Learning Greek All Over Again

It is high time, my gentle snowflakes, that I made mention of what is, in my estimation, one the more important bibliographical events of the decade just ended for students of Biblical Greek: the publication of our friend Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010).

Readers interested in getting a taste of what this truly groundbreaking grammar brings to the table may wish to peruse the 60-page sample that Steve has made available on his website.

Now it is no secret to frequent readers of this blog that the illustrious Steven Edward Runge, D. Litt., is not only the acclaimed author of the aforementioned workhe is also a devoted reader of The Voice of Stefan, and indeed, the gentlest of all my snowflakes. We may therefore be assured not only of his superior scholarly abilities, but also of his exceptionally good taste.

It is entirely in keeping with his well-earned reputation as a gentleman and a scholar that, cognizant of the feverish eagerness with which I anticipated its publication, Steve should have decided to send along an inscribed copy of his Discourse Grammar. For this, I am profoundly grateful. I have taken the liberty to reproduce below his manuscript inscription for your edification:

Beautiful, isn’t it? Far be it from me to point out, as I have so many other times, that I myself am no snowflake at allgentle, noble, or otherwise; the gentlest of all my snowflakes simply can do no wrong.

Be that as it may, readers may have noticed that I have chosen some exceptionally ornate language to describe Steve’s Descriptive Grammar, and given my widely documented aversion to sycophantic blurbery, I feel that I must offer a personal word of justification for this.

My study of Greek, which for nearly 20 years has commanded my attention in a variety of settings, has been chiefly informed thus far by the more conventional historical and diachronic approaches common to grammars everywhere. As a result, I seem to be aware of a good bit of information on the history of the language, and can read, with various degrees of ease, a great deal of literature from the archaic to the late Byzantine periods. This is all very good, but I have long been aware, on the one hand, of the significant contribution that modern linguistics can make (and has made!) to the study of the Greek language, and on the other, of my woefully inadequate background on the subject in spite of some programmatic reading in the field. Particularly vexing has been to read time and again about the great promise of discourse analysis for the study of Greek grammar and the practice of exegesis, but to have precious little in the way of publications that corroborate and elucidate this claim. It is on this score that Steve Runge has bravely gone where few others have dared to venture, and as a result has offered us a substantial work that goes a very long way towards resolving this lamentable bibliographical deficit. For this, we all surely stand in his debt.

I have spent the better part of a month with the Discourse Grammar, and not infrequently, while reading one section or another, I have felt like I am learning Greek all over again. This is a wonderful and even exciting prospect, and I cannot help but to wholeheartedly recommend this book to every serious student of Biblical Greek.



A Strange and Wondrous Mystery

On this day, December 25 (O. S.), we celebrate the holy and great festival of the Nativity of Our Lord, God, and Savior JESUS CHRIST. With great joy, I extend to one and all the festal greeting:

 

CHRIST IS BORN!

 

 

From a sermon of St John Chrysostom on the Nativity of Christ:

“I behold a strange and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing! The Archangels blend their voices in harmony! The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise! The Seraphim exalt His glory! All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven: the One above comes below by his saving dispensation; the one below is raised above by the divine love for mankind.

“Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God. This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

“When He was born the Jews denied his strange birth; the Pharisees misinterpreted the divine books; the Scribes spoke in contradiction of the Law. Herod sought Him out Who was born, not that he might adore Him, but to put Him to death. Today all things proclaim the opposite. For they have not been, according to the Psalmist, hidden from their children, in another generation (Psalm 77:4, LXX). And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

“Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead. And behold, Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory; soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy; virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy; infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise; children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants; shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep; priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech; servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom; fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men; publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist; sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant; and that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

“Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the highest; and with the shepherds, and on earth peace, good will among men.”

(Taken from M. F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol. 1 [Chicago: Regnery, 1958], pages 110-1; cf. PG 56 col. 385. The translation has been minimally revised, and punctuation lightly edited.)

 

Мир Божији, Христос се роди! Ваистину се роди!
Peace from God, Christ is born! Truly, He is born!

On Reading the Scriptures, Part II

On New Year’s Day 2010, I posted some initial thoughts on the subject of Bible reading. In that first post I sought to offer some considered reflections on the purpose of daily Bible reading and on the ascetical dimension of reading the Scriptures in a disciplined fashion, as well as some practical suggestions on how to embark on a reading program for beginners that takes into account the preeminent place of the Gospel and the Psalter in the Church and the vital need to avoid biting off more than one can chew. I have learned that these initial thoughts have proved useful to some, and for this I am grateful. Now the purpose of this post is to detail a more comprehensive Bible reading plan that builds on the foundation of the basic program described earlier. Needless to say, the points addressed in the first post are simply assumed here, and those who have not read the previous discussion should take a few minutes to do so.

III. Taking the Next Step: The Rest of the New Testament

Once a person has solidly established a regular daily discipline of reading the Gospel and the Psalter in the manner described earlier, it is perhaps time to start thinking of how to move from this bare minimum of Scriptural reading to a fuller program that can, in due course, lead the reader through the vast swaths of otherwise unexplored Biblical literature. Since abrupt change is ultimately detrimental to growth in the disciplines of the Christian life, and since, as we have seen, the Gospel and the Psalter should not be neglected in our daily reading of Scripture, it is probably best not to give up the program to which one has thus far become accustomed, but rather we should seek ways to sensibly add to it. Once again we must resist the temptation to do either too much or too little: one is a sure prescription for burnout, and the other simply caters to our complacency. So here, too, we must do only as much as we can, while we strive to grow in our discipline, which will in turn allow us to do more.

A first step might be to add a daily reading from the rest of the New Testament: Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation. If one has followed the Gospel reading program laid down in the “Cell Rule of the Optina Monastery,” which was warmly recommended in the first post, the easiest way to accomplish this would be to add the Epistle reading program appointed by the Rule, which is designed to match it. Readers will recall that the Optina Rule calls for reading one chapter of the Holy Gospel every day. There are 89 chapters in all when we take all four Gospels together, and so one reads through them once every three months. The Rule further calls for reading two chapters from the rest of the New Testament every day, with last seven chapters of Revelation being read at the rate of one per day. In this way, the reading of these books is completed also in 89 days, together with the reading of the Gospel.

A few years ago I prepared a reading plan in four columns whose purpose is to assist those who wish to conduct their reading of the New Testament according to the Optina Rule in keeping track of their progress. Our good friend Kevin Edgecomb has graciously hosted the plan in his website from the beginning, and it may be found here.

Now 89 multiplied by 4 is 356, so if one is using the program laid down by the Optina Cell Rule as a yearly reading plan, this leaves 9 days at the end of the year that would fall outside the reading cycle. Nothing prevents a reader, of course, from turning to the first chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel on December 23 and starting over, but I suspect many of us would prefer to start anew at the beginning of the year. Personally, I find that those days give me some elbow room in case I am unable to fulfill the reading plan on any given day. For instance, the intensity of the services from Holy Thursday to Pascha, and frankly, the sheer exhaustion from the long hours in Church, leave me with little time or inclination to read. Every year, then, I simply read for the last time on Holy Wednesday, and then pick up again on Bright Monday. That uses 4 of those additional 9 days. On the remaining 5 days, if I haven’t been ill or have otherwise needed to make use of them, I will often read through the Gospel of St Luke, whose extended birth narrative is singularly appropriate for season, and which at 24 chapters may easily be read at a rate of roughly 5 chapters per day.

IV. Reaching for the Goal: Reading the Old Testament

The rather minimal addition of two chapters from the rest of the New Testament to our daily Gospel and Psalter regimen brings us closer to our goal of reading through the entire Bible, but we yet have quite a bit of ground to cover. Again, once we have firmly settled into the exercise of this expanded discipline, we will be ready to add the final layer of our reading program, which will see us through to its completion. In this final and all-important step, we add a daily reading from the Old Testament.

Since we have been reading daily from the Psalter from the beginning and will continue to to do so, our plan will comprise the rest of the Old Testament read in sequential order over the course of the entire year. This can comfortably be done at a rate of roughly 3 chapters per day. Some years ago our friend Kevin Edgecomb prepared a reading plan covering the entire (N)RSV Old Testament, including the full Anaginoskomena, basically by dividing the number of chapters by 365. Then a while back I followed his plan for a year (excluding the Psalms), reducing the length of the daily readings to 2 or 3 chapters, and trying not to break up larger narrative, poetic, and prophetic sections. Again, Kevin kindly agreed to host the revised plan on his website, and it may be found at the very bottom of this page.

The plan is rather straight-forward, and it includes readings for all 365 days of the year. However, as I mentioned earlier, I usually skip the daily readings at least 4 times every year. This causes a bit of difficulty with this reading plan, since there is no elbow room to miss any readings. My own solution to this small problem is to read the book of 4 Maccabees, which is in an appendix to the Greek Old Testament and is not included in the Slavonic Bible, perhaps every other year and outside the reading plan. This may not be an entirely satisfactory solution, but it does open up 6 days at the end of the year.

And so we complete the 4 stages of our progressive reading plan for the entire Bible. I should mention that Kevin has prepared a PDF document that features all four reading plans side by side, and aligned with the day of the year. He has also an alternative version of this document that adapts the OT reading plan to the book names and versification of the NETS.

Again, all of the above is offered in the sincere and earnest hope that it may prove useful to someone in carrying out their desire to read the Holy Scriptures. And as has often been noted by Kevin and myself, these plans are under continuous revision, and suggestions for improvement and both encouraged and welcome.