Wednesday, May 12, 2021

C.H. Spurgeon on the Preservation of Scripture

[Note: I originally wrote this post over a year ago during UK lockdown but didn't post it at the time.]

It’s no secret that for many years now, I’ve had an unhealthy obsession a healthy respect for the Last of the Puritans. I was recently working on a side project, and I had left a note for myself to “find a way to put Spurgeon in.” It was really just a joke to myself. [Update: I found a way!] Nothing wrong with an occasional irrelevant reference to the man, even if it’s against an editor’s wishes!

I decided to follow my note up and search his sermons for references to manuscripts again, and after sorting away all the references to sermon manuscripts, I came across something I had not seen before.

C. H. Spurgeon (1834–1892),
looking amused
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) preached his sermon no. 3303 “on behalf of the British and Foreign Bible Society” on Thursday evening, 14 May 1885. (By the way, the Bible Society has an amazing library in Cambridge.) The sermon wasn’t published right away. It was one of the posthumously-published sermons that finally came to print about twenty years after he died. Spurgeon’s text for the sermon, “A Very Early Bible Society,” is 2 Chron. 34:15, 18, 19—when Hilkiah finds the lost Book of the Law.

Spurgeon has a whole sermon point on “that Peculiar Preservation which God has extended to the Scriptures which he has inspired” (somewhat ironically, in light of the fact that he was preaching this from an instance in Scripture in which God’s Word appears to have been lost to his people for a time). I have shown elsewhere that Spurgeon spoke out at times in favor of textual criticism and even occasionally mentioned textual variants from the pulpit. Once, he even preached from a phrase that is in the Revised Version but not the King James Version because homoioteluton/visual similarity caused a phrase to be omitted in the majority of manuscripts (κληθῶμεν καὶ ἐσμέν, but κλη/και and θ/ε would be very similar in some hands as well). Spurgeon drank deeply from the wells of the Puritans and carried their intense respect of Scripture with him his whole life. He vehemently defended the reliability, truthfulness, and infallibility of the Scriptures, but he also understood that our access to God’s Word is not the same as what God’s Word is ontologically. Here, I stumbled upon a section in which Spurgeon defends the preservation of Scripture, but he also affirms that copies of Scripture have errors and can be corrected by comparing them to other copies. I quote a few sections below:
Now look you along through all the ages, and if you are a reverent believer in the Word, you will be filled with grateful wonder that the Sacred Roll has been preserved to us. Through what perils it has passed, and yet, as I believe, there is not a chapter of it lost; nay, nor a verse of any chapter. The misreadings of the copies are really so inconsiderable, and are so happily corrected by other manuscripts, that our Bible is a marvel in literature for the comparative ease with which the correct text is discoverable. It seems to me that God’s divine care has extended itself to the whole text, so that, with far less care than would be needed by any classic author, the very words of the Holy Spirit may be known. As the wings of cherubim overshadowed the mercy-seat, so do the wings of providence protect the Book of the Lord. As Michael guarded the body of Moses, so does a divine care secure the Books of Moses. I invite lovers of history and of famous books to look into the interesting story of the immortality of Scripture. Let us think of that special preservation with reverent gratitude.
Quickly, note here that Spurgeon does imply that the “correct text” does need to be discovered, but God’s preservation is evident in the “comparative ease with which” that is done: “with far less care than would be needed by any classical author.” In apologetics terms, Spurgeon is giving an early version of the comparison of the Bible/New Testament with classical literature, perhaps most famously made by F.F. Bruce and recently discussed by James B. Prothro.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Review of Falcetta’s Bio of J. Rendel Harris


The new issue of BBR has my review of Alessandro Falcetta’s The Daily Discoveries of a Bible Scholar and Manuscript Hunter: A Biography of James Rendel Harris. It’s an account thick with detail of a life marked by some remarkable adventures. The man survived not one but two German U-Boat attacks and “discovered” the Odes of Solomon in his own office!

One feature I wished for in the book was a bit more of Rendel’s own voice. Falcetta appears to have worked through all the personal correspondence and there were times I would have liked to hear them rather than Falcetta’s summary of them. One other thing I didn’t mention in the review is the extreme price. Thankfully, I noticed today that the publisher has put out a much more affordable paperback edition. It’s worth a read.

You can read the review here.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Cambridge Greek Lexicon 4 – Do We Need It?


This is the fourth and final post on my week with the Cambridge Greek Lexicon (first, second, third).

So do we (we, as in students of the Greek New Testament – and LXX [with different frustrations]) need the Cambridge Greek Lexicon?

No, we don’t. Not in the sense that we need it.

It is an informative lexicon, it is well set up, but it does not offer the depth of data needed for a ‘research lexicon’. Authors are referred to, but without a reference. Sometimes we get snippets of English translation but without the underlying Greek. Also, the corpus covered is not nearly wide enough to be satisfactory. So, no. I would not advise my students to use this lexicon for any in-depth work.

