Saturday à Machen: The Minister and His Greek Testament

Nijay Gupta has posted some introductory thoughts and a couple of interesting articles on the vexing subject of why Christian ministers should learn New Testament Greek. Since I consider this to be a most important matter, I thought it appropriate to temporarily resurrect the Saturday à Machen in order to share with you all this little jewel, which originally appeared in the periodical The Presbyterian on February 7, 1918:

J. Gresham MachenThe widening breach between the minister and his Greek Testament may be traced to two principal causes. The modern minister objects to his Greek New Testament or is indifferent to it, first, because he is becoming less interested in his Greek, and second, because he is becoming less interested in his New Testament.

The former objection is merely one manifestation of the well known tendency in modern education to reject the “humanities” in favor of studies that are more obviously useful, a tendency which is fully as pronounced in the universities as it is in the theological seminaries. In many colleges the study of Greek is almost abandoned; there is little wonder, therefore, that the graduates are not prepared to use their Greek Testament. Plato and Homer are being neglected as much as Paul. A refutation of the arguments by which this tendency is justified would exceed the limits of the present article. This much, however, may be saidthe refutation must recognize the opposing principles that are involved. The advocate of the study of Greek and Latin should never attempt to plead his cause merely before the bar of “efficiency.” Something, no doubt, might be said even there; it might possibly be contended that an acquaintance with Greek and Latin is really necessary to acquaintance with the mother tongue, which is obviously so important for getting on in the world. But why not go straight to the root of the matter? The real trouble with the modern exaltation of “practical” studies at the expense of the humanities is that it is based upon a vicious conception of the whole purpose of education. The modern conception of the purpose of education is that education is merely intended to enable a man to live, but not to give him those things in life that make life worth living.

In the second place, the modern minister is neglecting his Greek New Testament because he is becoming less interested in his New Testament in generalless interested in his Bible. The Bible used to be regarded as providing the very sum and substance of preaching; a preacher was true to his calling only as he succeeded in reproducing and applying the message of the Word of God. Very different is the modern attitude. The Bible is not discarded, to be sure, but it is treated only as one of the sources, even though it be still the chief source, of the preacher’s inspiration. Moreover, a host of duties other than preaching and other than interpretation of the Word of God are required of the modern pastor. He must organize clubs and social activities of a dozen different kinds; he must assume a prominent part in movements for civic reform. In short, the minister has ceased to be a specialist. The change appears, for example, in the attitude of theological students, even of a devout and reverent type. One outstanding difficulty in theological education today is that the students persist in regarding themselves, not as specialists, but as laymen. Critical questions about the Bible they regard as the property of men who are training themselves for theological professorships or the like, while the ordinary minister, in their judgment, may content himself with the most superficial layman’s acquaintance with the problems involved. The minister is thus no longer a specialist in the Bible, but has become merely a sort of general manager of the affairs of a congregation.

The bearing of this modern attitude toward the study of the Bible upon the study of the Greek Testament is sufficiently obvious. If the time allotted to strictly biblical studies must be diminished, obviously the most laborious part of those studies, the part least productive of immediate results, will be the first to go. And that part, for students insufficiently prepared, is the study of Greek and Hebrew. If, on the other hand, the minister is a specialist—if the one thing that he owes his congregation above all others is a thorough acquaintance, scientific as well as experimental, with the Bible—then the importance of Greek requires no elaborate argument. In the first place, almost all the most important books about the New Testament presuppose a knowledge of Greek: the student who is without at least a smattering of Greek is obliged to use for the most part works that are written, figuratively speaking, in words of one syllable. In the second place, such a student cannot deal with all the problems at first hand, but in a thousand important questions is at the mercy of the judgment of others. In the third place, our student without Greek cannot acquaint himself with the form as well as the content of the New Testament books. The New Testament, as well as all other literature, loses something in translation. But why argue the question? Every scientific student of the New Testament without exception knows that Greek is really necessary to his work: the real question is only as to whether our ministry should be manned by scientific students.

