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Those Giants

Excerpt from The Proselytizer

It was a breezy spring afternoon in the coastal city of Chania, island of Crete, and the year was 1956. My teenage son Demetrios and I had just finished getting the church sanctuary ready for the Sunday morning service and it was now time to walk back home.

      As we stepped outside, we greeted a man who was sitting in front of a small cafe right across the cobblestone alley from our church entrance. Agathangelos, notorious for his war exploits, feuds, and vendettas, nodded warily.

      Moments later, Demetrios and I were turning the corner at the end of the block when we heard the distinctive sound of Agathangelos’ footsteps. Looking back, we saw Agathangelos some thirty yards away following us with a limp—an unfailing reminder of his war injury.

      Farther along, as Demetrios and I were engaged in the discussion of a passage of scripture, we looked over our shoulders again. Grim-faced, Agathangelos was steadily gaining on us, and Demetrios warned me that the man appeared to be carrying a weapon under his belt—it turned out to be a hatchet.

      Moments later I stopped to face Demetrios—as I habitually did during “walking Bible discussions”—in order to emphasize a point. Agathangelos, now less than twenty yards from us, froze in his steps.

      As we resumed walking, we looked back once more to see whether Agathangelos was still following us, only to witness a most peculiar sight: not only was Agathangelos not following us, but he was hobbling like mad in the opposite direction as if pursuers were at his heels. Demetrios and I reckoned this to be God’s intervention.

      Following the Sunday morning service the next day, Agathangelos came to our church to find me.

      “Please, reverend Zachariou,” he said to me on his knees, “do not let those giants hurt me—”

      “What giants?” I said, as I helped Agathangelos to his feet.

      “Those two big giants that came to join you when you stopped—remember?”

      “Oh, those giants!” I said, as I marveled at God’s angelic protection.

      “Yes, reverend Zachariou, they suddenly turned around and—and they came after me. It wasn’t my idea, you know,” Agathangelos said as he confessed that he had been instructed to harm me. But as I explained to Agathangelos, God had sent his angels to protect us; and that they would not hurt him as long as he asked God to forgive him.

      And so it turned out that, through God’s intervention, the man who hours earlier had sought to harm me was now letting me lead him in a prayer for the forgiveness of his sins.

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The Angel’s Verbal Aspect

According to an article on Greek verbal aspect by Ellis, et al. (henceforth, authors),[1] a question arises from the Greek text of Matthew 2:20, where the angel, upon appearing to Joseph in a dream, says to him regarding the infant Jesus:

ἐγερθεὶς παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καἰ πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ· τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου.

“Arise, and take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life have died.” (authors’ translation and emphasis)

The question has to do with the present participle ζητοῦντες “(those) seeking.” Specifically, the authors contend that “[L]ogically, those who ‘have died’ (τεθνήκασιν) cannot now be ‘searching’ (ζητοῦντες) for the child at the time of the speech act. … Moreover, neither can there be ‘contemporaneous time,’ as would typically be taught, given the fact that the searching necessarily occurred prior to dying” (34).

In other words, what the authors of said article are saying is that the use of a “present participle,” which connotes “present time,” applied to a past action, i.e., to people already dead, cannot be semantically justified. The authors essentially conclude that the traditional nomenclature of the Greek tense system is “fundamentally flawed” (34).

At the end of their article, and following a discussion on tense prominence versus aspect prominence ideas in connection with the Greek verbal system, the authors return to Mat. 2:20, saying, “We asked previously whether the participle ζητοῦντες is better described by a tense-prominent system, with tense-prominent labels, or by an aspect-prominent system, with aspect-prominent labels”; whereupon, the authors basically suggest that the label “imperfective participle,” rather than the traditional label “present participle,” is the preferred nomenclature, since “imperfective” can also “stand in place of either a past or non-past imperfective event” (61).

Let us now consider the key parts of what the authors are saying and assess the weight of their claim. But first, a “minor” observation before we get into the authors’ “nomenclature” ideas. Thus, looking at the Greek text more closely, particularly the part that reads, τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες, “for (those) seeking . . . have died,” we see that the emphasis in the angel’s message is on what happened to the would-be murderers, rather than on their act of seeking to find the child. This is deduced, in part, from the position of the verb τεθνήκασιν “(they) have died” at the very beginning of the angel’s announcement. When the authors therefore say that “logically those who have died cannot now be searching,” the focus shifts from “have died” to “searching/seeking.” Had that been the emphasis in the angel’s announcement, his message would have most likely been, ζητοῦσιν γὰρ οἱ τεθνηκότες “those who have died are seeking.” Obviously, no angel would make that error.

Let us now focus on a weightier matter: the authors’ idea of doing away with the traditional name “present participle” and adopting the aspectual label “imperfective participle.” The authors’ reasoning behind the suggested change is that an imperfective participle “could stand in place of either a past or non-past event” (61). That is fine. But that is true of the Greek present participle as well[2]—and, in fact, of the English. Taking a closer look at the text of Mat. 2:20 as an example, it can be shown that “present participle” is not an inappropriate name.

One way to show this is to form a plausible Chomskyan-based Deep Structure (DS) scenario that reflects what the angel related to Joseph in a dream, and its Surface Structure (SS), that is, what the angel actually said, and which eventually reached Matthew’s quill. To that end, we will form a DS “dialogue” between the angel and Joseph and see if the use of the “present participle” in reference to those already dead is semantically viable.

Deep Structure

Joseph: (Sleeping, in a state of anxiety, unaware that those seeking to kill the infant Jesus are dead.)

Angel:   (Appearing in Joseph’s dream.) “Joseph, do not be afraid, for I am bringing good news to you.”

Joseph:  (Thinking.) “Oh? What must I do to protect the child from those who are seeking to destroy him?”

Angel:   “Get ready right away, take the child and his mother, and return to the land of Israel, for those (who you think are still) seeking to kill the child are no longer around because they are all dead.”

Surface Structure

Angel:   “Arise, take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those seeking the child’s life have died.”

This imaginary scenario is meant to portray the fact that at the moment the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, the threat of those ζητοῦντες to destroy the child was, in Joseph’s mind, strongly present. The angel assured Joseph that those whom Joseph still viewed as a present threat were those who now were dead. Simply put, as long as Joseph remained uninformed about the death of those seeking to find the child, to him the imminent threat was ever so real. This shows that the “present participle” ζητοῦντες is also in harmony with the aspect of the speaker’s (and hearer’s) present.

Incidentally, as far as names go, there is no reason a present participle in Greek cannot be labeled aspectually imperfective, i.e., “imperfective present participle.” And if this sounds somewhat redundant, “imperfective” could be used in an aspectually explanatory sense. For it seems to me that when rightly applied, aspectual terminology regarding perfective or imperfective action, in conjunction with traditional terminology, should in actuality enhance exegesis.


[1]     Nicholas J. Ellis, et al., “The Greek Verbal System and Aspectual Prominence: Revising Our Taxonomy and Nomenclature,” JETS 59/1 (2016): 33–62. http://bm-cdn.biblemesh.com/mediacontent/images/INTRO/The

_Greek_Verbal_System_and_Aspect_Promi.pdf (accessed April 2022).

[2]   Note, for example, the present participle κηρύσσων “preaching” (Rom. 2:21) in reference to a non-past situation, and again in (Mat 2:1) in reference to a past event.

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Who Is Really My Neighbor?

Suppose my house is in a remote area with no one in sight to call my neighbor. Or that my neighborhood is spread over a wide metropolitan area. Would one living two miles away from my house be less my neighbor than my next-door neighbor? Jesus commanded us, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, etc.). But who is really my neighbor?

This question echoes what an expert of the Jewish law posed to Jesus during a dialogue he was having with Him in public: And who is my neighbor? the man asked sanctimoniously (Luke 10:29), at which point the Master responded in the form of the parable of the good Samaritan. At the end of the parable, Jesus asked the law expert which of the three men in the story had been neighborly to the victim in need, and the law expert pointed out the Samaritan. Jesus commended him for responding correctly and advised him to follow the Samaritan’s example (Luke 10:37).

But the question Jesus asked of the law expert had nothing whatsoever to do with one’s house being near or far from a neighbor’s house. So how can we know how the law expert perceived Jesus’ use of the Greek term for neighbor ? For that, we need to examine two key parts of the Greek text that contain that term (given below in bold print): 

1. Jesus’ challenger asks, Καὶ τίς ἐστί μου πλησίονAnd who is near me? (Luke 10:29b).

2. At the end of the parable, Jesus asks, Τίς οὖν τούτων τῶν τριῶν δοκεῖ σοι πλησίον γεγονέναι; Which then of these three do you consider to have become near? (Luke 10:36).

Greek πλησίον [plision] near is an adverb that is commonly translated neighbor, a noun. It is a form of the adjective πλησίος (-α, -ον) which means one near, one close by. Though indeclinable, this adverb may be used with the definite article substantivally in reference to a person, e.g., τοῦ πλησίον (Eph. 4:25), τῷ πλησίον Rom. 3:10), τὸν πλησίον (Jam. 2:8), meaning the (one) near, nearby—that is, the near for short. 

Like the law expert, we hear the Master say that nearness and proximity to another person is relevant only in terms of the action we take in the face of that person’s need. Jesus’ question was not whether the victim was near the three men passing by, but rather which of the three had become near to him (Luke 10:36). The Samaritan saw the victim and ἐσπλαχνίσθη [esplahnisthi] was moved by compassion (Luke 10:33). That means that we become near the moment we act with compassion toward anyone in need whom we accost in our daily path regardless of where we are or where we live. 

