Today’s guest post is from Dr. Steve Runge, a scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software, whose work focuses on the discourse grammar of Hebrew and Greek.
Over the last few years, I have learned the importance of expectations. Expectations play a huge role in our lives, even in how we use language. Read the following statements, and compare the difference that adding a single word to the sentence can make in changing our expectations about what follows.
1. “I have really appreciated your work over the last few months . . .”
versus . . .
2. “While I have really appreciated your work over the last few months . . .”
or . . .
3. “I have appreciated most of your work over the last few months . . .”
Notice the difference in expectations that was created in the last two sentences compared to the first sentence? What changed? Figuratively speaking, adding ‘while’ or ‘most’ in this context has the effect of signaling that the ‘first shoe’ has dropped. It creates the expectation that something more is coming, and it probably won’t be good. Another way of looking at this is to say that the last two sentences create a ‘counter point’, signaling that a more important ‘point’ is about to come that connects back to the counter point.
We make decisions like this all the time when we are speaking, but not by stopping and thinking, “Should I create a counter point so that Rick will expect that more is coming, or should I connect these thoughts using another device?” No. We just do what ‘fits best’ in the context, based on whatever it is that we want to communicate. Creating the expectation that a second shoe will drop using a counter point is a powerful way to connect two things together, things that otherwise might not have been connected. It is not just English that can create this kind of expectation. Most languages have some means of doing this, including Greek. You guessed it, we are headed into the New Testament to introduce another device that is included in the Lexham High Definition New Testament, which is now on Pre-Pub along with the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament. Today’s topic is point-counter point sets, using a words like ‘while’ or ‘in as much as’ to create a ‘counterpoint’ to connect and draw extra attention to a ‘point’ that follows. The point is the ‘second shoe’.
In the same way that we can use words like ‘while’ to create an expectation of something more (a counter point), Greek has a tiny three letter word μέν (men, Strong’s number G3303) that accomplishes the same thing. Its primary purpose is to produce a counter point, creating the expectation that some related point is about to follow. The point is typically more important than the counter point. Using a counter point has the effect of attracting attention to the point that it would not have received otherwise.
There is just one problem: Greek is not English. Since Greek has such an easy way of creating counter points, it is often difficult to capture what is going on in Greek in a smooth English translation. Words like ‘on the one hand’ would be too clunky in most cases. As a result of this mismatch between the languages, well over half of the counter points signaled by μέν are lost in translation. They show up in your reverse interlinears as a bullet (•). The great thing about the Lexham High Definition New Testamentis that it helps you find all the places where things like counter points are signaled, and even shows you the ‘point’ that it is connected to.
Take a look at Jesus’ statement about the fields being plentiful for harvest (Matt 9:37). The bullet (•) after ‘harvest’ stands in the place of a Greek word that does not have an English equivalent in the translation. It stands in the place of our counter point marker μέν. I will use symbols to help you find the ‹✗ counter point ✗› and the ‹✓ point ✓›. The brackets ‹ and › let you know where the point or counter point begin and end.
|τότε λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ‹✗ Ὁ μὲν θερισμὸς πολύς ✗› ‹✓ οἱ δὲ ἐργάται ὀλίγοι ✓›
||Then he said to his disciples, ‹✗ “The harvest • is plentiful, ✗› ‹✓ but the laborers are few; ✓› (ESV)
Without the use of μέν, the positive statement about the harvest might sound like it is the last word on the matter, rather than a counterpoint to highlight the great need for more harvesters. The use of ‘but’ captures the contrast, but does not convey the anticipation. Jesus’ hearers were expecting something important would follow when they heard μέν, just like we would if we were to hear, “While the harvest is plentiful . . .” The call for more laborers is much more powerful when you realize it is a set-up to attract our attention to the point that follows, but the counterpoint is obscured in the translation to English.
Take a look at the counter point in Matthew 26:24.
|‹✗ ὁ μὲν υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ὑπάγει καθὼς γέγραπται περὶ αὐτοῦ ✗› ‹✓ οὐαὶ δὲ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐκείνῳ διʼ οὗ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται ✓› καλὸν ἦν αὐτῷ εἰ οὐκ ἐγεννήθη ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐκεῖνος
||‹✗ • The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, ✗› ‹✓ but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! ✓› It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (ESV)
While it was necessary for the Son of Man to be betrayed in order to fulfill prophecy, the betrayer has no excuse for his actions, he will be held fully accountable. What a frightening warning, one which is made all the more powerful through the use of a counter point to attract extra attention to the point that follows.
Another counter point example used to create a connection is found in Acts 2:41-42. Here again, the particle μέν is untranslated.
|‹✗ οἱ μὲν οὖν ἀποδεξάμενοι τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ ἐβαπτίσθησαν καὶ προσετέθησαν ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ ψυχαὶ ὡσεὶ τρισχίλιαι. ✗› 42 ‹✓ ῏Ησαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ, τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς. ✓›
||‹✗ • So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added • that day about three thousand souls. ✗› 42 ‹✓ And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. ✓› (ESV)
You are probably thinking, “Why in the world would these two verses be connected?” Great question. The answer is that the writer wanted to make sure that we connected these verses. He could have left out the μέν, but his choice to include it reflects his intent that we make a connection that might otherwise be missed.
There are actually two Greek conjunctions at the beginning of v. 41. The conjunction οὖν (translated here as ‘so’) tells us how to relate v. 41 to what precedes, summarizing the people’s response to Peter’s sermon. The μέν creates a counter point, raising the expectation that another shoe is going to drop. The 3000 being added and baptized is not the final word. As significant as this response is, the writer wanted to connect the response of the 3000 to the events that follow. Verse 42 describes how the people devoted themselves to the teaching, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Creating a counter point here suggests that while 3000 ‘getting saved’ and baptized is significant, it is only the beginning and not an end in itself. The Great Commission calls us to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded us. This is exactly what we see being highlighted here by making the connection between vv. 41 and 42. The apostles are obediently fulfilling their commission. We see a picture of the new believers moving on to obey all that was commanded. The writer’s choice to create a counter point connection helps drive this point home. However, this connection is impossible to find in English.
Point-counter point sets are only one of roughly 15 other devices that are included in the Lexham High Definition New Testament. This resource not only provides an introduction to these devices, it marks every place they occur right in the English text. Using the symbols keeps you in the Bible instead of in study notes or a commentary. It also lets you see ‘at a glance’ the devices that the writer is using in the passage you are studying, allowing you to quickly and easily identify the key ideas, to understand the flow of the passage.
See Steve’s previous posts about the Lexham High Definition New Testament:
See also the recent announcement of Steve’s two products now on Pre-Pub: