An Orthodox Christian Handbook on the Koine Greek Bible: LXX/OG & Byzantine Textform by Fr. Dcn. Thomas Sandberg (in progress)
On page ix in The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005, we read thus “The primary source for establishing the readings of the Byzantine Textform remains the massive apparatus of Hermann Freiherr von Soden…” and are given the following footnote: “Hermann Freiherr von Soden, Die Schriften Des Neuen Testament in Ihrer Ältesten Erreichbaren Textgestalt, 2 vols. in 4 parts (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1911).”
There are three places I found this text. Two places on the internet and the third in Logos (pre-pub?). They can be found below, and if anyone knows where I can obtain a physical copy please contact me.
A. Greek Primer
E. Greek Reading Videos (Greek 3 & 4) – Advanced
Learning Greek Vocab: learn every Greek word that occurs 10x or more in the NT by studying for 20 minutes a day for about half a year.
July 20, 2015 – Keep Your Greek: Choose the Right Bible
August 5, 2015 – Keep Your Greek: Don’t Lose Your Vocabulary
August 16, 2015 – Keep Your Greek: Taking Greek Electives
October 8, 2015 – Keep Your Greek: Reading Greek Devotionally
January 15, 2017 – Keep Your Greek: Get the Best Resources
Of the four most interesting books published in 2017, three of them are Christian, and of those three two are in Modern English, and one is in Koine Greek. Furthermore, of those three Christian books, two of them are the New Testament. In Greek, we have The Tyndale House Greek New Testament, and in English David Bentley Hart’s The New Testament: A Translation published by Yale. (For those interested, the other books of the four are The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher, and Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink.)
One would think that a new edition of the Greek New Testament would be of real interest and impact for Greek nerds, but the months following the release of both have seen unfold a unique situation. Outside of Evangelical Textual Criticism, Exegetical Tools, B-Greek, Textkit, and Nerdy Language Majors it would appear that the scholars, critics, and the rest of the world are either silent about it, don’t care about it, or don’t know about it. Indeed, no Orthodox Christian—clergy, laity, or scholar—has even mentioned it to my knowledge.
On the other hand, DBH’s translation has been addressed by all the groups mentioned or alluded to: clergy, laity, scholars, many of the internet groups and websites previously mentioned—both Orthodox and heterodox—have been talking about this translation. And with everything I’ve been reading, the discussion over this translation has brought out a fantastic amount of discussion concerning Koine Greek, exegesis, hermeneutics, textual criticism, dogma κ.τ.λ.
This isn’t to fault the people behind the THGNT. I own a physical copy and a copy in Accordance too and was reading St. James’ Epistle from the physical Bible on my flight back to Toronto from Winnipeg after Christmas. So I think its great (even though I am a Byzantine Textform proponent). But I think what most people are really looking forward to is the textual commentary that will accompany it, and the audio version read aloud by monks from the Orthodox Christian Monastery of the Transfiguration, Nafpaktos, in proper Greek pronunciation via BibleMesh (well, at least I am looking forward to both).
So due to the amount of relevant Greek material DBH’s translation has brought about I figured I would list here all the reviews, articles, and podcasts I have read and listened to. If any of my readers have found any that I don’t have listed here, please feel free to mention them in the comments or email me the link, and I will post new reviews as I finish reading them.
As for my own thoughts on the translation, which have been asked, I relayed them on Instagram and other than a couple grammatical errors, my thoughts remain the same (so far):
“I think it is incredibly interesting, especially once one really understands what he is and is not attempting to do with his translation. Most reviewers fail to understand, and it shows. I had pre-ordered it on Amazon after reading an excerpt from the preface or intro that appealed to my love of Greek, and at first, as I read it I thought the translation was only of any real value if you know Koine Greek. As I read more, the vividness and oddity of the Greek were really brought forth in the English, so much so I bought my wife a copy for Xmas. It is definitely not for Liturgical use, but that wasn’t his intent. My only criticism so far is that he used the NA28/UBS5 as his Greek text, though he does note Majority Text differences.”
