Goodacre and Still picked as NIGTC Editors

9780802872128-e1484253137516Just recently, Eerdmans released some very exciting news for their exceptional commentary series, the NIGTC.

Acclaimed NT scholars Mark Goodacre (Duke) and Todd Still (Baylor) are taking over as coeditors of the series, previously led by Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner.

Congrats to Mark and Todd, we expect great things from them and the NIGTC in the future!

The original Eerdmans press release can be found here.

12 of the 14-volume NIGTC series comes standard on every Logos Gold base package and above (O’Brien’s commentary was pulled for plagiarism issues; Longenecker’s Romans is now available separately, having just been released in 2016).

The Passing of Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J.

The great NT scholar, Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., passed away in December.

America has a moving tribute to him, “Remembering Joseph Fitzmyer,” written by three respected scholars who knew him well, including John Martens, John Meier, and Thomas Stegman.

Requiescat in pace, Joseph.

Note: This post comes a few weeks after the fact, since theLAB was just relaunched in January 2017.

Teaching Greek as a Living Language

The following is a guest post by Paul Nitz, who teaches at the Lutheran Bible Institute, Lilongwe, Malawi.

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From Seminary to Africa
I took the requisite four years of New Testament Greek at a ministerial college. After some more Greek at seminary, I was still not a confident user of the language, but I was ready to dutifully sit down and perform the necessary textual studies for sermon prep. I had a box full of lexicons and grammars, my first PC loaded with Logos (on floppy disks!), and a seminary diploma. All I needed was a place to preach. But God threw me a curveball.

I was sent off to be a missionary in Africa. For ten years, I did little sermon writing and my skill with the biblical languages lagged. Then I was asked to teach at our ministerial school in Malawi, and—you guessed it—one of the classes I was asked to teach was Biblical Greek 101.

I was able to brush up quickly on my Greek knowledge, but I was entirely dissatisfied with the pedagogical approach I had inherited. It hadn’t worked very well with me, and now I could see that it was working with only a small percentage of my students.

The Grammar-Translation Method
Although I didn’t know it by name at the time, I was using the “Grammar Translation Method,” popularized in the 1800’s and, by now, nearly universal in biblical Greek instruction. It’s the method most readers are familiar with: grammatical terms and explanations, a few example Greek sentences, and numerous tables and principal parts to memorize.

A Communicative Approach
So I spent a few years casting about for a better textbook to use. What I found in the end was better: a different approach, namely, the Communicative Method, which treats Koine Greek as a living language.

Communicative methods are those used by modern second-language learning. These are not the Audio-Lingual methods typified by Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, and Berlitz. These are newer strategies based on the theory that we best learn language by using it to negotiate meaning. The approach has produced something of an alphabet soup of methods—TPR, TPRS, WAYK, TBLT and more.

Standard for any communicative method is that comprehensible bits of language are presented to the learner. A sense of genuine communication takes place as learners are offered comprehensible utterances or text, and as they produce coherent speech or writing in response. Learners move, react, and respond just as they would if they were in a Communicative Approach class learning French, Chinese, or any other living language. Explicit grammar might be taught, but only after learners have used language structures implicitly in communication.

Sounds great. But in order to employ this approach in the classroom, I needed to be a fluent speaker of Koine Greek. The learning curve was steep.

I had to know how to say things like “Come here. Sit on that chair… Write your name with the pen… If I give you money, will you give me a ball?”

I needed to get the accent right. When you want to say “come here,” do you say ἔλθε or ἐλθέ?

And what about aspect? Is the default way to say “come!” Aorist Aspect or Present Aspect, ἐλθέ or ἔρχου?

On top of that, how could I know the difference between proper Koine and proper classical usage?

Logos Bible Software
Logos was a constant help in this work. I set up a layout with a search window displaying all of my Koine resources: the Greek New Testament, the Septuagint, the Church Fathers, and Josephus. A search for ἐλθέ or ἔρχου showed me that the aorist imperative would be my default form.

I also often turned to the excellent Lexham Analytical Lexicon which lists all forms used in the GNT. A quick look at the forms there tells me that the Active Voice παύω is rare (outside of the imperative) in the GNT, but Middle/Passive παύομαι is common.

I linked up several lexicons, and a search for the English word “ball” quickly got me what I wanted: “σφαῖρα, ας, ἡ, a ball, playing-ball.”

