Friday, October 3, 2014

Attendant Circumstances (Great Commission Revisited)

After my last blog about the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, a friend of mine read it (thank you very much for being one of three) and sent me a comment. He said that I failed to interact with Wallace’s argument that the participle should be translated “Go”. Oops, I thought, I did miss that. I didn’t realize that Wallace did have an argument in his grammar specifically stating that Matthew 28:19 should be translated “Go”. So, with a bit of wounded pride, embarrassment and some fear and trepidation, I read Wallace’s argument. Actually, I was excited to hear a good argument for the “Go” translation. Happily, I found one in Wallace that both affirmed my thinking and gives reasons for a “Go” translation. He calls this an “Attendant Circumstance” participle. I didn’t know what that meant either. Wallace defines it as a participle used “…to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinated with the finite verb. In this respect it is not dependent, for it is translated like a verb. It is translated like a finite verb connected with the main verb by “and”.” He later adds, “If a participle makes good sense when treated as an adverbial participle, we should not seek to treat it as an attendant circumstance.” 

Wallace is simply saying that the participle, πορευθεντες, can be translated as a verb, “Go”. I actually didn’t dispute that in my original post. I said that the translation “Go” is permissible but maybe not the most accurate expression of Matthew’s thought. I do think it can be translated as “Go” but my contention is that the verbal idea can be better expressed in English than using two imperatives.

Since attendant circumstance participles are rare, Wallace also offers five criteria to determine if a giving participle might fall into this category and Mathew 28:19 meets all five. They are as follows:
  • The tense of the participle is usually aorist. Check. 
  • The tense of the main verb is usually aorist. Check. 
  • The mood of the main verb is usually imperative or indicative. Imperative. Check. 
  • The participle will precede the main verb. Check. 
  • Attendant circumstance participles frequently occur in narrative. Check. 
We are five for five, so Matthew 28:19 could be an attendant circumstance. That means that “…we must argue from sense rather than from translation.” and “… the relative semantic weight in such constructions is that a greater emphasis is placed on the action of the main verb than on the participle”.

Since Matthew chose to use a single imperative verb preceded by an aorist participle to convey Jesus command, the question is, "What is the sense of the command and how do we best express that in English? If we accept that this is an attendant circumstance, then according to Wallace, we agree to the following:
  • We have a participle being used to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinated with the finite verb. 
  • The semantic weight of the construction should emphasize the main verb. 
  • We must argue from sense rather than from translation 
  • and, I would add, that Matthew chose this construction over two commands. 
The sense is that we have a primary command with a very closely tied verbal idea from the participle. Can we combine those in such a way in English so that the command “Make disciples” is prominent and “Go” is closely tied but still secondary to the command? Do we have a structure in the target language (English) to communicate such an idea? I see two options.

The two command option:

We can use two commands “Go and make disciples”. While this is permissible, in English both verbs “go and make” have the same semantic weight. One could even argue, and many sermons bear this out, that the command “go” receives the greater semantic weight because it is the first command. This does not seem to completely line up with what Matthew wrote. As I argued in the previous post, Matthew could have used two imperatives. That would have been common, acceptable Greek. In that case, the sense would have been “Go and make disciples”. We essentially have a functional almost exact equivalent in English. However, this is not the case. By translating the attendant circumstance as two imperatives we are removing the nuance of the Greek construction. In other words, by reading the translation, we cannot determine if the original was two commands or a participle command.

