Stylistic Variation or Intentional Shaping? A Look at Characterization in John 11

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.

Have you ever wondered about the changes in names, or the orders of names, that you see in the New Testament? A common answer to these kinds of questions has been that the changes represent “stylistic variation” by the writers, and are not very significant. Depending on your view of inspiration, you might not be satisfied with such an answer. I know that sometimes I vary the names I use to refer to my kids, and there is meaning to be associated with the changes. If they have been behaving badly while mom was out running errands, I might say to her, “Your children were . . . .” You can fill in the rest. If my wife heard these words, she would immediately know that I was not well-pleased with them. Calling my kids ‘your children’ in certain contexts has predictable, repeatable effects.

If I were to ask my wife, “How’s the most helpful and caring wife in the world doing this morning,” she will likely wonder if I am buttering her up for something. Using these kinds of expressions to refer to my kids and my wife is not the norm; they stand out in the context. They each serve to ‘characterize’ the people they refer to in a specific way.

About 11 years ago, this question of characterization got stuck in my craw, and it took a good bit of reading to figure out what was going on. I found examples of it all over the Bible, but was not satisfied with the typical answers I found. These kinds of questions ended up becoming the focus of my doctoral studies. John 11, the chapter where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, provides a great chance to look at some of the devices that the biblical writers used to carefully shape their words and message. The patterns they used are found not only in Greek, but in Hebrew and many other languages as well. Understanding these devices will help us better understand the point the writers are trying to make, and can really help you with your Bible study. So if you are interested in learning more about this, keep reading! These concepts are part of a new resource we are working on called the Lexham High Definition New Testament. Here is the ESV version of John 11:1-5.

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

Three people are mentioned in v. 1: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. This is the first mention of Lazarus in John’s gospel, so he needs to be introduced from scratch. His introduction in v. 1 could be translated something like, ‘There was this sick guy, Lazarus of Bethany . . . .’ Mary is the most well-known character, which John reminds us of in v. 2. Finally, Martha is introduced, and linked to Mary as ‘her sister’ so that we know how she fits into the story.

In v. 3, Mary and Martha are referred to collectively as ‘the sisters’. Lazarus is referred to as ‘he whom you love’. Why not just call him ‘Lazarus’? One reason for making a change like this is to make the reader think about Lazarus in a particular way, just like I did with my wife and kids above. In this case, the sisters are appealing to Jesus not just to heal Lazarus. They are appealing to Jesus’ love for Lazarus as an encouragement for him to come and heal their brother. Calling him ‘he whom you love’ also lets us know that Jesus has a close relationship with Lazarus, something that is important for understanding Jesus’ actions later in the story.

This strategy of switching from a proper name to a thematically-loaded expression is frequently used to characterize participants in a particular way. It forces us to think about them in a way that we would not otherwise have had in mind. Such changes are often motivated by wanting us to think about a particular person in a particular way, based on its importance to the big idea of the passage. In the context of John 11, this thematic characterization lets us know that when Jesus does not immediately heed the sisters’ request that he is not blowing them off because he doesn’t care about Lazarus. It also lets us know why he weeps in v. 35.

In verse 5, we learn that Jesus loves all of them, not just Lazarus. Take a look at how Lazarus, Mary and Martha are now referred to in this verse. Do you see the changes from v. 1?

3 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

There are several of them. The order of the characters has changed, with Lazarus last and the sisters first. There is also a change in Mary’s referring expression from a proper name ‘Mary’ to the less-specific ‘her sister’. Do these changes make any difference? Yes!

There are three basic reasons for switching from a proper name like this. One reason was already mentioned above, (re)characterization. The change makes you think about the character in a particular way that is important to the context. The second reason for changing from a proper name is to background one character with respect to another. Most main characters are given a proper name, while less-important ones are assigned less-specific expressions like ‘his servant’ or ‘one of the Pharisees’. If both sisters had been referred to using proper names, it would have placed Mary and Martha (and Lazarus too, for that matter) on an equal level of importance, perhaps with the more important one occurring first in the list. In v. 5 we have both Lazarus and Martha assigned proper names. Changing from ‘Mary’ to ‘her sister’ has the effect of pushing her into the background, figuratively speaking. This raises a question. Which of the two named characters is more important, Martha or Lazarus? This is where the third function of these name changes comes into play.

Use of ‘her sister’, either as a substitute for a proper name or as a supplement to a proper name (like ‘Mary, her sister’), can indicate who the current ‘center of attention’ is. It is something like the writer putting a spotlight on the character he wants us to focus on. Notice that Mary is linked to Martha as ‘her sister’. She also could have been called “Lazarus’ sister”, but this would have made us think that Lazarus is the center of attention, not Martha.

Why is she more important than Lazarus? After all, it is Lazarus who is raised from the dead, not Martha. Martha is the center of attention because of the importance of her conversation with Jesus in vv. 20-30. This dialogue is with Martha, not Mary, not Lazarus. John is foreshadowing this through the changes that he makes, and he uses these kinds of devices consistently throughout his gospel. If he had called Mary by her proper name, there would be no explicit signal about who the center of attention is. Calling her, ‘Mary, her sister’ in v. 28 accomplishes the same thing, reinforcing that attention is still focused on Martha.

When the chapter opened, Mary was the one that the village and Martha were connected to, since she was the best-known character of the three. John needed to tell us how to connect these new characters to the story, and he did it by connecting them to someone we already knew: Mary. However, once everyone is introduced, John shifts gears in v. 5 to put Martha in the spotlight because of the importance of her dialogue with Jesus.

