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The Ezra Project 
For the Serious Starter in New Testament Greek

Welcome to the Ezra Project!  Whether you're gearing up to take a seminary Greek course or looking for ways to go deeper in your personal Bible study, this site is your personal resource.  Our goal is simple:  to help you take your first steps in New Testament Greek - and do it right!
    I have been introducing students to New Testament Greek since 1972, and it's my delight to take the mystery out of the language for men and women who want to become serious students of Scripture.
                             -- Dr. John Bechtle 

The Ezra Project:  First Stop for Greek Beginners.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dismantling a Word

My daughter is married to a man who loves to take things apart, just to see how they work.  I enjoy doing that too, but Joe can put the machine back together again . . . with no parts left over!

Preachers and Bible students share the same instinct when they are studying a Greek word.  How often have you heard your pastor say, "This word is made up of two Greek words."  He then launches into an explanation of how the two original words combine to make the newer, bigger term.

When you dismantle a Greek word to look at its component parts, you are studying etymology.  More simply, you are analyzing the history of a word, checking to see if it was originally formed by combining other Greek words.  (Of course, not all words are formed from smaller words, but Greek does have a remarkable number of such combination terms.)

Is this a legitimate way to study words?  Of course!  

We just spent several posts studying the uses of the word homologeo, usually translated "confess" or "acknowledge."  If you check a reference source like the Strong's Concordance, you will find a notation that homologeo comes from two Greek words, homos ("same") and logeo ("to speak, say").  Put the two ideas together and you get the commonly-expressed idea that homologeo means "to say the same as."  In reality, that is a useful way to think about the term.  When we confess our sins, we are agreeing with God that our actions really are sinful, and we are the ones who committed those sins!

However, the field of etymology contains some pitfalls and we need to use such observations with caution.

1.  We may misunderstand the meaning of the original, shorter words.  Take the English word supervisor, for instance.  It's easy to see that it comes from the words super and visor.  Can't you see some linguist of the future deciding that visor means "an eye shade" and super means "higher quality, extremely good."  Thus a supervisor becomes an extremely high quality eye shade!

2.  We may find that a word has multiple meanings, and some of them seem rather remote from the original words.  If you decide that undertaker comes from the words under and take, describing someone who takes a corpse under the ground, how will you explain the origin of a phrase like "I will undertake this task"?  Perhaps you're going to run it into the ground?

3.   The biggest problem is that the word you are studying may have originated several centuries earlier than the New Testament, and the meaning could have changed during that time.  You can see that process working in English:

1 Thessalonians 4:15 in the King James Version -- "We who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep."

The same verse in the New American Standard Bible -- "We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

In 1611, the word prevent meant "to come before."  It came from the Latin words pre  ("before") and venire ("to come").  However, English has changed in the last 400 years, so the word has almost flipped to the opposite meaning.  It is possible for the same thing to happen in Greek, so we must be cautious when we talk about the etymology of a word.

The key:  Usage trumps etymology.

To find out what a word means, look at the way it is used.  Follow the patterns we have described elsewhere, studying all the places where it is found.  Then once you have done your research on the usage, take a look at the etymology or history of the word.  

Sometimes you will find that the meaning has changed, so history doesn't help.

In other passages, you will find that the etymology gives you a vivid, easily understood way to describe the meaning of the word.  By all means, take the word apart.  Tell people when "This word is made up of two Greek words."  But make sure you can put it back together again.  Do your homework.  Don't depend on the etymology alone.

NOTE:  For a fuller discussion of this issue, see D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, pp. 28-33.  In his discussion, he uses the term root fallacy to describe the problem of misusing etymology.

1:59 pm est

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Confessing My Sins - A Sample Word Study (Part 4)

The project:    Study the meaning of the word "confess" (Greek homologeo) in order to understand more fully what 1 John 1:9 means when it says, "If we confess our sins. . . ."

Review:  In previous postings, we examined several verses where homologeo appears.  In some of those passages, we see that you can homologeo a person.  In other words, you acknowledge that he is who he claims to be and you place yourself on his side.  