The assumption – command option:

If we translate the participle as an assumption, I think we better capture the sense of what Matthew wrote. By way of illustration, I imagine that I’m sitting at the dinner table with my family enjoying a meal. Near the end of the meal, it comes to my mind that someone should clear the table and do the dishes. I might say to one of the children. “After you clear the table, wash the dishes.” The command is “wash the dishes”, but there is an assumption that before washing the dishes, they will clear the table. It is almost stronger than a command because there is no real opportunity to refuse. I could have said, “Clear the table and wash the dishes.” The semantic content is essentially the same but when I use a single verb, “wash”, the participial phrase, “after you clear the table”, is an action coordinated with the main verb and the semantic weight falls on “wash”. This structure seems to be in line with what Matthew wrote. The verbal idea of going is coordinated with the main verb but the semantic weight falls on “make disciples”. This can be done in English by what many have called the “Great Assumption”. In Jesus’ command to make disciples, the idea of going is assumed. “Since you are going [anyway], make disciples” or “After you have gone [aorist participle], make disciples.” Again, there is no opportunity to refuse to go. It is simply assumed that you will go.

In summary, I have no problem with calling Matthew 28:19 an attendant circumstance. I also have no problem with translating the participle as “go”. I simple think that translating Matthew 28:19 as the Great Assumption closely coordinated with the Great Commission, keeps the emphasis on the main verbal command and lines up very well with the sense of what Matthew wrote.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Grammar of the Great Commission

Knowledge of ancient languages is just one tool (an important but not essential tool) in the toolbox of study. I am a firm believer that a person does not need to know Koine Greek in order to understand the New Testament. I am convinced that, with careful study, a person can determine the original intent of the original author to the original audience without knowing the original language. Culture, textual context, theological flow, historical background, purpose, theme, etc. can all serve to inform the student of the Bible. I also think that our English translations are pretty good. But, even better, we also have multiple translations. That means we can compare translations and where there is disagreement among translators, there is probably need for further study of grammar/textual/structure questions. For the person who does not know the language, this is where the commentary becomes very useful. In English we have a rich array of dictionaries, commentaries, surveys, journal articles and computer software to help us determine the nuance meanings of the language.

That said, I do think that knowing New Testament Greek is a great blessing, privilege and responsibility. It can often give insight into a passage that would take much longer to figure out through commentaries, lexicons and Bible software. Further, the drawback of working through secondary resources like these is that you are at the mercy of the author of the commentary. You can only see the language through his or her eyes. This can be a problem because, in my experience, some of those who do know some Greek often focus almost exclusively on lexical meanings. For example, we often hear statements like, “Paul used the word “fill in the blank” and that word really means “fill in the blank”. Sometimes this is significant information, but often it is just filler. One good test of significance is to test the meaning the preacher/commentator gives against the meaning in the translated language. If the meanings are the same, the preacher/commentator has told you nothing. Here is an example from a commentary. I have not cited the commentary on purpose.

The word "better" is pleiona, which means "greater" or "more important" as suggested by its use in Luke 12:23: "Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes."

When I read this, I asked myself, “What does the word better mean in English?” The definition “greater or more important” is not very precise but is more than sufficient. Better does typically mean something like “greater or more important.” So, at most, the author has told me that the word translates well into English. In that case, why explain it? In other words, knowing that the Greek word here is pleiona adds no meaning to the text.

Often lexical meanings are significant because sometimes words do not translate well from one language to another. Or a particular word or phrase may have a cultural meaning tied to the time period of the document. In these cases lexical analysis can be very insightful. However, it has been my limited experience that the grammar more often gives insight into meaning than lexical studies. The Great Commission is a Great example.

The typical translation of Matthew 28:19 is “Go and make disciples”. Even though there are two commands (Go and Make), most sermons I have heard, most commentaries I have read and most missionary literature I have read focus more on the Go command and the Make command is often in the shadows. I am not going to argue that this translation is wrong, I am going to argue that there is a better (Greek word pleiona) translation. My comments will focus on the two English commands “Go” and “Make”. I will deal with the latter first.

There is no substantial disagreement about the meaning of the verb “Make” except to say that the verb used requires the addition of the word “Disciples” in English. The single verb in Greek needs two words in English to express the meaning. That is because in English there is no single verb that clearly approximates the meaning of the Greek verb. However, the verbal phrase “make disciples” does express the meaning well. It is not a common verb in the New Testament (3 uses in Matthew and one in Acts). However it easily understood and well translated. It is also a command. We know this from the grammar. It is in the imperative mood. As the main verb in Matthew 28:18-20, it functions as the primary verb and Jesus’ primary command.

