Kalo Pascha! Christos anesti! Happy Easter! Christ is risen!

Saturday night, April 18. It’s Easter tomorrow in Greece, and the festivities are in high gear. We’re staying in the Athenian suburb of Pikermi, situated exactly half way between Athens and Marathon. Much of Marathon Road, just a block from where we are staying, is shut down at night so that the faithful can light their candles and walk on the road to their church. They did this last night, Friday night. Marathon Road has signals and is only two lanes, but people at night typically drive 60-75 mph. The speed limit is half that. Drag races are commonplace.

There’s much pageantry here—candles, light bulb displays on the road in the shape of candles and ribbons, busses with “Kalo Pascha” running on the teletype. People were out in the streets last night in Pikermi and Rafina, on Good Friday no less. Stores were open. Restaurants were packed. If the Greeks are this festive and happy on Good Friday, one wonders how they’ll treat Easter.

But today was different. Stores were closed, restaurants were closed. The candles that lit the way on Marathon Road were removed. The place was dead still, as though all were in mourning.

Then, at 11.30 pm, we went outside and walked down to Marathon Road. Scores of people were walking with unlit candles to the service, held at a little Orthodox church just a couple blocks from where we are staying. A little girl had set up a card table along the main drag, selling long, thin candles. One Euro apiece. We each bought one. By the time we got to the church, hundreds of people were standing outside. The service would last until 3 am. There is no regular Easter Sunday service, just this nighttime vigil. In the midst of the joyous season (which resembles the way Christmas used to be celebrated in the States), we hear thunderous boom! boom! boom! It’s been happening for the last several nights. We at first thought it was a big gun going off, and wondered if the Anarchists were trying to temper the positive attitude that surrounds them. But nobody reacted except for dogs, big and small, and cars with alarms.

We joined the crowds at the church. The tiny sanctuary was packed with folks inside. It could only hold maybe twenty or thirty people at one time; hundreds milled around in the courtyard outside the church. Young and old, all had long, thin, unlit candles. A microphone was hurriedly set up just outside the church entrance. A few minutes later the priest came out and continued his chanting. His voice grew hoarse, but he dutifully continued. At 11.55 pm, we could see people inside the church lighting candles. Then they came outside and lit others; one by one the candles were lit and the darkness began to dissipate. Then at precisely midnight…fireworks! They came from the tops of two buildings—one across the street and one about 100 feet from the church. The fireworks lit up the sky, thundered and boomed, and dazzled the children. The priest kept chanting, but his voice was drowned out by the pyro display. The fireworks went on and on. Ten minutes…fifteen minutes…twenty minutes. And they started precisely at midnight on Easter Sunday morning.

I couldn’t help but think that the fireworks must symbolize Christ’s resurrection from the grave. And as I was watching the show, I saw in it the explosive power, the sudden transformation of the night sky, the joy, and the conquest—all that the resurrection represents. I reflected on when fireworks were used in other countries. St. Sylvester Day in Germany (New Year’s eve) is one that I’ve witnessed, as is Independence Day in America. The Chinese celebrate The National Day of the People’s Republic on October 1, Mexicans on September 16 and May 5, the French on Bastille Day (July 14), while the Brits celebrate Guy Fawkes Day every November 7th—all with fireworks. But these all pale in significance to the resurrection of Christ. How remarkable it is to see a country celebrate the resurrection of Christ—and to do it this way! The Athens newspaper, Το Βημα, headlined its front page today with Ανασταση νεκρων—“he is risen from the dead.” From Easter until Pentecost, the Greek greeting changes from a mere γιασας or ‘hello’ to Χριστος ανεστη (‘Christ is risen’) to which one replies αληθως ανεστη (‘he is risen indeed’).

This is a good time to be here, and a good time to reflect on Jesus’ appointment at his resurrection as the ‘Son-of-God-in-power,’ as Paul said in Rom 1.4. Maybe I’ll light up a few Roman candles next Easter.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    43 replies to "Καλο Πασχα! Χριστος ανεστη!"

