NIV Application Commentaries on Sale Now

For a short time only, every NIV Application Commentary eBook is on sale for $4.99 apiece. Some may wonder whether a commentary with the name ‘application’ in it is really worth it. After all, aren’t commentaries supposed to deal with interpretation?


Commentaries can be grouped broadly into two categories: critical and popular. The critical (or exegetical) ones focus on the original language text and give detailed interpretation, drawing out the meaning of the text for seminary students, pastors, and others with training in Greek and Hebrew. Popular commentaries tend to be on the lighter side of interpretation but are usually strong on drawing out principles for living out the Christian faith for the layperson.

Too often popular commentaries are written by pastors who do not have the training, time, or tools to investigate the biblical text in depth. And critical commentaries hardly relate to the person in the pew. What is unusual about the NIV Application commentary series is that the same scholars who wrote exegetical works now bring such insights to all Christ-followers.

Take Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans for example. He has written a massive work on this great epistle (over 1000 pages!), definitely not something for the faint of heart. But he’s also written the NIV Application Commentary on Romans. One can be confident that this superb scholar’s insights are also to be found in the more accessible commentary in the Zondervan series. Further, Moo frequently packages things in a way that is memorable, pithy, even at times inspiring. And the reader can be sure that the commentator has done his homework.

The commentaries by the other scholars in this series are of the same ilk. It’s a great opportunity to get any one of these excellent tools as an eBook. The sale is from November through November 13. See the details here.

Lexical Fallacies by Linguists

Ever since James Barr’s Semantics of Biblical Language, originally published in 1961, introduced students of the Bible to the fascinating field of linguistics, the world of biblical studies has not been the same. Barr took his cues from linguists such as Ferdinand de Saussure, whose 1916 work Cours de linguistique générale (translated as Course in General Linguistics), marked a milestone in lexical studies.

Some of the lexical fallacies pointed out by these scholars, and numerous others after them, include the following:

  • Root fallacy: assigning the (supposed) original meaning of a word to its usages throughout history;
  • Diachronic priority: like the etymological or root fallacy, this looks at usage throughout the history of a word as though all such uses are still in vogue at any given slice of history (synchronic view);
  • Illegitimate totality transfer: assumes that all the uses that occur at a given time apply in any given instance;
  • Lexical-conceptual equation: the belief that a concept is captured in a single word or word group or the subconscious transference of a word to the concept and vice versa (like ἁμαρτάνω and sin).

All of these fallacies are well documented in the literature prior to 1961 (and even after!), and they are indeed linguistic fallacies that must be avoided. I have essentially applied this linguistic approach to syntax in my Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1996).

There are other ‘fallacies’ which themselves are fallacious, however. Below are enumerated three of these:

  • a word has no meaning apart from context;
  • diachronics are not helpful; instead one must focus entirely on synchronics;
  • etymology is always worthless.

I will briefly examine these three fallacies of linguists in this blog post.

A Word Has No Meaning Apart from Context

Often linguist say that the word being examined should have the meaning of ‘X’ with ‘X’ being only what one can determine from the context. But this is an unreasonable demand on any word. If every word in a given utterance had the meaning ‘X’ then we simply could not figure out what any utterance ever meant. Consider the following sentence:

Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow.

If the only word we did not understand was ‘lamb’ then with a little help from the broader context we might be able to determine that it meant a four-legged domesticated ruminant mammal whose woolly coat is used for clothing. But what if we did not know the meaning of all the words in this utterance? Unfortunately, when lexical studies are done, armed with modern linguistics, they often assume the meaning of all but the target term. But where did the meanings of the other words come from? If we were to carry the linguistic notion that a word has no meaning apart from its context to its logical conclusion, then the above sentence would initially be rendered:

X X X X X X X X X X X.

Like Egyptian hieroglyphics that were not decipherable until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, we would never be able to figure out the meaning of the sentence. It is not only the immediate context that tells us what a word means, and this leads us to the discussion of the second fallacy.

Diachronics Are Not Helpful

Frequently, linguists assume that diachronics are not helpful in determining a word’s meaning. The analogy that Saussure used was a chess game: Someone who observes a chess match, coming in sometime after the beginning of the match, can simply by observation determine who is winning the game. He or she does not need to know any of what has occurred prior to this point. This is synchronic (current time) priority to the exclusion of diachronics (over time).

There are inherent fallacies with this analogy, however. In this case, each one of the chess pieces always has its own defined functions and abilities. This never changes, yet it presupposes diachronics. Further, the chess game is not really the best analogy. A better one would be an American football game (or some other contact sport that involves teams). Suppose you came to the stadium at the beginning of the third quarter of the 1974 USC-Notre Dame football game. The score at the time was 24–7, with Notre Dame in the lead. You might say that Notre Dame was well on its way to winning the game, and you might even put money on it. I saw the game, but didn’t bet on it—though I should have since I have always been a USC fan! The second half USC team seemed to be different guys wearing the same numbers: USC went on to win 55–24, with Notre Dame being completely shut out in the second half. One would have to know about momentum (USC scored their first touchdown just before the half), and even what the coaches said to the players at halftime. In the least, just knowing the score would not be a helpful predictor of the outcome.

Expanding on this analogy, suppose you saw a game in which the teams were tied with 5 minutes to go. Knowing who had the momentum (which could only be known by diachronics); what injuries may have sidelined some key players—and when they happened; which team had the ball—and just as important, how they acquired it; which plays have worked; and which men are playmakers are all important factors in determining the outcome. Just as professional gamblers do not simply look at the W–L column but also examine injuries, home field advantage, weather, one-on-one matchups, and numerous other factors, diachronics is a key element in determining outcome. Although the current situation (synchronics) is the most important factor, the past also helps one to get a clearer picture.

It has often been said by linguists that since the speaker or writer whose words they are trying to understand may be blissfully unaware of the diachronic usage of his words, so linguists need to focus on this author’s/speaker’s usage rather than the past. I agree that we must employ the principle of synchronic priority; but we should not embrace the notion of synchronic exclusivity. Why? Because said author/speaker is presumably comfortable with his own language, having been exposed hundreds and thousands of times to most of the various words he will use in any given utterance. Diachronics are needed by the modern investigator, not the ancient speaker. Precisely because the modern researcher does not have the same linguistic background as the person whose usage is being examined he or she must ‘get up to speed’ on what a word can mean by employing diachronics. Consider for example the word-group κοινός/κοινωνία/κοινόω/κοινωνέω, etc. In the New Testament, when this word-group is used of human beings’ relationship to God, it is often put in a positive light because of the cross. We have fellowship (κοινωνία) with God because Jesus has made this possible. But in the Septuagint, this word-group frequently, if not usually, has a decidedly negative tinge. Has the word changed its meaning? No, it still has the idea of (sharing something in) common. What has changed is mankind’s relationship to God through the blood of his Son. But someone just looking at the synchronic meaning of the word-group in the New Testament may miss this background and thus an important clue to the richness of its usage in the New Testament.

Etymology Is Always Worthless

Certainly for words that have a long history, etymology is hardly needed to determine meaning. The fact is, words change in their meaning over time. Root fallacy ignores this fact. But what about words that are of recent vintage, perhaps even coined by the author one is studying? Consider, for example, θεόπνευστος, a word appearing only in 2 Timothy 3.16 in the Greek Bible. Although Paul did not invent the term, it was recently coined (apparently occurring for the first time in the Hellenistic period). As such, its history is short by the time we get to Paul. Breaking it down into its constituent elements (one form of etymologizing), we see that the word may mean “God breathed” or “inspired by God.” Did it have this force in 2 Timothy 3.16? Almost surely it did. In instances where a word is of recent coinage, and especially when it is used for the first time by the author in question, etymology is a must. No author would coin a word whose meaning had no resemblance to its parts. Words that have been in circulation for a long time, especially common words, however, require primarily a synchronic analysis with supplement from diachronics.

Although modern linguistics has made significant and abiding contributions to biblical studies, not all linguistic principles are of equal value. And some may even be fallacies themselves.

LSJ’s Greek-English Lexicon in Logos Bible software: a Review

Anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with ancient Greek is familiar with the venerable Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon. It is a huge book, with a history reaching back more than 150 years. I have two copies, both extensively marked up—one for school and one for home. But the sheer size of the volume has sometimes caused my hand to falter. A digitized version would make my life so much easier.

The folks at Logos apparently recognized the need of many students and digitized this standard lexicon. It seems that they have thought through everything to make it truly user-friendly. Rather than simply digitize the Lexicon, they have brought it into the electronic world in a superb way. One of the basic problems with using LSJ in print-form was that the Supplement at the back of the Lexicon needed to be consulted for a very large number of words, requiring the user to first examine the entry in the main lexicon, then see the update in the back. This two-step process has created quite a bit of inertia so that many students simply look at the main body of the Lexicon, thus short-changing themselves in the process.

The Logos version, however, has combined both sections: “Lexicon users no longer need to examine two different locations in the lexicon when studying a word that is included in the supplement. The content has been seamlessly integrated.” This alone is worth the price of the module!