The good Samaritan is in harmony with the Golden Rule (albeit this name is not in the Bible): Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12); and with James’ Royal Law: If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well (James 2:8). Collectively, these and a good number of other scripture references both in the New and in the Old Testament portray a panoramic view of neighbor as one who, moved by compassion, pleases heaven by becoming near to someone in need.

Incidentally, Greek for neighbor is γείτων [yiton] one living in the same land (Luke 14:12, 15:6, 9; John 9:8) or περίοικος [periikos] one dwelling around (Luke 1:58, 65). Today these three New Testament words—πλησίον, γείτων, περίοικος—are spelled, used, and according to historical evidence pronounced the same way in Modern Greek.

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Ἡ Ἐκκλησία “The Church”

In New Testament times a good number of Classical Greek words took on a new semantic dimension. One example is the word ἐκκλησία [eklisia] “church.” This article focuses on a revelation that begins to unfold with Jesus’ utterance of the word ἐκκλησία and which is later portrayed by Paul as “the Body of Christ.” Here some historical background of the term will help.

In classical Athens every male citizen was ex officio a member of the ἐκκλησία (from ἐκ “from/out of” + καλέω“I call”), a lawful “called-out assembly” that met for the transaction of public affairs. Citizens were summoned out of their homes to conduct meetings in a fashion that resembled our modern parliaments. It is this decision-making process in which the Athenian citizens had an equal share of power that laid the foundation of democracy “people’s-rule.”

In New Testament times, ἐκκλησία still carried its secular meaning (cf. Acts 19:39). So when Jesus declared to Peter, ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν “upon this rock I will build my church” (Mat. 16:18),the name ἐκκλησία probably gave the disciples the much-anticipated signal that the establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth was imminent. After all, from the very beginning of his public ministry Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mat. 4:17), a thing the disciples themselves were instructed to proclaim also (Mat. 10:7).

High hopes for such a mighty earthly kingdom were all but dashed when Jesus went to the cross (Luke 24:21). But with such hopes revived after Christ’s resurrection, the disciples raised the same question about the establishment of His kingdom in Israel (Acts 1:6).

It is worth noting that in his declaration to Peter, Jesus used the word ἐκκλησία rather than συναγωγή [sinaɣoji]“synagogue” or another synonym, such as συνάθροισις [sinaθrisis] “congregation.” For while συναγωγή or συνάθροισις denotes a gathering or a congregation respectively, ἐκκλησία denotes a calling. The genius of the word ἐκκλησία points to a called-out body of people separated from the world. 

Thus, what unfolds between Christ’s utterance of ἐκκλησία to Peter and Paul’s writings is an immeasurably profound revelation: each believer is a member of Christ’s Body, the Church (1 Cor. 12:27, Eph. 1:23), with Christ being the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22).

As Christians, we would do well to bear in mind that we, as members of The Church of Christ, do not “go to church” but rather meet at designated places of worship, and that in obedience to the admonition regarding the assembling of believers together (Heb. 10:25). 

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God’s Soldier

The prisoners exchanged not a word as the camion jounced its way toward a German concentration camp. It was the island of Crete, Greece, in late May 1941, when fierce German air raids had begun to ravage our towns and villages. I looked at those despairing, exhausted faces and found it difficult to accept the idea that I, too, was a prisoner of war.

The camion made its final stop. We were in a German concentration camp in Ayious Apostolous, a small peninsula overlooking the Cretan Sea, just a few kilometers from my hometown, Hania. At first I couldn’t recognize the area—barbed wire and German guards were everywhere, surrounding a large number of working prisoners.

I knew very little about concentration camps, but I suspected that hard labor, uncertainty about tomorrow, starvation, torture, and even execution lay in store. I thought of my wife and three children, whom I had not seen for several days. “Lord,” I prayed, “revive in me the flame of my conviction that You have a definite plan for me in this life. Lay Your protective hand upon all my loved ones, and also upon me.”

Our first task that afternoon was to restore a huge tent that had blown down over the first-aid equipment. The captives were yelling confused instructions to each other, and after a period of frustration I yelled out, “Let just one, not everyone, give orders around here!” The men froze, staring at me. The only stare that gave me a sensation of uneasiness, however, was coming from under a German colonel’s hat.

Working together, we at last drove the final peg into the ground. But I had no sooner caught my breath and gazed into the twilight to see the first stars, when the German colonel and a guard came up and signaled me to follow. The colonel stopped at his headquarters and turned around, looking at me as if he meant to say something friendly. Then he pointed to his guard, who stood a couple of meters to my right and holding a machine gun.