That question is merely one phase of the most important question that is now facing the church the question of Christianity and culture. The modern world is dominated by a type of thought that is either contradictory to Christianity or else out of vital connection with Christianity. This type of thought applied directly to the Bible has resulted in the naturalistic view of the biblical historythe view that rejects the supernatural not merely in the Old Testament narratives, but also in the Gospel account of the life of Jesus. According to such a view the Bible is valuable because it teaches certain ideas about God and his relations to the world, because it teaches by symbols and example, as well as by formal presentation, certain great principles that have always been true. According to the supernaturalistic view, on the other hand, the Bible contains not merely a presentation of something that was always true, but also a record of something that happenednamely, the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. If this latter view be correct, then the Bible is unique; it is not merely one of the sources of the preacher’s inspiration, but the very sum and substance of what he has to say. But, if so, then whatever else the preacher need not know, he must know the Bible; he must know it at first hand, and be able to interpret and defend it. Especially while doubt remains in the world as to the great central question, who more properly than the ministers should engage in the work of resolving such doubtby intellectual instruction even more than by argument? The work cannot be turned over to a few professors whose work is of interest only to themselves, but must be undertaken energetically by spiritually minded men throughout the church. But obviously this work can be undertaken to best advantage only by those who have an important prerequisite for the study in a knowledge of the original languages upon which a large part of the discussion is based.

If, however, it is important for the minister to use his Greek Testament, what is to be done about it? Suppose early opportunities were neglected, or what was once required has been lost in the busy rush of ministerial life. Here we may come forward boldly with a message of hope. The Greek of the New Testament is by no means a difficult language; a very fair knowledge of it may be acquired by any minister of average intelligence. And to that end two homely directions may be given. In the first place, the Greek should be read aloud. A language cannot easily be learned by the eye alone. The sound as well as the sense of familiar passages should be impressed upon the mind, until sound and sense are connected without the medium of translation. Let this result not be hastened; it will come of itself if the simple direction be followed. In the second place, the Greek Testament should be read every day without fail, Sabbaths included. Ten minutes a day is of vastly more value than seventy minutes once a week. If the student keeps a “morning watch,” the Greek Testament ought to be given a place in it; at any rate, the Greek Testament should be read devotionally. The Greek Testament is a sacred book, and should be treated as such. If it is treated so, the reading of it will soon become a source of joy and power.

The Pope of Rome on the Bible

It is well known, my gentle snowflakes, that while I am no friend at all of Papism, I have enjoyed for many years the scholarly writing of the current Pope of Rome Dr Benedict XVI. I was therefore enormously pleased to learn of a lecture given by him a week ago at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris on “the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture,” in which he gave some attention to the nature of the Bible, hermeneutics and exegesis in that connection. I have excerpted the three more relevant paragraphs below, but the entire document deserves careful reading.

In order to understand to some degree the culture of the word, which developed deep within Western monasticism from the search for God, we need to touch at least briefly on the particular character of the book, or rather books, in which the monks encountered this word. The Bible, considered from a purely historical and literary perspective, is not simply a book, but a collection of literary texts which were redacted over the course of more than a thousand years, and in which the inner unity of the individual books is not immediately apparent. On the contrary, there are visible tensions between them. This is already the case within the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is only rectified when we as Christians link the New Testament writings as, so to speak, a hermeneutical key with the Bible of Israel, and so understand the latter as the journey towards Christ. With good reason, the New Testament generally designates the Bible not as “the Scripture” but as “the Scriptures”, which, when taken together, are naturally then regarded as the one word of God to us. But the use of this plural makes it quite clear that the word of God only comes to us through the human word and through human words, that God only speaks to us through the humanity of human agents, through their words and their history. This means again that the divine element in the word and in the words is not self-evident. To say this in a modern way: the unity of the biblical books and the divine character of their words cannot be grasped by purely historical methods. The historical element is seen in the multiplicity and the humanity. From this perspective one can understand the formulation of a medieval couplet that at first sight appears rather disconcerting: littera gesta docetquid credas allegoria … (cf. Augustine of Dacia, Rotulus pugillaris, I). The letter indicates the facts; what you have to believe is indicated by allegory, that is to say, by Christological and pneumatological exegesis.

We may put it even more simply: Scripture requires exegesis, and it requires the context of the community in which it came to birth and in which it is lived. This is where its unity is to be found, and here too its unifying meaning is opened up. To put it yet another way: there are dimensions of meaning in the word and in words which only come to light within the living community of this history-generating word. Through the growing realization of the different layers of meaning, the word is not devalued, but in fact appears in its full grandeur and dignity. Therefore the Catechism of the Catholic Church can rightly say that Christianity does not simply represent a religion of the book in the classical sense (cf. par. 108). It perceives in the words the Word, the Logos itself, which spreads its mystery through this multiplicity and the reality of a human history. This particular structure of the Bible issues a constantly new challenge to every generation. It excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text. To attain to it involves a transcending and a process of understanding, led by the inner movement of the whole and hence it also has to become a process of living. Only within the dynamic unity of the whole are the many books one book. The Word of God and his action in the world are revealed only in the word and history of human beings.