We also studied a group of passages where you can homologeo a statement. In other words, you declare that you personally believe that the statement is true.  You put the weight of your influence behind it.

However, the New Testament contains one final group of uses that do not fit neatly into either of the categories we just discussed.  Today, let's look at those!

Acts 23:8  The apostle Paul was on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, or council, and his testimony threw the hearing into an uproar.  There was a furious debate between two Jewish factions, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  This verse explains the source of the friction:  "The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees homologeo them all."

The Sadducees denied the existence of these things, but the Pharisees said that they all exist.  Here homologeo means "acknowledge that they exist."  They were taking sides, and they took the side of belief.

1 Timothy 6:12    "Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and homologeo'd a good homologian in the presence of many witnesses."

Here Paul doubles up:  he uses the verb homologeo and the matching noun homologian together.  Some translations render it "confess a good confession."  Whatever a homologian is, Timothy did a good job of doing it!  This verse adds one important point to our understanding of the word:  homologeo is something that you can do in public, "in the presence of many witnesses."  We have studied other verses with the same concept:  in Luke 12:8, Jesus promised to homologeo his followers in the presence of the Father and the angels.

Hebrews 13:15  "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that homologeo His name."

Revelation 3:5    "He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will homologeo his name before My Father, and before His angels."

In both of these passages, we find that you can homologeo someone's name.  The idea seems similar to what we have already viewed.  I homologeo the name of a person when I verbalize my recognition and approval.  Hebrews 13:15 mentions the "sacrifice of praise," and that may well be included in the concept of homologeo here.  Based on the context, the New American Standard version translates the word as "give thanks."

Matthew 14:7  One more passage -- a rather unusual one.  King Herod had just watched his daughter perform a dance at his birthday party, and he had rashly promised to grant any request she might make.  As verse 7 phrases it, "Thereupon he homologeo'd with an oath to give her whatever she asked."

What word would you use to fill in the blank?  I can't resist using the word "promise."  This seems out of line with all the other passages we have studied.  However, you can see a connection, at least faintly.  In effect, Herod was saying, "I have made a statement promising you whatever you wish.  I acknowledge that the promise was made, and I will stand by it."

Thus concludes our tour of all the New Testament uses of the word homologeo.  What have we learned?  And how does it help our understanding of 1 John 1:9?

We could study more deeply and we could say much more about the word.  But this quick survey of the word's New Testament use has uncovered a few clear trends.  Though there is quite a bit of variation from one passage to another, there are some common threads that appear in all.  In each case, the person makes a public statement, acknowledging that something is true, or that a person is genuine.  The speaker goes beyond that to declare his personal commitment to that truth.  He says, "This is the truth, and I am the one who takes His stand on that position."

1 John 1:9 is the only passage in the New Testament where anyone homologeo's sin.  Based on our study, I suggest that the verse calls on us to acknowledge that our sins really are sin.  Not only do we acknowlege them as sin, we acknowledge them as our sin.  We "own up" to the reality that our attitude or action was truly a sin.  The usage of the word also suggests that homologeo is public in some way, not just a private thought.  1 John 1:9 does not specify who must hear our acknowledgement of sin, but the overall context suggests strongly that God is our primary audience.  We may or may not acknowledge our faults before the neighbors, but we definitely need to admit them to the Lord!

3:07 pm est

Monday, July 13, 2009

Confessing My Sins - A Sample Word Study (Part 3)

In our study of the Greek word homologeo, which is translated "confess" in 1 John 1:9, we have seen that it is possible to homologeo a person or a fact about a person.  In the seven verses where the word is used in this way, it seems to mean that you openly acknowledge that person, or agree with a claim about his identity.  You are saying, "I am taking a personal position.  I choose to be connected with that person, and I acknowledge that he is who he claims to be."

Now let's look at another group of verses where homologeo is used.  In these verses, the object of the verb is not a person, but a statement.