    • Lisa Robinson

      Dr. Wallace, that sounds like a blast and I mean that in a multi-functional use of that word. Thanks for sharing and writing with such vivid imagery. You make it sound like its something every Christian should experience.

    • Sounds glorious. I’m rather jealous – celebrating Easter in Greece (or perhaps Moscow?) might need to go on my list of things to do before I die.

    • Andrew Spurgeon

      Dr. Wallace,

      I always enjoy your notes.

      Χριστος ανεστη


    • Daniel B. Wallace

      I was really taken aback by it. I had no idea what to expect. So, my anticipation was next to zero, and the event was remarkably stunning. Yet even though the service lasted till about 3 am, by 1 am all the crowds had gone; only the faithful few were left in the church.

    • cheryl u

      I have never thought of using fireworks to symbolize Christ’s resurrection. It sounds like it was extremely effective at least in that culture.

      I also like the idea of a vigil service. That sounds very powerful.

    • Marv

      Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

      What a joyful time to be there. More fun even than “parsing for pleasure.”

    • Lisa Robinson

      Marv, who parses for pleasure???? Μη γενοιτο.

    • Susan

      How rich to share Easter with the Greek…..in a culture where the resurrection is widely celebrated! I would not have guessed that it would be so different from the US. What a beautiful memory that will be.
      Dan, did you understand most of what the priest was saying?
      While all you Greek students are showing off your ancient Greek here, the teacher is having to learn Greek anew!….. (full emersion style) 😉

      Lisa, yes, yes….. do come see me in June!! We’ll talk FB!

    • Daniel B. Wallace

      Susan, not only did I not understand most of what the priest was singing, I didn’t hear most of it. The best way to learn modern Greek (for me at least) is in conversation with others. I can hardly pick out words in English when a choir sings, so I didn’t expect to learn too much when the chanting began.

    • Matt B.

      This was my first year in Greece as well (currently living in Crete) – and my first time seeing all the hoopla surrounding Easter here. One of the strangest things that I found about this celebration was the marching of “Judas” through the street and the crowd ultimately burning him. Something just seems a little off about that, don’t you think?

      One thing that I have found while being here is that while the state religion is “Greek Orthodox” which is supposedly a Christian religion, there are few people here that actually know who Christ really is; and more importantly what that should mean to them. Most of it seems to be tradition for the sake of tradition, with the church in the middle of quite a few of the corruption scandals pervasive in this country.

    • Daniel B. Wallace

      Matt, I didn’t see anything about Judas here in Athens. Perhaps I missed it, or they don’t practice that tradition in my neighborhood.

      Yes, it is sad that so few are truly Christian here. At the same time, some Protestant researchers have argued that Greece has more Christians than any other western European country. I don’t think it’s the traditions that cause someone to become corrupt; rather, it’s the lack of sincerity and genuine meaning in those traditions as held by some that give them no ethical mooring. We need to be careful not to fall into the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    • Dr. G.

      Our very word “Easter,” comes from the goddess of Spring; Ester (cf. “east”; Vernal Equinox; the sun is returning in the east).

      And in your celebrations, I detect even the ancient, pre-Christian love of Spring; the weather is not cold any more; the sun in shining, and the plants are coming back to life.

      Can we thereby find unity between even the old pagan Greeks, and the Christian Easter?


    • Daniel B. Wallace

      In a word, Dr. G., no. Just because Christians may have adopted traditional celebratory dates that were found in paganism, they did not necessarily emulate them in their significance and symbolism. Ancient etymology is a poor argument for seeing present meaning. Do English-speakers today worship the sun on Sunday and the moon on Monday? Do we celebrate Roman emperors in July and August? Hundreds of examples can be produced to show that etymologizing, though fascinating, is a bogus argument for present meaning.

      Besides, “Easter” is an English word, not a Greek. The Greeks call Easter Pascha, a term borrowed from Aramaic meaning Passover. Yet your argument is that Easter relates to old pagan Greeks. But if this is not the word that Greeks use today, then even the etymological argument you’re using is irrelevant to them.

    • Dr. G.

      1) Still, it could be relevant in non-Greek tongues.