The whole drama of this topic is illuminated in the writings of Saint Paul. What is meant by the transcending of the letter and understanding it solely from the perspective of the whole, he forcefully expressed as follows: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). And he continues: “Where the Spirit is … there is freedom (cf. 2 Cor 3:17). But one can only understand the greatness and breadth of this vision of the biblical word if one listens closely to Paul and then discovers that this liberating Spirit has a name, and hence that freedom has an inner criterion: “The Lord is the Spirit. Where the Spirit is … there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). The liberating Spirit is not simply the exegete’s own idea, the exegete’s own vision. The Spirit is Christ, and Christ is the Lord who shows us the way. With the word of Spirit and of freedom, a further horizon opens up, but at the same time a clear limit is placed upon arbitrariness and subjectivity, which unequivocally binds both the individual and the community and brings about a new, higher obligation than that of the letter: namely, the obligation of insight and love. This tension between obligation and freedom, which extends far beyond the literary problem of scriptural exegesis, has also determined the thinking and acting of monasticism and has deeply marked Western culture. This tension presents itself anew as a challenge for our own generation as we face two poles: on the one hand, subjective arbitrariness, and on the other, fundamentalist fanaticism. It would be a disaster if today’s European culture could only conceive freedom as absence of obligation, which would inevitably play into the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness. Absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction.

These paragraphs are a perfect example of what I find at once both so exciting and so infuriating about Pope Benedict’s work: one sentence builds me up to agree emphatically, only to have the next bring to a screeching haltbut then I’m left not knowing what to do when the same point is restated later in terms I find perfectly acceptable. After I’m done reading, I invariably feel exhausted from struggling to keep up with this madness, and I love it. Again, read the whole!

[H/T: Joaquín, whose fascinating blog Majao público I discovered yesterday evening. He blogs on a wide range of subjects, and in the past few of months has produced a number of very interesting posts on the Bible, as well as on Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth and on Jesús Pagola’s book on the historical Jesus, the latter of which has recently stirred some controversy in certain circles in Spain. Here’s hoping for many more such posts!]

"La Biblia de Nuestro Pueblo" Now Available in the US

The current issue of the bilingual Revista Maryknoll features an article announcing that Orbis Books has published La Biblia de Nuestro Pueblo for the US market. This enormously popular Bible, which sold 400,000 copies in but a year and a half, is the Latin American edition of La Biblia del Peregrino, a translation produced by the late great biblical scholar and Hebraist extraordinaire Luis Alonso-Schökel, SJ, with the assistance of a handful of collaborators. For this edition, Schökel’s text has been conformed to Latin American Spanish, and the introductions and annotations adapted for pastoral use, by an international team of experts. The Orbis Books hardcover edition sells for a mere $15 USD, which will undoubtedly facilitate its distribution among Spanish-speaking Roman Catholics (and others) in the US.

The full text of the translation and annotations is also available online for free (Old Testament, New Testament). I haven’t spent much time reading the Latin American edition, but I’m very well acquainted with La Biblia del Peregrino, which I consider to be perhaps the finest and most literarily beautiful Spanish translation of the Bible. (Read an excerpt from the translator’s introduction here.) Since I know that many of my readers lack a frame of reference to evaluate and “place” Spanish translations, I venture the suggestion that La Biblia del Peregrino is the counterpart of the Revised English Bible, whereas its predecessor, Alonso-Schökel and Mateos’ 1975 Nueva Biblia Española, is the counterpart of the earlier New English Bible. In any event, that this well-received translation is now available in the US is very welcome news indeed, and I sincerely hope that it will find as wide a readership there as it has found elsewhere in the Americas.

