or is Nolland right, and Matthew simply translated Jesus’s “yod” into Greek, much as he would already be translating Jesus’s Aramaic speech into Greek (assuming Jesus did, in fact, primarily speak Aramaic)?

The larger interpretive question of what Jesus means theologically doesn’t seem to hinge on these language-specific questions, but I find them interesting all the same.

2018: (Any Language) Gospels in a Year

from The Book of Kells

I am one week in with the Greek Gospels in 2018 reading plan I made. Last week I also invited my congregation to join me in English, so I’ll be able to have some good in-person conversations about the content of the Gospels, too.

Each Gospel has its own three months. Readings are listed for Monday-Friday, with weekends left open for review, other reading, catch-up, or a break. Friday always ends with the last verse of a chapter.

The plan linked below also includes suggested passages each week for ​lectio divina, an ancient way of reading Scripture that goes back to at least the Middle Ages. Lectio divina, many readers of this blog will be aware, is Latin for “divine reading” or “holy reading,” where we read Scripture slowly, reflectively, and prayerfully. (There is a short primer on the practice here, based on a sermon I preached in Lent 2016.)

Let me know if you’ll be reading along! The plan is here.

2018: Greek Gospels in a Year

 

I plan to read through the four canonical Gospels in Greek in 2018: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

I’ve created a reading plan, which divides the Gospels into three months each, Monday through Friday (with weekends to catch up, review, or take a break).

fullsizeoutput_39f2-e1514662411967.jpegThere is also a weekly reading suggestion for an accompanying Greek textbook to help with vocabulary and grammar: Rod Decker’s Reading Koine Greek.

The plan also includes suggested passages for ​lectio divina each week, for those who want to engage with the Greek text reflectively and prayerfully. Finally, the plan concludes with 16 tips for Scripture memory, for those who want to add that component, as well.

Phew! I am looking forward to reading through the Gospels in this way.

Here is the plan as a PDF, with navigable/hyperlinked Table of Contents: PDF.

And here is the plan as an interactive Accordance User Tool: User Tool.

Would you like to join me? Let me know in the comments or by emailing me through this form. I’m off all social media in 2018 (woo hoo!), but will respond to comments here, as well as at Accordance Bible Software’s “Greek in a Year” forum (here).

OT and NT Library from Westminster John Knox, Now in Accordance

This week Accordance Bible Software has released a massive 68-volume bundle from Westminster John Knox Press: the Old Testament Library and New Testament Library.

The whole bundle, which is also available in component parts, includes a full set of 31 Old Testament commentaries, a series of 15 New Testament commentaries, and topical monographs for both Testaments. Here’s an article from Accordance on the release. In this post I interact with the bundle, as well as provide a short video demonstration of how to smartly search the modules via different search fields.

 
 

Sample Passage: Mark 12:13-17 (Among Others)

 
 

Nothing against commentaries that draw on an established translation, but I appreciate commentaries (like this one) where the author offers an original translation with explanatory footnotes.

Here’s Mark 12:13-17 in Eugene M. Boring’s original translation:

12:13 And they are sending some of the Pharisees and Herodians to him, to set a verbal trap for him. 14 And they come and say to him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and answer without regard to what people may think, for you show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it right to pay the poll tax to the emperor, or not? Should we pay it, or should we not?” 15 But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and show it to me.” 16 And they brought one. And he says to them, “Whose image is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give back to the emperor the things that belong to the emperor, and to God the things that belong to God.” And they were utterly astounded at him.

This section reads well enough. Note that Boring translates the beginning of the verse

Καὶ ἀποστέλλουσιν πρὸς αὐτόν τινας τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ τῶν Ἡρῳδιανῶν

as

And they are sending some of the Pharisees and Herodians to him….

The “and” is translated (better, I think) in other versions as “then” (NRSV) and “later” (NIV). And I don’t find compelling reason in an English translation to preserve Greek’s “historical present” (ἀποστέλλουσιν) as “they are sending,” when the passage is describing a past narrative event. Formal English narrative prose wouldn’t be expected to use historical present. So, too, with verse 14’s, “And they come and say to him….” But that doesn’t overshadow Boring’s exegetical prowess!

For the second part of verse 13, ἵνα αὐτὸν ἀγρεύσωσιν λόγῳ, Boring provides a nice explanatory footnote:

The dative / instrumental logō, without preposition or pronoun, can refer either to what the inquirers say, “with a question,” or what they try to get Jesus to say, “in what he said.”

The translations throughout the OT and NT Library are strong in this regard—the authors highlight other options and why they chose what they did, focusing on lexical and grammatical challenges as they arise.

