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Encouragement to dig: Koine Greek

(Garth D. Wiebe, March 2015, added Android app links to resource list Nov. 2016, Greek Week webinar Dec. 2016)

I am writing this article to encourage people to dig into the original Greek text of the New Testament. This is not modern Greek, but Koine Greek, the "common" = "κοινε" Greek language that came about as a result of the massive conquests of the Greek empire under Alexander the Great in 336-323 BC, and remained a common language for roughly another six to seven centuries, until the mid-300's AD.

More than occasionally, this is very helpful in gaining insight into exactly what the text of the Word of God says, as well as clearing up misunderstandings that come from simple limitations in translation. It isn't possible in every instance to have a perfect translation; sometimes no corresponding word exists in the target language, or the grammar doesn't have a one to one correspondence.

Let's start with an attitude check: If you are one of those people who scorns the idea that anybody should have to go into the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek to read and study the Bible, and think that anybody who does so is being over-analytical, presumptuous, or whatever, then you have, in principle, just eliminated all translations of the Bible, because a translation can't even exist without someone going into the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts and translating it! By reading a translation, you therefore implicitly endorse someone diligently digging into every word and phrase of the original language to translate it.

Or, if you are one of those people who think that such a thing would be too complicated, or beyond your mental abilities, let me assure you that Koine Greek is much simpler, less ambiguous, and less loaded with variations, exceptions, and idiosyncrasies than, especially, the English language. In fact, Greek is easy, besides the fact that it is just another language. If you can manage to learn English, you shouldn't have a problem with Koine Greek, in particular. At about 40 words per page and about 800 pages, I would estimate that my my small, compact, paperback American Heritage Dictionary has about 32,000 English word definitions. The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, is cited as having 171,476 English words. Yet James Strong's Concordance lists only 5824 Greek words in the New Testament. Charles Van der Pool supplemented this with some more, but not many more, to cover the corresponding Koine Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, even though the Old Testament is about four times the size of the New Testament. By contrast, the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, which covers all classical Greek literature, lists 119553 entries. This shows the simplicity of the Koine Greek New Testament scriptures as compared with all other Greek literature.

Combined with the Koine Greek grammar, it is far simpler, more explicit, and more concise than English, with all the English variables, exceptions, and nuances. The Koine Greek is what linguists would describe as a "fusional" "synthetic" language, which largely combines morphemes (the smallest unit of meaning in a language), "synthesizing" words by "fusing" the morphemes together. In addition, it has a rigid system of declension and verb conjugation (i.e. the inflections at the end of the words that define case, tense, person, number, etc.), making it much more specific and explicit than English. Many words are compounds which "fuse" simpler words and morphemes, including ad hoc constructions by the authors. So the "5824" Strong's entries is already a number that is much greater than the number of words that you would actually need to understand the meaning of.

Koine Greek itself ("koine" means "common" in Greek) was the Greek that was commonized as a result of the conquests of Alexander the Great of the Greek Empire in the 4th century BC. It became the lingua franca (a language systematically accepted) in the whole geographical region of interest (Middle East, Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, near-Asia), so was explicit and unambiguous, for the sake of commerce and so on. That remained so for about 6-7 centuries, with the New Testament scriptures falling squarely in the middle of that time period. It actually lacks the literary expressiveness of other forms of Greek that coexisted and which were used by the literary elite for philosophy, fiction, poetry, drama, and so on, because it was the language of the common man, for common business purposes and clear, unambiguous communication across the region.

Although no language follows a completely rigid set of definitions and algorithm, like we have created in the sciences and in engineering, computer programming languages being a good example (being a career computer engineer, I know this well), still, Koine Greek is very straightforward, unambiguious, and explicit, especially when compared to English. You've heard the colloquialism, "It's all Greek to me." That's really an unfair statement. You should rather say, with that kind of resignation, "It's all English to me." It is amazing to see God's providence in the Koine Greek language, such that the common man can easily and unambiguously understand the scriptures at face value.

The Koine Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament Hebrew in the 2nd century BC was the main translation of the common people during New Testament times, and is quoted most often in the New Testament, especially by the apostle Paul, since he was apostle to the Gentiles, many of whom did not read or speak Hebrew. The Old Testament Hebrew was limited to those who learned it in the synagogues, mainly Jews and Hebrew scholars. The people in the geographical areas in and around Judea and Samaria spoke Aramaic anyway, ever since the historic conquest and exile of Israel/Samaria by the Assyrians, and the conquest and exile of Judah by the Babylonians, both hundreds of years before New Testament times.

The beauty of the Koine Greek is therefore that it lends itself to a mostly mechanical approach to translation, so that we are afforded a minimal dependence on scholars and their scholarship.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, the next question is whether all the translations are indeed good enough. Well, obviously, they are almost completely good enough, because we are all doing quite well with them, with very few issues or controversies. And you can compare one to another and see that they say pretty much the same thing. However, in a few cases where things don't sound quite right, or where there is controversy over the meaning of something, and the context still doesn't make it clear, and you hear the sound of sacred cows mooing, then there is good reason to look back at the original text and see what it precisely says.

Some people in these cases instead turn to comparing translation after translation, someone's highly recommended paraphrase, or commentaries, "study Bibles," and such. But if there is an inconsistency, then you are just searching out and comparing men's opinions at this point. You would do better to look into what the original writer wrote and decide for yourself.

I have seen countless cases of preachers, teachers, writers, and others, even in prominent positions of leadership, zoom into a small English phrase or even a word in an English translation and make profound statements concerning doctrine and practice based upon that translated snippet. Then, I have looked it up in the original text and found out that they were basing their point on a fallacy, because the English was ambiguous or not quite true to the original.

In a funny example of this, more than once I have heard an exposition of Matt 24:12, where the KJV says "...the love of many shall wax cold," where they launch into a discussion about wax and candle making and such, how it applies to people becoming callous of heart. But neither the word "wax" nor anything like it is even in the original text! And the old English verb "wax" had nothing to do with it, either.

Keep in mind that it is a universal rule among all orthodox Christian groups that only the original manuscripts in the original languages written by the original authors are God-breathed and infallible. The translations, as good as most of them are, are not infallible.

Nor is it even possible to have a perfect translation. Again, sometimes no corresponding word exists in the target language, or the grammar doesn't have a one to one correspondence. What is the translator to do? Well, he does the best he feels he can. But the devil, who is the author of confusion, can step in and capitalize on the fact that the translation doesn't exactly say or express what the original does, and create a tradition of man based on a simple language ambiguity that exists in the target language, not the original.

Then the next question that comes up is about who is qualified to look at the original text. Some have the idea that you need to be a professional scholar who has graduated with a doctorate from an accredited university or theological seminary.

But let's think about this. While it is true that you are expected to have a degree in mechanical engineering to design an automobile, or comprehensive technical vocational training and credentials to run an automobile repair shop, you don't need any of those credentials to work on your own car, or your friend's car, for that matter. And you can you do a perfectly good job if you look up the information, get the right tools, and put your mind and diligence to the task.

So then, if I am going to purchase a complete Bible translation, I would like to know that the translators have the schooling, credentials, and experience to do the whole job. After all, I'm going to read the translation with the assumption that it's going to be accurate, by and large. Just like you buy an automobile and assume that everything is going to work when you drive it out of the dealership, because those who made it are assumed to be expertly competent.

However, even "experts" can be wrong or make mistakes. Your automobile may be subject to a major recall when it is discovered that something wasn't designed correctly.

If I just want to find out what a small phrase of the Bible means, then I ought to be able to look into it myself and figure it out. I might also "ask Garth," or someone like that, who's accumulated more experience "working on cars," so to speak, than I, while making sure to check to see if what "Garth" says makes sense. After all, "Garth" was a career professional "electrical/computer engineer," not a career professional Greek scholar and Bible translator, right? [Note: I am using a rhetorical illustration; I actually have very little experience with cars. Please don't call me about your car problem.]

Just like any of you can look up a particular car problem on the web, or buy a service manual, and fix any particular thing, or seek to understand how any particular thing works, for yourself. It may take you far longer than the "experts," and you may not be able to design a car or run an automobile repair shop, but you can do any particular task if you put your mind to it. You've got the same brain as anyone else. It may take longer, and you may not make a career out of it, but you can accomplish the task with a little digging and the right tools.

Koine Greek is easier than working on your car. There is one lexicon (the collection of root words) and one grammar (the mechanics of inflecting them and putting them together to convey the language). It is as if there was only one automobile service manual and one set of parts and tools for "a car," or that we were considering only one make/model of "car."

What I'm trying to persuade people to do is look into the original text for themselves. This has become quite a lot easier in the last decade or so, with all the online resources and computer software that you can run on your desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or smart phone, a lot of it free.

Even in the secular world, due to the information, resources, and tools now available, people are taking more and more responsibility for informed decision making. Medical and other health care options, legal matters, financial investment options, the purchase of specialized products, and many other things are being researched by individual consumers, rather than just relying on a "professional expert" to make the decision for them.

Here's what I'm seeing: Many of us are concerned with getting back to the Bible, reading every word, believing every word, understanding who we are in Christ, and doing the Word. But the written Word was not written in English; it was written in Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek. So to go back to the source, you really have to go back to the original languages. Many "sacred cows" feed on English translational ambiguities. Often you can destroy them just by wielding the weapon of the original text. For example, I did this with traditions associated with "gifts of the Spirit", "prayer", and "church".

Most Bible translators are part of the mainstream institutions of religion and are schooled in many traditions of men. It should come as no surprise that Bible translations carry a little bit of bias or neglect here and there corresponding to that. I say "a little bit," because the way that the accuracy of God's Word has been preserved, even through translations, and even despite the agendas and failings of men, is truly amazing. From the Bishops' Bible based KJV of the oppressive, Roman Catholic-like Church of England with its pope-like head-of-church monarch kings, to the modern translations with their liberal, ecumenical, compromising theologians, to even the NWT of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who represent a complete counterfeit of the Christian faith, it is truly amazing how clear, concise, and unambiguous the translations still are, equipping the seeker of truth to understand and do the work of the gospel.

That is not to say that one translation is as good as another, or that there aren't better or worse translations out there (I would certainly never recommend the NWT!). However, if we want to really want to get back to "reading every word and believing every word," then we should be willing to undertake to examine the original words and the original grammar, and not blindly trust that the words and rendering of any particular translation or translator is infallible.

The sufficiency of studying the original language

Every language consists of a "lexicon," which is a list of all the root words in the language, and a "grammar," which is the set of rules by which these words are inflected and arranged to convey thoughts.

We say that "all scripture is God-breathed" (2 Tim 3:16).  There are some who say that you need to study historical culture and contexts, the writings of "early church fathers," and so on, to fully understand the scriptures.  But this is not what the scriptures say, nor is it reasonable.

This is not what the scriptures say, because 2 Tim 3:16 says "All scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."  It does not say "all scripture, understood in the light of [insert extra-biblical references]..."

Nor is it reasonable, because then the extra-biblical references would have to be either called out or included in the canon of the Bible, and the Bible would be restricted to those scholars who studied and understood ancient history and culture.  Once again, understanding the scriptures would be relegated and restricted to the elite.

Now, this does not mean that history and cultural understanding are not helpful.  It is just that they are not required.  And sometimes they can be distractions.

Take the "camel through the eye of a needle" illustration of Jesus in Matt 19:23-26, Mark 10:24-25, and Luke 18:24-25.  Jesus said that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."  Now, some have pointed out that the "eye of the needle" was a gate in Jerusalem, which would allow a person to go through to find refuge in the city at any hour of the day or night, but was not big enough for him to take his camel loaded with all his baggage and worldly possessions.  That is very interesting.  It adds historical context, culture, and a picture to Jesus' illustration.  On the other hand, that story seems to to have originated at least 800 years, perhaps as late as even 1400 years after the time of Christ, with no ancient evidence that such a gate in Jerusalem ever existed in the first place!  And if it never existed, then we are left with Jesus' words.  But Jesus' words are good enough!

The scriptures are sufficient.  We just need to translate them.

When you see an English word in a Bible translation, what you want to do is find out what the corresponding Greek word is.  Then you can look it up in a Greek dictionary to find out what it means.

Additionally, if the word is repeatedly used in the New Testament, you can use a concordance or computer search tool to find out all the places it is used.  This will teach you what it means from multiply different contexts.

This second way of researching the meaning is often overlooked, but it is potentially more powerful, because it is the way you learned your first, best, and strongest language, not in a college or seminary, but when you were 2 years old, identifying and associating words in contexts to learn the meanings.

The next thing is the grammar, which consists of the rules about how a series of words are put together to convey a collective thought.  This is systematic and fairly mechanical.

Here you need to get an interlinear or other tool that shows the grammatical parsing.  Obviously, you need to brush up on your grammar facts (starting with the English grammar that you learned in school!) and learn a few additional grammatical terms associated with Koine Greek language that do not apply to the English language.

Once you look up the word definitions and the grammar of a scripture passage, then you will find out what the passage is meaning to say, even if it can't exactly be translated into English using exact English words and proper English grammar.

In addition to the lexicon and grammar, there are differences in how thoughts are expressed.  But they will be obvious.  For example, the Greek word "auto" meant "same" or "self," just like it now does in English word prefixes ("autobiography," "automobile," "automatic," etc.).  But it was most often used as a pronoun in the Koine Greek.  For example, back then I would have said "If a man studies the scriptures diligently, the same will be blessed."  This would more naturally be rendered in English as "If a man studies the scriptures diligently, he will be blessed."

Another example would be the Koine Greek scripture's repeated reference to "the God."  Okay, let me, for just the duration of this paragraph, not automatically capitalize "God," or rather, "god," and try this again.  You'll see why shortly:  Another example would be the Koine Greek scripture's repeated reference to "the god."  Why the definite article "the" before "god" in the Koine Greek scriptures?  This is actually yet another anomaly in the English language and modern cultural/religious tradition, not Koine Greek!  As an illustration, if I said I had "a cat" for a house pet, that would be using the indefinite article "a."  Then I could refer to "the cat" in conversation, using the definite article "the" to refer to that specific cat that I had already referenced, not any unspecific cat.  But if I just talked about "cat" it would not make sense, unless "cat" was the cat's actual name or title, in which I would capitalize it and refer to it as "Cat" (grammatically, a "proper noun").  In our culture we refer to "God" with a capital "G" in English, which is a title.  We have given "the god of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob" a name and title, "God."  But the name/title of the god of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob in the Hebrew scriptures is יהוה (the "tetragrammaton" YHWH, usually pronounced "Yahweh," or the more customary English version, "Jehovah").  So now you should be beginning to see that the Koine Greek scriptures are actually dealing with it in a more logical, grammatical fashion, whereas it is an idiosyncrasy in English and modern usage.  There are many "gods" referred to in scripture, but we are talking about "the god" of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob, who created the universe, whose name and/or title was not "God."

Like many other things, you learn by doing.  So just step out in faith and do it!

Koine Greek verb grammar issues:

The biggest issue I see facing us is not word definitions, but verb forms. I've found this to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks, because the set of verb forms in Koine Greek don't have a one to one correspondence to the set of verb forms in English.

Here are a couple of charts to illustrate the difference, comparing the English verb "loose" with the corresponding Greek verb "_λυ__" ("_lu__"), in all their respective verb conjugations:

As you can see, the Greek has a set of verb forms, and the English has a set of verb forms. They don't completely match.

If it were the case that we were translating from English into Koine Greek, we would have trouble making a distinction between the simple and continuous (progressive) forms, perfect vs. past, and so on. I would not be able to easily say "I will have done this" in Koine Greek, for example, because there is no future perfect tense in Koine Greek.

But our problem isn't communicating English writings to Koine Greek readers. Our problem is Koine Greek writings being communicated to us as English readers.

The biggest single disconnect comes with the Koine Greek aorist tense.

Bible issues often come up about when something was accomplished, past, present, or future, when reading the English translations. In the New Testament teaching of the New Man, we learn about believing God's word as truth, as fact, and understanding who we are in Christ, as truth, as fact, the promises that simply apply to us as believers, without action on our part to accomplish them.

The good news is that Koine Greek can communicate this beautifully. The bad news is that English cannot.

The biggest missing piece in English is the aorist tense. It is all over the New Testament Koine Greek, so it is really important to understand it.

The Koine Greek indefinite, aorist verb tense specifies state, not action, fact rather than act, what timelessly just "is" rather than something happening on a timeline. We don't have an explicit way of writing that verb tense in English, either with verb endings (-s, -ed, -ing, etc.) or with helper verbs (has-, will-, etc.) So we can't translate it very easily, or at least not unambiguously. But it conveys that something just is, or that it has happened as a matter of "fact," without trying to communicate when. It is a "done deal." Even if the verb represents an action, the aorist communicates the fact of the action, rather than the time that the action occurred.

If I were to say "I play the piano," then according to the rules of English grammar, that would be a simple present tense. But if I tell you "I play the piano" while I am sitting at the computer typing at a computer keyboard, or while we are somewhere just having a conversation about music, you would implicitly understand it as the aorist, that "I am a piano player," as a matter of fact, not action on a time line.

In English, you need context to understand the difference between English simple present tense "I play the piano" and the implied aorist "I play the piano." In Koine Greek, you don't, because it is explicitly spelled a certain way to denote it.

Or, if in English you say "My boss says I can't be late to work," then the verb "says" in that sentence may be English present tense according to the rules of English grammar, but it's not really either past, present, or future tense. I don't assume that your boss is literally "saying" anything right now. We don't even know where he is. Maybe he is taking a nap right now and isn't even awake. Nor are you trying to convey to me "when" he said it. It is a statement of fact that you are conveying to me, that according to the declaration of your boss you must not be late for work.

Take 1 John 1:9, for example. See 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins" analysis. This snippet of scripture communicates that if we are avowing that we have sinned, then pardon and cleansing apply to us. But I have to paraphrase it, like I just did, to communicate it. I cannot translate it. If I try to translate it using English verb grammar, then there will be a question about "when" we get pardoned and cleansed, and then people start thinking that we have to "confess" something to somebody to get it. In the extreme, you end up at the confessional in front of a Roman Catholic Priest in a Roman Catholic mass. But that's not what the verse means, either grammatically or in the context of what the apostle John wrote.

"Aorist" was the ancient Greeks' definition for the verb tense, and not a modern scholar's definition (see LSJ #11479, "ἀόριστ-ος," definition II.3.). The word "aorist" is from Greek "α-οριστος" = "a-oristos," where "a" = "without," and "oristos" = "defined boundary." Strong's G3724 ("οριζω")  is the verb form used in "α-οριζω" = "a-[h]orizo." We get the English transliteration "horizon" from this Greek word (without the "a-"). A "horizon" is a fixed boundary that can be viewed a reference point. "A-orist" has no reference point. It is indefinite.

Many translators routinely translate the aorist as the English perfect ("has ___-ed") or past tense ("___-ed"), because that conveys the sense of something having been accomplished (the "done deal" aspect of it). But this falls very short of the goal.

You see the dilemma. There is no good way to translate it into English. And that is why it is valuable to be able to look at the Greek text and recognize when a verb is rendered in the aorist.

The aorist tense is actually very prevalent in the New Testament scriptures, mainly because it is the normal way stories are told.

Consider the following two accounts in modern English:  

"I went to the store and noticed a man there who looked lost. I asked him what the problem was. He said that he needed some money to buy some food. I gave him some money, and he said, 'Wow! Thanks!'"
"So, I go to the store, and I notice a man there who looks lost. So I ask him what the problem is, and he says he needs money to buy some food. So I give him some money, and he says, 'Wow! Thanks!'"
The first is the formal way in English for telling a story. The second way is a very common way of saying the same thing, but in modern usage it is considered more informal and colloquial, usually expressed orally in conversation, usually one on one, and not in writing.

Notice that in the second account I appear to be using English simple present tense for all the verbs. But the listener would understand that it all happened in the past. The reason I might choose to communicate it the second way is because I am less interested in reciting a historical account, and more interested in conveying the facts of the events.

In the New Testament Greek, the second way is the normal way of telling a story or recounting a series of events in the past. But you see that it isn't a matter of describing when the action or events occurred. We all know that they happened as a sequence of events in the past. The Koine aorist is simply used to express the events as a series of "facts."

Now, all that said, there is another matter contributing to some confusion, and that is that in modern Greek the aorist tense is normally used as equivalent to the simple past tense. But now we are considering the Greek language 2000 years later. It may have evolved to that, but it wasn't that way originally. 2000 years is a long time for language to evolve. Consider the English text of the King James Version of the Bible, to see how English has changed in just a few hundred years. In fact, the popular "KJV" is actually the 1769 "Oxford" edition/revision by Benjamin Blayney, which was based on the "Cambridge" edition by Francis Sawyer Parris (1760), and includes some 24,000 changes and corrections to the original 1611 King James Bible, mostly to update the archaic language and word spellings, to be more understandable to those reading the Bible in the 18th century. If you were to get a hold of a copy of the 1611 King James Bible, which is 400 years old, then you would find it even harder to read. William Tyndale's English translation of the 1530's is even more awkward, and John Wycliffe's English translation of the 1380's even more so. So why would we consider using the modern Greek language as any kind of reference point?

There is another unfortunate issue that comes into play here, and that is that the reformation-era English translators did not really know Koine Greek very well, as it is now better understood. If they were educated, they did learn and know Latin, and they had the Latin Vulgate translation of the scriptures. But Latin doesn't have an aorist tense, either. So they read the Koine Greek with their Latin/English grammatical understanding, and created the first English translations accordingly. These early English translations formed a strong tradition of those to follow, with translators continuing to mentally grasp at Latin/English grammatical paradigms. And again, if the reformation-era translators studied what was then "modern" Greek, either through the contemporary Greek literature of the day, or by traveling to Greece, they would have been exposing themselves to the the beginnings of the same modern Greek of today, which replaced Medieval/Byzantine Greek, which replaced Koine Greek.

All this serves as an explanation for why it is not uncommon for Greek professors to instruct Bible translators to just render the Greek aorist in English simple past tense. The New Testament is full of stories told in the aorist, and those stories were testimonies of past, completed events. It flows most naturally in English to recite these narrations in the past tense, as is proper in English. And the modern Greeks do use aorist verb conjugation to express past tense. However, if you look into it, you will find that there is inconsistency and debate among scholars about how best to translate the aorist tense from biblical Greek. Rendering the Koine Greek aorist as English past tense may be an easy way out, but it is sorely lacking.

Yet I have proven a number of times, internally and contextually, what I am saying here. For example, in 1 Peter 2:24 "fact" not "past tense", I documented that the Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures in use in biblical times (the Septuagint) renders the well-known Isaiah 53:5 verb "heal" as aorist, for which we recite "by his stripes we are healed." It would not make any sense to render that as past tense on a timeline ("by his stripes we were healed"), since Isaiah was writing many hundreds of years before the time of Christ.

In Acts 2:38 "baptism" analysis I quoted Acts 2:38 where the commands by Peter to "repent" and "be baptized" are in the aorist tense (imperative mood). You cannot command anyone to do anything in the past!

In 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins" analysis the aorist verbs "pardon" and "cleanse" cannot be past tense, because they are conditional upon us "avowing our sins" in the present tense!

Someone once asked about Col 1:23, citing, "the gospel, which ye have heard, which was preached to every creature which is under heaven" (KJV).

Is that so? Was the gospel preached everywhere, at the time of Paul's writing the letter to the Colossians? Preached even in Mexico? You can look every word of that up in a lexicon and it will tell you nothing more. But if you know your grammar, you will see that it is a participial phrase, and the participle is in the aorist tense. It is talking about the "of the herald in all creation under heaven" gospel. "Herald" is an aorist participle, genitive case, and the actual verb is "hear," as in "you(plural) hear [aorist]." You "hear" what? You "hear" the "gospel." What kind of gospel? The "herald in all creation under heaven" gospel. The participial phrase serves as an adjective, and "herald" is in the aorist tense, stating it as a fact, rather than an action on a timeline. That's not lexical definitions. That's grammar. Problem solved. Col 1:23 doesn't specify "when."

Once you get a hold of this concept, then a lot of scripture that seems awkward or even contradictory in the English because of a perceived "action in time" factor becomes straightforward and simple. The aorist tense just states the fact of something, rather than action in time.

For example, Eph 1 contains a long series of aorists, declaring our state, rather than when a thing happened. They are:

1:3 "bless"
1:4 "choose"
1:5 "designate-beforehand"
1:6 "grace"
1:8 "lavish"
1:9 "know-ize"
1:10 "head-up"
1:11 "allot"
1:11 "designate-beforehand"
1:13 "hear"
1:13 "believe"
1:13 "seal"
1:15 "hear"
1:20 "operate"
1:20 "rouse"
1:20 "seat"
1:22 "subject"
1:22 "give"

Read the following, thinking "state" rather than "action in time," where I take the NASB'95 text and modify/highlight the aorist verbs: (remember my illustration "I play the piano")  

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He choose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He designate-beforehand us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely grace us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavish us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He know-ize us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him
That's improper English grammar, but it illustrates the point. You may ask "when" were we "blessed" and "chosen" and so on, but Eph 1 doesn't speak about that. It simply proclaims these points as facts that apply to us as believers in Christ.

At this point, you can see that the "predestination" "sovereignty of God" Calvinistic sacred cow proof-texting of this just dissolves, because it is based on an English translation deficiency, and not on the actual scripture. The actual scripture in Eph 1 communicates eternal truths that apply to us, without any reference to a timeline.

Or, likewise, take Romans 8:29-30, another favorite of Calvinists. I'll I reword it in the same way to highlight the aorist verbs:  

29 For those whom He foreknow, He also designate-beforehand to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He designate-beforehand, He also call; and these whom He call, He also justify; and these whom He justify, He also glorify.
Again, I am using improper English grammar, but it illustrates the point. Romans 8:29-30 is "fact-fact-fact," rather than "event, event, event" on a timeline.

One way to re-word the Greek aorist is to paraphrase by changing the aorist verb to a noun form and then preceding it with the English intransitive verb "to be."

For example, "I play the piano" can be paraphrased "I am a piano player." The verb is "am" and the noun is "player." If your boss says that you can't be late to work, we'd say that "your boss's statement is that you can't..." "Says" (verb) becomes a "statement" (noun). In Eph 1, we don't ask "when" God has blessed or is going to bless us, but we say "the blessing of God applies to us." In both Isa 53:5 (Greek Septuagint) and 1 Pet 2:24, "heal" is aorist. So we say "we are healed" (the nown "healed," not the English present verb tense "are healed," and not English simple past tense "were healed," and not the English present perfect tense "have been healed"). In Rom 8:29, God "has foreknowledge" of us. In 1 John 1:9, "pardon" and "cleansing" are ours (change to the noun form of the verbs "pardon" and "cleanse").

Getting a hold of this is important, for the The New Testament Koine Greek is equipped to elegantly and succinctly describe the revelation and teaching of the new man, which includes many promises of who we are in Christ and where we are positioned. The English translation is not as adequate to do this, and the inadequacy of the language translation can actually be capitalized upon to create sacred cow doctrines.

For example, all the "sovereignty of God" Calvinistic arguments about predestination just dissolve, because the text in Eph 1 or Rom 8 does not say "when," but declare what simply "is" as a "done deal" fact, without regard to "when." It is only by using the ambiguity of the English language that you can proof-text the sacred cows of modern Calvinism.

Or, for example, 1 John 1:9 does not lead you either to the confessional in a Roman Catholic mass, or to any Protestant substitute for it, such that "if you confess, then God will pardon and cleanse you".

Or, for example, Acts 2:38 commands in the aorist imperative to have a change of mind and instead be in the state of being immersed into pardon of sins, addressing those who were previously immersed into the Law of Moses and were in a state of crucifying Jesus (even if they didn't actually take part in the mob scene in Pilate's court, shouting "crucify him!"). Peter said, "You crucify (aorist) him." They responded, "What should we be doing (present tense)?" Peter responded "Repent (aorist) and let be immersed (aorist) into pardon of sins."

Two other verb tenses that can pose problems in translation (though not as much as the aorist tense does) are the perfect and imperfect tenses.

The perfect tense denotes completion of an action. This implies that the action started sometime in the past and is no longer happening in the present. This translates nicely to the English present perfect tense: "has/have + [verb]+ed." In my "play the piano" example, the form would be "I have played the piano."

The imperfect tense, Koine Greek παρατατικος (LSJ #81328, "paratatikos") denotes an incomplete action. This implies that the action started sometime in the past, but that it did not complete. This presents an ambiguity when translating to English, because either the English past progressive/continuous "was/were + [verb]+ing" or the English present perfect continuous "has/have been [verb]+ing" could be used. In my "play the piano" example, that might be "I was playing the piano" or "I have been playing the piano," respectively. Unfortunately, this too is usually rendered in the English simple past tense.

So now we have the obvious contradiction that both the Koine Greek aorist tense and the Koine Greek imperfect tense get rendered in the English simple past tense, though they are different, and this despite that the Koine Greek has no "past tense"!

A good example to illustrate the imperfect paradigm (pun intended) is John 1:1

εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος
Transliterated into Roman/Latin font:
en arche en ho logos kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos
Translated, word for word, using the English simple past tense:
in origin was the word and the word was toward the god and god was the word
The problem with using the English simple past tense is that it specifies something as having occurred in the past, but you cannot assume that it still is that way. How do we know from the scripture that it is still the case?

Also, the last clause "and god was the word" is so awkward that the word order is reversed in every translation to make it sound right in English, even though the verb is intransitive, and could be written that way. Therefore, every translation reads "and the Word was God."

The issue is that the intransitive verb "to be/exist" is in the imperfect tense. So if we substitute the English past progressive/continuous tense "has been being," it all makes sense:

in origin has been being the word and the word has been being toward the god and god has been being the word.
So now you see that God has always "been being" the "Word," since the origin. I posted a rendering of all of John 1:1-17 here.

But, alas, this is considered too awkward in English, so translators use "was" and switch the order of "God" and "Word" in the last clause.

The other Koine Greek tenses, the present, future, and pluperfect, map well to the English present, future, and past perfect tenses, respectively, although there is no distinction in the Koine Greek between the simple and progressive/continuous versions of these, as there is in English.

Another issue is not with verb tense, but verb voice.

In English, we have the active voice (acts upon) and the passive voice (is acted upon). In Koine Greek, there is another voice, the middle voice, which means that something acts upon such as to be acted upon. This can be a moot point, a subtle point, or an important point, depending on the word and context used.

For example, in Luke 22:29

καγω διατιθεμαι υμιν καθως διεθετο μοι ο πατηρ μου βασιλειαν
Transliterated into Roman/Latin font:
kago diatithemai umin kathos dietheto moi o pater mou basileian
The KJV translates that as
And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me.
But it literally says
and-I am-covenanting [present, middle] to-you(plural) as-accordingly the father of-me covenants [aorist, middle] kingdom to me
Note that in the first instance (present tense), Jesus says that he is entering into a covenant with his disciples. In the second instance (aorist tense), he states the timeless fact of his covenant with his Father. The middle voice of the verb "covenant" reveals a reciprocal agreement, that Jesus "covenants" so as to enter into a covenant; put another way, Jesus is "covenanting" with his disciples such as to enter the covenant himself, just as the covenant with his Father is reciprocal.

So you see that understanding both the verb tenses and the verb voices gives greater meaning to this statement of Jesus, which is a statement about the New Covenant, not merely "appointing" a "kingdom" unto his disciples.

Another issue is with verb mood.

Koine Greek has five moods:

Adding person and number to the verb conjugations, and then all the participle forms, which add case and gender, you can see that Koine Greek verbs provide quite detailed, specific information that is comparatively scarce in English verb grammar.

Another issue is with the imperative mood in the third person.

In English, the imperative mood is always only in the second person. In other words, the one-word sentence, "Go." has the implied pronoun "you" before it: "[You] Go." In English, taking that pronoun away changes it from present indicative ("You go.") to present imperative ("Go.") However, in Koine Greek, the imperative mood is designated by an inflection (verb conjugation) that can also be in the third person, which cannot be translated easily into English: "[He/she/it/they] Go." The best we can do is add the phrase "Let it be...," as in, "Let it be gone." But that isn't quite right, either, because "gone" is not present tense, and the verb "let" is added. So the bottom line is that you just have to internalize the Koine Greek sense of it. I documented in What is "prayer" according to the scriptures?, that this, in conjunction with the understanding of what the word προσευχη, traditionally translated "prayer" in English, means, adds to the understanding of what has become known as the "Lord's Prayer," for example.

The verbal grammar is only one component of understanding the original Koine Greek text, but I have found it to be the most important. By comparison, for example, Koine Greek nouns only have five cases: nominative (subject), accusative (object), genitive ("that" goes with "this"), dative ("this" goes with "that"), and vocative (addressing the thing). And there are many other things, as well, that you learn as you go. But again, the additional features simplify things and make the meanings more explicit, rather than more ambiguous, which is much more of a problem in English.

John 3:16 examples in translation history, highlighting verb tenses

The following gives a sense of the progression of translation history, using the most popular verse in the New Testament. Wycliffe translated from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Greek scriptures; he did not know Greek. Latin did not have an "aorist" verb tense, either.

Tyndale translated from the original Greek.

The English translations that followed drew heavily upon Tyndale's.

Here is the progression for the often-quoted John 3:16:

"οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ’ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον"
(John 3:16, NA28 Greek)

"sic enim dilexit Deus mundum ut Filium suum unigenitum daret ut omnis qui credit in eum non pereat sed habeat vitam aeternam"
(John 3:16, Latin Vulgate, 405 AD) "For God louede so the world, that he ȝaf his 'oon bigetun sone, that ech man that bileueth in him perische not, but haue euerlastynge lijf."
(John 3:16, Wycliffe, 1380's) "For God so loveth the worlde yt he hath geven his only sonne that none that beleve in him shuld perisshe: but shuld have everlastinge lyfe."
(John 3:16, Tyndale, 1536) "For God so loued the worlde, that hee hath giuen his onely begotten Sonne, that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life."
(John 3:16, 1587 Geneva Bible) "For God so loued ye world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne : that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life
(John 3:16, 1611 King James Bible) "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
(John 3:16, 1769 KJV, Oxford Edition, a.k.a. the "Authorized Version") Let me try my own hand at this:

"For God so loves the world that He gives His only-begotten Son, that whoever is believing in Him should not perish, but may be having everlasting life."
(John 3:16, my own best attempt)

"Give" in John 3:16 corresponds to the prophecy of Isa 9:6, "to us a son is given," using the Old Testament Hebrew verb form "נִתַּן־" (niphal, perfect), and the Old Testament Septuagint Greek translated verb form "εδοθη" (aorist). That the son is "given" to us is and was a fact, a "done deal," which was as true in the time of Isaiah the prophet as it is true now. That truth is timeless. And once more, the Greek text again proves that just translating the aorist as past tense doesn't work, because Isaiah couldn't have been saying "to us a son was given" many hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born on a timeline, but "to us a son is given" is timeless.

Here you can see the translation attempts; it cannot be accurately translated, because the aorist cannot be accurately translated, because the English has no aorist verb tense. Yet you can also see that, in the case of this doctrinally important verse, the sense of the truth comes through regardless of which of the above translations you read.

Here's my paraphrase of what is being conveyed:

"Based on God's love for the world, his only-begotten son is given, so that whoever believes in him be not perishable, but have eternal life."
(John 3:16, my paraphrase)
Of course, a paraphrase relies on the correct interpretation by the person paraphrasing to convey thought for thought. So the situation is that you have to choose between an imperfect translation or a hopefully correct paraphrase. Even in the above paraphrase, it is hard to render the middle voice of the verb αποληται ("destroy"). The sense is that one "destroys self" so as to "be destroyed," making "perish" an oversimplification. It is not just passive, like a house plant that "perishes" if it is not watered. The natural man destroys himself; Jesus rescues us from our self-destruction.

In this case John 3:16 is understandable in each of the translations above, as well as in my paraphrase. That is the case with most scripture, despite the dilemma of the aorist tense, which is technically impossible to translate. But there are a few places where the English is not well enough defined to be clear. Yet even if it is "close enough," you will get an even clearer, more intimate idea of the thought conveyed if you look it up in the original Greek.

This may all seem awkward and a bit complicated at first, especially if you have forgotten even your English verb grammar that you learned in school, but once you get a hold of it, the scriptures become clearer and more simple in so many cases, instead of occasionally awkward, and sometimes even vexing.

The pitfalls of relying on "scholarly" expositors, Thayer's, Vine's, etc.

Obviously, we who are neither linguists nor scholars of classical languages have to have a starting point; it is impractical, if not impossible, for a person to just reverse-engineer the language from scratch without any reference at all. But we have to be very careful about depending on the scholarly sources, as well. The scholars are pretty much all religiously-trained people who are mostly affiliated with institutional, often Calvinistic, sometimes cessationist, or often Roman/Anglican Catholic institutional mindsets, even if aligned with the "Protestant Reformation" of the Roman/Anglican Catholic Church institutions.

Thayer, for his part, was actually a Unitarian, denied the deity of Jesus Christ, and did not believe in the inerrancy of the scriptures. (See for an account of his own written sentiments to that effect).

So, it is best to use their references minimally, and then dig into the scriptures contextually, especially with the computer-based tools we have at our disposal that make this extremely efficient, refining one's own understanding as one goes.

When I say "contextual," I am referring to how you learned your strongest language, your first one, at the age of two or three years old, without having attended any formal schooling. By comparison, the languages that you are taught in "school" are invariably languages with which you are less proficient. Everyone knows that it is more effective to "immerse" yourself into a language, rather than learn it in a classroom.

That brings us to how much we should allow ourselves to rely on the expository definitions of scholars, when they analyze and expound upon them. Although it may be superficially easier to just open up another man's commentary on the Bible or Bible words, it will bring in their doctrinal bias. It is less trouble in the long run to search through the original text for yourself, especially with the computer-based tools we now have available to search quickly and exhaustively (although you can still use a hard copy exhaustive concordance and grammar references; it is just much more slow and tedious.) The computer has no doctrinal bias or prejudice; it is a machine. It is incapable of throwing a religious spin on anything at all.

The following example will certainly hit home to those of us of like-mind, regarding how you might be led astray to draw the wrong conclusions (i.e. the expositor's conclusions). I will expose faulty logic, bad grammar, and blatant presuppositional bias in this example.

Most people know the sacred cow doctrine of how the apostle Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was supposedly a God-ordained physical sickness that God refused to take away from him, even though Paul begged him to, and that the sickness was supposedly an eye affliction, such that in Gal 6:11 Paul supposedly had to write with, uh, "large letters" (meaning, alphabetic characters, as defined in English) because of claimed "eye affliction," and that the Galatians would have "torn out their eyes for him" if they could. This belief is nearly ubiquitous; it is widely accepted as the "scholarly" view.

What follows demonstrates how, even if you are a scholar, but start by accepting and believing sacred cows like that, that it will taint your exposition of the original Greek word definitions. And I will show from the scriptures what I am saying, by giving exhaustive examples.

I also recorded a video on this subject: Paul's "large letters": Did he have an eye problem?"

What I am about to expose is a classic example of "circular reasoning," also called "begging the question." The circular logic is as follows:

In the above "circular reasoning," you will see that I actually went "full circle" twice.

However, the word used for "large" just means "grand," and the word used for "letters" is literally "write-effects" (i.e. anything that is a result of the act of writing or inscribing, literally or by consequence). Paul wrote to "grand" "write-effects."

ιδετε πηλικοις υμιν γραμμασιν εγραψα τη εμη χειρι
idete pelikois umin grammasin egrapsa te eme cheiri

behold to-what-grand to-you(plural) write-effects I-write to-the my hand

Now we come to a play on the English language that has nothing to do with the Koine Greek. The problem is in equating the Greek word with the English word "letter," which in English can either mean an alphabetic character (as opposed to a number or special character), or something written, usually correspondence that is mailed. So, it is an English ambiguity, but not one in the Koine Greek. The English word "letter" is derived from a Latin word ("litera/littera"), not a Greek word.

In the New Testament, you can do a computer search and find that there is a base word γραφ__ ("graph__") from which a family of words used in the Bible are derived. I'll list them by the Strong's classifications, as succinctly as I can:

Adding the prefix/preposition επι (Strong's G1909, "epi"), "upon": Adding the prefix/preposition απο (Strong's G575, "apo"), "off/from": Adding the prefix/preposition προ (Strong's G4253, "pro"), "prior": Adding the word χειρ (Strong's G5495, "cheir"), "hand": I have also checked γραμμα in the Perseus online library (Tuft's University) that covers an immense collection of Greek classical literature, as well ( ). The basic concept is anything that is "inscribed" or "written," or any other "effect" of writing. An alphabetic character could be one thing "inscribed" or "written," obviously, as well as a sequence of such characters, but that is beside the point that it is any "effect" of writing.

Contrast this to the English word "letter," which is either a written communication (normally mailed), or an alphabetic character (as distinguished from a numerical digit, punctuation character or other special character).

Regarding the word "large," I have also checked πηλικος in the Perseus online definition ( ). The basic concept is greatness, eminence, or antiquity. It would best be translated as "how grand."

πηλικος (Strong's G4080, "pelikos") is similar in meaning to ηλικος (Strong's G2245, "[h]elikos"), which means "how much" or "amount" or "as big as" or "how great," and τηλικος (LSJ #106748, "telikos"), which means "of such age" or "so great." That last word, contracted with ουτος (Strong's G3778, "[h]outos"), "this/that," produces τηλικουτος (Strong's G5082, "telikoutos"), which means "of such an [amount of] age" (young or old) or "so/such great." From this, you can get a sense of the common meaning of these words, and can further verify them with a Bible search, given the Strong's number codings that I have just revealed.

A better word for "large" as in "big" would be μεγας (Strong's G3173, "megas"), used well over 200 times in the New Testament, from which the English prefix "mega-" is derived, although this word and prefix is also more often used figuratively (as in "great"), both in Koine Greek and in English.

Some of the things which are "large" (μεγα_, "mega_") in scriptures:

Why didn't the apostle Paul use this word μεγας ("megas")? The answer is that it is because he didn't mean "big/large"!

Next I will show how you can be led astray by blatant bias in Thayer's or Vine's. Let's see what they have to say.

First, the word "large" (Gal 6:11 "large letters")

Strong's G4080 πηλικος ("pelikos")

a quantitative form (the feminine) of the base of G4225; how much (as an indefinite), i.e. in size or (figuratively) dignity
Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament:
πηλικος, -η, -ον, (fr. ηλιξ[?]), interrog., "how great, how large": in a material reference (denoting geometrical magnitude as disting. fr. arithmetical , ποσος) (Plat. Meno p. 82 d.; p. 83 e.; Ptol. 1, 3, 3; Zech ii. 2, [6]), Gal vi. 11, where cf. Winer, Ruckert, Hilgenfeld, [Hackett in B. D. Am. ed. s. v. Epistle; but see Bp. Lghtft. or Meyer]. in an ethical reference, i. q. "how distinquished", Heb. vii. 4.*
Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
"how large," is used of letters of the alphabet, characters in writing, Gal. 6:11, "with how large (letters);" it is said of personal greatness in Heb. 7:4. See GREAT, No. 5
Let's look at that Heb 7:4 reference, the only other occurrence in the New Testament:
Heb 7:4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.
You see that the sense here is "greatness," not necessarily physical "largeness." I.e. it is not saying that Melchizedek was a "large man." And if it means nothing more than that, why does Vine jump right to Gal 6:11 and expound upon it, saying that it "is used of letters of the alphabet..."?

Next, the word "letter" (Gal 6:11 "large letters")

Strong's G1121 γραμμα ("gramma"):

a writing, i.e. a letter, note, epistle, book, etc.; plural learning.
Thayer's Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament:
γραμμα -τος, το (γραφω), "that which has been written"; 1. "a letter" i.e. the character: Lk. xxiii. 38 [R G L br. tr mrg. br.]; Gal vi. 11. 2. "any writing, a document or record"; a. "a note of hand, bill, bond, account, written acknowledgment of debt", (as scriptio in Varr. sat. Men. 8, 1 [cf. Edersheim ii. 268 sqq.]): Lk xvi. 6 sq. ([Joseph. antt. 18, 6, 3], in L txt. T tr WH plur. τα γραμματα; so of one document also in Antiph. p. 114, (30); Dem. p. 1034, 16; Vulg. cautio). b. "a letter, an epistle": Acts xxviii. 21; (Hdt. 5, 14; Thuc. 8, 50; Xen. Cyr. 4, 5, 26, etc.). c. τα ιερα γραμματα "the sacred writings" (of the O.T.; [so Joseph. antt. prooem. § 3; 10, 10, 4 fin.; c. Ap. 1, 10; Philo, de vit. Moys. 3, 39; de praim. et poen. § 14; leg. ad Gai. § 29, etc. -- but always τ α ι. γ.]): 2 Tim. iii. 15 [here T W H om. L Tr br. τα]; γραμμα i. q. the written law of Moses, Ro. ii. 27; Μωυσεως γραμματα, Jn. v. 47. Since the Jews so clave to the letter of the law that it not only became to them a mere letter bu also a hindrance to true religion, Paul calls it γραμμα in a disparaging sense, and contrasts it with το πνευμα i.e. the divine Spirit, whether operative in the Mosaic law, Ro. ii. 29, or in the gospel, by which Christians are governed, Ro. vii. 6; 2 Co. iii. 6 sq. [but in vs. 7 R G T WH read the plur. written "in letters" so L mrg. Tr mrg.]. 3. τα γραμματα, like the Lat. litterae, Eng. "letters", i.q. "learning": Acts xxvi. 24; ειδεναι, μεμαθηκεναι γρ. (c.f Germ "studirt haben"), of sacred learning, Jn. vii. 15, etc.,...
Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
primarily denotes "that which is traced or drawn, a picture;" then, "that which is written," (a) "a character, letter of the alphabet," 2 Cor. 3:7; "written," lit., "(in) letters;" Gal. 6:11; here the reference is not to the length of the Epistle (Paul never uses gramma, either in the singular or the plural of his Epistles; of these he uses epistole, No. 2), but to the size of the characters written by his own hand (probably from this verse to the end, as the use of the past tense, "I have written," is, according to Greek idiom, the equivalent of our "I am writing"). Moreover, the word for "letters" is here in the dative case, grammasin, "with (how large) letters;" ( b ) "a writing, a written document, a bond" (AV, "bill") Luke 16:6,7; (c) "a letter, by way of correspondence," Acts 28:21; (d) the Scriptures of the OT, 2 Tim. 3:15; (e) "learning," John 7:15, "letters;" Acts 26:24, "(much) learning" (lit., "many letters"); in the papyri an illiterate person is often spoken of as one who does not know "letters," "which never means anything else than inability to write" (Moulton and Milligan); (f) "the letter," the written commandments of the Word of God, in contrast to the inward operation of the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant, Rom. 2:27,29; 7:6; 2 Cor. 3:6; (g) "the books of Moses," John 5:47.
Note that Thayer's first definition is "a letter i.e. the character." He makes no reference to any classical literature, whereas he does for the other definitions.

Vine's first definition is "(a) 'a character, letter of the alphabet," and he goes on to make an argument saying that in Gal 6:11 Paul refers to the "size of the characters written by his own hand," then goes on about how he wouldn't be referring to his "letter" as a writing. Why the biased exposition? And why is this the primary (i.e. first, i.e. "1. ") definition?

In his arguments are several fallacies. The first, "here the reference is not to the length of the Epistle," is a logical straw man. A "straw man" is where you mischaracterize the opposing position and then shoot down that "straw man." The "straw man" would be that πηλικος refers to simply "length" instead of size. He conveniently omits mention of Heb 7:4, which he himself included in his definition of πηλικος, where Melchizedek was neither "large," nor "long." What about Paul's letters being "grand"?

His next argument is a logical fallacy, an "argument from silence," which is "Paul never uses gramma,...." If he never happened to find occasion to, then does that mean that he would never? Since the scriptures never mention that the apostle Paul wore sandals, does that mean that he never did?

Next, he speculates that the size of the characters would be so "from this verse to the end," without any justification of such a notion, except for his statement of the "past tense, 'I have written.' But this is also nonsensical, since his writing of large, alphabetic characters would have to stop at the word "εγραψα" and, as we know, there were no "verses" in the Bible until they were first added in the 16th century English translations.

That last point about the "past tense" shows that Vine does not really have a good grasp of Koine Greek verbal grammar, either. "Past tense" in English would be "I wrote," not "I have written." "I have written" would be the English present perfect tense. Koine Greek has no "past tense," so now he is confusing Koine Greek grammar with English grammar. Koine Greek does have a perfect tense, which would have been spelled γεγραφα ("gegrapha," conjugated as indicative mood, perfect tense, active voice, first person, singular number). But that is not the verb conjugation used in Gal 6:11. The verb is spelled εγραψα, ("egrapsa," conjugated as indicative mood, aorist tense, active voice, first person, singular number).

The Koine Greek aorist tense states the fact of the matter, plain and simple, without reference to action in time. In other words, the apostle Paul is saying that this is how he "writes," without specifying when he writes. If I tell you right now that I "play" the piano, then that is the aorist by implication in my English usage, even though English has no such explicit verb conjugation (the form I used is the simple present tense). You will not assume by my statement that I am playing the piano as I am typing this. You will understand that I am a piano player, and that I am stating that as a fact. This is not "Greek idiom," as Vine suggests, but explicit verb conjugation. Nor is it, as Vine says, "the equivalent of our 'I am writing,' which would be the English present continuous/progressive tense. The Koine Greek has a present tense, which would have been spelled γραφω ("grapho," indicative mood, present tense, active voice, first person, singular number). But that is not how the apostle Paul spelled it, either. Jump back to here for more detailed discussion of this.

So, you should be beginning to see at this point that neither Thayer's nor Vine's is as "scholarly" as you might have originally assumed.

Again, it is a play on an English language ambiguity. In the English language, "letter" can mean either an alphabetic character (as opposed to a numeric digit, punctuation, special character, etc.), or it can be something that you write to someone (e.g. "I wrote her a letter.")

Not so in the Greek. In the Greek it just means a "write-effect," a very broad term that refers to anything that comes as a result or consequence of the act of writing or inscribing.

To further demonstrate this, I will cite all 34 occurrences of that Greek word "gramma" in both the New Testament and also the Septuagint (the Septuagint is the Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures in use during New Testament times). I'll quote consistently from the NKJV where possible, except in a few instances where I had to use the Septuagint interlinear. The word γραμμα is the translated word in bold.

Luke 16:6-7 And he said, A hundred measures of oil. So he said to him, Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty. Then he said to another, And how much do you owe? So he said, A hundred measures of wheat. And he said to him, Take your bill, and write eighty.

Luke 23:38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

John 5:47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?

John 7:15 And the Jews marveled, saying, How does this Man know letters, having never studied?

Acts 26:24 Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!

Acts 28:21 Then they said to him, We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you.

Rom 2:27-29 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, kin the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

Rom 7:6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

2 Cor 3:6-7 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,

Gal 6:11 See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!

2 Tim 3:15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Exodus 39:30 Then they made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD

Lev 19:28 (ABP interlinear) And cuts you shall not make for a soul on your body; and letter marks you shall not make upon you. I am the Lord your God.

Joshua 15:15-16 (ABP interlinear) And ascended from there Caleb upon the ones dwelling in Debir; and the name Dibir was formerly City of Letters. And Caleb said, Who ever should take the City of Letters, and should dominate it, I will give to him Achsah my daughter for a wife.

Joshua 15:49 (ABP interlinear) and Dannah, and the city of Letters, this is Debir;

Joshua 21:29 (ABP interlinear) and Jaarmuth and the parts being separated with it, and Spring of Letters and the parts being separated with it -- cities four

Judges 1:11-12 (ABP interlinear) And they went from there to the ones dwelling in Debir; and the name Debir was formerly Kirjasth-sepher -- City of Letters. And Caleb said, Who ever should strike the City of Letters, and be first to take it, I will give to him Achsah my daughter for a wife.

Esther 4:3 And in every province where the kings command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

Esther 6:1-2 That night the king could not sleep. So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king. And it was found written that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the kings eunuchs, the doorkeepers who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.

Esther 8:5 and said, If it pleases the king, and if I have found favor in his sight and the thing seems right to the king and I am pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to annihilate the Jews who are in all the kings provinces.

Esther 8:10 And he wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed it with the kings signet ring, and sent letters by couriers on horseback, riding on royal horses

Esther 9:1 (ABP interlinear) For in the twelfth month, on the thirteenth of the month, which is Adar, were at hand the letters written by the king.

Psalm 71:15 (ABP interlinear) My mouth shall announce your righteousness the entire day; your deliverance, for I did not know writings.

Isaiah 29:11-12 The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate [ABP "having knowledge of letters"], saying, Read this, please. And he says, I cannot, for it is sealed. Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate [ABP "not having knowledge of letters"], saying, Read this, please. And he says, I am not literate. [ABP "do not have knowledge of letters"]

Daniel 1:4 young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the kings palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans.

Adding the Koine Greek Septuagint references is helpful, because the Old Testament is four times the size of the New Testament, and often brings in many more references to words.

Now you see that in 34 instances, none of them refer to a "letter," as in alphabetic character, as defined in English.

The closest thing would be the "inscriptions" posted on the cross of Jesus in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. But again, these are meant to be inscriptions in three different "languages," not three different character fonts. Readers of the sign who were either Roman, Greek, or Jewish would be able to understand the meaning of the inscription. If it were just a matter of character fonts, then they would be three different "transliterations" of one language, like you see me consistently do in my writings, when typing a Greek word in both the actual Greek font (e.g. "γραμμα") and the transliterated Roman/Latin font for the same Greek word spelling (e.g. "gramma"), for convenience.