BW3 and Spouse Co-Author an Historical Novel about Jim West

Mike Bird has the news:

The Lazarus Effect (with Ann Witherington)

Archaeologist . . . West makes the discovery of a lifetime in Jerusalem finding the tombstone of Lazarus, which indicates that Jesus raised him from the dead. But before he can make public his amazing discovery, the stone is stolen, sold to the British Library, and West is implicated in an antiquities fraud that will lead to a trial. West’s Jewish and Muslim friends in Jerusalem rally to support West’s innocence and to help find the thief who stole the stone, but then West is shot and in critical condition in a Jerusalem hospital. Can the truth be discovered in time, and West’s life be saved? And what was on that Aramaic scroll that was found in Lazarus’s coffin? In this fast-paced thriller, Ben Witherington, himself a NT scholar with a degree in English literature, together with his wife, Ann, introduces us to the life of an archaeologist and NT scholar and his trials and tribulations when a big find comes to light. Set in the always volatile city of Jerusalem, the Witheringtons reveal the fascinating hidden dimensions of multi-religious life in that Holy Place, and show how even today Christians, Jews, and Muslims can work together so the truth may come to light, and all may experience “the Lazarus Effect”new life from the dead.

Amazing! The novel is forthcoming from Wipf & Stock. The events described above surely explain why Jim is such a rabid minimalist. Who, after dedicating themselves to the pursuit of biblical archaeology, making such an enormously significant discovery, and being so brutally double-crossed, would want to remain linked to maximalism in any way whatsoever? Please do yourself a favor and pick up this volume as soon as it becomes availableit behooves us all to become conversant with the life and times of the Boss Tweed of Biblioblogdom.

On the True Meaning of "Conciliarity"

Few words are bandied about so recklessly in the English-speaking Orthodox world as “conciliarity” [sobornost’]. A great many opinions on its nature and practical implications are routinely advanced in support of various agendas, but I’m quite certain that few of those who pay lip service to “conciliarity” could stomach the elucidation of the concept found in the following homily by the great St Nikolai Velimirović:

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5).

Here is the principle of the true Orthodox conciliarity [sabornost]! It is based on the unconditional obedience of the younger toward the elders and on reciprocal obedience of equals among themselves, and on the humility of both the elders and the younger. Humility [poniznost] is a good word but better still is the word humbleness [smernost] and the best word is humble-mindedness [smirenomudrije]: in essence, humble-mindedness corresponds exactly to the Greek word which the apostle used in his epistle [i.e., tapeinophrosynē], and it signifies lowly thoughts about oneself and higher thoughts about God and constant admission of one’s helplessness, one’s ignorance, one’s viciousness, one’s unworthiness and constant recognition of God’s power, God’s wisdom, God’s mercy and God’s dignity.

God is the only King of mankind. That is why God opposed the wishes of the Israelites that a king be appointed for them from among the people. God rules and men serve God. Those who rule and those who submit are equally the servants of God. When it is known and recognized that God is King and that all men are servants of God then, by this, the foundation of conciliarity [sabornost] is established, the foundation of the angelic society. Upon this foundation then is built the House of God, the angelic society, with the help of the obedience of the younger toward the elders and on reciprocal obedience of peers among themselves and upon the humble-mindness of all. In this manner, two terrible evils are avoided in the world: tyranny, i.e., one ruling over many by force, and anarchy, i.e., mob rule, thereby avoiding mono-tyranny or poly-tyranny.

The principle of conciliarity [sabornost] is an organic principle, i.e., the principle of life. This is the principle of mutual service, mutual help and mutual love. Brethren, may God endow us with wisdom to have recourse toward this saving principle in our lives.

Lord Jesus, obedient and humble Lover of Mankind, implant and confirm in us obedience to Thy law and mutual obedience out of love and humble-mindedness toward Thy unutterable power and wisdom. To Thee be glory and thanks forever. Amen.

Considering the above, it is hard to disagree with a now retired Orthodox Bishop who has been known to remark that, while some loudly and insistently call for sobornost’, what they want in actual fact is the people’s soviet.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

On this day, September 1, we observe the Beginning of the Indiction, which is also the Ecclesiastical New Year. The icon of the feast, depicted below, shows Our Lord at the synagogue of Nazareth reading what the Prophet Isaiah had long before said about him, and announcing the “acceptable year of the Lord”an event which, according to Tradition, took place on this Day of Grace.

