Tag Archives: Greek

Book Review: God, Language and Scripture

Moisés Silva’s book, God, Language and Scripture: Reading the Bible in Light of General Linguistics was an interesting read. Rarely was there any part that the writer of this review found boring. What was expected to be a book on Hebrew and Greek ended up being a book on how to understand the writers of Scripture better. That is not to say there wasn’t any Hebrew or Greek (or Aramaic) within the pages; there certainly were. However, most of these were illustrations from Silva that proved his points, the main one being that the translator or interpreter of Scripture must keep linguistics in mind. “Every facet of interpretation must be kept in proper perspective, and the more we know about the nature of language, the more likely we are to ‘handle correctly the word of God’ (2 Tim. 2:15).” (P. 15)

In order to bring about this objective, Silva wrote seven chapters, consisting of 145 pages. The first was simply an introduction, helping the reader get acquainted with what was to come. In his second chapter, one will read the author’s perspective on language from the way the Bible presents it. From the very beginning of the Bible there is language. God speaks the world into existence and so communicated with Adam and Eve. He created them in his own image thus making them people of communication. By the third chapter, the one is reading about the scientific study of language. This chapter involves the evolution of language as well as the various humanity, natural and social science studies.

Once one gets to the fourth chapter, he reads of the history of the biblical languages in more depth. Silva describes how Hebrew and Aramaic are similar—linguistic cousins and why those who read Hebrew do not need vowels. Greek also had its history and much of that history impacted the New Testament writers. The fifth and sixth chapters delve into describing the biblical languages. One aspect that was interesting in this chapter was that of languages’ etymology. This has been discussed somewhat in previous sections, but a greater impact can be read in chapter 5. Silva gives an example that the word gossip comes from the same root as godparent. It was the talk that happened during christenings. Yet, no one brings this up except as a piece of trivia.

[T]here are occasions (as in some poetic passages of the Old Testament) when we come across rare words whose meaning is unclear and for which etymological analysis can provide some help. Most words, however, are widely attested and their meaning can be clearly established from the numerous contexts in which they appear. (P. 88)

Another striking point was that rarely do biblical authors seek to be ambiguous, but at times there seems to be some intentionality in doing just that. Silva explained that if the writer was clearer, it would lead the readers down the wrong path, or as found especially in poetry “the purpose was not to confuse but to impress on our hearts the force of the divine message.” (P. 97). Most ambiguity arises from a distance in time and culture, not in the text itself.

What most grammars do not do, that the author sought to make amends for, is show how words work within sentences and paragraphs. That was the focus of chapter six. In this chapter, Silva gave a handy guide to diagraming clauses (not sentences!) so that the reader could make sense of what was being written. This is helpful with many of Paul’s sentences that seem to be endless clauses rolled into one run-on sentence.

The final chapter was an epilogue. The focus was on continuing to pass the Bible on through textual transmission, translation, and teaching. Surprisingly to this writer, Silva believes that linguistically speaking, dynamic translations are the way to go when it comes to understanding the text better. Literal translations are too rigid and often miss the point of what the biblical writer was saying.

Overall, this book deserves to be read by young and old pastors alike, if for no other reason than the fact that there is an overuse of etymology that is pervasive within churches. To use etymology makes the preacher look smart, but it rarely helps the congregation understand the Word better. That being said, the member who has a proclivity for original languages could benefit from this book as well. The lay-member would benefit from reading the epilogue as they may feel shamed by “more studious” members for having a dynamic translation rather than a more literal one. Having read the book, it helps one to understand the overall use of language within Scripture. However, it does very little with helping one understand vocabulary.

A Gracious Eucharist

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and so it is appropriate to stop for a moment and give thoughts on the eucharist and eucharist in general . Generally speaking, one will not hear Protestants using the term “eucharist,” though there are always exceptions to any rule.  We prefer the “Lord’s Supper” and “communion” over “the eucharist.”

Eucharist is a word transliterated (letters from one language given the equivalent letters from another language) straight from Greek. So when Christ took the bread, He blessed it, and when He took the cup he gave thanks (cf. Matthew 26:26-27). The word “thanks” in the Greek language is that transliterated word, “eucharist”. It is two words put into one: “eu” meaning “good.” Hence eugenics is the science of “good genes,” a eulogy is a time to say “good words” about a person at a funeral; even (as was pointed out in our small group last night) euthanasia is one who seeks another’s “good death,” what one is inclined to call a “mercy death.” So, eu means “good.”  The second is charis. Charis is where we get words such as charity or charismatic. Charis is the Greek word for grace (charisma being a derivative to describe a special gifting). When you put the two words together you have the idea of a good grace; in other words one is showing good graces for that which is received.  We are showing graciousness, or still another derivative: “gratitude.”

That being said, when we celebrate, honor, or observe the Lord’s Supper, we ought to do so with gratitude. God not only provided (as was the case with Jesus and His disciples) the food and drink, but He has provided the salvation, the forgiveness, the justification, sanctification, and glorification, as is the case with all believers. Through the elements, God has provided a reminder of all those aspects of salvation, which He did not have to do, but in grace He did.  So, I believe that in context we can add “eucharist” to our repertoire of names for the bread and cup.

Beyond that, we can and should live a eucharistic life, a life of gratitude to God and to man. We are to show gratitude for what God is doing with us, for us, and to us, “giving thanks (eucharist) always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Ephesians 5:20, ESV; emphasis mine). We are to show gratitude to those around us. Thus, when we start our Christmas shopping we ought to thank the store clerks and cashiers. When we go to a restaurant we ought to leave…wait for it…gratuity (yes, that word comes from gratitude which comes from grace); it is more than a “tip” it is a sign of a gracious heart. If you have to stay in a hotel, leave…yup, you guessed it…gratuity for the breakfast server, the housekeeper (don’t call them maids; they don’t like that), and bellboy.  Leave a note thanking them for their hard work; remember most housekeepers make minimum wage or slightly better. They work long hours, and while you may not trash a room, there are many who do.

Truthfully, words are cheap. Anyone can say a thank you. That is the least we should be doing. To show eucharist, a heart of gratitude, is a bit more pricey. It doesn’t always have to be money, but it should be genuine (since it is from the heart, after all). Notes, cards, or stopping for a moment to look someone in the eye and let them know you are truly thankful for what they do for, with, or to you goes a long way.  So let us not only take of the eucharist. Let us alive a eucharistic life.