      2) As for Greek: it is from the Hebrew “pesah,” or related to it: its “passing” might also tie to the “passing” of the winter?

      What’s the matter with enjoying springtime? Everybody does it.

    • Daniel B. Wallace

      Good grief! Not only are you now using etymology, but you’ve added illegitimate totality transfer to your linguistic argument. Of course we enjoy spring (though it happens to be cold here in Greece right now). But that’s simply not what the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is all about. Dr. G., the relevance of ‘Easter’ to non-Greek tongues was based, in your original post, on relation to pagan GREEK gods. I think you’re grasping at straws. The real issue is, What are you going to do with Jesus, who is infinitely more important than the season of the year.

    • Dr. G.

      Maybe if we get back far enough into the roots of Christianity – through etymology for example – we will find the common root of all religion; and the real meaning of God. As they do not any long hover as hopeless abstractions, but as they relate, come down to, the material world again, in fact. (Rev. 21). Including its seasons; in the material world that God made; that “sings his praises.”

    • Wonders for Oyarsa

      Dr. G.,

      I’d warn against this sort of thinking. Don’t get me wrong – I’m as big a fan of the ancient pagans as C. S. Lewis or G. K. Chesterton. I read my Homer dutifully. But there is far too much potential for wish fulfillment here.

      Looking to the roots and foundation may have some advantages, but even here the Judeo-Christian tradition was in conflict and contrast with paganism as often as it had anything in common. The more important thing, though, is to look at the fruit.

      Take Easter. It is surely no accident that Pascha takes place in the spring. What better possible time to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection and the renewal of all creation than when winter gives way to spring. I thank God for this good planning in his providence. And of course the ancient pagans could appreciate spring, as can anyone. But to say that the “core” of Easter is about spring is to do violence to it – which is, I think, why Daniel protests so strongly.

      In the Christian economy, Pascha is like nothing. It is unique. It is the entry of God’s saving grace into our world. It is the vindication of humanity, the victory of God, and the rescue and renewal of creation. It is the first fruits of the enduring new creation – the son of man given a body glorious and incorruptible. It is the victory of Christ – the proof of his Lordship over all things, his victory over death, the deposit of salvation for the world.

      The fact that the birds and the bees sing and make merry, and the trees of the fields clap their hands is right and fitting, but Pascha is not about this. No, the creation rejoices for a reason. Rather, we should say that spring is about Pascha. The meaning of spring is Pascha. Pascha is its own meaning, and gives meaning to all things.

      The Christian engagement with paganism isn’t to say “look, you have unknown gods, and we have God – look at all we have in common”. It is to say “let us testify what has been revealed to us in Christ – this is him you have worshiped as unknown that we can now make known to you.” We don’t say “look, how nice it is that we both are religious in spring”. We say “let us tell you the news for which spring derives its joy”.

    • Dr. G.

      The world sings the praises of God, the (Catholic) intertestimental works in particular say (Wisdom of Solomon). God “fills all things” in heaven “and earth.” Job is converted … in part because “Leviathan” or one of God’s creatures, is so impressive. (An early argument from Design?)

      So if we look at the earth … we are also looking at God. (Which can be explained/ justified, to be sure, only in a few volumes).

      I like the mountains, especially.

      And finding things in common, is better than finding things that are different, to kill each other over.

      Not to disagree with you too much.

      Keep in mind the “fruits” too, of Plato and Aristotle: most of science and most of western Civilization? To the point that the Catholic Church in fact acknowledges some kind of “partial revelation” in that time?

      Of course some pagans do bad things. But let’s look for the good in everyone? As Jesus did?

    • Wonders for Oyarsa

      Sure, let’s look for good in everyone. Absolutely. But let us not suppose that truth is some kind of watered-down lowest common denominator sort of thing. Just because the pagans had some truth is absolutely no reason to suppose that the most important truth is that bit of overlap. In fact, the more sympathy I have with paganism, the more grateful I am for the fullness of Christ.

      God is glorious and beautiful. That we can tell from nature. But God is a good God, and loves mankind, even unto death on a cross? This is good news beyond the wildest hopes of even the best of the pagans.