With hard work and some help from Logos, I made it through my first year teaching communicatively. If this approach interests you, I also suggest consulting Kalos Beautiful Greek Software (a conjugation generator) and Randall Buth’s book Morphologia (Koine paradigms).

Results
Is the Communicative Approach helping my students get Greek “better” than they would otherwise ? To be honest, I’m still in the early days and I just don’t know yet. But I have made some early observations that are encouraging:

  • The students seem to enjoy Greek class more, which can only help the learning process
  • They are visibly enthusiastic about learning and confident about progressing in their learning..
  • They are continually forced to make choices in communication, such as differentiating between the use of the imperfect and the aorist, or the active and the middle. That sensitization will have direct payoff in their reading of Greek texts, whether the NT, LXX, Josephus or otherwise.
  • I can point with more certainty to the effect a communicative approach has had on me personally. My comprehension of Koine Greek has blossomed.

Suggestions
Many readers will not be Greek teachers, but lifelong autodidacts. One fine way to add a communicative element to your study is to learn a text well enough to do a public reading. Do everything you would do for a good reading from a church lectern. Consider posting a video of your performance online.

Keep on doing this and you too will be engaging in a communicative approach, letting the Greek seep into the language-processing parts of your brain.

Interesting in seeing the communicative method in action? You can check out videos of Paul teaching classes in Malawi on his YouTube channel.

Seeing James in Higher Definition

static1.squarespaceThe High Definition Commentary on James has just been released.

Here’s what I like about the idea of the High Definition Commentary, which focuses on the field of “Discourse Grammar”: this field (and this commentary) does for a somewhat unfamiliar set of grammatical features what we need our grammatical labels to do. It helps us really see things we only intuited before.

You have always known what nouns and verbs are, because you have never really mixed them up after age four (?), except perhaps on purpose. Ever since you were a little kid, you said, “That’s a very big ___________,” and you never stuck a verb in the blank (“That’s a very big jumping”). You said, “I saw Johnny _________ into the street,” and you never stuck a noun in the blank (“I saw Johnny truth into the street”).

But being taught the labels “noun” and “verb” that fateful day in second grade gave you clarity on what you already intuited, making it much easier to parse the meaning of your own sentences—or those of others you were reading or listening to. This parsing serves your own understanding, and it gives you a greater capacity to explain sentences to others.

This is what the High Definition Commentary (HDC) does, but not with “nouns” and “verbs.” You already have those down. The HDC does this with Discourse Grammar. As with nouns and verbs, you have been intuiting (English) discourse markers your whole life. But if you didn’t have labels for them, you didn’t notice them in quite the same way, or to quite the same degree.

Take, for example, this first paragraph from the HDC volume on James 2:1–13 (releasing tomorrow, remember). I have accentuated every insight which is based on Discourse Grammar.

James signals the shift to a new topic through the use of redundant address (“my brothers”) and an exhortation not to hold our faith with partiality. What does this mean on a practical level? James uses a very complex set of “if” conditions that stretches all the way through the end of verse 4 to make one important “then” statement. These conditions evoke a vivid scenario that he uses to critique the entirety of the situation. He accomplishes the same task as that we do when we say, “Let’s suppose that someone enters your assembly in fine clothing, and you look favorably on the one…” The conditions do not mean that this exact scenario must occur before we make a favorable distinction; it is simply a common strategy in Greek for signaling a hypothetical situation.

You can see this “complex set of ‘if’ conditions” without the insights of Discourse Grammar. But, as with nouns and verbs and prepositions and genitive uses and all the other labels we’ve agreed upon for parsing our speech and writing, you see more clearly when you have the label.

Try it:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1–4 ESV)

Author Steve Runge (Faithlife Scholar in Residence) is doing what scholars serving the Christian church are supposed to do: he is popularizing the insights of some rather difficult academic research into how we “mean” with sentences.

The commentary also includes helpful illustrations you can use in teaching or preaching.

HDCJamesIllustration

The HDC volume on James is also being put out in paper form by Lexham Press. Pick it up today if you want the insights of Discourse Grammar in your study of James.

* * *

People interested in careful study of the Bible often use Logos Bible Software. Our free 30-Day Challenge will show you how to use Logos while walking through the exegesis of a portion of Matthew 4. Learn more about the training, or sign up below.




mark wardMark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks, including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption.