To elaborate, the most disappointing thing about reading the reviews and articles is that they mostly fail to understand what Hart is doing and devise straw man attacks against him due to their misunderstanding. And Hart’s Orthodox opponents sadden me the most, especially when they call his translation into question and then resort to non-Orthodox scholars, translations, and commentaries to support their point—the same point from the same non-Orthodox scholars, translations, and commentaries which were the cause for the translation effort in the first place!
The most depressing thing, however, indeed must be that the Orthodox and heterodox alike seem to take a major issue, not with ἀποκατάστασις, but instead push back against him when it comes to money: The lady doth protest too much, methinks… It reminds me of a story my Bishop told us seminarians during breakfast one morning. A priest and a doctor were out for a walk one day, talking about this and that, lost in conversation when they neared the edge of a cliff. The priest fell and was holding onto the crumbling edge, fingers slowly losing their grip. The doctor yelled to the priest, “Give me your hand, Father!” The priest, unfortuantely, lost his grip and fell to his death. The doctor ran to the priest’s home to tell the presvytera the awful news. She answered the door and broke down in tears as the story was retold, the doctor recounting to her “I said to him, “Give me your hand!”” The presvytera looked up and said to the poor doctor, “Oh, you should’ve said “Take my hand,” instead.”
In case it escapes you, the moral of the story is that priests want to take and not give, they love money. And if the reviews of Hart’s translation are anything to go by, it appears money and the defence of having and acquiring it is one issue that Protestants and Orthodox are united on, amongst the laity, and sadly even more so among the clergy.
November 2017 – The Gospel According to David Bentley – Paul V. Mankowski, S.J.
29 December 2017 – The Hart Idiosyncratic Version – Fr. John Whiteford
January/February 2018 – A Mind-Bending Translation of the New Testament – James Parker
8 February 2018 – A Wild and Indecent Book – Garry Wills
11 February 2018 – Anent Gary Wills and the “DBH” Version by David Bentley Hart
11 October 2018 – The Vale of Abraham by David Bentley Hart
David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion, and a philosopher, writer and cultural commentator. He is an fellow/associate at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, and has held positions at the University of Virginia, Duke University, and Providence College. He lives in South Bend, Indiana and attends a Greek Orthodox parish.
My Goodreads rating: 2 of 5 stars (2 stars on Goodreads = “it was ok”)
My Amazon.ca rating: 3 of 5 stars (3 stars on Amazon.ca = “It’s okay”)
“James: A Commentary on the Greek Text.” By William C. Varner. Fontes Press, 2017, 423 pp. ISBN: 1-948048-01-9, $22.90 on Amazon.ca.
There were many reasons why I wanted to read and review this book. Obviously, those that know me know that I’ve become a nerd over Ancient Greek. That is one reason. The other is that among Orthodox Christians—and ironically among Greek Orthodox Christians—the Biblical, Patristic, and original Liturgical languages are given very little thought. In fact, when they are it is in order to move away from them toward the vernacular or something similar; and so anything written about Greek interests me immensely.
The reasons for the general lack of interest in original languages are tied to our rich Orthodox history of bringing the Scriptures and Liturgy to the people in their own native tongue. Also, we don’t subscribe to verbal plenary inspiration—which is also why textual criticism is almost non-existent within and among us Orthodox. Well, that and the Orthodox φρόνημα and Tradition contain views such as Origen’s that all the variants were/are inspired, and the idea of the great Slavophile lay-theologian Aleksei Khomyakov’s that everything the (Orthodox) Church writes is Scripture.
One of the difficulties in reviewing a book by a non-Orthodox author is that it must be taken on its own merits and not measured against an Orthodox standard to which it was never written to be measured against, or as I believe Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick wrote somewhere: the Orthodox Church doesn’t theologize outside of Her bounds. With that in mind I proceed, and for those reading this, I am attempting to write from the stance of an Orthodox Christian who loves Greek writing to other Orthodox Christians who love Greek too.