OTL and NTL are full of historical background:

While in the Markan story line the whole scene is part of the effort to find grounds on which Jesus may be arrested, the question itself, and Jesus’ response to it, is also inherently important for Mark. It was a live issue in his own time, in which the relation of Christians to the demands of the Roman government was not an abstract problem.

And more:

The denarius was a Roman coin, bearing the image of the emperor and an inscription declaring him to be divine and pontifex maximus (high priest). Not only the image, but the inscription, would be offensive to Jewish sensibilities.

In addition to focus on grammatical-historical detail, the series is refreshingly theological in a way that keeps the wider biblical witness in view for a given passage. Here’s more of Boring on this passage in Mark:

There is no paralleling of Caesar and God. God is God and Caesar is not God, in direct opposition to the image and title on the coin. The world is not divided into two parallel kingdoms. There is no encouragement in this text for dividing the world into “secular” and “sacred,” with Caesar ruling the one and God the other, nor is there any “balancing” of civic obligation to the state and religious obligation to God. Obligation to God overbalances all else (cf. 12:44, which concludes this section). Caesar is relative and God is absolute, so the two statements are not on the same plane; the second relativizes the first. Even the conjunction kai that joins them is not coordinating but adversative (as, e.g., Rom 1:13). Caesar does have a kingdom, and Jesus’ followers live in it, but God is the creator of all, and God’s kingdom embraces all, including that of Caesar. Thus while the saying itself calls on Jesus’ hearers to give both Caesar and God their due, it is not directed to those situations in which one must choose between God and Caesar as Lord. When those situations arise, devotion to God must clearly take precedence over Caesar; God demands all (12:29–30; cf. Acts 5:29). But the saying does not tell the hearer in advance how to discern what those situations are.

(His honesty and humility are refreshing!)

Again, the attention given to the passage in its wider literary-biblical context is a hallmark of the series. Here is Stephen E. Fowl on Ephesians 4:1 (“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received”):

Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians is that they walk in a manner worthy of their calling. The use of the term “to walk” to characterize a way of life already appeared in 2:2, to refer to the Ephesians’ moribund way of life outside of Christ. In 2:10 it is used to speak of the manner of life that God has prepared for believers, further connecting chapters 1–3 and 4–6. Here in chapter 4 the initial admonition to the Ephesians is to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” The standard to which the Ephesians’ common life should conform is the “calling with which they have been called.” This calling is first mentioned in 1:18, but it is really in 2:1–10 and 11–22 where the shape of this calling is developed. Recall that in chapter 2 the Ephesians learn of their deathly state in God’s purview and outside of Christ, yet also of how God has graciously delivered them from death into life in Christ so that they may walk in the good works that God has prepared for them. Hence, Paul is not setting some new standard for them. Rather, he is reminding them of what God has already done on their behalf.

When it comes to critical issues like authorship, the volumes I’ve interacted with take a balanced approach. Here’s Fowl, again, on Ephesians:

The overwhelming majority of people read Ephesians for broadly theological reasons. That is, they read Ephesians because it is indisputably a part of Christian Scripture, and Christians by virtue of their identity are called to a lifelong engagement with Scripture as part of their ongoing struggle to live and worship faithfully before the triune God. Christians read Scripture in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts to deepen their love of God and love of neighbor. Given the ends for which Christians engage Scripture theologically, the issue of authorship is not particularly relevant. Ephesians plays the role it does in the life and worship of Christians because it is part of the canon, not because it is written by Paul or not written by Paul. The text is canonical, Paul is not.

There are some real standouts in the series: Gerhard von Rad on Genesis, Brevard S. Childs on Exodus and Isaiah, Leslie C. Allen on Jeremiah, Adele Berlin on Lamentations, Luke Timothy Johnson on Hebrews, and more. I wish I’d had this Berlin volume as I preached through Lamentations last Lent! (I did access some pages via Google Books preview.)

 
 

VIDEO: Using Search Fields in Accordance

  

How about the OT/NT Library in Accordance specifically? In April I made a 12-minute screencast (just for fun… and for free!) that explains how to read a book in Accordance. I highlight four features that you won’t find on Kindle or that aren’t possible in print. (Here’s the link.) All that I highlight in that video is true of just about any tool in Accordance.

In the below video, I take a shorter time (if you don’t have 12 minutes) to highlight just one feature that sets Accordance apart from other software: search fields.

 
 

 
 

Where to Get It

  

For a few more days, the OT/NT Library is on sale through Accordance.

The OT/NT Library is also available as individual commentaries, if you want to pick up just the volume covering whatever book you’re studying or preaching on now.

You can read more about the new release here, which includes hyperlinks to the full bundle, the smaller bundles, and individual volumes. And be sure to check out Wes Allen’s review here!

