All about μέν!


No, this is not a post about gender differences, but about one of the most under-appreciated Greek words you’re going to find. It is pronounced just like men in English. It is one of those words that causes translators fits, and is left untranslated nearly 75% of the time. Here is a link to the search in Logos 4 in the Lexham English Bible. Take a look at how many blank spots there are.

So why is it left untranslated so much of the time? Because it is what Robert Funk (the F in BDF fame) called a function word. It doesn’t so much mean something as it signals something. It’s what grammarians call a concessive adverb; it’s only purpose in life is to create the expectation that another related element is coming, with the latter being the more important of the two. Take a look at how adding the underlined words affects the following statements.

  • I really liked what you fixed for dinner.
  • While I really liked what you fixed for dinner…
  • Although I really liked what you fixed for dinner…
  • I mostly liked what you fixed for dinner …

If you have been married for any length of time, you might have a guess about what might happen next. All but the first statement have a function word that anticipates something more. In English, we would expect this to be a not-so-positive something. Not so in Greek.

The use of μέν creates what is called a counterpoint, setting the stage for a more important point that follows. It lets us know from the outset that something more is coming, that the initial statement is somehow incomplete. Here is an NT example taken from the Lexham High Definition New Testament:

The bullet in the first line stands in the place of the untranslated function word μέν. The and symbols delineate the counterpoint and the more important point that follows. John the Baptist is letting folks know that he is not the one they are looking for. He even does this in the grammar through the use of μέν. There is natural parallelism between the first and last part of the verse through the repetition of baptize, but the added function word makes this connection much more explicit. Figuratively speaking, it signals the first shoe dropping, creating the expectation that another, more important one is about to follow.

There are 179 occurrences of μέν in the NA27/UBS4 Greek text, and in the vast majority of cases, this word is left untranslated. Why? Because counterpoints cannot be signaled as easily in English as in Greek. We have to use clunky idioms like on the one hand, notwithstanding, in as much as, although, etc. Most often in conversation folks will say “While I liked X…” even though time is not the central focus.

So we have a fundamental problem here: how do you convey important exegetical information other than with a translation? You could use commentary or footnotes, but can be difficult to connect the comments to the text. There is a much more effective alternative, only available through Logos.

This week is the third anniversary of a bold experiment: The Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament (LDGNT) and the Lexham High Definition New Testament: ESV Edition (HDNT). These projects take the most useful insights from linguistics, discourse analysis and Bible translation, then annotate all occurrences of devices like μέν using an easily accessible set of symbols. Hovering over the symbol conveniently pops up a glossary description, so there is no need for memorization.

The feedback on how people are using these resources has been amazing! Pastors and Bible teachers are using them in their preparation because they tackle issues not addressed in most commentaries. Professors are using them to equip pastors to more carefully exegete Scripture, both in tools-based programs and as part of advanced Greek grammar classes. Bible translators are using the LDGNT to help mother-tongue workers to accurately preserve important features from the Greek in their translation. ESL teachers are using the HDNT to teach students the ins and outs of idiomatic English.

These projects are also the basis for the new High Definition Commentary series that is now underway, talking you through the text and providing integrated graphics for teaching.

In response to requests from users, Old Testament counterparts are in production, beginning with the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible (LDHB) and the Lexham High Definition Old Testament (HDOT).

Take the time to watch the introductory videos to see how the HDNT and the LDGNT will enrich your Bible study. The HDNT is English-based, the LDGNT is for those comfortable working with a Greek interlinear. Logos is pioneering not only discourse-based Bible study, but also innovative ways to meaningfully communicate it.

Related posts:

Mind the Gap


One of the big hurdles in preaching is bridging the cultural gap between our present setting and the society in which the NT documents were composed. It gets even harder when you realize there is actually more than one gap. Take the Apostle Paul for example. He was born in one of the Hellenistic Greek cultural centers, Tarsus. Let’s not forget that he was also a Roman citizen, which adds to the complexity. Acts 22:3 tells us that he was educated under Gamaliel as a strict Pharisee, adding yet another Jewish dimension to the picture. Is there any hope for properly unpacking the cultural baggage which underlies Scripture?

Ben Witherington and David deSilva have devoted much of their academic careers to addressing these issues, leading to the Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Series (8 Vols.). This eight volume set is enables you to successfully navigate these complexities by identifying the relevant cultural or rhetorical features in a given context. Each volume begins with a series of articles orienting you to key factors that shaped writer’s conception of the world. The balance of the book guides you through each passage, highlighting socio-rhetorical facets critical to soundly exegeting the passage.