William Varner’s James: A Commentary on the Greek Text is a serious piece of work; he subscribes to Porter’s view on “verbal aspect,” and in his recent appearance on Exegetical Tools, he says it is intended for those who are at least second-year Greek students. At 442 pages, it is much, much longer than the actual text it is commentating on, which can be to its detriment. It is easy to lose track of the verse in question and end up deep in a textual discussion related only to a section (or just one word) of the verse being commented upon. For comparison, The Epistle of Saint James: A Commentary by Archbishop Dimitri Royster (whose relics have been found to be incorrupt, but not officially declared as such) is 152 pages in length.
On page xv, we are told that it is a reworking of an earlier book, and while reading this book, it came to my attention that Evangelical academia has had a few issues with plagiarism as of late. And it was via the Facebook Nerdy Language Majors group that I discovered that unfortunately Varner’s original book of which this is a reworking of was one of them. I am not in any level of academia to be saying anything about those issues, but as a student myself plagiarism is always something on my mind and even more so now when I can see that even at the highest level it can occur, at least hopefully, accidentally. I didn’t want to mention this topic, but there were at least two areas in the present work where proper attestation was probably accidentally missed. A footnote appears to be missing sourcing Metzger’s Commentary on verse 1:19, and on page 325 a footnote sourcing Patrick J. Hartin’s commentary on James in the Sacra Pagina series appears to be missing.
Not a missing citations per se, but rather that there possibly should be citations; to clarify my point: on pp. 99-100, when I read that I thought I had read it before, and to me, it appears to come nearly verbatim from Metzger.
“Instead of the abrupt Ἴστε opening 1:19, the Byzantine family of manuscripts and the Textus Receptus connect the following ἔστω δὲ (dropping δὲ) more closely with 1:18 by substituting ὥστε, which is supported by a variety of later witnesses (Κ Π Ψ 614 Byz syrp). The reading adopted as the text, however, is strongly supported by both Alexandrian and Western witnesses (אc B C 81 1739 it vg).”
“Instead of reading the abrupt ἴστε, the Textus Receptus connects the following ἔστω (dropping δέ) more closely with ver. 18 by substituting ὥστε, in company with a variety of later witnesses (K P2 Ψ 614 Byz syrp, h al). The reading adopted as the text is strongly supported by both Alexandrian and Western witnesses (ℵc B C (81) 1739 itff vg al).”
Same with p. 325,
“This expression of dependence on the Lord is known as the “Jacobean condition” (conditio Jacobaea). Such a sentiment is not absent from secular authors. Probably the most characteristic example is found in the following exchange: “‘If you wish, Socrates.’ ‘That is not well said, Alcibiades.’ ‘Well, what should I say?’ ‘If God wills’ [ἐὰν βούλῃ σύ, ὦ Σώκρατες. οὐ καλῶς λέγεις, ὦ Ἁλκιβίαδη. ἀλλὰ πῶς χρὴ λέγειν; ὅτι ἐὰν θεὸς ἐθέλῃ]” (Plato, Alc. 1.135d). The attitude that it expresses, however, is thoroughly widespread among NT characters and authors.”
“The expression “If the Lord wishes” has been called the “conditio Jacobaea.” However, the phrase was not coined by James, as there is ample evidence to show it was a common expression in the Greco-Roman world (“deo volente”): e.g., Plato’s Dialogue, Alcibiades I, contains an interesting exchange:
Socrates: And do you know how to escape out of your present state …?
Alcibiades: Yes, I do.
Alcibiades: By your help, Socrates.
Socrates: That is not well said, Alcibiades.
Alcibiades: What ought I to have said?
Socrates: By the help of God.
Alcibiades: I agree … (Plato, Alc. 1:135d [Jowett]; see also Plato, Phaed. 80d).