“You are to go with him tomorrow morning,” he said firmly, in broken Greek. “I am giving you twenty-five prisoners. Your task will be to walk into every food store and every garden as far as Hania.”

Vandalism! I thought. Extortion! But I had no choice.

The condition in which I found Hania the next day was beyond description. Buildings had been bombed. People were burying their dead. The city was nearly deserted—everyone who could had sought refuge in nearby villages. Those who had stayed behind now witnessed savagery at the hands of their own friends, for they were people I knew. None dared to object to what was happening, though; none dared protest as he watched his food, the food his family needed, being forced away. With heavy, aching hearts, we stuffed the truck with all the edible goods we could find, until there was barely enough space for us.

As we approached the district of Splantzia in Hania, I felt cold chills all over my body. I began to shake. “Just in time!” I whispered with trembling lips, and a prayer of gratitude to God rose within me for His protecting hand. Had I not moved my family to the village of Perivolia just as the air raids began, all my loved ones would most assuredly have been killed, for an incendiary bomb had exploded inside our house!

That evening we returned from our foraging with great quantities of meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. Shouts of joy rose from the hungry prisoners, most of whom had not eaten for days. But my own heart was breaking.

This venture gained favor for me in the eyes of the Germans, as well as the captured men. The German colonel announced that night that I was in charge of the prisoners. Immediately I divided the men into groups to facilitate the rationing of food and the organization of labor.

When the British bombed our concentration camp two nights later, the men ran to my tent and found me on my knees, praying and singing praises to God. Surprise replaced their panic, and in moments I was sharing with them my testimony and God’s message of salvation.

But what I had been forced into doing during that food-gathering expedition did not match my Christian testimony. Knowing that I would soon be sent out again, I brought the matter before God for a solution. Of all solutions, the most satisfactory one was also the most impossible—escape. I knew this would be a matter of life and death, but there was no other way out of my predicament.

The next day I assigned another prisoner to take charge of the rations. When I explained my intentions to him and to some of the prisoners, they reacted with fear.

“But how are you going to escape, Panos? You know they’ll mow you down!”

“Certainly not over the fence,” I said with a smile. “God has His way.”

That afternoon I looked half soldier, half civilian. Sack over the shoulder, hat on my head—a gift from a civilian who wished that I have protection from the hot sun—I began to whistle “Onward Christian Soldiers” and walked toward the well-guarded gate of the concentration camp. I saluted the guard, he saluted back, and I exited. So I would not be suspected as an escapee, I purposely passed near a company of German officers standing outside the gate and engaged in conversation. After saluting them, still whistling, I continued my escape without any further complications. Like Peter walking out of prison under the noses of the guards, I walked under the noses of the German soldiers and was free.

Only when I found myself with my wife and children and other relatives in Perivolia did I realize, with incredulity, the apparent absurdity of my action. Logically speaking, it was absolutely impossible! Most assuredly, God had barred every suspicion from my captors’ minds.

My six-day ordeal in captivity was over. God was my Captain, and I was His soldier.

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NT Greek Figure vs. Form

Two Greek words, σχῆμα and μορφή, generally understood as figure and form respectively, are thought to be synonyms. Some translations in fact use compound forms of these words (transfiguretransform) interchangeably. As will be shown below, however, an understanding of their underlying difference in meaning can shed a new light on a number of scripture verses. 

The distinction between σχῆμα and μορφή is best seen in Philippians 2:6–8. Here Paul speaks of Christ Jesus as being in the form of God ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ; and who, by becoming incarnate, assumed the form of a slave μορφὴν δούλου and was thus found by others to be in figure σχήματι like a man. Let us now examine these two words.

Σχῆμα [s-híma]. From this word we get English scheme and schematic. In the above passage, σχῆμα is variously translated figure (DBT), fashion (KJV), appearance (NIV), or in other ways. The word signifies all the outwardly perceptible shape of one’s existence. Indeed, Christ had the shape, bearing, language, action, relations, habits, needs, and behavior in general of an ordinary human being, so that in the entire mode of his outward appearance and conduct he made himself known, and was recognized by others, as a man. The inclusion of likeness of men ὁμοιόματι ἀνθρώπων [omiómati anθrópon] in verse 7 exhausts Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s true humanity.

Μορφή [morfí]. From this word we get English morph, which is also found in compounds such as morphology and metamorphosis. In the above passage, μορφή is generally translated form, though some translations render it as nature (GNT), very nature (NIV), humble position (NLT v. 6), or in other ways.

Σχῆμα here concerns the outward appearance and expression of the incarnate Christ and is therefore simpler to comprehend. Μορφή, on the other hand, concerns the pre-incarnate Christ’s divine attributes and existence as God.[1] This makes one wonder how Paul really uses μορφή. For while in ordinary speech the two terms may overlap, μορφή is here used in a narrow sense.  For a possible answer, we must probe the term’s application in Greek philosophical thought. As Lightfoot remarks, Paul’s use of μορφή “[is] in a sense substantially the same which it bears in Greek philosophy.”[2]

Lightfoot’s commentary now ushers into our discussion Aristotle’s view of μορφή. In his Metaphysics, Aristotle discusses the relationship between matter and form. Existence, he says, is understandable only in terms of what a particular thing does or is meant to do: (a) timbers and stone are potential to a house; (b) that which shelters men and their possessions functions as a house. When (a) and (b) are combined, one speaks of what a house actually is—its function—not its shape. Aristotle concludes that while matter is equated with potentiality, form is equated with function.[3] Korsgaard concurs. “Function,” she says, “[. . . is] the best candidate for form,”[4] and it “does not mean purpose but rather a way of functioning—how a thing does what it does.”[5] In the same vein of thought, Ainsworth comments, “A statue may be human-shaped, but it is not a human, because it cannot perform the functions characteristic of humans.”[6]

Paul was born and educated in the “university city” of Tarsus, where society was heavily influenced by Hellenistic language and culture and Stoic philosophy.[7] His superb command of the Greek language indicates that he studied Greek at the university level. Such factors point to the likelihood that the Apostle not only was acquainted with Aristotle’s philosophy, but that he also applied μορφή in the Aristotelian sense of function.[8]

Viewing now μορφή in this light, we will at once see Paul drawing in the above passage an extreme contrast between the pre-incarnate Christ as being equal in function with God, and the incarnate Christ as being equal in function with a slave of God—a servant who voluntarily surrendered to the Father the independent exercise of his divine attributes.[9]

Below are excerpts from the KJV that show how they are affected when the strikethrough word in italics (the word used in various translations) is replaced by the preferred equivalent shown in bold print. 

  • Jesus was transfigured transformed (Mat. 17:2, Mark 9:2). Comment: An outward expression of Jesus’ indwelling divine form was temporarily made manifest to Peter, James, and John. 
  • Satan transforms transfigures himself (2 Cor. 11:14). Comment: Satan cannot change his function, only his appearance.
  • Satan’s pseudo-apostles and deacons transform transfigure themselves (2 Cor. 11:13, 15). Comment: Like Satan, his evil servant spirits cannot change what they do, only their appearance.
  • Do not be conformed configured to this world but be transformed [sic] by the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2). Comment: Christian principles should not be compromised in this world; rather, change in behavior should be maintained through the ongoing renewal of the mind by pursuing what pleases God. Both commands here are durative in aspect.
  • Christ will change transfigure our vile body that it may be fashioned conformed to his glorious body (Phil. 3:21); We are being changed transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18); We will be changed conformed to the image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29).  Comment: Our earthly bodies are destined to change both shape and function by being conformed to the image of Christ.

Today, after 2,000 years, both σχῆμα and μορφή and their compound forms as used in the NT are read, spelled, understood, pronounced, and applied the same way in Modern Greek, though only educated speakers of Greek would to any extent associate these terms with Aristotelian concepts.


[1]  Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1973), 261.

[2]  Joseph B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 8th ed. (London: MacMillan and Co., 1888), 132–33.

[3]  Barbara Jancar, The Philosophy of Aristotle (NY: Monarch Press, 1966), 127. 

[4] Christine M. Kosgaard, “Aristotle’s Function Argument,” p. 39. https://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~korsgaar/AristotleFunction.pdf (accessed Jan. 4, 2021).

[5]  Christine M. Korsgaard, “Oxford Scholarship Online,” 

https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199552733.001.0001/acprof-9780199552733-chapter-5 (accessed Jan. 4, 2021).

[6]  Thomas Ainsworth, “Form vs. Matter,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/form-matter/#MattFormIntr, “1. Matter and Form Introduced,” par. 4 (accessed Jan. 4, 2021).

[7]  Quency E. Wallace, “The Early Life and Background of Paul the Apostle,” https://www.biblicaltheology.com/Research/WallaceQ01.html.

[8]  This article is only an attempt to form a basis for the distinction between these two terms, not to explain in any detail Aristotle’s philosophy regarding matter and form.

[9]  George L. Lawlor, When God Became Man (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), 74. Also, Vincent R. Marvin, Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. III (McClean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company, 1990), 431.

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Born in the Womb

At Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ birth. But do we know when Jesus was actually born? I do not mean the day, month, or even the year of Jesus’ birth, only the very moment His earthly life began. Simple, yet utterly profound, this question beckons an examination of three Greek verbs and some of their derivatives in connection with Jesus’ birth:

  1. συλλαμβάνω [silamváno][1] I conceive, become pregnant.
  2. τίκτω [tíkto] I give birth, bear (children). When in reference to the mother, it also means labor in childbirth (cf. John 16:21 below).
  3. γεννάω [jenáo] I give birth, beget, bring forth. Widely used in the Scriptures and in Modern Greek, this verb denotes bringing forth one into this life.

Jesus affords us a clear distinction between verbs 2 and 3: “When a woman is in childbirth τίκτῃ [verb 2] she has sorrow, because her time has come; but when she gives birth to the child γεννήσῃ [verb 3] she no longer thinks about her suffering because of the joy that a human being was born into the world” (John 16:21).

Proceeding with these verbal nuances, let us now put our question into perspective by looking at Mary and events surrounding the birth of John the Baptizer. In Luke chapter 1, we read that Zacharias, a priest, and Elizabeth, his wife, were advanced in age and childless (7), their childlessness carrying a stigma of disgrace (24). When Elizabeth, who was known to be barren (7, 36), συνέλαβεν conceived (36), she kept her pregnancy secret for the first five months (24).

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (26), the angel appeared to Mary and announced that she was going to συλλήμψῃ conceive and τέξῃ bear a son and that she would name him Jesus (31). He also explained to Mary that τὸ γεννώμενον[2] [verb 3] that which is born was holy and would be called “Son of God” (35). The announcement of the angel ended with another piece of miraculous tidings: Elizabeth, Mary’s “barren” relative, was already six months pregnant with a son (36).

Mary immediately went to visit Elizabeth (39). As Mary entered Zacharias and Elizabeth’s home, and upon greeting Elizabeth (40), Elizabeth’s baby lept inside the womb (41, 44). Whereupon, Elizabeth became filled with the Holy Spirit (41) and pronounced blessings upon Mary and upon the fruit of her womb (42), thereby also attesting Mary’s pregnancy.

Mary sojourned with Elizabeth three months (56). When Elizabeth’s time came to τεκεῖν bear (a child) and ἐγέννησεν υἱόν gave birth to a son (57), Mary returned to her home (56). By then Mary’s pregnancy could not be concealed. As Joseph considered releasing Mary secretly (Mat 1:19), an angel appeared to him in a dream, announcing that τὸ . . . ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθέν[3] (verb 3) that which was born within her was of the Holy Spirit (Mat 1:20).

In light of what we have gleaned from the foregoing, let us now return to two key points related to when Jesus’ earthly life began.

In the angel’s announcement to Joseph (Mat. 1:20) we note the use of the aorist participle τὸ γεννηθέν that which was[4] born. This means that Jesus’ birth at that point in time was an event completed in the past.

Moving now three months back in time, we note in the angel’s announcement to Mary (Luke 1:35) the use of the same verb, except this time in the present participle: τὸ γεννώμενον. Significantly, from the speaker’s time of reference, this participle denotes an action not in the past, hence synchronous with the angel’s announcement.

The point: The verb γεννάω as used in the scriptures examined above makes no distinction whatsoever between (a) birth at the time of delivery, and (b) birth in the womb from conception. It becomes clear therefore that baby Jesus, like all human babies in this world, was a full human life worthy of love and protection from the very beginning of his time in the womb. At conception, to be exact.

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[1] Historical Greek Pronunciation (HGP) using International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols.

[2] Nominative, singular, neuter, present passive participle.

[3] Nominative, singular, neuter, aorist passive participle.

[4] May also be rendered “is born” or “has been born.”

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The Distinctiveness of BibleMesh’s Greek

Are you interested in studying New Testament Greek? And are you currently comparing online Biblical Greek programs? If so, know that in this age of booming distance education, searching for the right Biblical Greek program can lead the uninformed down the wrong path. To that end, you need to know what makes BibleMesh and its approach to Greek distinctive, and how BibleMesh will guide you in the right path.

Part of BibleMesh’s distinctiveness is that you can enroll in the Biblical Greek program’s self-study track or the credit-bearing track. In either case, you will find that each Greek lesson progressively steers you through all components of the program: grammar, vocabulary, reading and writing, listening and pronouncing, translation, and assessment. At the same time, you will find that, unlike other programs, the BibleMesh Greek program does not require you to purchase any pricey Greek textbooks, lexicons, commentaries, workbooks, CDs, or other material—not that such helps are unnecessary.

But what truly sets BibleMesh Greek apart from other online programs is how it uses Cerego, a cutting-edge program that helps optimize your retention of information. While other popular programs also use Cerego, they use it with the Erasmian or “academic” pronunciation, a sound system that is artificial and un-Greek. In contrast, BibleMesh uses Cerego with the authentic Hellenic pronunciation, also known as the Historical Greek Pronunciation. And that, in a nutshell, is a prime feature that characterizes the distinctiveness of BibleMesh Greek.

