[B-Greek] "A little Greek ... " (or "Ask a little question ...")

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Wed Jul 18 06:45:01 EDT 2007

Today's tidbit from the blogs (fear not; I don't intend to do this  
every day) is from Wayne Leman's "Better Bibles Blog," a regular  
contributor to which has been Suzanne McCarthy, a keen explorer of  
the curiously relevant odds and ends of Biblical Greek and Hebrew and  
even of the beauties of Sappho's Lesbian verse in its original Aeolic  
dialect. In one of her recent entries (which she terms "hen- 
scratches") she cites from an article by F.F. Bruce entitled, "The  
Greek Language and the Christian Ministry." For me the intriguing  
tidbit concerns the difficulties of understanding the Greek word  
πλήρωμα (PLHRWMA) in Col. 1:19; I did a second-take on this  
because intrepid list-member Eddie Mishoe has been haranguing me off- 
list about the verb PLHROW and the noun PLHRWMA and won't take as my  
answer that i really don't understand what the verb and noun are  
intended to mean in Ephesians (much less in Colossians). Here's part  
of what Bruce says -- not about what PLHRWMA means but about the  
process of attempting to understand it:

“Well, so be it. You wish to know Greek sufficiently well to follow  
the account given of a word in a lexicon or the discussion of its  
meaning given in Lightfoot or Westcott. You are studying the Epistle  
to the Colossians and you come to verse 19 of chapter 1: “For it was  
the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness  
dwell “as the R.V. renders itÅ\with the marginal alternative:  
“For the whole fulness of God was pleased to dwell in Him”. The  
term “fulness” plainly has some special significance here, and you  
wish to find out exactly what its meaning is.

“You have a lexicon within arm’s reachÅ\perhaps Grimm-ThayerÅ 
\for you have been told by someone that Liddell and Scott, superb as  
it is for the Classical tongue, is hardly adequate for New Testament  
studyÅ\and Lightfoot’s commentary lies open on your desk. You know  
that the Greek word which Paul uses for “fulness” is  
“pleroma”, so you turn up “pleroma” in Grimm-Thayer.

“The first thing you are told is that the noun comes from the verb  
“plero®≠”; next you are told that it is “Sept.”. (What does  
that mean? Ah, Septuagint!) for something or other in Hebrew letters  
(so it pays to know at least the Hebrew alphabet even when looking up  
a Greek word in a lexicon of New Testament Greek). Then you have a  
couple of quotations from a pagan Greek author to illustrate the  
etymological force of the noun, and further down, the various shades  
of New Testament usage are illustrated by reference to the  
Septuagint, to pagan Greek authors and to a Jewish Greek author.

“How do you propose to make use of these references? Perhaps  
Lightfoot will help you. You see in his footnote to the text that he  
has a detached note on “pleroma”. You turn it up and find that it  
runs to seventeen pages (pages 257-273) and reproduces far more  
quotation from non-Biblical Greek than Grimm-Thayer’s entry did. In  
fact, the more Greek you know, the more you will be able to profit by  
Lightfoot’s note. And that means that the more Greek you know, the  
more sensitive and accurate will be your appreciation of the meaning  
of this word in the context here.

“You cannot, in fact, understand one small book in any language  
without knowing more about the language than is contained in that  
small book. One meets at times with laborious discussions of the  
meaning of some word by a painstaking student who has followed the  
“concordant” method. He has mechanically traced its usage through  
the New Testament and perhaps through the Septuagint as well, and  
cannot see that any more light could be thrown upon it.

“But it is all too evident to anyone who has something of a feeling  
for the language, that much of this labour is wasted, because the man  
knows individual vocables but does not know Greek. He tells us  
confidently, for example, that the words at the end of II  
Thessalonians 2. 7 (“until he be taken out of the way”, R.V.) do  
not mean what the ordinary translations suggest, because he has  
looked up each word in the clause and studied its usage, and knows  
that they can only mean “until out of the midst he (or it) comes to  
pass”. Yes, he knows Greek words, but he does not know Greek; ... “

The whole of Bruce's article can be read online or downloaded at

Thank you, Suzanne. One never can guess what your "hen-scratches"  
might claw up!

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad2 at mac.com
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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