A similar thought and expression are found in other New Testament writings: e.g., “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills …” (1 Cor 4:19; see also 1 Cor 16:7; Acts 18:21; Heb 6:3). This shows that James is using a popular phrase from the culture of his world, be it Hellenistic or Christian.”
(Patrick J. Hartin, James, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, vol. 14, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 225.)
Could be a forgotten citation, could be different researchers independently arriving at the same conclusions, could be plagiarism. I don’t know, I just know that to me they appear too similar and make me more cautious with my own writing.
To be fair, typing those sections into Grammarly and turning on plagiarism detection yields nothing, and Metzger’s Commentary is listed in the Bibliography; however, Hartin’s Sacra Pagina volume is not, but other writings of his are.
Again, staying away from critiquing theological issues, it is pertinent to note that this book takes positions on St. James and the Theotokos which are incompatible with Orthodox Christianity. However, a point that is of concern for Orthodox Christians that I will comment on is Varner’s view that the Majority Text and the Byzantine Text are “basically synonymous.” I would say that he is basically correct, but that at higher levels of Greek scholarship the distinction between the Byzantine and Majority Texts should be stated and that they should be referred to as separate (a mistake even The Center for the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text makes, in my opinion). I maintain this view despite what the editors of The Orthodox Study Bible with its NKJV English and Majority Text Greek say.
Furthermore, it is disappointing that the Robinson-Pierpont 2005 Byzantine Textform, the Hodges-Farstad 1985 Majority Text, the Patriarchal Text of 1904/1912 are not mentioned in the Bibliography. So one can only assume when Varner refers to the Byzantine and Majority Texts he is referring to 𝔐 as found in NA27, which follows the change NA26 made from NA25, as NA28 (at least in the Catholic Epistles) has brought back a wider variety of symbols regarding the Byzantine and Majority Texts. (It must be noted that as I write this I am in Niverville, Manitoba and I only have with me NA26 and NA28; my copies of NA25 and NA27 are in Toronto, Ontario in my dorm room. I will be back in Toronto on Saturday to correct any mistakes I may have made regarding these symbols and to what they are referring.) Tangent to this is that many times his preference for the Alexandrian Text comes through at the expense of assuming certain things about Byzantine scribal practices as well as their knowledge of Greek grammar and syntax (pp. 273 & 306).
What is great about this book, for me, is that he utilizes the THGNT, he mentions the Orthodox order of the Catholic Epistles in the Πραξαπόστολος on p. 34 (which ironically all printed Orthodox Bibles I’ve seen in Koine Greek, Katharevousa, Modern Greek, and English no longer follow), refers to oral recitation (pp. 106, 318, 324), refers to the ancient pronunciation (p. 225) in a manner Orthodox would agree with, and throughout the whole commentary he makes numerous references to Homer, Plato, Aristotle, the LXX (however, contrary to pp. 379-380, 2 Maccabees is cononical, at least in Orthodox Christianity), Philo, Josephus, the Apostolic Fathers, Epictetus, and St. Bede. For these reasons, I would recommend all second-year Greek students who are genuine Koine Greek nerds buy this book, and I would add further that I truly feel this book would be much better as a book in Accordance or Verbum/Logos/Noet, it would open up a lot of the references for more in-depth personal study.
But I must close by relaying that by far my biggest problem with the book is pretty much the same problem I have with modern Koine Greek pedagogy in general. The book relies far too much on English translations of Greek texts for discussion of Greek grammar and syntax and that there is a plethora of quotes from Greek sources are given in translation. In a book titled as a commentary on the Greek text of James, I would expect there would be almost zero English translation. But the fact that English far outweighs the Greek in this book leads me to conclude that this book is better thought of as a commentary on the Epistle of St. James with reference to Greek, rather than as a commentary on the Greek text itself.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Todd Scacewater and Fontes Press for this opportunity and for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review.
As someone who has become convinced that to even attempt mastery of any period of the Greek language, one must also study the period before and after, I have been following the recent discussion on the internet about Koine Greek closely. I obviously do not agree with any of the one articles totally, but at least there is a dialogue happening.