Although the cultural divide can seem unwieldy, the Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Series is a great resource for bridging the gap. Although Witherington and deSilva are noted experts, their insights are delivered in clear, accessible language. Whether you are a seasoned expert or just jumping into these issues for the first time, I’d highly recommend adding this collection to your library.

Introducing the High Definition Commentary

In a previous post about which commentary is best, I introduced an important point: studying and faithfully communicating a passage is about more than knowing the details. Though details are important, they must be synthesized into a whole, and then clearly communicated to an audience (be it a congregation or a small group). A commentary needs to be faithful to the text, but understandable and applicable. This can be a challenging balance to strike.

After that post, Bob Pritchett, president and CEO of Logos, challenged me to find new ways to make cutting-edge exegetical tools more accessible. He proposed a new kind of commentary, one that organically married sound exegesis with great artwork to communicate it. Working from the English-based Lexham High Definition New Testament (HDNT) (a companion to the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament), I began the High Definition Commentary series.

The High Definition Commentary synthesizes exegetical insights from the Greek text into an expository commentary. But it’s a lot more than a commentary. I was teamed up with Shiloh Hubbard, one of our visual designers, to create teaching slides for each passage. So not only will you get cutting-edge insights from discourse analysis, there will be cool, fully-exportable graphics to sharpen your communication and save you time scrambling around for artwork.

Each section of the High Definition Commentary traces the linguistic and literary clues that identify the big ideas of the passage. Jargon-free exposition walks you through its flow and development. It is informed by the Greek, but written for those without any original language training. Personal illustrations and stories help you understand what the concept looks like in practice. The custom artwork brings it all together, enhancing your clarity and simplifying your preparation.

This resource is perfect for pastors and teachers who have a passion for really understanding how a passage hangs together. Lots of commentaries talk about the pieces of the passage, but few focus on synthesis, putting it all together.

Logos is committed to making the very best Bible study resources accessible, and the High Definition Commentary exemplifies this. If there is sufficient interest in this project, we’ll turn it into a series and begin releasing other NT volumes.

Digging for Commentary the New-Fashioned Way

How it used to be done

When I first began my seminary training in 1992, things were a little different. Doing research meant going to the library and digging through a literal card catalog (yeah, the kind with 3 x 5 cards). I learned about the “usual places” to look for exegetical help: commentaries, journals, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias and so on. For instance, I wanted to find some discussion about why Jethro is called “Moses’ father-in-law” so many times in Exodus 18 (18x compared to “Jethro” 7x). You see, I had an inquiring mind, but the kinds of questions I came up with were not often discussed in “the usual places.” So now what?

About that time, Sheffield Academic Press began producing a host of wonderful resources–both Old and New Testament–that provided focused discussion of specific passages, themes or issues in a book, ones that did not really fit in with the normal template of a commentary. They also published collections of essays that were thematically related, sometimes focused on a single book of the Bible, other times tracking one theme through a whole testament. There was “gold in them thar hills” as the saying goes, but boy, was it ever some mighty hard digging to find it. It took a lot of work to find a nugget, but wow, was it ever worth it when you found what you were looking for!

At about the same time I began to realize that commentaries are selective. Although commentators are expected to cover certain topics for each passage, sometimes writers will stop and rant about something they are passionate about, oftentimes relegated to a footnote. But these “extended dance versions” comments are hit and miss. They may not even be about the book they are commenting on, but on some other book that is quoted or alluded to! Oh how the times have changed; the search resources available today are astounding in comparison.

The tide turns . . .

So how have things changed? Well to begin with, having an electronic version of the resource opens the door for full-text searches, which is a great thing. But Logos resources go about four or five steps further down the road than your average search engine like Google Books. Every book or resource has been painstakingly analyzed by our Electronic Text Development department. This means that no matter how obscure an abbreviation scheme is used for biblical book (e.g. Ezekiel, Ezek, Ez), no matter what punctuation scheme (e.g. 1:1, 1.1, 11), you’re going to find it, thanks to the festive folks in ETD . Try that using a Kindle or with Google books!

But wait, there’s more! Logos 4 has streamlined the search process by allowing rule-based collections to be built. Collections allow you to do more focused searches or reports. I have all of my commentaries in one collection, all of my grammars in another. Why not separate them by Old/New Testament or by Greek/Hebrew? Because of the rants I mentioned above. Some great nuggets about Acts 2 can be found in commentaries on Joel because of Peter’s quotation in Acts 2:17-21, for example.