In contrast, there is a debate about the word for “Go”. This verb is a common word in the New Testament (at least 154 uses in the New Testament including 27 uses in Matthew). The meaning is simple. The word means “go” or “depart”. In other words, the English word “go” has a very similar range of mean as the Greek verb. The debate is connected with the grammar. Again, decision about grammar, rather than lexical meaning, will influence translation and interpretation. The word is a participle, yet in most English translations it is translated like an imperative verb. Why is this? It is because a Greek participle can sometimes function as an imperative verb. It is creatively called the “imperatival participle.” So that tells us that the translation “Go and make disciples” is permissible. However, I want to argue that it is not the most accurate expression of what Matthew wrote. Matthew expressed Jesus’ words in a single complex command and I want to argue that we can express the functional equivalent in English by also using a single complex command. I will offer just two arguments for a great commission with just one command.

In his large grammar, Daniel Wallace makes the following comment about the imperatival participle, “The participle may function just like an imperative. This use of the participle is not to be attached to any verb in the context, but is grammatically independent. The imperatival participle is quite rare” A little later Wallace quotes Robertson.“In general it may be said that no participle should be explained in this way that can properly be connected with a finite verb.” Finally, Wallace concludes, “This is an important point and one that more than one commentator has forgotten.” If we accept this as good advice and apply it to Matthew 28:19, we see that the participle (go) can be (and very naturally is) connected to a finite verb (Make disciples). And if the participle can be connected to a finite verb then there is no need for the participle to function as a verb. Matthew 28:19 has an aorist participle and an aorist active imperative main verb. The verb is “Make disciples” – imperative. An aorist participle is usually used with a main verb to show antecedent action. So the idea is something like this: “After you have gone” or “Since you are going anyway” – main verb. So the first reason I think we should translate the Great Commission as just one command is because Matthew used a main verb to which the participle can be connected.

I think the second reason forms an even stronger argument. Matthew was a good writer and I am sure he wanted to convey Jesus’ words as accurately as possible. The assumption is that he would use all the grammatical tools and skills at his disposal to record the words and actions of Jesus. So, the question is this. “If Matthew wanted to clearly write the command “Go”, could he easily do that in Greek?” The answer grammatically is yes. That brings up a second question. Since the Greek language allows the imperative “Go”, did Matthew know the language well enough to use that structure? Again, the answer is yes. We know this because he often did exactly that. Here are just two examples.

When it was time for Joseph to take Mary and Jesus back to Israel from Egypt, Matthew used the imperative of “Go” to express what the angel told them to do - “go back to the land of Israel. (Matthew 2:20)”  The second example is a little more interesting and shows just how flexible Matthew was in the use of this particular word. When Jesus is sending out the 12 in Matthew 10, Matthew uses the imperative “Go to the lost sheep of Israel” in verse 6. Then in verse 7, he uses the present participle (same verb but different tense as he does in 28:19). “As you go” or “while you are going, (command) preach…”. Here we have a near parallel to Matthew 28:19 and it is clear in the second use (verse 7) that the participle is subordinate to the imperative. “Go and while you are going, preach”. More importantly, this example shows that Matthew clearly knows how to use this word as an imperative or participle.

So, here is the question. Why do so many English translations translate the Great Commission as two commands “Go and Make disciples”? Answer: “Attendant Circumstance”, but that is a different blog entry. My main point is this. As seen above, the grammar, not the lexical meaning, shows us that Matthew expressed what Jesus said using one clear command– Make disciples.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 4 - Part V (The Targum)