Understanding a Common Hebrew Connective

instructions

This post is by Josh Westbury, a scholar-in-residence at Faithlife.

Instructions are a vital part of everyday life. Imagine driving to a new place without directions, or baking an intricate dessert without a recipe, or—heaven forbid—having to put together a piece of Ikea furniture without a picture-by-picture guide telling you how each part fits together. Sure these feats are possible, but instructions make them much more manageable.

[Read more…]

The Open Secret to Mastering Greek and Hebrew Vocabulary (It’s Not Flashcards)

how to memorize greek and hebrew vocabulary

You could tell I was one of them. The hole-punched cards hanging from a steel ring on my belt loop gave me away.

I was an ancient language student.

The cards were my flashcards, and I didn’t go anywhere without them: to class, to the student dining room, to the dorm, to the movies, even to weddings. I would flip through them whenever I had a spare moment.

I had to, because learning a new language requires discipline and perseverance. Even after you’ve conquered the grammatical and syntactical intricacies of the language, you still need to add more (and more) words to your vocabulary storehouse—and somehow maintain what you’ve already learned.

While flashcards were helpful, I found they weren’t enough. I needed a better way to learn new words and reinforce the words I already knew.

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Quotative Frames and the Power of Redundancy

Yogi Berra

This post is by Josh Westbury, a scholar-in-residence at Faithlife.

In addition to being a Hall of Fame baseball player, Yogi Berra is perhaps remembered most for his pithy witticisms, affectionately known as “Yogi-isms”. These short sayings often strike a humorous tone by playing on obvious contradictions or redundancies. A couple of my personal favorites are: “Sometimes you can observe a lot just by watching,” and “It’s deja-vu, all over again.” These two Yogi-isms are funny because they break one of the basic rules of language: avoid redundancy.

As children we naturally learn to avoid redundancy when speaking or writing—for the simple reason that redundancy can make it hard for people (our “addressees”) to process what we are trying to say. But, as Yogi has taught us, when used intentionally, redundancy can have a powerful and even comic effect. In fact, when we pay close attention, we find that we use redundancy more often than we might expect.
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The Big Fat Greek Family Tree

The languages of the world are often represented in a family-tree diagram in which “parent” languages such as Proto-Slavic branch out into “child” languages such as Russian, Polish, and Croatian. Just as in real-life human lineages, the parents may die, but they live on in their offspring.

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Image © Minna Sundberg, Hivemill

The family tree is a helpful model, but as with many models, the reality is far more complicated. That’s because some “parents”—and even “grandparents” are still living, though in altered form, long after even some of their “grandchildren” have died. And languages are not self-contained or hermetically sealed. The influence of a parent on a child doesn’t end when the child is “born.” And other languages can mess with its “genes” even after the child has grown up.

We’re accustomed to recognizing that individual words cross language boundaries. We say capeesh and apparatchik and tsunami; and my feel is that those words still carry with them the rich fragrances of Italian, Russian, and Japanese, respectively. Half the fun of using those words is that we’re borrowing other people’s stuff. And other languages borrow our stuff, too. I did a double-take the first time I heard a Spanish speaker use “Okay” in the middle of an otherwise fully Spanish sentence.

Because of the vagaries and contingencies of history (though all these are within God’s good and all-powerful hands), languages even make repeated cross-border incursions. The French phrase avant-garde has come into English twice. First it came in a literal sense in the late 1400s: vanguard, as in the first troops in the line, the “advance guard.” Then around the turn of the 20th century it came again in a metaphorical sense, meaning “art which pushes cultural boundaries.”

There have even been times when words leave one language and come back to that language in a different form. This actually happened with Greek, which is not a surprise given the major influence Greek has had on the world scene: Greek gave κίνημα (kinema, “movement”) to French as cinema[tographe], and when the Greeks found out how much fun the cinema was, they took their own word back as σινεμά (sinema). (ix)

Isn’t language cool?!

Knowing How Language Works

I write all this because of a burden I have for all Bible interpreters: you need to develop a feel for how languages come into being and how they develop before you can trust yourself to use New Testament Greek responsibly. I don’t mean you need to know all the etymologies of the Greek words of the New Testament; I actually think you need to be studiously ignorant of those etymologies—just as Κοινή speakers were. But if you will start to grasp in general how Κοινή Greek formed, you’ll be less likely to treat New Testament Greek the way some Christians have: as a special Holy Spirit language not beholden to the normal rules of human written communication.