Luke 23:38 says, actually,

ην δε και επιγραφη γεγραμμενη επ αυτω γραμμασιν ελληνικοις και ρωμαικοις και εβραικοις ουτος εστιν ο βασιλευς των ιουδαιων
transliterated into our Roman/Latin character font,
en de kai epipraphe gegrammene ep auto grammasin [h]ellenikois kai romaikois kai [h]ebraiklois [h]outos estin [h]o basileus ton ioudaion
Translated, word for word,
was-being, yet, and/also, inscription-upon, having-been-written, upon, same, to-write-effects, Greek, and, Roman, and, Hebrew: "This, is, the, king, of-the, Judeans"
Note that the base word occurs three times in that verse: Back to Gal 6:11, again, Paul wrote to very grand (πηλικοις, "pelikois") write-effects (γραμμασιν, "grammasin"). They are extensive, elaborate, persuasive writings.

He goes on to say in the next verse, "Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised..." Remember what the letter to the Galatians was all about, which was the Judaizers coming in after Paul and telling the Galatians that they had to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses. Now he is writing this elaborate letter to refute them. In principle, he could have just left it to what he said in Gal 3:2-5 ("Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?...Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?") End of letter. But he did not do that. He expounded upon the problem at great length, and refuted them at great length.

Compare the Gal 6:11 comment with Paul's facetious boasting in 2 Cor 11:22-28, in his long dissertation against the self-proclaimed "super-apostles" in chapters 10 through 13.

Do some of you folks think I write large, eloquent posts, like this one that you are now reading? That's probably what you are thinking by now: "Behold what grand writings Garth writes with his own hand!" Compare them with Paul's letters. Paul's were more grand, for sure.

On the other hand, if Paul had been talking about "large, alphabetic characters" then this would have been an off-topic, off-hand interjection that had nothing to do with the subject at hand about which he was speaking, in context. See how I properly use semicolons as punctuation in composing my posts! It would be out of character for Paul to change the topic of his discussion refuting the teaching of his detractors, the Judaizers, for just one sentence, in the middle of what he was saying, interjecting about the physical size of his print.

Now, did you catch the out of place sentence in that last paragraph? Of what relevance is it to the topic at hand for me to interject a comment about my use of semicolons?

So in conclusion, this is an example of both Thayer and Vines just trotting out the status quo, traditional doctrinal understanding, that they got from others, who got them from others, etc. If you depend primarily on such "scholarly" sources as the final authority on word meanings, then you will inherit these traditions of men. And by now you have realized that their "scholarship," in this instance, isn't so scholarly at all, but just recycled, regurgitated notions.

Again, Koine Greek is a highly mechanical language, which lends itself to highly mechanical analyses, which lends itself to the utilization of highly mechanized tools. Again, this is providential. We are left with scriptures that are unambiguous and easy to decode and understand, with a minimal dependence on scholarship.

Some online/computer study resources

My top Bible study resources (I intend to update this as time goes on):

Interlinear Bible Analyzer (ISA) free standalone software for Microsoft Windows, (also runs under WINE under Linux, or WINE with XQuartz on an Apple Mac). Install the program, then the CLV and Young's add-ons.

(Note: Please contact me to help you with this software. Many of the features are not obvious, and the user interface is a little bit awkward in places.)

An online, web browser-based tool (no software install needed) is at:

My English and Greek comparison verb charts (__ loos_ vs. _λυ_):

Source to get Greek interlinear Septuagint (OT Koine Greek translation):

The following website lets you look up Greek words online.  If you position your mouse pointer over any word, a pop-up will give you the "Strong's" definition of the original Hebrew or Greek word.  If you then click on that word, it will tell you much more about that word, including other places the word is used, which are also hyperlinked:

Look up early English Bible translations online:

The Perseus Digital Library of Tufts University in Boston is an immense library of classical Greek literature, with an online web-based search engine:

The Thesaurus Linguae Graecae is another digital library of Greek Literature

Included in the above is an online version of the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, covering all classical Greek literature:

Add-ons to easily type in Greek character font:

Mozilla Firefox web browser and/or Thunderbird e-mail client:


Google Chrome or Chromium web browser:

Google Input Tools (by Google)

If you are running Unix/Linux, you can add the Greek keyboard as an option using iBus Preferences, and switch back and forth by pressing the Super-Space keys, or another hotkey that you designate.  If someone knows how to easily switch back and forth using Microsoft Windows, Mac OS-X, or Android, let me know.

If you have an Apple iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch),

Search "Greek and Hebrew Study Bible" on Apple iOS App Store

Or, from a web browser:

Search "Greek Interlinear Bible" on Apple iOS App Store

Or, from a web browser:

Search "Strong's KJV 2010" on Apple iOS App Store

Or, from a web browser:

Search "grammatical aids" or "igrεεk" (note two epsilon "εε" characters)

Or, from a web browser:

The author of that app has an extensive collection of links to resources:

Apple iOS Greek on-screen keyboard: Settings --> General --> Keyboard --> Keyboards --> Add New Keyboard --> Greek

(Then toggle on-screen keyboard between English and Greek using the little globe icon at the bottom left.)

If you have an Android device,
Search "Greek Interlinear Bible" on Google Play Store

Or, from a web browser:

Search "Greek Interlinear Bible" on Google Play Store

Or, from a web browser:

An app version of Bible Hub can be located by searching "Bible Hub" on the Google Play Store

Or, from a web browser:

Also, I use Olive Tree Bible Software, which works on most platforms (Windows/Mac/iOS/Android, but not Linux), and has many advanced Hebrew/Greek resources, although they are very expensive. I have the BHS Hebrew with morphology, parsings, and lexicon, Septuagint Greek with morphology, parsings, and lexicon, NA27/NA28 with morphology, parsings, lexicon, and critical apparatus, Scriverner's Textus Receptus, Byzantine Greek Majority Text, Latin Vulgate, and both NASB and ESV with linked Strong's numbers and definitions, all on my pocket device. I'll just cite their main page, and not list all the links here, so as not to make this resource list too overwhelming:

Also, I use the Logos Bible app, which works on most platforms (Windows/Mac/iOS/Android, but not Linux), and has many advanced Hebrew/Greek resources, although they are very expensive.  I have the Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) Greek-English Lexicon covering all Greek classical literature, and a number of non-Bible Greek texts for searching word usage in Greek.

Comparing Olive Tree with Logos, Olive Tree software is substantially more powerful than Logos, with more software functionality and features. On the other hand, the available Bible/book/literature titles available in Logos is much more immense of a collection than that available with Olive Tree.

Greek Week webinar

On Dec. 12-16, 2016, I held a webinar that I entitled "Greek Week," a repeat of a live seminar done in March at JGLM headquarters in Texas for onsite DBI, which was at the request of Curry and Anthony. This is a fifteen-hour "lay" webinar that I devised to "kickstart" people in learning how to read the original Koine Greek texts. The only pre-requisite and memorization requirement for this is the Greek alphabet. My approach is very different than that of seminary academia. I first explain my lack of academic credentials and formal training as an object lesson to say, "If I can do it, so can you." Then, I review Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and English language and translation history. Then, I review English grammar. Then, I similarly cover Koine Greek grammar. Then, I introduce many online and computer tools available for research and analysis, as I cover a number of particular examples of translation issues that understanding the original Greek resolves, focusing on some hand-picked, troublesome scriptures that are sometimes misread to create sacred cow doctrines. All of these select examples are covered in my written articles, but in the webinar I focus on the mechanics of how to work the tools to research and analyze them. I demonstrate tools that work on the various computing platforms: Microsoft Windows desktop, Apple OS X desktop, Apple iOS devices, and Android devices.

Session 1 of 5 (3 hours)
Session 2 of 5 (3 hours)
Session 3 of 5 (3 hours)
Session 4 of 5 (3 hours)
Session 5 of 5 (3 hours)

This page has all five videos embedded in it, for convenience:

Slides used in webinar (obscured to foil search engine robots):

(you must memorize the Greek alphabet, shown on slide 50)

No copyrightI grant this work to the public domain.