      I’m grateful for what Plato and Aristotle contributed, and want to return continually to gain from their insights, but this needs to enhance and not diminish my looking to Christ as the fulfillment of our hopes.

    • Dr. G.

      Good! But then too remember, that we might not quite have the “full”ness oF Christ, until the Second Coming or resurrection. Or Judgement. And in that moment, God will correct many “false”ideas even among those who think they follow “Christ.”

      And what will that second coming tell us? Things that we do not know now. And what things might they be?

      Let’s be open to … many things. Of course.

      Good luck on your journey; and to the Second Coming.

    • Michael

      Pascha is amazing, I would love to travel to Greece and participate in Matins and the Paschal Liturgy. Maybe some day I’ll make a pilgrimage.

    • Dr. G.

      I hope it is warming up in Greece; have you met with any local patriarches? Classic or Coine Greek might be enough for a conversation, there?

      A few conversations would be extremely enlightening; on the difference between the Othodox Greek (origins?) of much of Christianity.

      I can’t quite believe one article I looked at, on that subject; which asserted that the Orthodox church is in some ways, curiously, less doctrinaire; that it gives more authority to living partriarchs. So that Orthodoxy is at once more authoritative … but also less doctrinal? Could that article be correct? It doesn’t seem to match what I saw myself.

      In any case, I’m interested in 1) Platonic influences on Paul; Paul speaking of things on earth being mere corrupty “copies” or even “shadows” of more perfect “forms” in the Heavens; which seems to suggest the Theory of Forms. Any thoughts on that subject? Or any other similar things?

      No doubt in any case, 2) it is incredible to walk on the same earth than ancients walked on; and look over the same precipices, at the same seas. Nature is important. It seems to give us something of a common reference, for a second. Though of course no one can put themselves back into the mind of the ancients, perfectly, this extra reference point, seeing the “same” bits of Nature they saw, might help … triangulate what they were talking about.

      By the way, I don’t know much Greek … but are you writing your titles in all caps? On the internet, that’s known as “SHOUTING.” I’m not an e.e. cummings fan on this; still ….

      I’m glad to see you’re looking around.

    • Daniel B. Wallace

      Dr. G, I didn’t put the title in all caps; that was done after it left my hands. Sorry if it offended. I think you’re thinking of the author of Hebrews when it comes to copies, shadows, and forms. He seems to have been indebted to Platonic thought to some degree through Philo, the Jewish philosopher.

      Neither Attic nor Koine is spoken in Greece today. Modern Greek is simpler–gone are the optative, subjunctive, dative, middle voice, future, and infinitive. I can get by…

    • Susan

      My son is taking a test on ancient Greece, this morning (!) Unfortunately he forgot to study for it until an hour past his bedtime (typical) when he handed me the study sheet and asked me to quiz him. I told him it was a little late for that…. I hope it won’t be a Hell-enistic test experience for him…… if only Dan Wallace could feed him the answers….

    • Dr. G.

      Actually, the concept of “Hell” might have been borrowed from (as much as applied to) the Greeks, by early Christians. The word for Hell in the New Testament – which many think was originally written in Greek in fact – might have been … Hades? (If memory serves; the Hebrew “Sheol” in the OT however).

      So that Christians were borrowing their words, language – and some concepts (as per the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) – from Greece?

      Parts of the Bible to be sure, favor the Jews, and speak against other “nations” and “gentiles” or non-Jews, including perhaps Greeks. But others as in Paul allow that “Greeks” might be good; might be saved. Like Stephen, his Greek assistant?

      To be sure, the religious people around Jesus and Paul, did not want non-Jews in their Church … and they executed the Christian Stephen, as I recall?

      But today? Shouldn’t we now … allow that Greeks could be good? Perhaps even ancient ones? Some even suggest that … elements of their theology influenced our own.

    • Susan

      Ahh, Dr.G, I see you have picked up on my silly word play. As for those Greeks…. yep, I’d say they left us much to be thankful for, including all of those wonderful manuscripts of God’s word!

      Certainly the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time on earth missed the fact that God had designated the blessings of the gospel to be for all people (Greeks included)…. and the roots of this can be seen in the Old Testament. Look at Christ’s genealogy…. Gentiles included (Matt. 1).

      Acts 11 records the means (a vision) by which God revealed to Peter that the Gentiles were also privy to the gospel and indwelling Holy Spirit (the mystery revealed). Peter explained this to the Jerusalem church, who then praised God, saying, “So then God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles.” And, as you note, Paul recognized that the gospel was for the Greeks when he said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female– for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendents, heirs according to the promise.” Gal. 3:28-29

      Rom. 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

      So, should we “allow today that the Greeks could be good?” Indeed, every bit as good as Americans 😉 …. as God sees it!

      Jesus was sent by God to bring the Gospel to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…part of his personal mission, but the Gospel was intended for all from the beginning. God made that clear.

      Greek theological influences are good in as much as they coincide with God’s word. Influences such as Greek dualism are said to have a deleterious impact on the church to this day.

      Dr. G., I’m curious, what is your theological angle? Can you tell me what you believe in a nutshell? What did you earn your doctorate in?


    • Dr. G.

      Thank you Susan. Though I prefer to remain a little unspecified … in part, so as to not limit myself.

      I do have a PhD; though I try to transcend even that. So as to see the God who “fills all things.” Fills Jews and Gentiles; word and world; spirit and flesh.

    • Marv

      In re: one tiny point in this thread. The English name “Easter” is indeed from the name of a pagan goddess, but not a Greek one, a Germanic one, Eostre in Anglo-Saxon or Ostara in OHG. (Indeed I don’t believe Dr. G said Greek). Why we use this term in English is an interesting question, since many other languages use a variation of “pascha.”

      As “hell” was mentioned in this thread, I would mention an interesting fact that English works a bit like the Greek Hades in that the norse abode of the dead and the goddess that oversees it are both known as “Hel.”

    • Kara Kittle

      Is that also a form of Ishtar? And hell was translated from several different forms…such as Gehenna. That was the place where there were constant fires burning because it was a trash dump.

      I think the names of pagan goddesses are simply translated across wide areas. Oestre was indeed one such goddess of Teutonic society.Coloring eggs and rabbits were included in worship of those pagan deities. But somehow the church included that into it’s traditions.

      We also have our days named after Norse gods…Thor’s day, Freya’s Day, and so forth. Our months are named after Roman gods. Our whole life is surrounded by paganism. Including our shoes.

      What gets me is this, these ancient pagan gods and goddesses were actually worshipped in temples and people sacrificed to them and talked about them much as we are now. They were not symbolic in the lives of their believers. So what happened? Why is it we today don’t understand that by recognition in simple form still is recognition. So the worship of these deities has never gone away. Nike is the name of a Greek goddess complete with temple worship. Isn’t it kind of telling that we continue in it?

      Oestre was a fertility goddess. And as such, probably included temple prostitution. But Teutons I believe worshipped in nature like the Druids did. That is conjecture of course because we aren’t really sure, but I am certain there was an idol. I would think this would be Celtic, as Celts were across Europe.

      Thinking about days…Wodin’s Day is wednesday. I once compiled all the ancient gods and goddesses to study where they were from and it was so involved I had to give up. Egypt was what done me in…lol. I am glad our God is single, it’s too confusing to keep up with hundreds.

    • Marv

      My recollection had been that Easter connects back to Ishtar, Astarte. I almost put something on that, but I looked it up and the source I consulted did not say anything about that.

      And yes we have god names all over the place, in days of week, mostly norse, in some month names, and in some of our common words. “Thunder” is Thunor or Thor (Donner as in … and Blitzen).

      Also yes, we typically gloss gehenna as Hell, the cosmic dump. And for Hades many translations just say “Hades,” I believe the KJV says “Hell” without distinguishing those terms.

    • Kara Kittle

      Donnerstag is Thursday in German. Sometimes people don’t accept the KJV, so it becomes easy to toss the veracity of hell out for a more favorable approach. But I said in an earlier post the Wycliff used German words, such as clepping, so we need to understand just where he is coming from.