Hebrews 11:13   All these [the patriarchs like Abraham] died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and welcomed them from a distance, and having homologeo'd that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

-  The word can apply to a statement like "they were strangers and exiles on the earth."

1 John 4:2-3  By this you know the Spirit of God:  every spirit that homologeo's that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not homologeo Jesus is not from God . . .

-  In the first case, the direct object of homologeo is again a statement:  Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.  In the second use, the direct object is simply the name Jesus, though this is probably a shortened version of the earlier statement about coming in the flesh.

1 John 4:15   Whoever homologeo's that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

-  Once again, the object of the verb is a proposition:  Jesus is the Son of God.

In other passages, the verb homologeo is used to introduce a statement almost as we would use the word "say."

Matthew 7:23  And then I will homologeo to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness."

- Jesus is talking about counterfeit prophets who claim His name without obeying His word, using homologeo to introduce His verdict on their hypocrisy.

John 1:20  And he homologeo'd, and did not deny, and he homologeo'd, I am not the Christ."

- John the Baptist used the word twice to make it clear that he was merely the forerunner of the Messiah.  Notice that this verse gives us both the word itself and its opposite.  From this we learn that homologeo is the opposite of "deny."

Acts 24:14  But this I homologeo to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers . . .

- Paul on trial is defending himself against false charges that he had stirred up trouble among the Jews and tried to desecrate the temple in Jerusalem.  Here he uses homologeo to introduce his version of the facts.  It could very well include the idea of "admit" here, for he is denying the charges made against him, but acknowledging that there is a basis in fact for some of it.

Titus 1:16  They homologeo to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him. . . .

- The troublemaking false teachers in Crete claim to know God, but their actions speak loudly against that idea.  The word here carries the idea of "claim"; they say that they know God.  Here is another passage where homologeo is used in contrast to "deny."

In all of these passages, the word homologeo is clearly something that you can do to a statement or proposition.  What does it mean?  You are saying that the statement is true, and that you put yourself on record supporting its accuracy.  It is the opposite of denying its truth.  You are saying, "I openly state that this is true."

Next time, we will look at the last few verses.  When we do, we will find some less common twists of meaning.

11:14 am est

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Confessing My Sins - A Sample Word Study (Part 2)

We want to learn more about the word confess in 1 John 1:9, and we have discovered that it is a translation of the Greek word homologeo.  In the June 23 posting, we listed all the places where that word appears in the New Testament.  Now we will take a closer look at each verse.

Several references are quite similar.  In each case the direct object is a person.

Matthew 10:32  Everyone therefore who shall homologeo me before men, I will also homologeo before my Father who is in heaven.

Luke 12:8  And I say to you, everyone who homologeo's me before men, the Son of man shall homologeo him also before the angels of God.
        -- People can homologeo Jesus, and He promises to homologeo those people before His
            Father and the angels.

John 12:42  Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not homologeo'ing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.
        -- Some of the Jewish rulers believed in Jesus, but failed to homologeo Him, because such 
            an action might lead to their expulsion from the local synagogue.

Other verses use homologeo for a fact about a person.

John 9:22  His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed, that if any one should homologeo Him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.

Romans 10:9-10  That if you homologeo with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth he homologeo's unto salvation.

2 John 7  For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not homologeo Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.

    -- It is possible to homologeo Jesus as the Christ or Messiah.
    -- It is possible to homologeo Jesus as Lord.
    -- It is possible to homologeo Jesus as coming in the flesh.

How can you "confess" a person?  It seems different than confessing a sin, doesn't it?

At the least, it seems to include the idea of agreeing or acknowledging that a person is who he claims to be.  And it seems to include some level of personal commitment.  When I homologeo a person, I say, "He is who he claims to be, and I will declare my agreement with that identification."

Next time, we will look at passages where the word is used in some other settings.

4:05 pm est

Monday, July 6, 2009

Confessing My Sins - A Sample Word Study (Part 1)

What does a Greek word study actually look like?  Let's select a simple sample and walk through the process.

