Re: Hebrew and Greek as languages

From: Jim West (
Date: Fri Apr 10 1998 - 11:24:32 EDT

At 09:43 AM 4/10/98 -0500, you wrote:
>[A friend (who I believe has not had formal training in either language
>- i.e., I don't believe he reads the Hebrew and Greek text but rather
>does word studies with English-language helps) made the following
>comments to me re:

Honestly, that would be like me commenting on some aspect of biochemistry.
Folk who have no training in a field really should not be so bold as to
comment on what they perceive to be anomalies.

>Would anyone care to comment on the substance of my
>friend's remarks - i.e., how true or valid or perceptive they are? If
>the discussion ends up veering outside the parameters of B-Greek or
>B-Hebrew discussion, please continue to respond to me by e-mail
>off-line. Thanks! - Eric Weiss]

Respond- why surely. Its a slow day and sort of rainy here, so here goes....

>Like English, I understand Greek as a transient, somewhat scavenger
>language. Even Agape was
>sort of commandeered and "shifted" for a special purpose in the NT.

Not at all. The language of the NT is not some kind of isolated, "holy"
language. Instead it is the language of the marketplace and the bordello.
See any number of the papyri from the 1st c. CE for more than ample proof of
this, as well as Adolf Deismann's "Light From the Ancient East".

>With Hebrew, while you do
>get a bit of drift and fashion among letters, etc.,

I have absolutely no idea what this is supposed to mean.

> it is a very slow
>creep indeed. Hebrew is
>one of the most calcified and "fixed" languages this planet has ever

This is simply not so. The Hebrew of the Bible is dynamic, vigorous, and
vivid in expression. It can clearly communicate an idea much more compactly
and concretely than English.

> Hebrews thought of
>words as being "holy" and not to be tampered with flippantly.

What would be the source of this idea?

> Thus,
>creative "shifts" were
>rare and everyone knew what every word (with its limited vocabulary,
>this was not so hard)

No. See the brilliant study of of Scott Noegel, "Janus Parallelism".

> Greeks appear to be more like us - they do not think words
>"holy" or sacrosanct, but
>rather in a utilitarian sense. Hebrew, insular and rigid. Greek, broad
>and flexible.

No, a thousand times no. Again, see Deismann.

>I see in this a type of the two covenants.


>As you might know, God was keen on His people coming to one place to
>worship Him in the Old
>Covenant (OC). If you could not get there, you at least faced there.
>Again, along these
>lines, as an OC Jew if a prophet lived within your lifetime... you were
>lucky. And the
>prophets were 100% correct, or stoned. There was high quality, but VERY
>little quantity. In
>the OC there was a fixed pattern and a sense of stability. If you were
>not Jewish, your
>chances of being "saved" were slim. Like the Hebrew language it wears
>as clothes - the OC
>closed and carefully guarded.

This is the worst kind of successionism based on a grotesque
misunderstanding of Judaism and Hebrew literature.

>In the New Covenant (NC), we have a distributed, decentralized grace
>given - not a priestly class - to the
>worst of men. As to place, no longer is this even a consideration.: "A
>day is coming where it
>won't matter where the Temple ought be..." I know perhaps two dozen
>prophets, but can't trust
>what anyone of them might say next without testing. We have quantity,
>but the quality is
>suspicious. The First Century Christians were accused of "turning the
>world upside down".
>Uncircumcised Gentiles receiving the HOLY Spirit <gasp!> This is messy
>business, even if it
>spread like wildfire. The Spirit is being poured out on "all flesh".
>In general, the new wine
>will surely break the old wineskin - it expands at a much different
>rate. Like Greek, hard to
>pin down and constantly shifting. A picture of the persecuted church
>and the spread of the

Again, no.

>Again, along this line, proper - HIGH Hebrew and colloquial, LOW Greek.
>Perhaps I am seeing things, but I suspect that the LANGUAGE used was
>part and parcel of the
>message being communicated. The medium and the message have a
>reinforcing resonance.

Not at all. This is simply reading too much into grammar. This line of
reasoning was, frankly, abandoned generations ago by Biblical scholars. It
is inadequate, inaccurate, and totally unfounded. Again, please see Deismann.

>The vessel and the fluid in it must match...

Indeed! Which also means that those who comment on a matter As the vessel)
must know something of what they contain (as the fluid)!


and happy Easter or Passover, or both, to all.


Jim West, ThD
Quartz Hill School of Theology

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:26 EDT