That being said, it is an original lexicographical work. It can help us see things we had not seen before (remember the example of δόξα in an earlier post). But in the end, this lexicon is what it is, an intermediate lexicon on the main body of literature that students would read when doing classics. And frankly, this is exactly what I will be using it for privately (and I will peek into it whenever working on the New Testament, just to see if there is something interesting in there).

Let me give you some examples.

The word ἁγνισμός receives both a definition ‘process of purifying’ and a translation / gloss, ‘purification’. The only author reference is NT, so I assume it doesn’t occur in the rest of the covered corpus. This is confirmed by BDAG, which gives a slightly better, but wordier definition as it adds a relevant adverb, ‘the process of making sthng cultically acceptable’, and adds the same gloss ‘purification’. This is the type of word where you will find nothing new in the Cambridge Greek Lexicon, and I would guess that even its fresh and independent reading will not come near to the intensity with which New Testament scholarship has pored itself over every word.

A word which is helpful to look up in the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is ἀγωγή. It is found in 2 Tim 3:10, so its NT reference is not covered by the CGL (it has only the Gospels and Acts). However, the range of senses for ἀγωγή gives a good feel for the word. In comparison, the entry in BDAG looks muddled and is in need of improvement. We all know that BDAG is far from perfect and I wish it was created using the same approach as the CGL. Instead BDAG is the result of repeatedly working over an existing lexicon, making some changes that happen to interest yet another editor, and, in its most recent outfit, adding definitions to the glosses. However, note that the entries were not rewritten or reimagined, it was simply that a definition was added which was based on the existing glosses. That leads to some toe-curling situations (see e.g. BDAG on ἀγαπάω). In that sense the CGL feels so much cleaner.

Even with simple words such as ἄγγος I thought the CGL did a better job than BDAG.

Many of the unique or just rarer words used in the letters of the New Testament will not show up in the dictionary, or only as used in the Gospels. An interesting example is γαμίζω, which is taken widely and correctly as ‘to give in marriage’, and as such also shows up in the CGL. However, the word is contested in 1 Cor 7:38, where many want to translate with ‘marry’. Because of the corpus limitation of the CGL one will not find a mention of that possibility (one will look also in vain for the variant reading ἐκγαμίζω).

 An issue where I think that the CGL is raising helpful questions is with the word ἀγενής, which in 1 Cor. 1:28 is taken as ‘not of noble birth’. This seems completely justified, also in light of its antonym εὐγενής. In the CGL ἀγενής has as its only gloss ‘not created’, because of its use in Plato. The word that covers our meaning found in 1 Corinthians is ἀγεννής. Did the first simply take the place of the second? There may be a story to tell.

 In the end, the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is a good lexicon for what it is. Do not judge it because it is not what you want it to be. And since we all ought to read lots of Greek, it is a great help. And, going full book lover again, I like the feel of the lexicon, the clarity of the lay-out. It is calling out to me to be used, it does not want to stay on the shelf. It is stirring up ζῆλος, perhaps more than φθόνος.


But should you tell your New Testament Greek students to get this? No, not really. The opportunity cost is considerable (money, shelf-space), and the immediate pay back relatively low.

There is a moral to the story, though. Despite many projects (most of which were never completed), promises, and false rumours, I am still waiting for a lexicon of the Greek Bible. A lexicon that covers the Greek Old and New Testament, that does a good job in using classical and koine literature, that mines the papyri and inscriptions, and - in an ideal world - gives some attention to Hebrew and Aramaic lexicography too. If this Cambridge Greek Lexicon took such an enormous effort over several decades and barely scraped through, I am not expecting that my lexicon will see the light of day in my life time. But wait, isn’t it about time we start talking about the Diccionario Griego–Español

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon 3 – Scope and Use


 After the previousblog post it became clear that I needed to read the introductory material to get into the detail of this new lexicon. Apart from the lists of ‘Authors and Editions’ and ‘Abbreviations’, there are only 6 pages of prose as introduction.

The project was originally intended as a revision of the Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon but soon morphed into something bigger and independent. Aimed at ‘modern students’ but also of interest to scholars because of the fresh reading of the texts.

 Here it gets interesting. The coverage of the Lexicon extends from Homer to the early second century’ and ‘most of the major authors who fall within that period are included.’ This is a lexicon aimed at students, covering most of the major literature of said period. What does that mean from a New Testament perspective? The Gospels and Acts are covered, but not the remainder of the New Testament.


Also, there is no Greek Old Testament, no Philo, no Josephus.

It is a Lexicon of a certain body of Greek literature (and indeed an important body which New Testament scholars do well to read), but it is not a Lexicon of the Greek language as a whole. There are no papyri, there is no epigraphic material.