John has a point that he wants to make sure we understand, and he uses every means available to make sure we get it. These kinds of changes are one of the many tools the biblical writers used, and they are comparable to tools found in many other languages. The Lexham High Definition New Testament identifies the most practical of these tools every place they occur in the New Testament. We have looked at how John used ‘characterization’ in John 11, but he is not the only writer to use this convention. Look at how Paul refers to the Father in Eph 1:3: “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. He is not trying to tell us which ‘God and Father’ he is referring to with “who has blessed us…” He is characterizing God in a particular way based on its importance to what follows. He wants us to recall these qualities and characteristics of God because of their importance to what he is about to tell us in the letter that follows.

Now, the Greek New Testament is not the only place you find (re)characterization used to shift the center of attention back and forth between the actors in a narrative. Most every language does this: The devices may differ from language to language, but the basic task and its effects are the same. For some great examples of shifting the center of attention onto different characters, take a look at Genesis 27. There are SEVEN re-characterizations in ONE chapter. They all coincide with switches in the initiator of the action within the story. Below is a chart with excerpts from the ESV text in one column and a description of what is going on in the other.

If you read the story, take a close look at v. 21. At the point that Isaac is not sure whether to believe Jacob or not, there is no explicit indication of the center of attention. Once he decides to go along with Jacob’s plan, Isaac is referred to as “Isaac his father” in v. 22.

The same device is used in Gen 2-3 to indicate shifts in the center of attention. Take a look at how ‘Eve’ is referred to. She starts as ‘Adam’s wife’ in 2:25, then shifts to ‘the woman’ as she interacts with the serpent in 3:2-6. Then she gives the fruit to ‘her husband’ who eats it, which is consistent with Eve being the center of attention (Adam was last referred to as ‘the man in 2:25). Eve is the initiator and the center of attention for the first part of Genesis 3, which is a shift from Genesis 2. The writer unambiguously communicates this shift through the changes in referring expressions. When the two of them hide from the LORD God in 3:8, ‘they’ hear Him coming and ‘the man and his wife‘ hide themselves. Another switch! There is no need for saying ‘the man and his wife’ since saying ‘they’ would have been just as clear. But making this switch from ‘the woman’ to ‘his wife’ explicitly signals the shift in center of attention from Eve to Adam just before the LORD God addresses Adam as the one responsible for the Fall.

This are just of few examples of ‘characterization’, one of fifteen devices that is included in the soon-to-be-prepubbed Lexham High Definition New Testament. If you found this post helpful, take a look at the post on backgrounding of action or the making of the Lexham High Definition New Testament. Tune in next week to learn about another practical device from this new resource that can help make a difference in your Bible study!

Update: Both products are now available for pre-order:

Finding Louw-Nida References in the New Testament

I’ll admit it; I’m hopelessly addicted to reading (and writing) blog posts; particularly those having to do with Biblical Studies and especially those having to do with the intersection of Biblical Studies and technology. And when they can mix in the Greek New Testament, well, then I usually have to clean the saliva off of my keyboard.

So when I saw Mark Hoffman post a question and an answer about finding the co-occurrence of a Louw-Nida domain and a particular morphological criterion (here where Domain 25, "Attitudes and Emotions", occurs with an imperative verb), a light went off in my head. The in-development Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, which has every word tagged with disambiguated Louw-Nida references (described more fully in this previous post), can do this fairly easily. You can even do it in one search with the Bible Speed Search dialog. Here’s the query:

louw in LN25 andequals LogosMorph in V??M??

And here are the results, 122 hits in 108 verses:

And, since we haven’t yet released the Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament (though you can buy it on pre-pub!), I thought I’d include a video on how this search works and some further things you will be able to do with the search data once it is available.

(Pardon my voice; I must’ve slept with my mouth open last night. I woke up with a dry throat and the ability to sing with a Johnny Cash style voice without even trying.)

Lange’s Commentary Is Finally Here!

The long exciting journey of producing Lange’s massive Commentary on the Holy Scriptures is finally over! (If you haven’t already read it, you’ll want to make sure to read the exciting story of how a user got an extra volume added at no additional cost.) Our Electronic Text Development department just recently put the finishing touches on it and sent it to the replicators. It’s on schedule to start shipping in just another day or two!
At just under 15,000 pages, it’s an enormous amount of excellent material for a very nice price. Putting this out-of-print set together from used volumes would be a difficult task and cost you far more.
Spurgeon in his Commenting and Commentaries gives the series high praise: “The volumes greatly differ in excellence, yet none could be spared. We have nothing equal to them as a series” (70).
But Spurgeon made that statement over a century ago. Perhaps some of you are wondering if a commentary originally authored more than 100 years ago is really going to offer you any insight that you won’t find in more recent commentaries.
Craig Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, thinks so. In his article “When Is a Parallel Really a Parallel? A Test Case: The Lucan Parables” (Westminster Theological Journal 46:1 (Spring 1984): 78), Blomberg observes how Lange makes an important observation that the majority of modern commentators miss:

Most commentators pass over this point in view of the more perplexing exegetical questions surrounding this verse, but already a century ago John Lange observed that “the definite article before allēn or heteran denotes the next city in order which had not yet been visited.”

The folks at The Master’s Seminary are likewise convinced of its enduring value. James F. Stitzinger includes Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures in his list of “The First 750 Books for an Expositor’s Library” (“Study Tools for Expository Preaching,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching (Dallas: Word, 1992), 177). It also shows up in The Master’s Seminary list of “850 Books for Biblical Expositors.”
If you haven’t yet placed your order, it’s not too late to lock in at the discounted Pre-Pub price!

Making of the Lexham High Definition New Testament

[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.]