Pick a Word

Word studies usually begin with a moment of curiosity.  You are reading through a verse and find yourself thinking, "I wonder what that word means."  Today we will use an example from 1 John 1:9 -- "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  Suppose you are reading this familiar verse.  What does it really mean to "confess" our sins?  A visit to a priest?  Recitation of a memorized prayer? 

The best place to start is by studying the word "confess." 

Find the Greek Word

Studying an English word is useful, but there's no substitute for investigating the original Greek or Hebrew word.  How do I find out which Greek is lurking behind my English text?

The traditional (and simplest) method uses Strong's Exhaustive Concordance.  Look up confess and you will find a listing of all the verses that use the word, including 1 John 1:9.  Here is the entry:
      1Jo 1:9  If we c' our sins, he is faithful and  3670

Notice the number at the end of the line.  It serves as the key, showing that the word you want is #3670 in the Greek Lexicon which you can find at the back of the book. 

Check #3670 and you will find the following entry:
    3670 homologeo, hom-ol-og-eh'-o; from a comp. of the base of 3674 and 3056; to assent, i.e., covenant, acknowledge: -- confess, profess, confession is made, give thanks, promise.

Take a moment to analyze the information that appears here.
     1.  The Greek word you want to study is homologeo.
2.  It is pronounced "hom-ol-og-eh'-o."
     3.  It was originally formed from two other Greek words.  We will investigate that further at another time.
     4.  The word means "assent, i.e., covenant, acknowledge."
     5.  In the King James Bible, it is translated "confess, profess, confession is made, give thanks, promise."

You can find the same information on the Internet, using sources like www.blueletterbible.org.

If you're in a hurry, you can simply survey the list of meanings and select the one that makes most sense in the passage.   But if you can take the time to go deeper, you can finetune your picture of the word.

List All the Verses Where It is Used

You can find lists of all the passages where homologeo appears by using Strong's or the Blue Letter Bible, but I am doing that task for you.  You will find a complete list of the references in the June 23 posting.   In the next part of this sample study, we will begin looking at each verse, asking key questions that will unlock the meaning of the word more fully.

1:14 pm est

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Multilevel Greek - How deep do you want to go?

When people say they want to study New Testament Greek, they don't all have the same picture in mind.  You can investigate Greek at several levels.  Some are relatively simple; others require a larger investment of time and effort.  Here are the most common choices:

Level 1 – Exploring Word Meanings

           Goal:  To understand the meaning of a Greek word.

Guidelines for Word Study" - Basic steps in Greek word study

              "Word Study Resources" - Links to online word study tools [in development]

Level 2 – Understanding Grammar Concepts

          Goal:  To learn how Greek grammar works, so you know what aorist or subjunctive really means.

Grammar Basics" – an overview of Greek grammar

   "Glossary of Grammar Terms" [in development]

Level 3 – Translating the Greek Text 

         Goal:  To sit down with a Greek New Testament and lexicon and translate a New Testament verse for yourself

Greek Behind the Prof’s Back – a self-instructional workbook

Level 4+ - Mastery and Beyond                   
You can continue to grow in your grasp of Greek for the rest of your life, going deeper and deeper into the Word of God.  Once you have mastered the basic content of the language, you can delve into the endless list of books and electronic resources available to you.  The Ezra Project provides you with a launching pad for a lifetime of study.


When you decide to dig a little deeper into the meaning of a Bible word, you should know that there are:

        Two facts about words

        Two stages to word study

        Two methods for doing each stage

Two facts about words

First, words have more than one meaning.  Take a simple English word such as run.  It can be a verb that means "to get from one place to another by moving your legs quickly."  Or it can mean "to keep the engine of your car operating" (even if it's just idling in the driveway).  When your watch runs, the hands go around.  When the lawnmower runs, it cuts grass.  When a stream runs, water flows over rocks.  When your nose runs, you grab a tissue.  Run can also be a noun, whether it refers to a point scored in a baseball game or a torn place in a stocking. 


Please get in touch to offer comments and ask questions about New Testament Greek!  You can e-mail us at:

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