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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, January 13, 2012

A Question from Nottingham about Christadelphians

From a correspondent in Nottingham, England:

Q:  Could you please help me out with the implications of the use of the middle voice for the verb "obtained" in Hebrews 9:12?

The Christadelphians make great claims about the use of the middle voice here, claiming that it unambiguously refers to the supposed fact that Christ obtained redemption FOR HIMSELF PERSONALLY.  They say that Romans 8:3 shows that he possessed "sinful flesh," which was mortal and destined to die.  Only after earning his own salvation could Jesus be said to have redeemed us.

Christadelphians believe that Jesus had no literal pre-existence, and despite being born of the Virgin Mary, he was nevertheless a member of Adamic humanity, inheriting the full effects of Adam's transgression.  They claim, therefore, that he was personally in need of redemption, which he supposedly achieved by His own sacrifice.  He had to die for himself first, before He could be a sacrifice for us?  

Are the Christadelphians wrong in their claims about Hebrews 9:12?

A:  Thanks for your question and your interest in finding solid answers to the challenges raised by this group.  Christadelphians are not a common part of the theological landscape in my circles, but your description of their doctrines certainly sounds like a heretical group.

The short answer is that they are grossly overstating their case on the basis of the middle voice.  They are correct in saying that "obtained" in Hebrews 9:12 is in the middle voice, but that certainly doesn't prove their doctrine.  The middle voice can be used to communicate a wide range of ideas, and some of those other ideas make much better sense than their interpretation.

Here's how Dana and Mantey describe the middle voice in their old but classic grammar book:

"We can never hope to express exactly the Greek middle voice by an English translation. . . . While the active voice emphasizes the action [itself], the middles stresses the agent [the one doing the action].  It, in some way, relates the action more intimately to the subject.  Just how the action is thus related is not indicated by the middle voice, but must be detected from the context or the character of the verbal idea."  (H.E. Dana & Julius Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament.  Macmillan, 1957, p. 157)

In other words, the middle voice puts extra emphasis on the subject, but you can only tell how it is emphasized by looking at the context and paying attention to the meaning of the verb.

The Christadelphians evidently assume that is what grammarians call an "indirect middle," where the subject acts for himself, or in his own interest.  That's a legitimate usage, and it is fairly common.  However, I believe it is what some grammar books call an "intensive middle."  In this common usage, the middle voice is just emphasizing the subject.  In English, we might say, "He himself did it."  Or you might underline the subject for emphasis.  The idea is, "He, not anyone else, did it."  And in Hebrews 9:12, the context clearly supports the idea that it was Christ, not anyone else, who obtained our redemption.

Another example of this usage is in Acts 20:24, where Paul says, "I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself."  "Consider" is in the middle voice, indicating that, however others may regard the situation, this is what he thinks about it.  As Dana and Mantey point out, "The Greeks employed the middle where we must resort to italics" (p. 159).

Here's a principle I try to communicate with my students:  There are some things in Greek that you can know for sure, because the spelling of the word determines it.  But when you go beyond those certainties, you are doing some interpreting.  That's OK as long as you know there is room for disagreement.  You should aim to know what is possible, based on Greek grammar, and then use context and common sense to discern which shade of meaning is in play in the verse you're studying.  In Hebrews 9:12, you know with certainty that it's middle, because the ending proves it.  But you have to use context and common sense to decide which of the possible grammatical usages is being used.

It seems to me that the Christadelphians came to this passage with their minds already made up.  They had already constructed their theology from other sources, and then brought it to this verse.  As a result, they chose one of the less likely alternatives because it seemed congruent with their doctrine.

4:19 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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