    • Marv

      Well, of course, Wycliffe, in the 14th century, this was in Middle English. Was he using German words or just Germanic words, i.e. maybe Middle English words that were Germanic?

    • Kara Kittle

      Middle English words that were still Germanic, but also French, Latin and Norse.

      My husband’s name Kittle is really Kettle, yes, what it means. But his ancestors were from Rugen, Pomerania. It now belongs to Germany after WW2 but at the beginning of the 1st Millenium and through the Middle ages it was owned by Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Germanic people. Germany was not a unified nation until 1871 so to say someone was necessarily German would be a misnomer. They were know by their states. Mecklenburg was the state that once controlled Rugen, but the area was Pomerania.

      Kettel was taken from Ketel, a person who used the cauldron in Thor worship. the ketel was actually a skull…lol.

    • Daniel B. Wallace

      Very interesting etymological discussions folks. Not sure what the value is for the purposes of this blog post. But since you’re onto that topic, here’s some more points to ponder.

      In Greek, the days of the week (translated) are:
      ‘belonging to the Lord’ (Sunday)
      ‘second day’ (Monday)
      ‘third day’ (Tuesday)
      ‘fourth day’ (Wednesday)
      ‘fifth day’ (Thursday)
      ‘day of preparation’ (Friday)
      ‘Sabbath’ (Saturday).

      If the pagan gods of Greece had such an influence on us, in such a way that lingers with us today, why is it that the Greeks have zero trace of that in the naming of their days?

      One commenter noted that Nike refers to a Greek goddess. True, but that’s not the word’s primary meaning. It means ‘victory’ and is what the marathon runner uttered after racing 26 miles from Marathon to Athens. No one thought he was speaking a Greek goddess!

      With regard to Norse gods in our background, I find this very interesting. I didn’t know a lot of the background on the days of the week, nor even on some months, as you all discussed. But isn’t it a quantum leap to say that we’re still influenced by the worship of these gods? After all, if most English speakers (I presume) don’t know the historical roots of these names, how is it that they are being influenced by them?

      Etymology is the science of tracing a word back to its roots and/or back to its constituent parts. But since 1916, when Ferdinand Saussure’s famous book on linguistics appeared (Cours de linguistique générale), linguistic scholars have realized that we have put way too much stock in etymology. Illustrations abound. Did you know that ‘nice’ used to mean ‘stupid”? or that ‘answer’ was a combination of two words, ‘and swear’ used in legally binding oaths? Our word ‘dynamite’ comes from the Greek ‘dunamis’ which does not connote explosive power.

      Look up some terms in the Oxford English Dictionary sometime–the only exhaustive (at least, when it first came out) dictionary of the English language, complete with pinpointing when in history words were used a certain way.

      I tell my students that when they hear a preacher say, “In the Greek, this word literally means…” the Greek word almost always does not literally mean that. What the preacher is doing is applying etymology to the meaning of the word–taking a meaning that may have existed in Homer’s day and assuming that its force did not change 800 years later. It’s not legitimate. It may be colorful, but it doesn’t advance our understanding of the biblical text one iota. I don’t mean to be uncharitable, but I think that a lot of the discussion on this blog post may be of the same ilk: colorful but unhelpful.

    • Dr. G.

      You’re describing I think, something like “semantic drift”? I don’t quite remember the exact term, but this phrase will begin to get at it.

      To be sure, the meaning of old words has changed. But if we think the Bible is sacred, and was written 2,000 years ago? Then don’t we want to try to find what the words meant, 2,000 years ago? While most dictionaries do that. Most scholars of Greek separate it into (as I recall) 1) “Classic” Greek (after HOmer; Plato?); and the 2) daily Greek that was current in Jesus’ day, “Koine.” As well as the Greek of the Septuagint. And 3) “Patristic” Greek, from the days of the “fathers” after the death of Jesus.

      From all this, scholars think they can kind of tell, what the words meant in the time of Jesus. And therefore, our Greek dictionaries and etymologies … would be still useful.

