Wednesday, 25 July 2018

What the Scriptures Say About the Scriptures

     The English word “scripture,” corresponding to the Greek graphē in the New Testament, is a transliteration of the Latin scriptura with reference to “a writing” or “something written.” In religious circles “the term acquires special meaning, referring not to any written text but to a text, usually a collection of texts, considered uniquely authoritative for members of that religious community” (C. R. Holladay, A Critical Introduction to the NT 572). With respect to Christianity, the term is used in the special sense of a sacred writing, i.e., recognized as inspired by the Spirit of God.

The Scriptures According to Paul

     In his final apostolic manuscript the apostle Paul exhorts Timothy, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15).1 The allusion here to “the Holy Scriptures” is evidently pertaining to the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. the Old Testament), the only sacred writings available to Timothy in his younger years. Then the apostle writes, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness …” (v. 16). Is Paul still limiting his focus here to the ancient Jewish canon, or would the adjectival “all” be inclusive of additional works?
     In his previous correspondence to Timothy, Paul had called attention to the fact that he is quoting “the Scripture” [hē graphē] as he writes, You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” (1 Tim. 5:18a). This citation is from Deut. 25:4, which the apostle obviously regards as “Scripture.” He then quotes these words, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18b). The only other biblical record of this particular statement is Luke 10:7. Seeing that Paul, by his own admission, is not reciting the spoken words of Jesus or oral tradition but something that has been put into written form [hē graphē], he apparently considers the writings of Luke to be included among the Holy Scriptures.

The Scriptures According to Peter

     Not too long after the apostle Paul had completed his final manuscripts, the apostle Peter speaks of “our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you” (2 Pet. 3:15).2 The audience Peter is addressing had also received correspondence from Paul. This is Peter’s second letter to these particular readers (2 Pet. 3:1), identified as those scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Pet. 1:1). We know that Paul at least sent letters to Christians living in the provinces of Galatia and Asia (viz. Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 1-2 Timothy, and the non-extant letter to the Laodiceans).3 Then Peter alludes to other Pauline writings as well: “as also in all his epistles” (2 Pet. 3:16a). Whether or not Peter was aware of or had access to the entire Pauline corpus is debatable, but it is certainly possible.4 As Peter goes on to speak of “the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16b), he implicitly includes the letters of Paul in this broader collection of sacred writings.
     Earlier in Peter’s second epistle, he speaks as an eyewitness, claiming to “have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place …” (2 Pet. 1:16-19). He goes on to say “that no prophecy of Scripture is of [gínomai = in its origin] any private interpretation,5 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (vv. 20-21). Peter not only alludes to the oral communication of “the prophetic word,” but the term “Scripture” [graphē] specifically applies to what has been transcribed in written form. This would surely include what Peter is currently writing, as well as his previous correspondence (3:1), not to mention the Pauline letters he goes on to specifically reference (3:15-16).

The Making of Scripture

     Paul reminds the saints at Ephesus “of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)” (Eph. 3:2-4). The “mystery” [mustērion = something once hidden, now revealed] had been “given” and “made known” to Paul by way of “revelation,” which he then transmitted in writing [employing a form of the verb gráphō]. Now his readers can “understand” this “knowledge” by reading what the apostle has written. Paul also affirms that the information he is sharing, “in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (v. 5; cf. 2:20).
     The Lord’s “holy apostles” who reportedly contributed to the New Testament canon involved Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul. The rest of the writings would have been produced by “prophets” (divinely-inspired spokesmen), including Mark, Luke, the anonymous Hebrews writer(s), James, Jude, and even Timothy and Silvanus (cf. 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1, 13; 1 Pet. 5:12).6 

Conclusion:

     From the earliest days of the Christian movement, the teachings of Jesus were considered authoritative (cf. Acts 11:16; 20:35; 1 Cor. 7:10; 11:23-25; 1 John 1:1-4), and the preaching of his 1st-century representatives was acknowledged as the “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. 4:8). Certain writings were recognized as divinely-inspired and were circulated, quoted, and included among the collection of documents known as the Holy Scriptures. The formation of the New Testament, as well as the entire biblical canon, was not the result of any individual, congregation, or council deciding which books belonged to it, but by a general recognition and acceptance of the sacred writings.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV. Like graphē, the noun grámma is also based on the verbal gráphō and refers to something written.
     2 On the authorship of 2 Peter, see Authorship of 2 Peter; also D. A. Carson, E. M. B. Green, D. Guthrie, D. J. Moo, B. Reicke.
     3 See The Missing Letters of Paul.
     4 Paul wrote his letters over a period of at least 14 years, sending them hundreds of kilometers in numerous directions. These writings were not to be kept isolated in their respective localities but were to be shared with others (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27). Note Peter’s claim that Paul “has written to you” (2 Pet. 3:15), inclusive of readers in five Roman provinces (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 3:1), whereas the addressees of Paul's extant writings include those living in only two of these provinces. It is not improbable that before his death Paul pre-selected which of his letters to include in a published collection. It was common in the Greco-Roman world for authors to keep copies of their works, and there is no reason to assume that Paul (a man of his times) would not have done this. In 2 Tim. 4:13 he mentions his collection of ta biblia (“the scrolls”) and tas membranas (“the parchments”), which may refer to papyrus scrolls and parchment codices or notebooks, including copies of his letters. This collection of Paul’s writings could have easily been made available to the brotherhood all at once by Timothy, Mark, and/or Luke after Paul’s death (2 Tim. 4:11-13). Note that Mark in particular worked closely with Peter (1 Pet. 5:13).
     5 This passage does not suggest that an individual is incapable of interpreting Scripture for himself (as per JB, N/KJV, NASB, RSV) but has reference to the origin of Scripture, i.e., it did not originate from [gínomai] a prophet’s own understanding.
     6 See Silas/Silvanus, and Timothy Part 1; also Authorship of Hebrews Part 1 and Part 2.