This is a follow-up to a blog entry that I posted last Thursday entitled “Who Cares About Participles? I Do!” It described how the New Testament writers used Greek participles to push less-important action into the background in order to keep attention focused on the main action of a verse. At the end, I gave the warning that this principle about ‘backgrounding’ action did not apply to every participle. This prompted a great comment from a user. He said:

I wasn’t the best student at English grammar either so to figure out that what you have shown us in this blog would have been impossible for me as I don’t understand all the different parts of English speech and writing. So, my question is this: with my ineptitude with both Greek and English, how can I use this tool well and know even what to look for? Perhaps that is an impossible question to ask.

This is a great question. The reality is there is no possible way for him to have known or done what I did without knowing the grammatical principles I used. Even knowing the principle, he would still need enough grammatical background to do the analysis. In other words, he wants access to this information, but his grammatical skills are too rusty for him to do the analysis himself. On top of this, he was probably never taught this principle in his studies. If you read the participles blog post and are a few years out of school, you will probably empathize with his frustration. Maybe you never even had the chance to attend Bible school. Here are some questions.

  1. Were you able to understand the idea of ‘backgrounding’ the action in a sentence using participles?
  2. Did you understand the meaning that could be gleaned from the choice to use a participle, and not a finite verb?

If so, then the problem is not with your understanding of grammar, the problem is with your access to the analyzed data. Right now, there is no access without years of study, and in this user’s case, keeping his Greek skills fresh, right? My personal mission in life is to address the ACCESS issue.

I have spent the last 12 years studying the problem, proposing and testing solutions, and coming up with a plan. What if ALL of the backgrounded actions in the NT were identified? What if there were a visual-filter type label on them so that as you were reading the text you could distinguish main actions from backgrounded ones? Would that be helpful? What if I did the same with 15 other of the most useful devices I found in my research? What if you could see all of these devices identified right in the text? This way you would not be distracted from the biblical text by reading a separate commentary. What if the text was organized into a block outline, breaking down the complexity of the text to help you better understand how it flows and how it is organized hierarchically?

If these questions pique your interest, then you will be interested in a resource that is set to go on Pre-Publication in the next few weeks. It is called the Lexham High Definition New Testament, part of a new series of original language resources that we are working on. It catalogs and graphically identifies all occurrences of a specific set of devices, like backgrounding, that the biblical writers used, but which are largely invisible without knowledge of Greek.

Many of these devices are based on the work of Bible translators, and are not even taught in seminary classes. The only way to learn them at this point is to slog through the linguistics literature like I have done for the last decade. This required developing an extensive knowledge of cognitive linguistics, pragmatics and syntax. Having done that, and having annotated where all of the devices occur in the text, the problem of access to the data is only partly solved.

The next step is to explain the concepts based on our idiomatic usage in English. Every language has to accomplish the same basic set of tasks. Since the annotated devices accomplish a specific task, I can explain the Greek device by analogy to how the same task is accomplished in English, regardless of how it might be translated. In other words, it would not matter if a Greek participle is translated as a main verb in English as long as you understood that it is backgrounded, right? This is a new way of thinking about these issues, a great complement to working with your preferred translation.

There is another problem. My analysis of these devices is based on the Greek text, not an English version. This means that somehow the data needs to be exported and mapped to an English version so that non-Greek or ‘rusty-Greek’ folks can access it. Until two years ago, this would have been impossible. Logos has invested the time and money into creating reverse interlinears, where the original language words are aligned to the corresponding words of the English translations. This allows the data that I have annotated to the Greek to be exported and displayed in English translations. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Greek is not English! Not every Greek device maps well into English, so we combined and culled down from about 40 concepts in Greek to 17 in English.

What is displayed in English is actually Greek data. If you find concepts like backgrounding valuable, and the want to get access to things that you would likely not even have learned if you had done advanced Greek study, it will soon be accessible to you mapped onto an English translation.

Not every concept is easy enough to understand with a thumbnail sketch for an introduction. However, a good many of them ARE that simple, but access to the data has been the ongoing problem. We have taken the very best of these devices and mapped them into English in the Lexham High Definition New Testament. There will be another, more detailed and more technical version of the data that is mapped onto the Greek text that will also be released, called the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament.

I appreciate the frustration people have felt about helpful information being restricted to the few that had the aptitude and discipline to reach the advanced levels of original language study. There is a tremendous amount of information that will remain restricted to this domain, based on the nature of it. However, there is a lot of practical stuff that can be exported and applied by folks if only they had the access to it. This frustration has been my motivation for getting up at 4:30am several days a week since 1993 to do research. I worked construction for the last 15 years to provide for my family and fund my study. Logos hired me in October 2006 because they believed that the insight into Scripture that users would gain from this project was worth the investment to produce it.

There is not another resource like the Lexham High Definition New Testament, where a collection of the most useful discourse devices are pulled together and practically applied. I will be blogging about a different device from the Discourse NT series each week for the next few months. I do not want information that would be beneficial to people like you, people who are smart and motivated to study God’s Word, to remain restricted to the few. I have had several scholars rebuke me for taking on such a project, saying people might misuse it. People are already misusing English versions, so why not give them something that might curb some of the abuse and misunderstanding?

Update: Both products are now available for pre-order:

Ancient Semitic Inscriptions—How Can They Assist English Bible Study?