      Unless you want to argue that … the original meaning does not matter much? And it is what we have made of it sense, that is best?

      Which some might argue.

    • Daniel B. Wallace

      Dr. G., I was tracking with you until you said ‘therefore, our Greek dictionaries and etymologies… would be still useful.’ You spoke of looking at a word synchronically–that is, at a slice of time in which the word was used–as (I presumed) superior to looking at it diachronically. You divided up the periods of Greek to Classical, Koine, and Patristic, though these are not quite realistic breaks. The periods of Greek are Pre-Attic (Homer to c 5th century BC), Attic (to 330 BC), Koine (330 BC to AD 330), Byzantine (AD 330 to 1453), and Modern. The early patristic writers, and the LXX, fall into the same period as the NT.

      You asked, “don’t we want to find out what the words meant 2,000 years ago?” Absolutely! That’s the very reason why looking at other periods of time than the Koine will simply not be as beneficial as looking at Koine Greek. Even basic vocabulary, such as agape, kosmos, changed from Attic to Koine, or perhaps from secular to sacred authors. I think you may have confused etymology with age, in the sense that you assumed that I was speaking about language usage NOW. No, I was speaking about how language is used by the speakers and writers of the language at the time that is being investigated. And this is precisely why I said you were imbibing in etymologizing: Norse and Greek deities have little relevance to how we use words today that had different meanings a millennium or two ago. When it comes to the NT, we don’t spend all our time looking at Homer or Photius. These guys are nearly a 1000 years removed from the NT (one before, one after); we spend out time looking at the NT itself, the LXX, the papyri written between 330 BC and AD 330, Josephus, Philo, the Apostolic Fathers, and a host of other sources. In short, there is plenty of material to keep us going in terms of the meaning of words in the NT. Why would we be tempted to go to a period five hundred years removed from the NT to determine the meaning of NT words as they were understood in the first century?

    • EricW

      Dr. Wallace:


      I have been making poor attempts (mostly starts and stops – mainly stops!) during the past years to learn Attic/Classical Greek to expand and round out my understanding of NT Greek, and may still do so at some point.

      (FWIW, Donald J. Mastronarde’s Attic Greek textbook has a very useful explanation of accents that none of my Koinê textbooks mentioned – an explanation having to do with “Contonation and Mora” (p. 17 of his text) that I would recommend a teacher incorporate in any class in NT Greek, assuming it holds for the Koinê.)

      But I had lunch a couple weeks ago in Abu Gosh (near Jerusalem) with Dr. Randall Buth, and mentioned this to him, and he seemed pretty confident as you do (if I’m reading you correctly) that one can profitably improve one’s understanding of Koinê with time spent reading the Koinê authors outside the NT like Josephus; i.e., one doesn’t need to learn the earlier language (though some at B-Greek like Dr. Carl Conrad and Edgar Krentz would, I think, argue that knowing only the Greek of the NT and the Koinê is not ideal or sufficient).

    • Dr. G.

      Granted, information from the exact age of Jesus say, would be best. But in turn, all that came in turn, from earlier history. I don’t see one age as entirely autonymous; it is just the latest shoot on a very ancient tree. So that … to be sure while 1) info from the exact age is best; still 2) that era itself can be partially explained by … its own history. In this case, earlier Greek. (And other languages).

      Otherwise, your argument ends up … “dissing” History itself. Would you argue that the meaning of the Bible today, is what we should know? We assume that to know the Bible today, we must look back. To at least the time of the Bible itself.

      So why not work back, still further, again? To the period before the Bible itself? Especially … since the number of exactly – or even roughly – contemporaneous texts is somewhat limited? Relatively speaking?

      Especially since the people of the time were to some extent, reading many old texts themselves?

      So that perhaps there was not even, a “purely” NT Greek at all? Indeed, the differences between the Greek of the writings of Peter, vs. that of – Luke? ANd Paul – has often been noted. Perhaps it wasn’t even a difference between educated and uneducated … but even newer vs. older? Or provincial vs. Roman Greek?