I had not realized this from the outset. The title ‘Cambridge Greek Lexicon’ and the phrasing ‘the coverage extends from Homer to the early second century’ had led me to expect that it covered all of this period. To be honest, I think this is a little bit of a downer. All that gargantuan effort to produce something that, in the end, is an intermediate lexicon, though possibly the best one around. I had hoped for more, because we need a lexicon that does more.

 Swallowing my disappointment (and this is directed at me, not at the editors) there is the explanation of how an entry works. By and large we got this right the first time around, though there is some interesting terminology used (and not used). The example ἀλάσσω works well and demonstrates how this lexicon is at its very best. The numbered sections are called sense-sections, a definition is indeed not in bold, but the glosses are. Here the term for gloss is ‘translation words’.

Having read the ‘Structure and Content of Entries’, most of my questions about the structure have been answered, even though the application in practice may not always been as lucid as in the demonstration example.

The lexicon claims to make a real contribution, ‘Entries are organized not primarily according to chronological or grammatical criteria, but according to meaning’. This is where skill comes in, and this is where we should be able to learn something. I admit upfront that a couple of years ago I read Lakoff’s Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things and picked up a lot about how meaning develops, flows, and re-emerges. So let’s put the Lexicon to the test and we return to the same page as the previous post.

How does the meaning of δόξα develop? From the New Testament I have a firm concept of ‘glory’. So how did we get there?

The birthing verb (my term) is δοκέω, as in ‘to think’ or ‘it seems to me’, etc. Looking at the sense-sections I can see indeed how the various senses are related. ‘Glory’ is close to ‘reputation’, is close to ‘opinion about someone’. I can indeed see how the same word can function in such a wide array. If I turn then to BDAG in comparison, I am confronted with a wordy mess, divided in senses, but with definitions that need the glosses to be understood (which is of course the wrong way around). In just 30 seconds, I learned more from the Cambridge Lexicon than from BDAG.

So we have here a positive, namely the organization around senses, and a negative, a rather underwhelming coverage.

In the final post, I will ponder the question if a student of the New Testament needs this lexicon.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tyndale’s Use of ‘Jehovah’


William Tyndale (1491–1536) is known as the father of the English Bible because of the influence of his translation work. He is well known for giving to English Bible readers terms we now take for granted like anathema, godly, scapegoat, unbeliever, and zealous. He also gave us Jehovah for the divine name (spelled Iehouah or Iehoua). Tyndale was killed before he finished the OT, of course, but this translation of the divine name is found in his Pentateuch. 

What I didn’t realize until yesterday is that he does not use it in every case to translate יְהוָה. In fact, his use is quite sparing. A search of an online edition of Tyndale’s Pentateuch, turns up only seven results. Elsewhere, Tyndale treats the tetragrammaton the same way that Luther’s Bible did, by putting the first three letters in caps to mark it out. Thus, LORde akin to Luther’s HERr.

Tyndale’s 1530 Pentateuch at Gen 15.2f (source)

But if Tyndale did not use it always, how did he decide when to use it? Four of the seven cases are explainable because there is an explicit mention of יְהוָה as God’s name. The other five are all uses of הָאָדֹן יְהוָה (marked with an asterisk). He does seem to have missed Gen 15.8 though. Maybe he would have caught in revision had he lived to do so. 

  1. Genesis 15:2*
    And Abram answered: LORde Iehouah what wilt thou geue me: I goo childlesse and the cater of myne housse this Eleasar of Damasco hath a sonne.
  2. Exodus 6:3 
    and I appeared vnto Abraham, Isaac and Iacob an allmightie God: but in my name Iehouah was I not knowne vnto them.
  3. Exodus 15:3 
    The Lorde is a ma off warre, Iehouah ys his name:
  4. Exodus 17:15
    And Moses made an alter ad called the name of it Iehouah Nissi,
  5. Exodus 23:17
    Thre tymes in a yere shall all thy men childern appere before the Lorde Iehouah.
  6. Exodus 33:19 
    And he sayde: I will make all my good goo before the, and I will be called in this name Iehouah before the, ad wil shewe mercy to whom I shew mercy, and will haue compassion on whom I haue compassion.
  7. Exodus 34:23*
    Thrise in a yere shall all youre men childern appeare before the Lorde Iehouah God of Israel:
  8. Deuteronomy 3:24*
    O lorde Iehoua, thou hast begonne to shewe thy servaunte thy greatnesse and thy mightie hande for there is no God in heauen nor in erth that can do after thy workes and after thy power:
  9. Deuteronomy 9:26*
    But I made intercession vnto the Lorde and sayed: O Lorde Iehoua, destroye not thy people and thyne enheritauce which thou hast delyuered thorow thi greatnesse and which thou hast brought out of Egipte with a mightie hand.
One of the reasons I bring this up is because some recent English translations have made a big deal of using “Yahweh” in the OT for the Tetragrammaton. The 2004 HCSB did this when it came out but reversed course with the revised CSB in 2017. The in-process LSB also says it will use Yahweh. Until I checked, I had thought this was essentially a return to Tyndale’s approach. But I now see that is not the case. These modern translations really are innovating rather than returning to precedent. (Someone correct me if that’s wrong.)