“The Roman Emperors, for the maintenance of their troops, decreed through a constitution a certain general tribute on their subjects by every eparchy, the payment of which took place yearly. The same constitution was repeated after an interval of fifteen years, for the soldiers of Old Rome had the obligation to serve in the army for fifteen years. After the completion of these they renewed the constitution again, with some modification due to the probable change of circumstances in the interval, and ordered afresh another tribute, to be paid also in succession throughout the fifteen year period. At the end of this period a third, and so forth. The imperial constitution, through which this tribute was ordered a little before the winter, was named Indictio, that is ‘decree,’ or ‘proclamation’ concerning the tribute. Writing it ‘Indiction’ the Kings of Constantinople preserved the word, while the patriarchs in later years employed the word epinemesis, which means ‘distribution.’ Indictions were introduced, according to the commoner view, under Augustus Caesar three years before Christ, and they produce as proof a certain papal seal (Bulla), that is a papal constitution, issued in the year 781 AD, which is dated as follows: anno IV, Indictionis LIII, that is ‘in year 4 of the 53rd Indiction,’ from which one can conclude the year mentioned. By multiplying the 52 full Indictions and adding the 4 years of the 53rd one arrives at the number 784, that is 581 years from Christ and 3 more.

“There are three types of Indiction. The first is that introduced in the West, which is called ‘imperial,’ ‘Caesarian,’ or ‘Constantinian,’ and it begins on the 24th of September. The second is called ‘papal’ and begins on the 1st of January. The third is that of Constantinople, which the Patriarchs of that city adopted after the fall of the Eastern Empire and which they write in their own hand on constitutions issued by them, without numbering the succession of Indictions or of the periods of 15 years. It begins, with a certain ceremony, from the 1st of September. And this is the ‘Beginning of the Indiction,’ and the reason for its cycle of fifteen years.

“But since, after the gathering of the crops into barns, there takes place in a certain manner the completion of the whole year, and we begin again from this time and onwards to sow seed anew into the earth for the sake of the provision of new produce in the future, for this reason September is reckoned to be the beginning of the new year. The Church, as she celebrates today, asks of God ‘favourable weather,’ seasonable rains, ‘abundance of the earth,’ etc. That the ancient Synagogue of the Jews also celebrated on this day the feast of Trumpets, offering to God hymns of thanksgiving, Holy Scripture is witness (cfr. Leviticus 23:24-25; Numbers 29:1-2). There is a third reason for the present feast: the remembrance of the entry of Jesus into the synagogue of the Jews at Nazareth, when he was given the book of the Prophet Isaiah to read, and opening it he found the passage where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, therefore he has anointed me,’ etc. (Luke 4:16-18). So much for the present feast and the Indiction.” (From the ῾Ωρολόγιον τò μέγα; translation by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash.)

In Which I Make a Couple of Very Serious Announcements for the Edification of All


I know well, my gentle snowflakes, that it was only a short while ago that I boldly declared Sister Macrina’s A Vow of Conversation to be the finest theological blog I have read, but it seems that this may have been too hasty a judgement. Yes, I have come across a new blog whose sublime constructive theological discourse is simply unparalleled in the whole History of Theology. Of course, I am talking about ΨΕΥΔΟΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΑ, a space dedicated to “especially special speculative theology.” The genius behind this project, which may be described as the quintessential theoblog, is none other than the great Jürgen Hauerwas of Tübingen, North Carolina. The blog was only launched this past Saturday, but already JH (for I’m certain that he, like SK and JHY, is often referenced only by his initials) has provided us with rich intellectual fare: he has discussed the vocation of bloggers as theotokoi, the trinitarian perichoretical dance (which I myself briefly discussed here), and the New Covenant Exit-from-dust. Needless to say, I await JH’s next post with bated breath! As I said in my comment to the inaugural post, his blog is: “Wonderful. Moving. Edifying. Theopneustosed.”


Nearly a month ago, Zondervan’s Koinonia blog featured a link to one of the more distressing things I have witnessed in my time: a video in which college-aged young people praise Wayne Grudem in dance and song. (I refuse to defile this blog by posting here such a depraved spectacle, so you will have to go to the above link for the video and a transcript of the lyrics.) Worse still is that the report of this ignominy went virtually unnoticed in the blogosphere. I imagine that it is precisely this kind of insensitivity to iniquity that will allow the eschatological Antichrist to have a free rein once his time is come. In response to these horrifying developments, I have decided to start a Facebook group for Anti-Grudemites International, a heretofore semi-secret organization that I felt compelled to establish c. 1996 upon encountering Grudem’s work. Note that while membership previously required a blood-oath, now it only requires a Facebook account. (Over the years, a number of people have commented that they would feel more inclined to join a group rather less passionate about the cause it champions, such as the PLO or the IRA; hopefully this change will help broaden our membership base.) If, in common with AGI, you “strenuously oppose the twin errors of Grudemite ‘theology’ and ‘translation theory’ as well as the pernicious Grudem personality cult regrettably prevalent in some quarters,” and if you’re likewise revolted in your innermost being by the baleful effects of Grudemism evidenced above, I encourage you to join AGI today.