Getting the most out of your resources

But it gets even better! Remember the Sheffield resources I mentioned earlier, the ones that have great discussions about passages, but that were terribly hard to find (and that cost you two children and a small aardvark to purchase!)? Adding collections of JSOT, JSNT, or Sheffield Readers into your commentary collections will significantly expand the volume of extended discussions about key passages. The same is true of journal collections like:

There are a number of great Old Testament collections from Sheffield that are currently on Pre-Pub:

If your current focus is the New Testament, there are plenty of great collections available as well:

There is no better platform for “mining” resources like these than Logos 4, period. Whether you are looking for technical discussions for research papers, or for homiletical or devotional material for teaching, you will only find what you have. If you are looking for new resources that will expand your exegetical pool for searching, then take a serious look at these collections. There are great nuggets in them thar hills, and no better tool for finding them than Logos 4!

Making Morphology Work for You

Alright, I’ll admit that I am a word nerd, especially when it comes to Greek conjunctions. These are the function words like “therefore” and “because” that tell you how to connect one statement with the one that follows. If you look at Dan Wallace’s description in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, you’ll quickly see that there are a number of places where the Greek conjunctions don’t match up very well with a single English counterpart. This is where drilling down on the word can really pay some dividends.

I was asked recently about the different uses of γάρ, so I’ll illustrate with this. In the Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, I claim that γάρ introduces something that strengthens or supports what precedes. Most of the memory verses we learn begin with “for” like John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8-9, the list could go on for a long time. If you run a Bible Word Study, the “Translation” portion of the report will quickly show you that γάρ is nearly always translated as “for”.

Clicking on any of the other words will pull up a list of those instances where γάρ was translated with something else. I clicked on “indeed” (screenshot), resulting in the list of the six instances where the ESV translated it this way. If I wanted to find out what other Greek words are translated as “for”, I just need to hover over the blue part of the ring labeled “for”.

Doing so give me all this information in a convenient pop-up. Another way to get the same information is to run a Bible Word Study report on “for”, it will give you the same information as the preview (screenshot). Another helpful way of getting at the same kind of information is to do a Morphology Search. All you need to do is click the “Search” tab, select “Morph” in the upper right corner, then select the text you want to search from the pull-down menu. I am using the Nestle-Aland 27th (NA27) with Logos morphology. This search will show me every occurrence of γάρ in the Greek NT. (screenshot)

In the upper right hand corner of the results window in one of my favorite Logos 4 features, a tool that has had a huge impact on how efficiently I can find what I am looking for—the “Analysis” tab. What this does is allow me to organize all of the results (1041 of them!) based on all of the different kinds of information that can be known about that word. Take a look. (screenshot)

All I need to do to reorganize the results by something other than the canonical order in which they occur is to grab one of the column headers and drag it to the space where the gray text indicates. I can organize by follows by dragging the “Next Context”, Louw-Nida sense, part of speech, or any other kind of information which is annotated to this word in this text. I want to show off a cool aspect of the Logos Morphology, so I’ll drag that over. The Logos Morph subdivides conjunctions based on the function that they perform in the text. The function in the context is one of the biggest determiners of how the word will be translated. (screenshot)

One last thing that really makes this report useful—the ability to hide results. This lets me see at a glance just how many times γάρ functions in one role versus another. All I need to do is click the arrow next to “adverbial causal” or any other heading to hide the detail. Here’s what I get:

I can learn from this that the primary function of γάρ is as an adverbial conjunction indicating cause, whereas the other major use is as an logical conjunction with an explanatory sense. If I do not know what exactly these terms mean, I can unhide the verses and take a look at the difference in one passage versus another. I was curious about when γάρ is considered a “particle” so I unhide them to see if I could find a pattern. (screenshot)

Everyone one of the occurs in a question introduced by τί or μή. This made me wonder if there were instances where these question words preceded γάρ where it was not considered a particle but a conjunction. All I need to do is drag the “Conjunction Sub-type” and “Part of Speech” off the header, and replace it with “Previous context.” Then I hide the results that I am not interested in to narrow down what I am looking at. (screenshot)

It turns out that there are quite a few I would have missed in the other view. Now I will grant you that I am a huge word nerd, but try fooling around with the “Analysis” view next time you do a search. If you are doing a Bible Word Study, try jumping off a cliff by copying and pasting the lemma into the Morph search, and analyzing the results. Who knows, you might find some of the wonderful benefits of being a word nerd!

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