I’ve been reading up a little on the history of Greek, and at least one scholar with expertise in the field believes that as much as 50% of Κοινή vocabulary is non-native. Just like English, ancient Greek was a big time borrower of other people’s stuff (18–19)—and for some of the same reasons English is. This same scholar believes that two major forms of linguistic influence operated on Greek: 1) “substrate” influence and 2) cultural contact.

Substrate Influence

When conquerors arrive in a new land, they may not have words for the local flora, fauna, and they won’t necessarily care to invent brand new place names for every city, brook, and hill. So they borrow all those terms from the so-called “substrate” languages, those spoken by conquered or minority people groups. This appears to have happened in Greek. (19)

And in English. There are no “opossums” outside North America; the word was introduced into English during the opening years of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia (1607–1611). Where did these earliest Americans get the word “opossum”? From the local Algonquian tribal people’s word “opassom,” which meant white (“op”) dog (“assom”).

But when you comment on a dead opossum on the side of the road, do you ever intend to communicate anything about Algonquian? Do you have any conception in your mind, at that moment, of white dogs? Never. You just use the word that comes to mind, unselfconsciously and straightforwardly. If anything, “opossum” (or, rather, “‘possum”) may conjure up a few feelings about the redneck South, but not anything about the first peoples of Virginia.

It is wrong, therefore, to look at any of the Greek words in the New Testament and try to push them back to a time before they became what they were for the New Testament writers—let alone to push them forward to what they became some time afterwards! Ἀγωνίζομαι didn’t mean “agonize” to Paul; that’s what the word has become for us. No, ἀγωνίζομαι meant to Paul what it meant in the mouths and pens of his contemporaries: “compete” (athletically) or “fight” (and by metaphorical extension, “struggle”).

Nor did it necessarily mean to Paul whatever it meant before his time. BDAG tells you at the end of each entry whether or not a given word can be found in “DELG,” Pierre Chantraine’s Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. You can now freely look up any entry in that etymological dictionary, including the one regarding ἀγωνίζομαι. There’s plenty of interesting information there that a creative person willing to brave the French could use for a sermon or Bible study lesson. For example, the root word ἀγών, DELG says,

means the result of an ἀγείν and serves properly to mean “assembly, gathering.” Homer uses it of the assembly of the gods…, [and] the gathering of ships. But the most frequent sense in Homer and later convention is assembly for games, and, by extension, combat.*

So when Jesus says, “Strive (Ἀγωνίζεσθε) to enter through the narrow door” (Lk 13:24), what he really means is that the assembly of the gods will gather people like ships to the gate of the kingdom where they will then compete for entrance…

Don’t laugh. I’ve heard this sort of thing done in real life. I can’t honestly tell you that ἀγωνίζομαι is the result of “substrate influence” (I was not able to find out with certainty), but it’s still an instructive example, I hope, of a word that meant what it meant to Paul, not what it meant to Homer—or to Ari Onassis.

As Moisés Silva said in his introduction to the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis,

Prior meanings, if different from contemporary usage, are irrelevant unless there is reason to believe that the speaker/hearer is aware of them. (1:9)

Cultural Contact

For a discussion of cultural contact, check back for part two of this blog essay.

Conclusion

For now, I invite you to do three things:

  1. Run this search for all forms of ἀγωνίζομαι in the NT; and take a quick look at two of the seven contexts in which it is used, Luke 13:24 and 1 Cor. 9:25. I’m going to examine these more closely in a future post, but note how the context in each verse clearly calls up one sense or the other of ἀγωνίζομαι. Note, also, how each context limits the possible meanings of the verb. No ships, no gathering, no white dogs.
  2. Buy the Brill Greek Reference Collection if you feel you are ready to use etymologies responsibly; or read Calvin and the Biblical Languages if the complexity and difficulty of a post like this has almost dissuaded you from trying to study Greek or Hebrew at all.
  3. Place both hands on your computer screen (or tablet or phone, if they’ll fit) and, if you haven’t already done so, absorb via Internet osmosis the deep interest in language that I can’t help but have. I’ve got interest to spare, and I hope you will, too. Language really is so cool.

*I confess that my French translating skills may not be up to par; that’s part of my point. Ignorance of what’s really going on in language can be a poisonous temptation to creative persons.