But Logos has done even more. One of the key changes has been to eliminate the hyphens in LSJ’s word entries, allowing for an easier search for a word. Other very useful search features make this tool an indispensable resource for those studying ancient Greek.

There are a few irritating features, however. Chief among them are the numerous accent mistakes on word entries. All too frequently, accents are left off words, especially adjectives and nouns. Sometimes double accents are used; other times a grave accent is found over the penult. (Some examples of these mistakes: ἀβουλητος, ἀβουλος, ἁβροβιος, ἁβρογοος, ἁβροδαις, ἁβροπηνος, ἁβροπλουτος, ἀγνωμων, ἀγορὰζω, ἀγορασμα, βᾰρῠχειρ, βαυκισμα, βεβαιωμα, ἐρῆμος, ἑτερογνης, λογογρᾰφημα, λογοποιημα, λογχοομαι, λοιμη, μαγγᾰνον, μαιευσις, οἷόνπερ, οἰστρημα). These errata definitely need to be cleaned up for later iterations. Nevertheless, the positive features far outweigh these mistakes, making this resource a goldmine of efficient, searchable data.

The module can be ordered here: 

Review of Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament Bundle (Logos Bible Software)

As would be expected from anything produced by Steven Runge, this is a most useful tool. It is intended to help readers understand why an author chooses the forms he does to convey meaning. Discourse grammar has become an increasingly helpful approach in the last few years to supplement standard grammars. It does not replace traditional grammars, but supplements them. Occasionally, discourse grammars, including this one from Logos, will see meaning in the wrong places. For example, the illustration of the use of the participle like an indicative verb conveying some meaning that is somehow different from an indicative may be overplayed (repeatedly mentioned in the Introduction). The participle used as an indicative verb is quite rare in the NT, never seems to occur in classical Greek, and is most likely due to Semitic influence. Most of the NT examples occur in the Apocalypse, a book whose author R. H. Charles famously described as “thinking in Hebrew but writing in Greek.” Whether there is any meaning beyond revealing the author’s linguistic capacity is not a given. The same can be said for countless other grammatical phenomena in the NT (e.g., paratactic structure in Mark, anacolutha in Paul, redundant pronouns in John). Nevertheless, used with caution, discourse grammar can be extremely valuable.

On the BDF revision committee (now defunct due to the deaths of Robert W. Funk and Daryl D. Schmidt [chairman of the committee]), the team of scholars discussed for many years how best to approach the revision. One of the approaches was to include a section on semantics as a cross-reference tool so that the user could learn about the features of the Greek NT through two routes: (1) textual route, in which the student reads the text and then uses the grammar to determine meaning of the syntactical phenomena; (2) meaning route, in which the student inquires about things like how to express purpose, possession, commands, etc. This comes close to what discourse grammar does, though discourse grammar has made quite a few advances over the narrowly-defined categories of meaning that grammarians typically work with.

The main body of the six-volume work is discourse analysis of the Greek NT, seriatim from Matthew 1 through Revelation 22. There’s also a helpful introductory volume and a glossary.

Below are illustrated some of the features.

 definitions in introductionDefinitions in Introduction

 display feature--minimalDisplay feature—minimal

 Rom 3.21-26 with minimal display features

Rom 3.21-26 with minimal display features

A few limitations of this approach should be noticed. For example, although μαρτυρουμένη in Rom 3.21 is mentioned as an elaboration, the user is not told what kind of participle it is. Whether it’s adjectival ([the righteousness of God…] which is being witnessed), adverbial (being witnessed), or more particularly concessive (although it is witnessed), is not discussed. Yet how this participle is taken affects the exegesis of the text. Notice that what πάντες in 3.22 and 23 relates to is not mentioned; this requires careful exegesis and a good understanding of Greek syntax to figure out.

Highlighting feature in Rom 3.22

Highlighting feature in Rom 3.22

Highlighting feature in Rom 3.23

Highlighting feature in Rom 3.23

 Rom 3.24--elaboration explained

Rom 3.24—’elaboration’ explained

The problem with this explanation is that not everyone sees the participle as subordinate and thus fitting into ‘elaboration’ (most, in fact, take it as an indicative participle), although see J. Will Johnston, “Which ‘All’ Sinned? Rom 3:23–24 Reconsidered,” Novum Testamentum 52 (2010) 1–12.

Display feature--everything

Display feature with everything checked

Rom 3.21-22 with maximum features displayed

Rom 3.21–22 with maximum features displayed

A wealth of data is here—either visually or at a click of the mouse.

In short, the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament is a tool whose time has come. Used in conjunction with traditional grammars, it can only strengthen one’s understanding of Hellenistic Greek and how the NT authors communicate meaning—every exegete’s dream!

It can be purchased here.