For the above reason, I figured I would post the links here, just in case any current readers are unaware of them, and for future readers to check them out. To elaborate on what I wrote above, I’m convinced that the best path of Greek study for Orthodox Christians is found below, and using the pronunciation that Greeks use—since it is their language and all (imagine if Western scholars told Native Americans how to pronounce Cree?).
A little while back as I was reading 1 John in Greek. Along with my reading, I was using Charles Lee Irons’ A Syntax Guide For Readers Of The Greek New Testament, which pointed me to pages 145-146 of C.F.D. Moule’s An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, which pointed me R.H. Kennett’s In Our Tongues (1907), Chapter 1.
It took me forever and the only place I found it was here. So, if you are ever looking for In Our Tongues, there you go.
A funny thing is that Evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics who actually know some Greek (as opposed to the “codebreaker types within those religions) answer the question of how to improve one’s Greek with something along the lines of “Read, read, read; and then read some more.”
The Greek Orthodox Church in North America, on the other hand, will teach Neohellenic Greek in their Greek schools (to be fair, I’ve found three Greek parishes in all of North America that teach “New Testament Greek”) to keep the culture alive while the Orthodox Church in Greece commends ignorance of Koine as “Koine has contributed to the “mystery” of the liturgy” The Fathers of the Church would be livid, as anyone familiar with St. Basil can assure you.
Lets us of the Greek Orthodox tradition remember that all Greek—from Homeric to Attic to Hellenistic/Koine to Medæval/Byzantine to Katharevousa to Demotic to Neohellenic—are all very much and absolutely an inextricable part of our Modern Hellenic culture, but more importantly, a part of our Eastern Roman religious heritage.
With that said, here are some suggestions on how to improve one’s Greek that I’ve found helpful and of which I implement:
24 November 2012 – Do You Need to Speak Greek in Order to Read it?
11 December 2013 – Daily Greek Reading Setup
5 August 2015 – Keep Your Greek: Don’t Lose Your Vocabulary
17 September 2015 – 5 Ways to Improve Your Greek Speaking Skills
27 June 2017 – A Strategic Approach to Reading Background Texts of the New Testament (tangent to this is Increase Your Brain Power with Classics)
6 July 2017 – Practice Greek Like a Master Violinist
This is excellent advice, and after reading this, I suggest reading this from The Patrologist as well. The comments especially, where it is asked of him, “Having finished elementary Greek, would you suggest any particular Greek grammars/authors? Just start reading Greek? Where should I begin in moving out to classical Greek?” To which he responds with,
“I’d say just get on with reading a lot of Greek, as much as possible. If you’ve finished elementary (NT) Greek, then start working at reading the New Testament, as much as possible. Start easy – John, Mark, and get to harder texts later. Try out Reading in Threes (https://thepatrologist.com/2017/05/22/reading-in-3s/). Then branch out to the Apostolic Fathers, they are a good bridge out of New Testament Greek.
At some point, depending on your goals, it’s worth branching into some Classical. In terms of texts, anything on Geoffrey Steadman’s site (geoffreysteadman.com) is great. A grammar is not a terrible idea, but for now I’d just say read, read, read.”
This was mentioned to me by a student recently in a small group class that I am kind-of mentoring, and I think it’s worth adapting and sharing. The original idea, or at least where the student got it from, is Daniel Wallace, here. It’s the idea that you should translate each chapter of the New Testament three times, and rotate chapters in and out of rotation.
Now, I don’t really think you should be translating, I think you should be reading passages at a level you can comprehend with just a little bit of help. But I do think this idea has a lot of merit. Here’s how I’m implementing it in my own readings: the rule of 3s (see also Where Are Your Keys technique: Three Times)
So, say I’m reading a text, like Ørberg’s Roma Aeterna (which I happen to be. Everyone raves about the first book, Familia…
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