I think this will be the last of my thoughts on Ephesians 4:7-9 for a while.  If we assume that Paul was not quoting the Psalm directly but rather was quoting the Targum or an early version of the Targum, then Paul’s use of the quote is not so daunting a problem.  It is true that the Targum we have is of a late date, but it probably is a representation of an earlier interpretation of the Psalm (Abbott, p. 112).  It also turns out that the Targum has a close parallel with the way Paul uses the quote.  Lincoln points out that "in the Targum on the Psalms the concept of receiving has been changed to that of giving in the same way as in Eph 4:8 - "You have ascended to heaven, that is, Moses the prophet; you have taken captivity captive, you have learnt the words of the Torah; you have given it as gifts to men."  (Lincoln, WBC p. 242, 243). Barth further clarifies the point.  "There is a Targum on Ps 68 in which Moses is identified as the one who ascended on high.  The words "you received gifts" are paraphrased by 'You have learned the words of the Torah, you gave them as gifts to the sons of men.'" (Barth p. 475).  So now, according to the Targum, it is Moses who ascends Sinai or heaven, Moses has taken captivity captive, Moses learned the words of the Torah (probably a reference to the giving of the 10 commandments) and Moses has given gifts to men.  This seems to be more in line with what Paul is saying.  This is especially true when we remember that Jesus was often identified with Moses or the prophet Moses spoke of.  So, under this view it seems that Paul is using something of a typological hermeneutic.  He references the Targum commentary on Psalm 68:18 and replaces Moses with Jesus.  In other words, Paul considers Jesus the better or perfect Moses. 

  • Moses ascent on Sinai becomes an imperfect picture of Jesus ascent to heaven. 
  • Jesus ascent to heaven becomes the perfected picture of Moses’ ascent on Sinai. 
  • The receiving of the 10 commandments by Moses corresponds with Jesus receiving gifts.
  • Moses descent from Sinai corresponds with Jesus descent to the earth. 
  • The giving of the law, by Moses, to the people corresponds to the giving of gifts, by Jesus, to the church. 

If this is indeed the parallel that Paul has in mind, it is very difficult to interpret the “descent to the lower parts of the earth” as the incarnation, burial or the descent into Hades.  It is difficult because in the Targum Moses ascended, learned the words of the Torah and returned and gave them as gifts to men.  The ascent happened and then the descent.  If “the lower parts of the earth” is the incarnation, burial or descent to Hades then the order must be the opposite.  He must descend and then ascend to heaven. 

There are two more points that I think point us to the interpretation of, “lower parts of the earth” as the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost.  The first is that in 4:10, Paul makes it very clear that the one who ascended and the one who descended are the same person.  This would not be necessary if he were talking about the incarnation, burial or descent into Hades.  It was a basic assumption in the early church that the Jesus who was incarnate, died, was buried, rose and ascended to the Father was all the same Jesus.  If this is true then why make sure that it is clear that the one who ascended and descended is the same person.  The second point that points to Pentecost is the context of the passage.  The one who descended and gave the gifts, gave the gifts to the church.  The gifts were apostle, prophets, evangelists, pastor’s and teachers (or possible pastors who can teach).  The purpose of the gifts were to equip the saints to do the work of ministry and build up the body of Christ.  In the New Testament, the one who gives these kinds of gifts to the church is, without question, the Holy Spirit.  Jesus clearly says that He will send the Spirit after He (that is Jesus Himself) ascends (John 16:7).  So by Jesus words, He must ascend to the Father in order to send the Holy Spirit.  In Paul’s words Jesus did ascend to the highest heaven and descended in the Holy Spirit to give gifts to men.  Under this interpretation, it is easy to understand why 4:10 is necessary.  Not everyone would understand or assume that in a Trinitarian sense the one who ascended and the one who descended are the same.

G.B. Caird gives further insight by pointing out that in the inter-testamental period, Psalm 68 was an appointed Psalm for Pentecost and the giving of the Law at Sinai had also become an important part of the celebration at Pentecost (Caird p. 540).  This strengthens the idea that Paul has the idea of Pentecost in mind.  It is logical that he would use a Psalm that educated believers understood as connected to Pentecost.

Finally, our study or at least my study has brought me to the conclusion that when Paul says that the one who ascended also descended “to the lower parts of the earth” he is speaking of the descent of the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost.  In summary form the things that most influenced this conclusion were the following:

  • The genitive “of the earth” could lead to four possible conclusions.
    • Incarnation
    • Burial
    • Descent into Hades
    • Descent of the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost
  • The quotation of Psalm 68:18 significantly differs from the LXX.  This led to the possibility that he was not directly quoting the Psalm from the LXX.
  • The wording of the quotation in Ephesians does follow very closely the wording in the Targum.
  • If we see Moses as a type of Christ then the Targum interpretation of Psalm 68:18 seems to follows Paul’s.
  • The order of events Paul seems to be presenting is an ascent then a descent.  This does not make sense if he has in mind the incarnation, burial, or descent into Hades.
  • In Verse 4:10 Paul makes it very clear that the one who ascended and descended are the same person.  This seems unnecessary if Paul has in mind the incarnation, burial, or descent into Hades.
  • Finally, Paul chose a Psalm that was connected with Pentecost.  He was in Ephesus a long and could easily have taught many about the Targum interpretation of Psalm 68:18 and its connection with Pentecost.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 4:7-9 (Part IV)

Psalm 68:18 and the LXX in Ephesians 4:7-9

In addition to the difficult grammar, rhetorical devices and textual issues in the passage, Paul also cites the OT.  Or at a minimum, he makes an illusion to the OT.  The citation/illusion is of Psalm 68:18.  This citation/illusion poses some additional problems.  Following is the text from Ephesians 4:8 and the text from Psalm 68:18 (LXX).

αναβας εις υψος ηχμαλωτευσεν αιχμαλωσιαν, εδωκεν δοματα τοις ανθρωποις Eph. 4:8
ανεβας εις υψος, ηχμαλωτευσας αιχμαλωσιαν, ελαβες δοματα εν ανθρωπωPs. 68:18

It is clear that there is a significant difference in the two phrases.  The major difference is the second half of the statement.  The LXX renders the second half of Ps. 68:18 as ελαβες δοματα εν ανθρωπω (you received gifts among men).  Paul writes εδωκεν δοματα τοις ανθρωποις (you gave gifts to men).  If this is a citation then the change of the verb from “received” to “gave” is not only significant but problematic.  Barth phrases the problem this way, "The author of Ephesians is guilty of willful distortion of the Scriptures - unless it can be shown that his interpretation makes sense in terms of the use and understanding of the psalm contemporary with him." (Markus Barth P. 472).

These and other difficulties in Ephesians 4:8 have caused no little frustration among commentators.  Walvoord and Zuck in their two volume commentary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, provide a good example of the difficulty many have reconciling Ephesians 4:8 and Psalm 68:18.  In the first volume on the Old Testament, speaking of Psalm 68:18, they say, "Psalm 68:18 was referred to by Paul in Ephesians 4:8 (cf. comments there).  However, rather than quoting the Hebrew, Paul apparently followed the Jewish interpretation of the day (the Targum), ..." (Walvoord and Zuck (Old Testament) P.  843).  So, according to the commentary on Psalm 68, Ephesians 4:8 is not a quotation of the LXX but the Targum.  However, in the second volume on the New Testament they say, "Ephesians 4:8 includes a quotation from the Old Testament,...Most think it quotes Psalm 68:18 with five minor and two major changes. ... However, it is better to think that Paul was not quoting one particular verse of the psalm but rather that he was summarizing all of Psalm 68, which has many words similar to those in Psalm 68:18" (Walvoord and Zuck (New Testament) P. 634).  According to the commentary on Ephesians, Paul is not quoting the LXX or the Targum but is summarizing the Psalm itself.  This kind of confusion demonstrates that there is not an easy answer to the apostle's choice of wording. 