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Michael Heiser, Academic Editor at Logos.
Note: Some characters in this post require a Unicode font like Gentium or Charis SIL. You can download both Gentium and Charis SIL from the SIL site.
One of the challenges we face at Logos when we create research tools for studying ancient texts in their original script is how such data can be made useful in the Libronix platform for users who do not read the ancient languages. Our aim is not merely to produce tools for scholars, but tools that can help everyone inform their Bible study. The new databases for Aramaic inscriptions and the Hebrew and Canaanite inscriptions are a good case in point.
In this blog post, I’d like to focus on how these inscriptions can assist your Bible study even if you can’t read the ancient languages. Veteran Libronix users will recognize immediately that since these inscriptions come with fresh English translations and can be displayed as an interlinear, they are accessible to the English reader. But what may not be apparent is why the English reader might want to include them in searches or Bible study. It’s easy to see how commentaries or reference books that deal with Bible backgrounds would be helpful, but users often balk at the thought of utilizing ancient non-biblical texts for enlightening biblical content. I think the three examples that follow illustrate the value of including these kinds of texts in Bible study.
Balaam, son of Beor, and the Deir ʿAlla Inscription
We’re all familiar with the Old Testament story of Balaam, where Balak, king of Moab, summoned Balaam to curse the children of Israel (Numbers 22-23). Not nearly as well known is the fact that Balaam, son of Beor, is featured prominently in an ancient inscription, discovered in 1967 at a place called Deir ʿAlla. That inscription is included in the set of Aramaic inscriptions recently developed by Logos. It reads in part:

1 . . . the report of Balaʿam, son of Beʿor, who was a seer of the gods. Now the gods came to see him by night, and he saw a vision
2 as the utterance of El. They said to Balaʿam, son of Beʿor, “Thus he will do . . . afterwards a man . . . ”
3 Balaʿam arose the following day . . . but he was not able to . . . and he wept
4 bitterly. Then his people came to him and said to Balaʿam, son of Beʿor, “Why are you fasting and weeping?”
5 He responded to them, “Sit down, I will tell you what the Shaddayyin have done. Come, see the work of the gods! The Shaddayyin gathered together
6 and established the assembly. Then, they said to Š[ ], ʿSew up [and] block out the heavens with your cloud putting darkness [over it]; do not any
7 light [shine] . . .

There are a number of gaps and difficult reconstructions in this inscription (hence the brackets that appear), but there are a number of clear points. First, a seer named Balaam the son of Beor had a vision in the night in which the gods speak to him. Save for the fact that the Old Testament has one deity speak to Balaam, this is precisely the same situation recorded in the Old Testament in Numbers 22:8-9, 14-20. Second, Balaam is presented in the inscription as a seer or clairvoyant, one who had contact with the gods through divination (cf. Josh. 13:22). This is the biblical picture as well. The Hebrew terminology associated with Balaam indicates that he did not practice sorcery, as some have charged, but used some sort of divination method. While some forms of divination are expressly condemned in the Old Testament, even on pain of death (Deut 18:9-12), other forms are not (e.g., casting lots, Joseph’s divination cup, Daniel’s training in Chaldean “sciences”). The issue with “proper” and “improper” methods of divination for the Israelite was whether Yahweh was the source of the divine information and, in most cases, whether the contact was initiated by Yahweh. This helps resolve the notion that Yahweh would speak his word through a foreign seer by his Spirit (Num. 24:2). Third, Balaam is cast in a positive light in the inscription. While the Bible has some pretty unflattering things to say about Balaam, it also has some positive assessment. For example, the prophet Micah says, “O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him.” Balaam unapologetically proclaimed himself Yahweh’s servant and denied saying anything other than what Yahweh has told him to say.
What are we to make of this inscription and its connection to the Old Testament? Simply put, the Deir ʿAlla inscription is an extrabiblical confirmation of the Balaam story. The Deir ʿAlla inscription dates to the 8th century B.C., well after the time of the Balaam incident in biblical chronology. Balaam is not introduced in the inscription, so it appears that the writer presumed his readers knew about Balaam already, and so the story of Balaam had been around for some time. The prophet Micah’s statement dates from the same era, since the prophet lived at the time of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Micah 1:1). This is confirmation that the Balaam story wasn’t invented during the 8th century but precedes it.
Does the Old Testament Speak of a Blissful Afterlife?
This question may surprise many readers, but it’s actually a hot topic in scholarly discussions about the Old Testament. Behind this issue is the fact that the Old Testament never actually speaks of a godly person “going” to heaven. Rather, they go to Sheol, the realm of the dead, or the “Underworld” (see, e.g., Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 1 Sam. 2:6; Job 17:16; Psa. 6:5; 49:14; 88:3; 116:3; Ezek. 31:17). Sheol also refers to a hole in the ground or some space under the ground (see Num. 16:33; Job 11:8). As such, many scholars argue that the Old Testament had no concept of a hallowed, pleasant afterlife—the dead only went to the grave—or that the dead remained in the grave until a future resurrection. Some scholars seek to strike a parallel with the depressing view of the afterlife held in Mesopotamia, where the deceased “lived on” while in a state of decay.
Other biblical scholars have argued, with some justification, that discerning the Old Testament’s view of the afterlife on the basis of one word (Sheol) is myopic. Archaeologically speaking, we know that, like our custom of leaving flowers or other items at grave sites, Israelites also regularly deposited gifts at tombs, such as food and wine—items that we believe are appreciated by the dead. This doesn’t fit with a view that only saw the grave as final, or a despondent life in the Underworld. Such an approach fails to incorporate passages like Psalm 73:23-26:

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Two Hebrew inscriptions found in a small burial cave at a site just outside the ancient city of Jerusalem known as Ketef Hinnom shed some light on Israelite beliefs about the fate of the dead. The site dates to the late seventh or early sixth century B.C., clearly in the first Temple period. These inscriptions were etched onto two small silver plaques. The text is not entirely legible and complete, but much is quite readable:

Ketef Hinnom 1
1 [ ] 2 YHW [
2 [ ]
3 [ ]
4 l]oves the covena[nt
5 and lo]vingkindness to those who lo[ve
6 [and] with respect to those who keep [
7 ]BK[
8 ]HHʿL rest[ing place
9 [ ]BH[ ]H from all[
10 [ ] and from the evil
11 for in him is redemption (?)
12 for Yahweh
13 will [re]store us
14-16 ]KWR may Yahweh bless [and] may [he] keep you
17 May Yahweh [sh]ine
18 [his f]ace (upon you).