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Some related terms and definitions seem apropos here:

Hellenic: Hellenic means “Greek,” an Anglicized form derived from Latin Graecus, which originates from Γραικός Graikos, the name of a Greek tribe that migrated to Italy in the 8th century B.C. Technically the name Hellenic, which is used by BibleMesh, may refer to the Greek of any period, including Biblical Greek and Modern Greek.

Neohellenic: This name combines Neo “new” with Hellenic to form the official name for Modern Greek.

Hellenistic: Hellenistic refers to the time period between 300 BC and AD 300. The term comes from Ἑλληνίζω “I Hellenize,” i.e., “I make Greek.”

Historical Greek Pronunciation (HGP): HGP comprises the Greek sounds represented by the 24-letter Ionic alphabet, a script that was adopted by classical Athens (officially in 403 BC). Preserved in Modern Greek, the HGP can thus be traced to NT times and to Classical Greek.[1]

Koine: Κοινή (in Erasmian pronounced “coy-neigh” and in HGP “kiní”) is often used to refer to NT Greek. Κοινή means “common” (tongue) and is identified with Hellenistic Greek. Thus the Κοινή of NT Greek is Hellenistic Greek.

Modern Greek: See “Neohellenic” (above).

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[1] The description of the development of the NT Greek pronunciation and the HGP are expounded in Philemon Zachariou’s book, Reading and Pronouncing Biblical Greek: Historical Pronunciation versus Erasmian (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2020).

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Born Again or From Above? A Two-Pronged Question

The phrase “born-again Christian” has become almost cliché. Yet seen through a key Greek word in a dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, this common phrase can be clothed anew in meaningful truth. The word at issue is ἄνωθεν anothen “from above.” The word is formed from ἄνω “above” + -θεν, a suffix denoting origin of motion from a locality, hence “from above.” In certain contexts, ἄνωθεν can also mean “again.” The question is which meaning it carries in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and secret admirer of Jesus, is resolved to find out for himself once and for all who Jesus truly is, so he visits Jesus privately at night and attempts to size up the Master (John 3:1-2). “Master,” Nicodemus says, “we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no man can do the wonders you do except God be with him” (2). Jesus brushes his visitor’s introductory accolades aside and immediately brings into the discussion a topic unrelated to Nicodemus’ inquiry, yet more relevant to his spiritual need: “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus says, “unless one is born from above [anothen] he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3).

A thought instantly flashes in Nicodemus’ mind, and possibly with an air of sanctimony he boldly queries, “How can a man, being old, be born? Is it possible for him to enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” (4).

Let us pause a moment and put this dialogue in perspective. Jesus uses ἄνωθεν early in the dialogue (3), that is, before Nicodemus really has had a chance to “test” Jesus and form a solid opinion of him. But while we could suppose that Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus’ use of ἄνωθεν and heard it as “again,” the likelihood cannot be discounted that his “misunderstanding” was intentional, particularly because the opportunity for a witty wordplay appeared too enticing at a moment in which Jesus appeared to have plunged himself into a difficult situation with the words he had uttered—a welcome opportunity for an audacious Nicodemus to choose to hear the word ἄνωθεν not as “above” but as “a second time,” that is, “again.” We can reasonably conjecture that Jesus’ primary meaning in employing ἄνωθεν was “from above” because in Modern Greek ἄνωθεν has preserved its classical and New Testament meaning of “from above.” (Informally, Modern Greek uses από (ε)πάνω to signify “from above,” both words having retained their classical and New Testament sense.)

Perceiving Nicodemus, Jesus patiently explains to him the need for every human being born from the womb (water) to be born also of the Spirit (5-8). But when Nicodemus makes a thwarted attempt to challenge Jesus a third time—though apparently awe-struck by the character of Jesus—and groping for words, he mutters, “How can these things be?” (9), he receives a jolting exclamation from Jesus, who tells him that as a leading teacher of Israel he should know better than to be puzzled by such truths (10).

While this view of Nicodemus’ demeanor and wittiness at the beginning of his encounter with Jesus may sound somewhat conjectural, the likelihood of its accuracy is high; for Nicodemus, who turned out to be openly a staunch supporter of Jesus (John 7:50-51, 19:39), was a well-educated rabbinic Pharisee. Like Paul (and judging by his Greek name Νικόδημος Nikodemos “people’s victor,” which is suggestive of strong Hellenistic influence) Nicodemus was a Hellenized Pharisee; as such, he was most capable of an instantaneous Greek linguistic twist at an opportune moment. Jesus used this “people’s victor” to reveal insights that hinged on a Greek word with a bifurcated meaning that allowed the dialogue to take the double path it did.

Today, a more meaningful understanding is in store for the Christian who walks in Nicodemus’ footsteps, meets Jesus, and hears the Master say that to be born again is to be born from above.

Philemon Zachariou is a native Greek, and a retired Greek professor. He currently develops New Testament Greek instructional material, is an adjunct professor of English at Northwest University, and a BibleMesh Greek tutor.