Lexical Semantics, Exegetical Fallacies, and the OSB (Or, "Woe Is Me, I Don’t Have BibleWorks!")

Some years ago, a well-meaning Orthodox priest, evidently concerned that no English translation of the Church’s text of the New Testament is available for liturgical use, sent out a communication in which he asked all recipients to reply with suggested corrections and changes, textual and translational, to the New Testament of the King James Version. Now, I think that an Orthodox recension of the KJV NT would be a splendid idea; some of this has already been done in the Epistle and Gospel lectionaries published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, but there certainly is room for a more thorough revision. Given my interest in such a project, I decided to pay close attention to the discussionbut I’m afraid that I was not prepared for the horrors that this proposed exchange would uncover.

Before I go any further, I should explain that I am greatly afflicted by horrible, recurrent nightmares that involve clergy penciling into their Bibles inane changes to the translation on no other grounds than a shoddy knowledge of the Biblical languages and a dilettante’s love for pop philology. (Incidentally, the geniuses over at Language Log have a wonderful word for transgressions such as this: “incorrection,” that is, “a correction that is itself incorrect.”) And as you might imagine, once the floodgates of proposed corrections were opened and people started discussing the changes they routinely make, all my blood-curdling nightmares started to come true.

One of the more grievous proposals was the following:

Romans 15:15-16: “…because of the grace that is given to me by God, that I should be a liturgist of Christ Jesus in the nations…” (KJV: …because of the grace that is given to me of God, that I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles…”)

Unable to restrain myself, I wrote (lightly abridged and edited):

It is precisely because of such dreadful examples of pop philology that I become very nervous whenever I hear about amateurish “corrections” of established Biblical translations.

To “translate” λειτουργὸν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as “liturgist of Jesus Christ” is a crass example of semantic anachronism, and in fact methodologically indistinguishable from rendering δύναμις […] θεοῦ as “the dynamite of God” (cfr. Romans 1:16), or ἱλαρὸν […] δότην as “hilarious giver” (cfr. II Corinthians 9:7)1. I suppose that while we’re at it, we might as well “translate” ἡ προσφορὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν in Romans 15:16 as “the prosphora of the nations”!

A λειτουργός is one who performs a public service or work, that is, a “public servant” or “minister.” (I should also like to note that λειτουργία is just this public service or work, and not, as pop philological myth would have it, “the work of the people.”) Thus, the KJV does not need to be corrected at this point (except, perhaps, for changing the definite article to the indefinite), but it could stand to be corrected in what follows immediately: ἱερουργοῦντα τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ should probably be rendered “ministering as a priest the Gospel of God” (cfr. NASB), or as the more idiomatic rendering of the RSV/NRSV/ESV has it, “[…] to be a minister of [Jesus Christ] to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the Gospel of God.”

The above was met with much approval by other theretofore silent and equally horrified observers, but it wasn’t too long before the anonymous soul responsible for this astonishing incorrection attempted to justify it:

“I will not argue with him that I am making some eisogetic [sic] interpolations into the Greek based on my own theological presupposition; however, I would also argue that the protestant translations do the same thing. […] [W]e as Orthodox make the claim that we have the whole truth, including our exegesis of the sacred text. Why did the Apostle not just use diaconea? [sic] Why use the word liturgy? [sic] It seems that we can say without shame that this is because of the worship setting of the early church does anyone really want to argue that Paul is not a liturgist? […] Our exegesis is the closest to the truth, so why can we not say liturgist, or anything else that aids our understanding of the sacramental depth of the sacred texts?”

To this I responded:

Simply because we cannot arbitrarily assign to a well-attested word whatever meaning suits our fancy. Again, the attempt to “translate” λειτουργός as “liturgist” is a textbook case of a lexical fallacy called “semantic anachronism,” in which an ancient word is defined by a later word etymologically derived from it. (The reverse error, called the “root fallacy,” defines a modern word by the ancient word from which it is etymologically derived: thus, the “real meaning” of the English word “nice” would be “fool,” because this is meaning of the Latin nescius.)