Did Jesus Speak Greek?

greek

I was somewhat surprised, after I posted about Jesus’ use of the diminutive κυνάριον in his delightful conversation with the Syrophoenician woman (Matt 15:26–27), to have several people make comments like this one:

Was the historical Jesus really speaking Greek with the woman? If not, then many things change about your study and conclusions.

The other language many people think Jesus might have been speaking is Aramaic, a language related to but distinct from Hebrew (and even more distinct from Greek). I answered the commenter this way:

The Aramaic question is totally fair, but it’s one I find never has any firm answer and never gets me anywhere exegetically. When it does get me somewhere (as with some interpretations of “Thou art Peter and upon this rock…”), I tend to think of it as cheating, special pleading. I agree with [the other commenter] that the final form of the (Greek) text is what I have to deal with.

I admit I’m suspicious of the whole question. What effect can it have other than to destabilize the Greek text we in fact have? When will we ever be able to uncover an Aramaic Vorlage (source text) with any certainty—much less one that actually helps us understand the words of Jesus in the New Testament? I’m already too good at evading what Jesus told me to do (“Love your enemies,” “Give to him that asks of you”). I don’t need a temptation to doubt that the New Testament faithfully records Jesus’ words.

But it’s not right for me to simply wish for Jesus to speak Greek because that would make me feel safer from challenge. So I did some study in my journals in Logos—this is precisely the kind of question that is too complicated for commentaries to handle and too narrow for monographs. So to journals I turned. And I was happy to see one of the premier New Testament scholars of the day directly taking up my question: Stanley Porter, in “Did Jesus Ever Teach In Greek?” (Tyndale Bulletin 44, no. 1 [1993]: 199–235).

I’m not going to do original research for this post; Porter’s command of the primary sources far exceeds my own. But I’m going to list in detail the major reasons why Porter’s answer to his own titular question was “Yes.” Jesus did most likely, at least on occasion, teach in Greek.

Porter says that “evidence is increasing that [lower Galilee] was the Palestinian area most heavily influenced by Greek language and culture.” Porter cites several books, as well as this interesting article by eminent Roman Catholic Joseph Fitzmyer (who writes, “There are some indications that Palestinian Jews in some areas may have used nothing else but Greek”), but Porter also points to evidence within the text of Scripture. We’ll start there.

Biblical Evidence

  1. “One indication of the pervasive influence of Greek [is that] in Acts 6:1 (cf. 9:29) a distinction is made between Ἐλληνισταί and Ἑβραῖοι, probably a linguistic distinction made between Jews who spoke mainly Greek and those who spoke mainly Aramaic or who also spoke Aramaic. Before the third century A.D. these terms were virtually exclusively linguistic terms referring to language competence. To distinguish those outside Palestine as Greek speakers would not have been necessary (it would have been assumed), but apparently there was a significant part of the population that spoke mostly Greek even of those resident in Jerusalem.”
  2. “The seven men appointed in Acts 6:5 to serve the Greek-speaking constituency all have Greek names.”
  3. “Referred to as the ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ in Matthew 4:15, lower Galilee was a center for trade among the Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee and Decapolis regions. Galilee was completely surrounded by hellenistic culture.”
  4. “Matthew (Mt. 9:9; Lk. 5:27-28) or Levi (Mk. 2:13-14), the tax collector in Capernaum, would probably have known Greek in order to conduct his duties with the local taxpayers and the tetrarch Herod Antipas’s officials. Many of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen who worked the Sea of Galilee, including Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. They almost assuredly would have needed to conduct in Greek much of their business of selling fish.”

Extrabiblical Evidence

Porter also points to evidence from outside the Bible.

More impressive than what is known even of Galilee for establishing the probability that Jesus spoke Greek is the epigraphic and literary evidence for the widespread knowledge of Greek throughout Palestine including Galilee…. That Greek was used not only in the Diaspora but also in Palestine, even for composition by Jews of distinctly Jewish literature including much religious literature, indicates that Greek was an important and widely used language by a sizable portion of the Palestinian Jewish population.

Literary Evidence

Porter gives several examples of literary evidence for the use of Greek:

  1. “There have been a number of papyrus texts (including a number of fragments) found in Palestine written in Greek by Jews. The papyri of the Judaean Desert include a wide range and variety of artifacts, such as commercial transactions, fiduciary notes, contracts of marriage, and fragments of philosophical and literary texts, among others.”
  2. “So far as Jewish literature is concerned, there is also significant evidence of composition being done in Greek in Palestine by Jews for Jewish audiences. For example, the book of Daniel, besides using Greek names to refer in 3:5 to three musical instruments (lyre, harp and pipes [NIV]), and being composed in Hebrew and Aramaic, in its deuterocanonical form includes additional sections composed in Greek (Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon).”
  3. “Worth noting as well is the fact that, although 2 Esdras and Judith were written in Hebrew, they survive virtually entirely or at least in significant part in Greek versions, quite possibly reflecting Jewish linguistic priorities for preservation of religious texts.”

Inscriptional Evidence

Porter also gives examples from inscriptions.

The inscriptional evidence points in the same direction…. There are a number of crucial texts that do point to the early and sustained, widespread use of Greek in Palestine and in particular in Galilee.

For example:

  1. “Kee notes that ‘when the synagogue movement began to flourish and to take on architectural forms in the second century C.E., the inscriptions were in Greek, even in Jerusalem.’”
  2. “The best indicator of the language of the common people is the sepulchral inscriptions, and the evidence certainly indicates a widespread and constant use of Greek in Palestine, including especially Galilee. To put the evidence from funerary inscriptions into its proper context, it is worth noting that, according to the latest statistics on published inscriptions, 68% of all of the ancient Jewish inscriptions from the Mediterranean world are in Greek (70% if one counts as Greek bilingual inscriptions with Greek as one of the languages).”

Porter concludes from the above:

In the light of this accumulated evidence, which is overwhelming when compared to the equivalent Aramaic evidence, it is surprising that many scholars have not given more consideration to the hypothesis that Jesus spoke and even possibly taught in Greek.

So what about Jesus’ own speech as recorded in the New Testament? Does it point in the same direction?

Evidence from the Recorded Speech of Jesus

Porter thinks so. He offers this evidence from within Jesus’ own words in the New Testament:

  1. “The first and most important example, and the one that sets the tenor for the subsequent treatment of passages, is Jesus’ trial before Pilate (Mk. 15:2-5; Mt. 27:11-14; Lk. 23:2-5; Jn. 18:29- 38; cf. 1 Tim. 6:13). It is highly unlikely that Pilate, the prefect assigned to this remote posting in the Roman empire, would have known any Semitic language. No translator or interpreter is mentioned for the conversation that occurs between Jesus and Pilate, making it unlikely that Latin or Aramaic was used. In fact, the pace of the narrative, in which conversation is held between not only Pilate and Jesus but Pilate and the Jewish leaders, Pilate and the crowd, and the Jewish leaders and the crowd, argues against an interpreter intervening. It is most likely, therefore, that Jesus spoke to Pilate in Greek.”

And that brings us back to the diminutive κυνάριον and Jesus’ conversation with the Syrophoenician woman. Porter actually cites this very passage as a reason to believe that Jesus spoke Greek:

  1. “The first example of a passage in which Jesus may well have spoken Greek is Mark 7:25-30, when Jesus travels to the area of Tyre. A woman with a daughter possessed by an evil spirit hears of his presence there and begs for Jesus’ help. The woman is called in Mark’s Gospel a Ἑλληνίς, a Συροφοινίκισσα by birth, i.e. a gentile (7:26). Even though the indigenous language of the area was Semitic, this area had long been under hellenistic influence (and antagonistic to the Jews; see Josephus, Ag. Ap. 1.69-72) and evidenced widespread use of Greek, as has been noted above. The description of the woman in the Gospel makes sure that the reader knows that the woman was a Greek-speaker despite her birth. Otherwise the reference is gratuitous. There is no indication of an interpreter being present.”

Did Jesus speak Greek? The New Testament doesn’t directly answer all the questions we like to ask it. But when combined with archaeological evidence, Porter concludes that

the evidence regarding what is known about the use of Greek in ancient Palestine, including the cosmopolitan hellenistic character of lower Galilee, the epigraphic and literary evidence, including coins, papyri, literary writers, inscriptions and funerary texts, but most of all several significant contexts in the Gospels, all points in one direction: whereas it is not always known how much and on which occasions Jesus spoke Greek, it is virtually certain that he used Greek at various times in his itinerant ministry.

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9423We’ve put one of Stanley Porter’s books on linguistics on special sale for the next week. Click here to get Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics: Open Questions in Current Research for $9.99, 64% off.