      Arguably then, there isn’t even a strictly NT Greek.

      WHile then too of course, we aren’t sure Jesus for example spoke Greek; probabaly Aramic some say. So that the study of early Persian (Farsi?) and Arabic, would also be relevant.

      Granted, there is a nexus of the most relevant texts; those in the same time frame (and place) as the Septuagint. (If you take that text as authoritative; vs. Masoretic texts?).

      But still, limited as material is from that era – and keeping in mind that people then are still to some extent a product of their earlier history? Then I prefer to go a little broader, looking a historical contexts.

      Especially because I don’t know much Greek, to be sure, I like looking at the mythology all around at this time. It’s what I’ve got, instead of Greek, to be sure.

      And actually, I’m such a un-historicistic heretic on this, I actually feel that learning modern Greek, might give us some perspectives on ancient.

      My (former) Greek girlfriend for example, used to keep referring to “Delfeee” (phonetic). Apparently that’s the pronunciation of the Greek town next to “Delfi.” Long i. But from this, I currently have the hypothesis that after all, maybe that was the original pronunciation? Not a long “i” at the end of Delphi at all? But “thel-fee”?

      Of course, this is about as unhistorical as one can get. Using modern Greek to teach us something about the old; on the assumption that the old lingers on in the new.

      Still, I’m entertaining this as at least an hypothesis: does that modern pronunciation, actually match up better, with history?

      Any ideas?

    • EricW

      Dr. G. wrote:

      Of course, this is about as unhistorical as one can get. Using modern Greek to teach us something about the old; on the assumption that the old lingers on in the new.

      Not too offbase an idea, actually, if you read Dr. Chrys Caragounis’s 700-page book on this very idea (The Development of Greek and the New Testament: Morphology, Syntax, Phonology, and Textual Transmission, Baker Academic 2004, 2006). Dr. Caragounis has his critics, though.

    • Marv

      It’s a sure thing that most people don’t know the derivations of words. So the actual influence of pagan deities in some of our day, month and place names, etc. is not really what is in view. In fact, most people aren’t aware that September means the seventh month. In Europe you inscriptions using 7ber “septem-ber” for September, even though it has been the ninth month for centuries.

      I bet people knew the etymologies when they were educated in the classical subjects. The French revolutionaries were so aware of them, and wanting to expunge every trace of religion, Christian or pagan, that they changed the calendar (though later it was changed back) using seasonal, agricultural, etc. names.

      It is odd to be using names of divinities unawares, as it were. Spanish and French use Roman gods instead of Germanic ones of course. However, Monday is named after the moon for us and them. In French and Spanish, however, Sunday is “the Lord’s day,” though in French at least that etymology is not too transparent. I suspect the reason that the Greeks name their days of the week the way they do is that the etymology of the Roman calendar WAS transparent.

    • Dr. G.

      So, Marv suggests, we are surrounded by – and are constantly using/ invoking – the names of many gods. Without knowing it.

      Maybe in a way therefore, we are still partially polytheists, deep down? Wthout knowing it?

    • Dr. G.

      By the way, using the present sense of a language, to try to get at the past sense, of course, runs into many dangers well known to etymologists and semantics scholars. (“Folk etymology”; false “backformation”? Presentism? Anachronistic readings? A-historicism? False cognates/cognatives? Words I barely remember and probably mix up).

      But still, keeping in mind all the things that can go wrong? Speaking even the modern version of a language, could well open up – with due cautions and reservations – some aspects of old texts not noticed before.

      In fact, though this is not my field, I was personally one of the first people to suggest that the various Pre-Columbian languages found in ancient glyphs, might not be extinct as nearly all scholars said. Suggesting that we should go into South America and talk to the locals … until we found a still-spoken tongue that might correspond to the old glyphs. This approach was taken over by others … and apparently worked. And has helped immensel to open up Pre-Columbian translations.

    • Dr. G.

      And incidentally, an immensely important thing to do in this vein? Would be to fully doccument the last native speakers of Aramaic, in audio recordings. If they still exist, as they did a few years ago (in some African monasteries?).

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