Of course, one would be hard pressed to deny that St Paul was a “liturgist” (that is, one who leads a liturgy), particularly in view of passages such as Acts 20:7-12; but that he was such does not depend on any rendering of λειτουργός (and much less on an incorrect one!). Further, that behind this lexical fallacy lies a logical one is clear from a question like, “Why would [St. Paul] use the word liturgy?” Evidently St Paul, who was not an English speaker, didn’t “use the [English] word liturgy” at all in the passage in question; he used the Greek word λειτουργός. To assume that this is the same as “liturgist” simply begs the question.

In any case, to make “eisegetical interpolations” of any kind into the Scriptural text is doubtless inappropriate, for as someone else has already noted, it is the words of Scripture that “spin” us, and not us them. This kind manipulation often has the purpose to pack some theological or homiletical punch into the text, as though a sensible translation of the Scriptures were lacking in riches to impart to either area. Unfortunately, these (pseudo-)exegetical “nuggets,” based as they are in a fallacious understanding of lexical semantics and translation theory, ultimately distort the text and its meaning.

And that was the end of that particular discussion. Fast forward, however, to 2008 and the release of the complete Orthodox Study Bible. Soon after I received my copy (thanks, once again, to Kevin Edgecomb‘s kindness), I was thumbing through the book when my innocent eyes fell upon this horrendous sight:

“See to it that the tribe of Levi is not numbered, nor take a census of them among the children of Israel; but you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall minister liturgically [Gk. λειτουργήσουσιν] in the tabernacle and camp around it” (Numbers 1:49-50, emphasis and parenthesis mine).

A note further elaborates:

“The Levites were ordained to minister liturgically, for divine worship is liturgical in nature; this liturgical nature is mentioned about forty-five times throughout Numbers. The word liturgy means ‘the work of the people.’ In Israel, this included the Levites and the twelve tribes, that is, all ‘the children of Israel’ (v. 49), with the Levites having their special liturgical service in the tabernacle.

“The worship of the Church is also liturgical in nature and includes both clergy and laity. The apostles were ministering liturgically in Acts 13:2 when the Holy Spirit spoke to them. The same word is used here as in the Book of Numbers. This same word is also used numerous times in Hebrews to describe the liturgical worship of the Church as the fulfillment of Israel’s liturgical worship (Heb. 1:7, 14; 8:2, 6; 9:21; 10:11).”

Excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

Anyway, tipped off by this unfortunate discovery, I started to compile a list of all the instances in which the OSB fallaciously translates λειτουργέω and λειτουργία, but given that my copy of Hatch and Redpath’s LXX Concordance has been long stowed in a cold storage unit in Michigan, the project has been progressing at a painfully slow pace. It finally occurred to me that some of you have fancy computer gadgets that work at breakneck speeds to alleviate the toils of certain philological endeavors, and that, if asked, someone might be moved to coöperate by providing me with a list of all instances of these two words in Rahlf’s Septuaginta. So, is anyone able to do so? You help would be greatly appreciated! [UPDATE: Mike Aubrey has kindly provided a full list that he produced by searching Logos; Manuel Rojas double checked these results against those from a BibleWorks search and found one additional instance of the verb. Many thanks to both of them for their help!]


With the exception of the one taken from Romans 15:16, all examples of semantic anachronism and the root fallacy are taken from D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), pages 28-35.

CTS Names New President

It has just come to my attention that biblical scholar Alice W. Hunt has been named as the 12th President of the Chicago Theological Seminary. She succeeds renown theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, who after 10 years at the helm of that distinguished institution has decided to return to full-time teaching.

Dr Hunt has served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at her alma mater, Vanderbilt Divinity School, since 2001. She sits on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Religion, and on the Steering Committee of the Chief Academic Officers Society of the Association of Theological Schools. Her 2006 book Missing Priests: The Zadokites in Tradition and History, by all accounts an important contribution to the literature, may be previewed here, with reviews available here, here, and here.

Further details about Dr Hunt’s appointment may be read at the seminary’s Presidential Search Homepage. Congratulations to CTS in this felicitous choice, and to Dr Hunt on her new position, into which she will be installed this Fall.