Ketef Hinnom 2

1 ]HB[
2 to Yahwe[h]
3 [ ]
4 ]Gʿ[
5-7 May Yahweh bless and may [he] keep you
8-9 May Yah[weh] shine his face
10 [up]on you and
11 may [he] give you
12 pea[ce].
13 [ ]
14 [ ]
15 ]M[
16 [ ]
17 [ ]

Both of these inscriptions, deposited as they were with the dead body of the loved one, ask Yahweh to “bless and keep” the dead and “shine upon” the deceased. This is certainly positive, and is very much in the spirit of Psalm 73. The writer also expresses his belief that Yahweh shows lovingkindness to those who love Him. If the writer believed that the fate of the dead was only the grave, or that the deceased was rewarded only with a cadaverous existence, these sentiments make little sense.
The Witness in the Clouds
One of the Phoenician inscriptions in the new Libronix database of Hebrew and Canaanite inscriptions comes from a location known as Arslan Tash. The inscription is found on an amulet and reads in part:

Arslan Tash 1
9-10 Asshur has made with us and eternal covenant. He made (it)
11 with us, and (with) all the sons of the gods,
12 and the chiefs of the council of all the holy ones
13 with a covenant of heaven and earth
14 forever, by an oath of Baal,
15 [l]ord of earth, by a covenant
16 of Ḥawron, whose mouth is pure,
17 and his seven concubines, and
18 the eight wives of Baal-Qudsh.

In this inscription, the high god Asshur is said to have made a covenant with the people among whom the author lived. Asshur makes this covenant, and then the covenant is said to be ratified or “guaranteed” by other gods: Baal, Ḥawron, and Ḥawron’s seven concubines and eight wives, who were all (presumably) considered divine beings.
This kind of inscription content is easy to cross-reference in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. It might be instructive, for example, to compare covenant language between the Bible and sources outside the Bible for parallels and significant differences. This kind of thing is referenced many times in study Bible notes. In this instance, it might strike us as odd that a god would make a covenant with his people and then have that covenant promise backed up by other gods, since in the Bible God swear oaths by himself since, according to Hebrews 6:13-20, there is none greater. But are there exceptions?
If you were attempting a thorough Bible study of all the covenants in the Bible between God and people, you’d come across a surprising covenant circumstance in Psalm 89, where the idea of God swearing only by himself in a covenant relationship is in fact not the case. Psalm 89, which is a reiteration of the Davidic covenant given in 2 Samuel 7, has God making the covenant with David and his dynasty and then appealing to a witness in the clouds as a guarantee of that covenant. Believe it or not, the covenant of the Arslan Tash inscription helps us to know what’s going on here.
Psalm 89:35-37 [Hebrew text, 89:36-38] reads:

35 “Once I have sworn by my Holy One;
I will not lie to David.
36 “His descendants shall be forever
And his throne as the sun before me.
37 “It shall be established forever like the moon,
And the witness in the clouds will be faithful.”

The keys to understanding this small section of Psalm 89 are the two underlined portions. English translations disagree on this passage for very technical reasons I’ll skip here (readers can click here for more detail). This is my own literal rendering, though the NASB comes closest to what I have. Notice how the passage has certain parallel elements, which I’ve marked by letters:

A I have sworn by my Holy One;
B I will not lie to David.
C “His descendants shall be forever
C his throne (shall be) as the sun before me.
C “It [his throne] shall be established forever like the moon,
A And a witness in the clouds will be faithful.”

Translations disagree most often on the underlined portions. Many have “by my holiness” for the first underline, but that makes little sense in light of the literary parallelism. It seems that Yahweh has sworn by a person (a witness) in the second underlining, which calls for a person being “sworn by” in the first underlining. All that is needed to arrive at “my Holy One” is to change the vowel marks in the Hebrew at this point to conform it to “Holy One” found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Most translations also have “an enduring witness” or “a faithful witness” for the second underlined portion, but there are grammatical problems with that translation.
What we have here is Yahweh swearing a covenantal oath to David and guaranteeing that oath by some witness in the clouds. This is actually similar to what we read in Arslan Tash. The head of the Phoenician pantheon at Arslan Tash, Asshur, makes a covenant in the presence of his heavenly council (the “council of the holy ones”), and then calls on other gods to confirm that the covenant will be carried out. Israel’s faith was monotheistic, but these elements are all present in Psalm 89. Yahweh swears an oath to David, and Yahweh’s own heavenly host (“divine council of the holy ones”; Psalm 89:5-8) witnesses the oath. But there’s a problem—Israel’s faith has no place for other gods to hold Yahweh accountable to his oath. Nevertheless, the language is there.
How can Yahweh swear by another and yet not be held accountable to a separate god other than himself? The passage seems to require an equal to Yahweh who will uphold the covenant, but how does that work? The idea of one god binding another god’s oath was familiar in the ancient Near East-Arslan Tash is but one example. But how can this work in Israel? Who is this witness in the heavens who will be faithful to make sure the covenant of David’s eternal dynasty comes to pass and never fails?
The New Testament answers these questions by filling the witness slot with Jesus. Revelation 1:4-5 is telling:

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Jesus, of course, as the son of David, fulfilled the Davidic covenant of Psalm 89. And since the New Testament presents Jesus as true deity incarnate and equal in nature with the God of the Old Testament, Jesus fulfills the role of witness-guarantor eternally. We know this if we’ve read the New Testament, but sometimes more ancient material—canonical and even outside the canon—can contextualize a point more clearly.
If you haven’t already placed your pre-order, be sure to check out the Semitic Inscriptions: Analyzed Texts and English Translations (CD-ROM) as it will be shipping soon!