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon 2 - First Impressions



Going full reader-response on the new Cambridge Classical Lexicon, let me share my first impressions when opening my new purchase. Doing what anyone would do who knows people who have been involved in the project, I turn immediately to the title page. I am not particularly involved in the Classics faculty, but I know two of the six people mentioned personally. One is the lovely Anne Thompson. Always softly spoken, always considerate, and someone who has been a great influence by expertise, thoughtfulness, and character on me and many others. The other person is ‘P. James’, who is none other than the ‘Patrick James’ on the title page of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament. I am acquainted with perhaps two people who know classical Greek; he is one of them.

Opening the first volume at random, a number of things strike me immediately. The font is relatively small, but the use of bold headwords and ekthesis make the location of a new entry stand out. The margins are all rather narrow, so this book will not be the place in which I will make any notes. At best I can get a sign in that will refer me to a note I will have made elsewhere. 

But then the first ‘New Testament’ entry I spot on this page, which happens to be δοξάζω.

 And here I get a bit confused. I trust I will get over it, but the variety of font types is puzzling.

Bold Greek, italic, Bold English, dash, small capitals, sans serif font, plus sign, minus sign (correction, probably another dash). Upfront I trust that each variation in font type makes sense, so I expect that different kinds of information are given. At this point I am not interested in reading the introduction and learning what everything stands for. I want to know how intuitive each entry is. 

δοξάζω is subdivided into 5 numbered parts. I know a little bit about the lexical wars that are being fought about the relative merits of glossing versus defining words. I don’t have a strong conviction either way, and at first glance the Cambridge Classical Lexicon doesn’t seem to have either. Have a look at the list for δοξάζω:

1. think, imagine, suppose, expect;
(intr.) think, suppose (sthg.); 

2. think, form or hold an opinion;
holdw.cogn.acc. an opinion

3. make an inference, conjecture, guess

4. estimate, reckon oneself

5. honour, praise, glorify God, His word or name, Jesus

Each of the five parts have at least two glosses, in bold. I take it that the intended  meaning is to be found where these glosses overlap (prototypical for the sense?). The third entry on this list contains a definition, ‘make an inference’, but has two glosses in addition. I assume that the gloss ‘guess’ is qualified by what precedes and that it is closer to the use of ‘guess’ as in ‘I guess it will start to rain in a minute’ than guessing that happen for truly random events. 

I am not sure about the structure of (2) here. It is glossed as ‘hold an opinion’, but then later in this part as ‘hold’ with ‘an opinion’ as a complement (if I am correct in taking italics at this point as a complement, see next). The solution lies probably in the –w.cogn.acc

The final entry sounds the most ‘New Testament’, and indeed, the ‘author source’ is given as NT. ‘honour, praise, glorify’ is followed by a dash and the following in italics, which must mean complements or objects in this context, God, His word or name, Jesus. Interesting to see ‘His’ capitalized! I gather that that strictly speaking ‘or’ in His word or name should not be in italics.

So my first impressions are that I am not sure about the methodology behind the Cambridge Greek Lexicon or the more subtle points of how a lemma is subdivided. At the very least I know that the lexicon includes the New Testament corpus. 

 Next thing to do is to read the introductory material, and, as a cliff-hanger, it will show that first impressions can be mistaken.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon (1) - Envy

EDIT: I got the name wrong! I called it initially the Cambridge Classical Lexicon, it is the Cambridge Greek Lexicon.

Many of us will have pricked up our ears when the news broke this month that the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is finally out. For many long years this project has been in the making, and I remember going to a day-conference in the Classics faculty on the topic when I was still a student.

So today I left a Covid-restricted Tyndale House early and cycled to the Cambridge University Press shop in the centre of town. The momentous nature of this new publication is not lost on the shop as they have devoted one of their window displays to both recent Greek publications, the Grammar and the Lexicon.

I am always impressed by the wide variety of books on display in this shop 😊

Clearly this lexicon is not for the faint-hearted as it is quite heavy. It may therefore well be that pound-for-pound this is not an expensive purchase; I got a lot of weight for my £51.99 (discount for University members).

 Anyway, in the coming days I will post a series of observations and random thoughts on this new lexicon solely and unashamedly from the standpoint of a student of the New Testament (I know, I am setting myself up for a fall by saying ‘in the coming days’).

I guess that you will have picked up the sole purpose of this post by now, to induce pure envy, nothing less.