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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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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Material Added to the Grammar Section

Over the past few weeks, I have posted short explanations of each of the six Greek verb tenses.  You can now find an edited version of this material on the main Web site.  Just click "Level 2 - Grammar" on the navigation bar.

On the "Understanding Grammar" page that comes up, look under "Section 2 - Resources for More Advanced Study." 

"Understanding Verb Tenses" gives some foundational insights on verb tenses, and "The Tenses Explained" offers a brief description of each tense.

In the weeks ahead, I plan to add sections on other issues in grammar, such as case, voice, and mood.  Eventually, all of these sections will have links to the kind of grammatical information found in intermediate grammar texts.

9:05 pm est

Friday, November 13, 2009

If I Could Just Hear the Tone of Voice!

A mom asks her teenage son, "Would you please clean up your room?"

Son:  "OK."  

This response might represent a cheerful "Sure!  I'll be happy to take care of that."  Or it might really mean, "Well, I don't want to, but I suppose I'm not gonna get out of it this time."  Or something in between.  When you only have the words in print, it's hard to tell.  You need some hint to know the tone of voice being used!

We face the same difficulty when we read the New Testament.  There are times when we crave the luxury of hearing the tone of voice behind some saying of Jesus.  Fortunately, there are times when the Greek text contains clues to the underlying attitudes of the speaker.

One simple example is the Greek system for asking questions.  When a Greek asked a question that could be answered Yes or No, he had a mechanism available to him that would indicate which answer he expected.  The crux of the issue rests on the fact that there are two words in Greek translated as "not":  ou and me.  

If a question begins with ou, the speaker expects a "Yes" answer.  We do something similar in English by asking, "You finished your homework didn't you?"

If the question begins with me, the speaker expects "No."  In English, we convey this idea by asking, "You didn't finish your homework, did you?"

(More detailed information on this point of grammar may be found in William Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, pages 296-297.)

In John 4:33, for instance, the disciples emerge from the Samaritan town bringing food for Jesus.  When He refuses the meal, telling them that He has food that they do not know about, they are perplexed.  They ask, "No one has brought him anything to eat, have they?" (question beginning with me, expecting a negative answer)

Just a few verses earlier, the Samaritan woman leaves her conversation with Jesus and rushes back into the city.  She approaches some of the men who happen to be near the city gate and exclaims, "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did!  Is not this the Messiah?" (verse 29)  A closer look reveals a surprising feature in the grammar:  she begins her question with the word meti, a variant form of me.  She clearly uses the wording that expects a No answer:  "This is not the Messiah, is it?"

The grammar is clear, but the meaning is perplexing.  I would expect her to be fully convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, yet she phrases this in a way that suggests He is not.  How can I explain this?

At this point, it is important to remember that there is always a dividing line between the facts of grammar and my explanation of their significance.  There is no doubt that she does indeed use this grammatical construction, but there is room for discussion to figure out why she uses such an unexpected approach.

My personal suspicion is that she is wise enough to use a kind of reverse psychology on these men.  If she were to rush up and tell them, "I've found the Messiah," their instinctive response would be "Who are you to tell us something like that?  You're an uneducated woman, and a notorious sinner.  You have no idea what you're talking about."  Instead of a frontal approach, this woman takes an indirect one.  "I just met a man who told me everything I've ever done.  You don't suppose he could be the Messiah, could he?"  And she got the response you might expect:  "Who are you to say he's not the Messiah, woman!  You're not qualified to make that kind of judgment.  We are the ones who understand such matters; we'll go down and check this out for ourselves."  And that's exactly what they did.

Note that this is my personal read of the situation.  I am looking at a fact of grammar and asking myself, "Why did they say it this way?"  I am looking at the context and using some common sense to propose an explanation.  You have the freedom to disagree with me, and if you do, I hope you can come up with an even better explanation.  But I hope you will develop the habit of looking carefully at the details of grammar and asking yourself "Why?"  As you seek the answer, you will often gain insights into the "tone of voice" of the people of the New Testament


12:46 pm est

Friday, November 6, 2009

Action that Lasts: Perfect and Pluperfect

When I meet a person for the first time, I listen carefully to his or her name.  I try to tuck that bit of information away in a safe corner of my mind, ready for future use.  Unfortunately, if I meet you a day later, I probably won't have a clue what to call you!

My wife, on the other hand, can recite phone numbers and birthdays for people she met a year ago!  It's one of her many uncanny abilities that I admire (and covet).

In Greek, you would probably use the aorist tense to describe my kind of learning.  "I learned" your name, but it didn't stick.  There were few lasting results.

A Greek, however, would use the perfect tense to describe my wife's mastery of numbers.  "She has learned" your birthday and she can still remember it today.

The perfect tense in Greek is immensely useful.  It is used to describe a completed action which has results still in effect all the way up to the present time.   The most common translation is "I have received" or "She has rejected."

Notice that the perfect tense carries two ideas:  (1) completed action and (2) continuing results.  The action was completed at some time in the past, and the results continue up to the present.

We can see the perfect tense in action in 1 John 1:3:

What we have seen and [have] heard we proclaim to you also.

The apostle John is making the point that he was an eyewitness to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, and that personal experience serves as the basis for the message that he is proclaiming decades later.  You might take the first verb and paraphrase, "We saw Him, and we can still visualize what we saw."  For the second verb, Kenneth Wuest's expanded translation attempts to catch the idea of the perfect tense: "We heard him and his words are still ringing in our ears."  John listened to Jesus many years ago, and that episode has been completed.  But the results continue.  What he learned back then remains with him now.  

Pluperfect: The Less Common Cousin

The Greek language contains a seldom-used tense related to the perfect: the pluperfect.  It only occurs 86 times in the New Testament, and 33 of those uses are from a single verb, so many Greek teachers don't even cover it in the first semester or two.  But let's be complete.

The pluperfect has the same meaning as the perfect tense, except that it only brings the results of an action up to a selected time in the past.  Remember, perfect tense brings the results all the way to the present.

While perfect is most often translated, "he has believed," pluperfect is translated "he had believed." If I want to tell you that I have memorized the Greek alphabet and I still remember it well enough to pass a quiz today, the perfect tense is my best choice.  However, let's suppose that I haven't studied lately.  I probably couldn't pass a quiz today.  But I did get a great score on the quiz I took last month.  The pluperfect is the verb of choice for that idea:  "When I took the quiz last month, I had learned the Greek alphabet perfectly."


2:38 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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