PROVE IT BY THE GREEK
T. Pierce Brown
There are those who seem to think they can give the proper exegesis of any passage in the New Testament by an appeal to the Greek grammar. In my judgment, they are wrong for at least two reasons. First, Greek grammar is like English grammar in some respects in that it has exceptions to the general rule. Second, the grammar alone will not always show the meaning of a statement a person makes, for that meaning will depend on the context, the inflection of the voice if we hear the person instead of just reading his words, and other factors which the grammar alone will not show.
For those who know nothing of Greek, an illustration or two in the English language may help. A man may say, “To take care of the needs of the family is my business.” If he emphasizes the word “business,” he probably means, “I run a business operation which is designed to take care of the needs of various families which may want to avail themselves of my services.” If he emphasizes the word “my,” he probably means, “How I take care of the needs of my family is none of your concern, but is my problem.” In neither case will the grammatical construction indicate what the person meant who spoke those words, nor whether he had in mind the physical, mental, spiritual or financial needs of his family, or any family.
Read aloud the question in Mark 4:21, “Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed?” If you read it properly with an equal rising inflection on the terms “bushel” and “bed” the answer expected is probably, “No.” If you read it with a different lower inflection on “bed” the meaning is, “Under which one do you intend to put it?” Since you do not intend to put it under either, that is not the way to read it. Of course, in this case, by reading the rest of the verse, one can tell the proper meaning, but one does not always determine the meaning merely from the grammar of the sentence under consideration, but by the context, inflection (if it a spoken sentence) and other considerations. In this case, as in many others, the Greek construction does help, for it helps us to realize that Jesus is saying, “A candle is not bought to be put under a bushel or under a bed, is it?”
Many other similar examples can be found in the New Testament. In Romans 9:5, we find “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” The margin of the RSV and some commentators suggests that it means, “Christ, who is God over all, blessed for ever.” Does the Bible teach that Christ was God in the flesh? It certainly does. But can it be determined from the Greek grammar whether that is what Paul is saying here? I contend that it cannot, but that it is to be determined (or at least a conclusion reached) by other considerations. The wonderful thing about the difficulty in this case is that either interpretation does no violence to the truth revealed in other places. The text simply says, “ho on epi panton Theos eulogatos eis tous aionas,” which literally translated is, “The one being over all things God blessed into the ages.” There is nothing in the grammar of which I know that tells whether the passage means “Christ, being over all things, God” or whether it means “Christ, being over all things; God be blessed for ever.”
In my judgment, there is a similar situation in Luke22:44, “And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” The Greek text reads, “kai egeneto ho hidros autou hosei thromboi haimatos katabainontes epi tan gan” which literally is “and became the sweat of him as drops of blood falling down unto the earth.” There is nothing in the grammar, as far as I can tell, that can make us sure that the thing that fell to the ground was actually blood, or just sweat that was similar in some fashion to blood. My judgment is that it was actually blood, for I see no sense in the idea that it just seemed to be blood. What would be the meaning of “His sweat seemed to be blood?” Would it be red sweat? If so, how or why? But I do not get the answer or conclusion from the grammar.
My point in this article is to help you to realize that just because a person is a Greek scholar and can refer to the Greek grammar with great authority, this does not necessarily mean that he has given a correct exegesis of a passage. The correct interpretation of a passage depends on many things besides the structure of the Greek language. Since we cannot tell the inflection of the voice of the one speaking as recorded in the scriptures, we need to try to determine the meaning by other means, then as we read the passage aloud, make sure our inflection helps to convey that meaning.