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“Lovest Thou Me?” in Greek

The thrice-repeated question “Lovest thou me?” Jesus posed to Peter after His resurrection as recorded in John 21:15–17 (KJV) actually shrouds a scene at the heart of a tragedy. Looking at the Greek text clarifies the situation.

Jesus asks Peter, ἀγαπᾷς με; agapas me? “Do you love me?” He asks this question twice, both times using the verb ἀγαπῶ agapo (15, 16)—the verb also used in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world . . .” Peter, however, responds each time by saying not ἀγαπῶ σε agapo se “I love you,” but φιλῶ σε filo se, a verb one would use in saying to a close friend, “I do care for you.” Peter, burdened by his denial of the Master only days earlier, is now feeling unworthy to gaze at the Master and say to Him that he loves Him.

When Jesus asks Peter a third time, He switches to Peter’s verb: φιλεῖς με; filis me? It is as though Jesus were saying, “Even so, Peter, do you care for me?”

There is little doubt that in Peter’s ears each question Jesus asks has a ring of forgiveness and acceptance. But at the ring of the third question, Peter sees Jesus once again willing to not only accept him as he is but to also stoop down to his level of unworthiness and lift him up. Overwhelmed, Peter feels grieved.

The difference between ἀγαπῶ agapo and φιλῶ filo is not allowable in English, nor in Aramaic.[1] This lack of distinction leads to the assumption that Peter was grieved because Jesus asked him the same question three times, once for each of the three times the disciple had denied his Master. And, admittedly, some contemporary New Testament scholars claim the two words convey no difference of meaning in this passage.[2]

Had that been the case, however, the Greek word in verse 17 would have been τρίς tris “three times.” But it is what Jesus specifically did τὸ τρίτον to triton“the third time” (17)—when He intentionally compromised His wording to Peter’s—that overwhelmed Peter.[3]

Studying John 21:15-17 in light of Modern Greek clarifies this meaning. Both ἀγαπάω -ῶ agapao/agapo and φιλέω -ῶ fileo/filo are contract verbs. Thus, they have an uncontracted and a contracted form. The Greek text in this passage employs contracted forms. Used in Classical Attic, contracted forms would have been foreign to Homer and other ancient Greek authors in the ninth century BC. The difference between the contracted and the uncontracted form of a verb has no semantic bearing. In New Testament these two verbs share some common ground in meaning yet are clearly distinct—a distinction reflected in Modern Greek, which shares much in common with the koine of the New Testament on this point. After 20 centuries, the New Testament sense of ἀγαπῶ in Modern Greek remains intact, while that of φιλῶ I kiss has been reduced to one sense. On the other hand, the meaning of virtually all New Testament compounds and derivatives of φιλῶ (φίλος -η friend, φιλία friendship, φιλαδελφία brotherhood, φιλανθρωπία philanthropy, etc.) is fully preserved in Modern Greek. In this light, one can hardly doubt that this dialogue between Jesus and Peter was held as recorded—in Greek.[4] Additionally, one can hardly doubt that Jesus’ use of φιλῶ in verse 17 was intentional.

There are various views respecting the use of the verbs ἀγαπῶ and φιλῶ in John 21:15–17. Regardless, one must bear in mind two vital points: (a) the use of these two different verbs in the original text is not accidental, and (b) their delicate interplay, especially within the context given, can be subject to a “translation which either does not care, or is not able to reproduce the variation in the words as it exists in the original.”[5] This should all the more be reason for the Bible student to become familiar with the language of the New Testament.

Philemon Zachariou is a native Greek, a retired Greek professor, and the author of Reading and Pronouncing Biblical Greek: Historical Pronunciation versus Erasmian. He currently develops New Testament Greek instructional material, is an adjunct professor of English at Northwest University, and a BibleMesh Greek tutor.

1. George Lamsa’s English rendition of this passage from Aramaic follows the KJV wording, thus it does not reflect the distinction between ἀγαπῶ and φιλῶ. George M. Lamsa, The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1957).
2.  See, for example, Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 565-66.
3. Potwin compares the Old Syriac version (AD 150) and the Peshitto version (about AD 300) of John 21:15-17 and finds that, even though the two differ from each other, neither corresponds to the wording of the Greek original. Lemuel Sloughton Potwin, Here and There in the Greek New Testament (Michigan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1898), 122-126.
4.  That Jesus and Peter could freely converse in Aramaic but also in Greek, the lingua franca of the then Hellenized world, does not sound remote to a thoroughly bilingual person. This situation is hardly any different from that in which two close friends, or brothers, both from Mexico but raised in a bilingual community in Los Angeles, end up at times conversing even in their own hometown in Mexico intimately, and just as naturally, in English.
5. Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), 43.