Another complication is the context of the Psalm itself.  The Psalm is a tribute to the triumph of Yahweh.  The people flee before Yahweh, His chariots are many thousands, He was with them at Sinai in holiness (v.17), etc.  After this reference to Sinai comes verse 18.  “You ascended to the heights, you took captives. You received gifts among mankind, even the rebellious, so the LORD God may live there.”  The context seems to be one of the LORD ascending, taking captives and receiving gifts in order to establish something permanent  - “so that LORD God may live there”.  The triumph, ascending and taking captive also seems somehow connected to Sinai but not to the Messiah.

In contrast Paul uses Psalm 68:18 as proof that God has given each one of us in the church gifts according to the measure of Christ (4:7).  He seems to change the intent of the Psalm and connect it to Christ rather than to Yahweh.  In the Psalm it is the LORD receiving gifts, in Ephesians 4 the men are receiving gifts.  In the Psalm the men are giving the gifts to the LORD, in Ephesians 4, Christ, the one who ascended and descended, is giving the gifts to men.

The problem rests on the assumption that Paul is quoting the LXX.  This is an understandable assumption not only because of the similar wording but also Paul introduces the quote with the words, “That is why God says…”.  However, if Paul were quoting or paraphrasing some other authoritative work, the problem would go away.

It turns out that Walvoord and Zuck’s Old Testament commentary may have the most viable solution.  Lincoln and Abbott agree with the first volume and point out that the major deviation from the LXX agrees with the Targum. (Lincoln, WBC P. 242, Abbott P. 112).  So, it appears that what we have is a either a quotation or an illusion to the Targum or an early form of the Targum rather than a direct quotation of the LXX.

So, it may be that the Targum’s interpretation of the Psalm is what Paul is making reference too.  This needs to be explored further.  I guess I will have to write a Part V.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

On Discovering the Illusory Nature of One’s Superiority

by Joseph Mosse’

God blessed me with great times during the summer of 2013. He led me through challenges, growing me through both lessons and practical experience. One lesson surprised me. It turned a lot of the assumptions I had made on their heads. This summer, God showed me how weakness can be strength, and how that, which I considered my best advantage isn’t as special as I thought. I learned a new way to be humble.

During the second half of June and the first part of July, I had a chance to take part in the ministry of a short term team from America. Every summer it’s usual for me to work with one or two such teams, but this one was special. It was made up of my peers from our church in California. They send a group of high school seniors overseas every year. This time, they were coming to the Ukrainian city of L’viv, just a train ride away from my home in Odessa. We spent about a month together doing all kinds of ministries, from running English camps to street evangelization.

As I worked alongside my friends, I began to notice something crazy. See, whether I consciously thought it or not, I had an assumption down in my brain. I believed that being a missionary kid made me exceptional. In my opinion, anyone who had grown up between two cultures has naturally lived a broader, richer life. While I would never say so outright, I felt that people who had never left America before couldn’t hold a candle to it.  

But I watched in astonishment as these huge, glaring cultural and language barriers that I had learned to abhor became a strength I realized I could not tap. These guys from America talked and played and formed relationships despite the challenges of a language barrier. And because of the difficulty and effort they put into it, their relationships were that much dearer. I could effortlessly talk to anyone around me, but I could not reach the people’s hearts as quickly and deeply as they could. Living in America one’s whole life is not actually something totally grey, boring and unenviable. In my peers, I saw value and strength in something I had never considered worthwhile before, while at the same time understanding that I am not as equipped and experienced as I thought I was. At the end of the day there was nothing left to do but accept the fact that we all have different gifts, and praise God that He can change weaknesses into strengths. That must mean there’s hope for me, too.

This humbling lesson is especially relevant for me as soon I will find myself back in America. If I had gone back with some of my arrogant assumptions still in place, it would make it much harder to forge good relationships with my new peers. Though I still would never trade growing up as an MK for anything the world, I have a new appreciation for those who have had a different experience. Many MKs and TCKs pride themselves in their ability to see and evaluate the world from multiple standpoints. We ought to apply this gift not only to other peoples but to our own countrymen as well.