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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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Friday, April 9, 2010

An Uncertain Future?

I lived in Arizona for nearly 40 years, an experience that gave me an inflated idea of the abilities of weather forecasters.  Every day, the meteorologist would say, "It's going to be sunny."  And almost every time, she was right!

For the last ten years, I have lived in Indiana, and I now have a much more realistic picture of the limitations of high-tech forecasters.  Sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong -- but I often find myself looking at the radar map and drawing my own conclusions.

When we come to the New Testament, it's good to be reminded that a prediction is only as good as the person who does the predicting.  New Testament writers typically use the future tense to make predictions about the future.  That's the normal use of the future, the one we encounter most of the time.  However, there are at least two additional facts that we need to remember:

1.    Not every prediction is accurate.  When God says something is going to happen, you can count on it!  When the Pharisees predict something, you might want to get a second opinion!

2.    Sometimes the future tense is a command, not a prediction.  When your kid says, "I'm not going to pick up my toys, you might say, "Son, you will pick up those toys."  It may be phrased as a forecast, but your tone of voice transforms it into a command.  In the same way, when Jesus explains the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37, he doesn't use an imperative.  He follows the pattern of the original Hebrew and employs a future tense when he says, "You shall love the Lord your God."  You can observe the same construction in Matthew 19:18 when he lists some of the commands for a self-satisfied young man:  "You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness."  In each case, the Greek verb is in the future tense, not the imperative or command form.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

An Incomplete Description of the Imperfect Tense

Daniel Wallace, in his text Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, devotes 14 pages to the imperfect tense in Greek -- and the imperfect is undeniably one of the simpler tenses!  You can see why a blog post will never give a complete explanation of the tense.  However, we can offer the first few ideas that a student should have in mind when she is trying to interpret a verb in the imperfect tense.

The basic idea of the imperfect tense is continued action in past time.  While the aorist tense gives you a snapshot of an event, the imperfect tense points a video camera at it.  You see it in process.

The most common translation uses the pattern "was/were ____ing":  I was reading; they were being pursued.

When you look more closely at an imperfect tense, you will find that there are several shades of meaning.  The variations that will prove most useful are:

1.   Progressive Imperfect

The most basic usage, the progressive imperfect describes a process happening in the past.  It catches the process in mid-action, without giving any information about the beginning or the end of the process.  You could compare it to stepping into a church service while the choir is singing an anthem: you can tell that they are in the process of performing the song, but you don't know when they began or when they will end.  

    Example:  Mark 12:41 -- "Many rich were casting large sums of money [into the treasury].  When Jesus arrived at the temple, people were already lined up to present their offerings; they had begun before his arrival, and they would continue afterwards.

2.    Customary Imperfect

An imperfect verb can sometimes refer to an action that usually or regularly happened in the past  This action normally happens at regular intervals, and it continues over a significant period of time.  You might translate it with the phrase "used to."

    Example:  Luke 2:41 -- "his parents used to go to Jerusalem each year."

3.    Iterative Imperfect

This usage is similar to the customary imperfect, in that it describes repeated action in the past, but the action does not occur on a regular schedule.

    Example:  Matthew 3:6 -- "They were being baptized in the Jordan River by him."

4.    Ingressive or Inceptive Imperfect

An imperfect tense can be used to indicate the beginning of an action, with the suggestion that the action will continue for a while.  You may add the words "began to" in order to make the usage clear.

    Example:  Mark 1:31 --"Her fever left, and she began to wait on Him."

5.    Tendential Imperfect

This use of the imperfect describes an action that someone is attempting to do, but has not yet been able to complete.  

    Example:  Matthew 3:14 -- "And John tried to hinder him [from being baptized]."  John was in the process of trying to keep Jesus from being baptized, but he was obviously unsuccessful in carrying out his intention.

How can you tell which of these uses appears in a particular verse?  It comes down to our usual formula:  context and common sense.  When you encounter an imperfect, try out each of these ideas and ask yourself which one makes the best sense in this context.  You may not do it perfectly, but that's OK -- after all, you too are imperfect!

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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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