Who Cares About Participles? I Do!

[Today's Guest Post is by Dr. Steve Runge, who is a scholar-in-residence here at Logos Bible Software. Steve is working on projects to annotate discourse function in the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible. More importantly, he's a really smart guy with a passion for explaining the exegetical significance and importance of discourse functions in language that non-academics can understand — so that sermons and lessons can take such things into account, resulting in better preaching and teaching. Look for more posts from Steve in the future. — RB]

My name is Steve, and I wanted to give you some ideas about how you can use some technology you probably already have to enhance your Bible study. One of the great features of the Biblical Languages Addin is the Morphological Filter (click View | Visual Filters) that lets you markup Greek and Hebrew Bibles based on their morphological coding (Click for video demo; here’s a blog post with similar information). And you are probably saying, “Steve, I don’t know Greek. Why would I want such a tool?” I am glad you asked!

One of the basic tenets of Bible study is to identify the main idea of each verse, which in turn allows you to build toward understanding the big idea of a passage, and so on. Believe it or not, the New Testament writers wanted the same thing. Not every action is of equal importance, and so the writers made choices about which actions to make the main idea of a sentence. One of the ways they did this was by using different kinds of verbs for different kinds of actions in order to prioritize them.

If you were to picture a line of soldiers, there are two ways I could make some of them stand out. The first way is to have the important ones take a step forward. This is essentially what emphasis does, it brings something out front. The other way to make something stand out is to have the less-important ones take a step back. By pushing the less-important things into the background (‘backgrounding’ them), I can focus your attention on the ones that are left in their original position. This is exactly what the writers did through the use of participles. Wait, it’s okay, don’t be afraid! Grammar can be a great friend and ally! Let me show you how.

Every sentence in the New Testament required the writer to make decisions. We make them all the time without even thinking about it, whether writing or speaking. We choose wording that fits best with what we want to communicate. The same is true of the NT writers. If they wanted something to be viewed as a main action, they used a main verb form (technically ‘finite’ verbs like the indicative, subjunctive or imperative moods for fellow grammar geeks). If they wanted to describe some action to set that stage for the main action, the writers would use participles before the main action to push the less important action into the background. Here is a quick example from English.

  1. I was writing a blog post this morning. I spilled my coffee on my keyboard.
  2. While writing a blog post this morning, I spilled my coffee on my keyboard.

In the first line, both actions are described as though they were equally important, both use main verbs. The second line backgrounds the first action using a participle in order to set the stage for the main action that follows—spilling my coffee (Don’t worry, Bob. I didn’t really spill, just needed an example).

This same kind of backgrounding happens all the time in the New Testament. And even if you don’t know Greek, you can use the tools available in Logos to find these backgrounded actions. Here’s how.

If you have an ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear of the New Testament and the Morphological Filter from the Biblical Languages Addin, you have all that you need to start your study. Open up the ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear in Logos Bible Software, and then click View | Visual Filters. This opens up the Visual Filter dialogue. Then click on Morphological Filter in the left pane, then click Add.

Click image for larger version(works for all images in this post)

Then click Details. This opens up another dialog box that lets you choose the grammatical characteristics that you want to visualize. We want to check Verbs, and then Participles under Verb types. Then click Add on the lower left, and finally pick a how you want to represent it in the text using the Palettes (I chose the Gray highlighter pen). This will identify all of the participles.

Now you need to identify the main verbs. All we have to do is repeat the steps. Click Verbs, and then under the ‘Tense, Voice, Mood’ menu click Finite under ‘Verb types’, then click Add.

Now pick a visualization from the Palettes (I chose green highlighter pen), and finally click Okay. You are ready to look for backgrounded actions!

In your ESV reverse interlinear, go to Matthew 28:19, we can take a look at how Matthew uses a participle to prioritize the actions of the Great Commission. English does not use participles like Greek does, so a lot of them get translated into English as though they were main verbs. This is not incorrect translation, it is just a consequence of Greek not being English. But you can pick out the backgrounded actions from the original Greek using this Visual Filter in the Reverse Interlinear.

In English, there are two main actions of the Great Commission: Go and Make disciples. But if you look at ‘Go’, you’ll see that it is a participle. Does this mean it doesn’t matter at all? No, it does matter. Matthew used a participle to make sure that we got the main idea of the verse: MAKING DISCIPLES. Both actions need to happen, but they are not of equal importance. Using a participle backgrounds the less-important action.

This idea of backgrounding only applies to participles when they precede the main action, not when they follow it. The participles that follow the main action tend to spell out more specifically what the main action looks like. Here, ‘making disciples’ is spelled out as ‘baptizing’ and ‘teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded’.

Another good example is found in Acts 9:1-2, where Saul is seeking to arrest the believers in order to keep ‘The Way’ from spreading.

In v. 1 there are two actions described: ‘breathing’ and ‘went’. But we can tell from the Morphological Filter that both of these actions are backgrounded. That means that these actions are setting the stage for the main action, and are not the main action themselves. The main action doesn’t come until v. 2; it is Saul ASKING for the letters. ‘Going’ to the high priest was just something that had to happen before he could ‘ask’ them for the letters. Luke’s choice to use a participle reflects how he chose to prioritize the action. Understanding how he prioritized the action will help us better understand the main point of the passage. The other participles in v. 2 function as ‘verbal adjectives’, describing whom Saul is seeking (the ones ‘belonging to the Way’) and how he will bring them (‘having been bound’). The principle of backgrounding only applies to the action participles that precede the main action.