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Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Did Jesus Speak Greek?

The Heart Language of Jesus
Aramaic – the language of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians (cf. Ezra 4:7; 2 Kings 18:17, 26) – was adopted by the Jews during and after the 70-years’ Babylonian exile. While the majority of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, large portions of Ezra (4:8–6:18; 7:12-26) and Daniel (2:4b–7:28) appear to have been penned in Aramaic. By the time of Christ, although Hebrew continued to be used among the rabbis in Jerusalem, Aramaic had replaced pure Hebrew as the everyday vernacular of the Palestinian Jews (cf. Acts 1:19). Jesus could read and understand Hebrew (Luke 4:16-21), but he apparently spoke Aramaic (cf. Mark 5:41; 7:34; 15:34; Acts 26:14).1
Koinē Greek and the Hellenization of Palestine
The Greek term koinē, meaning “common,” is used to describe hē koinē diálektos (the common language) or the lingua franca of the 1st-century Greco-Roman world. From the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, Koinē Greek developed and spread throughout most of the Mediterranean world. It was the language of post-classical Greek literature, the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and most early ecclesiastical writers.
The Hellenization of Jewish territory started when Judea surrendered to Alexander’s forces in 332 BC and it continued under the dominance of the Ptolomies and the Seleucids through the 2nd century BC. Herod the Great, who controlled Judea from 37 BC to 4 BC, made deliberate attempts to further Hellenize the region.
Once known as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Isa. 9:1; cf. Matt. 4:15), the district where Jesus spent his formative years was saturated by Greek influences. Within its borders were Hellenistic centers, such as Tiberias and the township of Sepphoris – only 6 km/3.7 miles northwest of the Lord’s hometown of Nazareth. As Jesus worked in the carpentry trade (Mark 6:3), any tradesman in the area would presumably need a working knowledge of the accepted language of commerce.
Koinē Greek was widely used in 1st-century Palestine and most of the populace appear to have been bilingual.2 Hellenistic Jews of the diaspora made frequent visits to the homeland, bringing with them Greek culture and language (cf. Acts 2:5; 6:9). Among the Lord’s immediate disciples, Andrew and Philip had distinctively Greek names, while Matthew,3 John, and Peter contributed documents to the New Testament in the Greek language.
Evidence of Jesus Speaking Greek
          Except for the transliteration of a few Aramaic words and phrases, the record of all that Jesus said has been preserved in Greek translation. Nevertheless, in his conversation with a Syro-Phoenician Greek woman (Mark 7:24-30), it is interesting to note that the term kunárion (“little dog”) was employed. There was only one word for “dog” in Hebrew and Aramaic speech, referring to an unclean animal (Lev. 11:27), viz. a dirty, mangy, flea-infested scavenger (cf. Ex. 22:31; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:19; etc.). In the Greco-Roman world, in contrast to the Jewish aversion, dogs were common pets. There are two words for “dog” in NT Greek: (a) kuōn, equivalent to the Jewish concept and thus derogatory (Matt. 7:6; Phil. 3:2), and (b) kunárion, referring to a house dog, pet, or puppy. Jesus’ use of the latter term (Matt. 15:26; Mark 7:27), for which there is no Aramaic equivalent, demonstrates that he was apparently speaking in this Greek woman’s native tongue (see What Great Faith Looks Like).
          When Jesus stood before the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, there is no indication that an interpreter was used in the dialogue (Matt. 27:2, 11-14; Mark 15:1-5; Luke 23:1-3; John 18:33-38). While Latin was the spoken-language of Rome, educated Romans used Greek as a second language and had little tolerance for those in their provinces who spoke neither Latin nor Greek.4 The most natural reading of the Gospel accounts is that Jesus and Pilate understood one another as they conversed, and the common (koinēGreek language would have made this possible (cp. Acts 21:37-40).
Conclusion
          Jesus lived in a Jewish environment that was controlled by the Romans and heavily influenced by Greek language and culture. Although his local vernacular was Aramaic and there is no specific reference to him speaking Greek, the evidence suggests he would also have been conversant in the Greek language.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 When Hebraisti (the Hebrew language) is mentioned in the New Testament, it most likely refers to Aramaic as the spoken language of the Hebrew people at this time (John 5:2; 19:13, 17, 20; Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14; Rev. 9:11; 16:16). The respective Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John employ Aramaic expressions (Matt. 5:22; 6:24; 16:17; 27:33, 46; Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:34; 14:36; 15:22, 34; John 1:42; 20:16). Mark and John go on to translate the words into Greek, while Matthew mostly leaves these words untranslated. See Aramaic.
     2 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. 5th ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1934): 26-29; cf. also D. A. Caron and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005): 240, 624, 644-45; J. D. G. Dunn, The Parting of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and Their Significance for the Character of Christianity (London: SCM, 1991); J. M. Ross, “Jesus’ Knowledge of Greek,” IrBibStud 12 (1990): 41-47; G. R. Selby, Jesus, Aramaic and Greek (Doncaster, UK: Brynmill, 1989). In contrast to the ancient eastern convention of sitting on the floor at meals, Jesus and his disciples appear to have adopted the Greco-Roman custom of reclining (cf. Luke 7:36-37; 22:27; 24:30).
     3 See Original Form of Matthew's Gospel.
     4 Michel Dubuisson, “Some Aspects of Graeco-Roman Relations: The Attitude of Roman Administration Toward Language Use. Xenophobia and Disparaging Words in Greek and Latin,” Prudentia 15 (1983): 35-47.



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