 


 

Thanks to the PTB at Accordance for providing me with free access to the OT/NT Library in exchange for a review. This provision did not influence my assessment of the series! See my other Accordance posts (there are many) gathered here. I recorded the video using the app Capto.

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary (OT, NT): Big Accordance Sale

Image via Accordance

 

One of the most promising new commentary projects continues to add new volumes: the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series, covering both Old and New Testament books.

Accordance Bible Software has a huge sale on the OT and NT volumes, both as collections and individual volumes. Check out the details here.

Want to read more about individual volumes in the series?

I reviewed Daniel I. Block’s Obadiah volume here. And Kevin J. Youngblood’s Jonah volume might just be the best commentary I’ve worked through on Jonah. (A remarkable feat, as there is no dearth of Jonah commentaries!) I have not yet reviewed Block’s Ruth volume, but noted it here.

And I’ve reviewed these NT volumes: Matthew, Colossians and Philemon, James, and Luke… with a book note on Mark here. (Fun fact: the Luke ZECNT volume was the very first commentary reviewed at Words on the Word.)

If you haven’t gotten lost in the above hyperlinks, here is the link again to the sale at Accordance. Overall this is a series I’ve been impressed with, and have made good use of in preaching.

Brand New Accordance Webinar I’m Leading Tomorrow on the Septuagint

 

Tomorrow I am leading a brand new Accordance Bible Software webinar: Studying the Septuagint with Accordance.

The session will cover as many of these topics as we’ll have time for in an hour:

• Septuagint resources in Accordance
• Setting up an LXX and Greek NT Workspace
• The New Testament’s use of the Old Testament
• LXX Reading for vocabulary acquisition
• Reading the Septuagint with Göttingen editions
• Advanced: Hebrew-Greek translation equivalents and the MERGE search (as time permits)

I’m looking forward to this one. Sign up info is here.

 

Lee Irons’s Greek NT Syntax Guide, Reviewed

One of my favorite seminary classes was a Greek exegesis course in the book of Hebrews. The Greek of that book is difficult! Hebrews can even be a challenging read in English translation.

Part of our required assignment was to keep a translation and exegesis notebook, translating much of the book verse-by-verse, with our own comments on the vocabulary, grammar, and theology.

In those days Charles Lee Irons had a boatload of free PDFs on his Website, syntax guides for each book of the Greek New Testament. I printed out his Hebrews guide and kept it close at hand.

Now, some years later, Irons has turned his helpful work into a full book: A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament (Kregel, 2016).

This new resource is beautifully produced:

 

 

Irons’s goal is to help the reader toward fluid reading of the Greek New Testament: “to assist readers of the Greek New Testament by providing brief explanations of intermediate and advanced syntactical features of the Greek text.” The focus is on grammar and how words work together, rather than vocabulary helps for individual words per se.

In addition, should a sentence in the GNT lose the reader due to length, word order, or idiom, Irons’s guide provides the needed translation. Here’s an example:

 

 

Irons has created the book to be used in tandem with a reader’s GNT (see here or here), or with Kregel’s excellent New Reader’s Lexicon of the GNT.

The book’s size and production is such that it fits right with other GNTs:

 

 

 

 

Here it is next to a larger Reader’s GNT:

 

 

The binding appears to be sewn. This is as hoped for with a book that a reader might want to use for many years.

 

 

One pleasant surprise is how often Irons details Hebraisms and keeps an eye on the Septuagint and its influence on the GNT. He does that right from the beginning, in fact, as with this entry for Matthew 1:2

1:2 | Ἀβραὰμ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰσαάκ = LXX 1 Chron 1:34 – note the unexpected definite article τόν before the name of the person begotten, and so throughout vv. 2–16. Formula used in the LXX genealogies: x ἐγέννησεν τὸν y (see LXX Gen 5:6 ; 10:8 ; 1 Chron 2:10ff)

Here is a full sample page:

 

 

It is difficult to imagine an intermediate Greek reader working through the New Testament with just a Greek text and this book… as the author notes, the Syntax Guide is best used with a Reader’s GNT where infrequently occurring vocabulary is already glossed. And of course a book of this brevity will (inevitably) include grammatical matters that Irons does not comment on—it covers fewer words and phrases, for example, than “Max and Mary” (A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament).

But in the dozens of Greek chapters I read with just a Reader’s GNT and Irons’s book at hand, there were very few times when I had a grammatical question Irons didn’t treat.

You can check out a longer excerpt of the book here. And you can purchase it at Amazon here or through Kregel here.

 


 

Thanks to Kregel for the review copy, given for the purposes of this write-up, but with no expectation as to the content of my review.