The biggest, hairiest chain of backgrounded actions that I have yet found is in Mark 5:25-27, where SEVEN backgrounded actions before we finally get to the main action. Nearly all of these are translated in the ESV as though they are main verbs. Remember, this is not bad translation, it just reflects that Greek is not English. Take a look!

Look at all of the actions that are backgrounded! The one main action that is left standing is ‘touched’, all of the rest are simply setting the stage for this action. Mark clearly indicates this by using participles instead of main verbs. He could have just as easily chosen to make ALL of the actions main ones, but then ‘touched’ would not have stood out. They would have all been equal. By backgrounding the less-important actions before the main action, the writer lets us know which action we need to focus on. There is good reason to focus on ‘touch’ in this context, because it is the key action that sets off a whole series of events that follows. Touching Jesus is what heals this woman (v. 27). Look at how Jesus’ response is described in v. 30.

Three participles are used to describe the actions that lead to Jesus’ response (‘said’), and what he says is the most important part of the verse: ‘Who touched me?’ Mark has carefully framed his message to make sure that we do not miss the main point of the story!

The gospels and Acts by far make the most use of backgrounding through the use of participles before the main action. Here are a few more examples from Matthew. In Matt 13:46 in the parable about the pearl of great price, look at which actions have been backgrounded.

There are only two main actions in this verse: ‘selling all that he had’ and ‘buying’. The ‘finding’ and ‘going’ set the stage for the main actions. Do you see how the backgrounding fits with the main idea of the passage?

Another example is found in the description of Jesus preparing to feed the 5000 in Matt 14:19.

There are three backgrounded actions leading up to one main action in the first sentence. ‘Ordering the crowds’, ‘taking’ the loaves and fish, and ‘looking up to heaven’ are all backgrounded, keeping attention on the main action: he said a blessing. In the next sentence, ‘breaking’ is backgrounded, keeping attention focused on ‘giving’ it to the disciples who in turn give it to the crowds.

By the way, you do not need to use the visual filter to find out if an action is a participle in Greek or not. If you hover over ‘ordered’ in v. 19 of the reverse interlinear and look at the display in the lower left corner of the main window, you will see some information displayed.

The G2753 is the Strong’s number; the rest is the grammatical information for the Greek word. You can get the same information as what we have visualized using the Visual Filter, but it is does not let you see the big picture, and it is not nearly as cool!

As you may have noticed, not every participle backgrounds an action. Some participles don’t even describe action, but instead function as verbal adjectives to describe a person, place or thing. The participles that follow the main action usually spell out more specifically what the main action looks like (a topic I will take up in a future post). But there is hope!

I have been working for the last year in a super-secret department (next to Rick!) on a project that identifies all of the New Testament occurrences of cool devices like backgrounded actions. There are 15 other devices that are all explained and marked up using something like the visual filter right in the text to help you better understand what the writers were trying to draw your attention to. Stay tuned for more details.

Update: Both products are now available for pre-order:

Teachers and the Personal Book Builder

We have a really cool guest post for you below, but first a very exciting announcement regarding the Personal Book Builder.
We at Logos are passionate about God’s Word. One of our main objectives is to facilitate deeper Bible study. In an effort to better accomplish this, we are dropping the Personal Book Builder annual license renewal fee for all who use the PBB in conjunction with their teaching! This includes those who are teachers by vocation, as well as those who lead Bible studies or teach their children at home. We hope this enables you to be more effective teachers of God’s Word in whatever capacity He allows you to use your gifts.
Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Benjamin B. Phillips, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the Houston campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In the 2007 fall semester, I began using the Logos Personal Book Builder (PBB) software (Standard Edition) for my systematic theology classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Each of my students writes a “Practical Theology Paper” where they summarize a Christian doctrine and then reflect on the practical implications of that doctrine for living the Christian life and doing Christian ministry. Each student writes on a different doctrine and I give the final versions of the files to the whole class. The result has been that each member of the class gets the equivalent of a 150-page book that they and their classmates have written.
Prior to using the PBB software, I simply collected the Microsoft Word files on CD-ROM’s and gave copies of the disk to the class at the end of the semester. Unfortunately, this meant that students wishing to use them in future research or sermon preparation would have to open and search each document one at a time. It seems unlikely that many (if any!) would undertake such a laborious process, and as a result, much of the value of the assignment was lost.
The Logos PBB software has enabled me to realize my goal of students doing theological writing to serve each other in their future ministries. By combining all the papers into one Logos electronic book, students no longer have to search through multiple files. Even more significant, however, is the fact that the Logos Libronix software allows students to incorporate their book into the Libronix Digital Library System. By making their book one of the texts that Libronix automatically searches when one studies a Bible passage or a topic, students don’t even need to remember to go look at the papers. If there is something relevant to their study, Libronix automatically includes a link to the relevant part of the book in its search results! If a student prepares a sermon or study on Numbers 23:13-30, Libronix would inform them that a verse in this text is referenced at two different places in their book of practical theology papers. Clicking on a link (here the Doctrinal Summary link) would open a window showing the relevant portion of the book. Similarly, if a student were to search their Libronix library for information on “patience” the results would include 4 occurrences of the word in 3 articles within their book of papers.
Students don’t even need to chase down the scripture passages mentioned in the papers. The PBB software automatically converts scripture references from text to hyperlinks. The result is that within the Logos book, one simply needs to scroll the cursor over the link, and the appropriate passage pops up in the student’s preferred Bible translation. Professors and instructions should note that the PBB software can accommodate a wide range of ways to cite scripture (note in the screen shot that the student used a short citation form and a long form). The functionality of the Logos book will not be lost if a student deviates in some minor way from a specific citation format.
The Logos PBB software is not difficult to use. I use Microsoft Word to combine papers into four or five files by broad topic. From there it is a simple matter of standardizing the formatting of the documents and marking the headings for the table of contents. I then save each file in HTML version. The last step involves running the PBB creator and setting the order of the files for the table of contents. The only inconvenient part has been standardizing the formatting of the papers . . . but in the future, I will have the students do that part for their own papers! With that change, the bottom line will be that I can take 20 papers and create a Logos book in under one hour.
I am incredibly grateful to Logos for their PBB software, but more importantly, so are my students! I hear often from my students about how they really like having a Logos book version of their work and how that has enhanced their appreciation for the class. From my perspective, I am impressed with the improvement in student effort on these assignments that has resulted from creating Logos books. My students know their classmates will be reading and using their papers, and so they have become far more serious and energetic about their work. I strongly encourage professors and instructors to use the PBB software to provide added value to their students.
Dr. Phillips has graciously allowed us to make the two PBB books available to you:

Put the files in C:\Program Files\Libronix DLS\Resources. To use them you must have a Libronix PBB Reading Key, which is included in all of the base packages.
Enjoy! And be sure to let us know what creative ways you come up with to use the Personal Book Builder.

“Love” in John and the ESV Reverse Interlinear NT

A user sent me a question last week, and I thought some of our blog readers might benefit from this little exercise.
Here’s what he wanted to do:

I was wondering if it would be possible to do the following: search for the occurrences of an English word and have it report the original language transliterated word for each occurrence. For example, say I’m teaching on the Gospel of John. I want to find all the occurrences of “love” and identify the part of speech and original language word. . . . Is there an easy way to do this?

There are several ways to accomplish this, but the easiest, especially for someone with minimal Greek knowledge, is to use the ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament.
Here are the steps I took:
1. In Libronix, click Search > Greek Morphological Bible Search.
2. For Bibles, select the ESV NT Rev. Int. | The ESV Greek-English Reverse Interlinear New Testament.
3. For the Range, type John.
4. Type lov* into the Search box. (The * enables you to find love, loves, loved, and loving. To exclude any potential false hits like lovely, you could type love OR loves OR loved OR loving in place of lov*. In this case, they yield identical results.)

5. Click Search. You should get 57 occurrences in 39 verses.

6. Click on the blue box next to any of the references in the search results to see that occurrence in the ESV Reverse Interlinear. You will be able to see the transliteration and part of speech for all of the words.

Make sure to turn on the appropriate interlinear levels. Click View > Interlinear and check the ones that you want to display.

Now, you could also accomplish this by searching any Greek text with morphological tagging, but for those most comfortable with the English, seeing the search results in the ESV might be the best.
Instead of searching for lov* (or love OR loves OR loved OR loving), you could also search for [φιλέω=] OR [ἀγαπάω=] OR [ἀγάπη=]. With this example, you get identical results either way.
How would you do this search?
Update: Searching for lov* is unnecessary because Logos searches on the stem of love by default. So searching for love will yield the same results as lov* or, in this case, love OR loves OR loved OR loving.

Updates to the Louw Nida Greek-English Lexicon

The Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon (formal title: Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, though henceforth “LN”) is a unique and helpful lexicon. It is, however, put together differently than most Greek lexicons.
[OK, this got a little long. If you're more of an I-have-to-see-it-to-understand-it sort of person, cut to the chase and check out the video.— RB]
Instead of being ordered by the Greek alphabet (for easy headword lookup) with one article per headword, the lexicon is ordered by the concept of semantic domain. Even more confusingly, words with multiple major senses have multiple entries. For example, ανθρωπος could be “human being”, or more specifically “man”, or even more specifically, “husband”. In this case, LN has at least three definitions in three different places in the lexicon.
The lexicon has a separate index, ordered by headword, that helps one to navigate the articles and actually use the lexicon. We’ve had LN (volumes 1 & 2) available in Logos Bible Software for years; it is included in many of our packages (specifically, Original Languages, Scholar’s, Scholar’s Silver and Scholar’s Gold).
So to use LN, you’ve had to go into the index, pick the likeliest sense from the index list, then go to that entry and see if it is proper.
With the new enhancements we’ve made to LN, when you keylink in from a Greek New Testament (or a New Testament Reverse Interlinear), you’ll go directly to the article representing the sense being used in your current instance instead of the catch-all index entry. How’s that for cool? (and time-saving!)
If you still want to go to the index entry in volume 2 after having read the sense-specific article, you can still get there — check the video for the groovy keylink-on-the-lexicon-headword trick I use to do this quickly. (Note that the method is more fully documented here).
Confused? That’s OK. I made a video; you can hear me blathering on for almost nine minutes on this book, how it is ordered, how it is used and the significant enhancements we’ve made to it to support keylinking into this lexicon from the Greek New Testament (or New Testament Reverse Interlinears!) Apologies for the last minute; I sort of ramble on for a bit.

This updated version is available on our FTP site (ftp://ftp.logos.com/lbxbooks, look for LOUWNIDA.lbxlls). You also can download the latest version of LN from the book’s page on our web site if you’d like to try this yourself.

Progress on the Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament

Back in December, we put The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament on Pre-Pub.
Since the early reception to the Pre-Pub was good, we’ve been doing a little work on the New Testament interlinear and even have some provisional data back from the editor, Hall Harris. So I thought I’d take some time to walk you through some of the features in the hopes that even more of you will pre-order it!