Friday, September 16, 2011


Here’s my philosophical nugget for the day. When I was an academic counselor, it used to disturb me when grumbling students convinced others to drop out of school with them. Seneca wrote, through the lips of that witch, Medea, “I can be quiet only if I see everything overwhelmed along with my ruin. As you go down it is a satisfaction to drag others with you.” I won’t describe Medea’s ruin at the end of Seneca’s tragedy, but—take heed!—grumblers are quitters, and like Medea’s murderous attitude, they always try to take others down with them. If you know any, stay far away from them so you don’t become infected too. Philippians 2:14-15: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked an perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

'Sinner' or Not?

A thought came to mind recently: many Christians are fond of saying they are sinners saved by God’s grace. The word ‘sinner’ in this context is used with the common English sense in which the –er morpheme indicates someone who repeatedly performs an action, namely one who sins.

I don’t know if this modern use of the term squares with New Testament usage. At least in Luke 5:32 you see a sharp dichotomy between the righteous and sinners: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Christians are declared righteous by God—justification—which naturally sets them apart from the category of sinners Jesus spoke of in Luke 5:32. Clearly the NT use of ‘sinner’ here differs from the modern English use of ‘sinner’.

(To be fair to the issue, I must confess that I have not researched the Old Testament to see if there is congruence. Sometimes OT and NT concepts differ.)

Anyone have any thoughts to share? Please correct me if I am wrong.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Ordination Council

I guess it's time for a new picture. This is from my ordination council which met last Friday night, January 25. Today I received word that the board has unanimously recognized the call of God on my life for pursuing gospel ministry. It was such a fun evening of examining the Scriptures with these men and discussing the nature of Christian ministry--I sure wish we could do this stuff more often!!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

An Exercise in Harmonization

Well I guess I’m held now to an even greater accountability to start posting messages again since I just noticed that my pastor posted a link to my blog on our church website. Not that I mind, but I sure don’t want to be the laughing stock at our next church leadership meeting since the guys tend to poke fun at the weakest link whenever possible—it can get quite brutal if the topic of my blog comes up (all in good nature of course, it’s just guys teasing guys). And frankly I’m embarrassed that I don’t keep up on this blog as often as I should! My wife is a far better blogger than I.

Critics often heap disdain on the Bible because of apparent discrepancies in the synoptic gospels. Some of these include:

- Mark 5:2 has one demoniac, but Matthew 8:28 has two demoniacs

- Matthew 20:29 has Jesus leaving Jericho, but Mark 10:46 has Him entering Jericho

- Matthew 17:1 mentions six days later, but Luke 9:28 gives eight days

I happen to believe that these discrepancies are actually harmonious, and since it has been demonstrated by numerous scholars, I need not labor the issue now. Rather I’d like to highlight Virgil’s remarkable efforts to harmonize with Homer in reference to the Cyclops story.

The similarities of the Cyclops stories in the Odyssey and the Aeneid are quite conspicuous, adding to ease of harmonization between Virgil’s account and Homer’s. Both authors describe the Cyclops Polyphemus—whose name means abounding in songs and legends from πολύς and φήμη —as a gigantic, hideous monster having but one, humongous eye centered on his forehead. In his epithet Homer describes him as “high and mighty” (Odyssey 9:119), and Virgil using hyperbole “his head scrapes the stars” (Aeneid 3:719). Additionally Homer describes Polyphemus as a “man-mountain rearing head and shoulders over the world” (9:213-14), and Virgil gives the size of Polyphemus’ eye the same dimension of a Greek shield (3:738).

Perhaps the most grueling description of Polyphemus pertains to his unique diet of sheep, goat’s milk and juicy T-bone steaks butchered daily from anthropic meat. In the words of Homer giving the usual, gory details through the lips of Odysseus:

Not a word in reply to that, the ruthless brute.
Lurching up, he lunged out with his hands toward my men
and snatching two at once, rapping them on the ground
he knocked them dead like pups—
their brains gushed out all over, soaked the floor—
and ripping them limb from limb to fix his meal
he bolted them down like a mountain-lion, left no scrap,
devoured entrails, flesh and bones, marrow and all (9:323-30)!

Hence, Achaemenides, Ulysses’ abandoned comrade according to Virgil, describes the Cyclops’ cavern and his table manners as such:

This gruesome house. Gory for its hideous feasts….He gorges himself
on the innards and black blood of all his wretched victims.
With my own eyes I’ve seen him snatch a pair of our men
in one massive hand and, sprawling amidst his lair,
crush their bodies on the rocks till the cave’s maw
swam with splashing blood. I’ve seen him gnawing limbs,
oozing dark filth, and the warm flesh twitching still
between his grinding jaws (3:717-28).

The outcome of Odysseus-Ulysses’ confrontation with Polyphemus is the same in both accounts of Homer and Virgil. The Greeks make him drunk with wine, stab him in the eye during his sleep and flee from him upon escaping from his cavern. However, in spite of these great similarities in comparison, there are discrepancies or minor differences between the two records of the same event.

To begin, there is a difference in perspectives which naturally accounts for the different details that are stated; Homer tells the narrative through Odysseus, and Virgil through Aeneas. Homer gives the story in book nine of The Odyssey, but Virgil does in book three. Homer wrote in Greek, Virgil in Latin. Whereas Homer gives much more detail of the story through some 500 lines, Virgil chose to tell the story in about 120 lines and thus offered very little insight beyond Homer’s treatment. Homer is witty (“nobody stabbed Polyphemus”), Virgil produces nothing but dread!

The historical contexts are vastly different as well. The narrative in the Aeneid takes place some three months after the event which Homer describes in the Odyssey. Upon escaping from the Cyclops’ cave and being abandoned accidentally by Ulysses (see Aeneid 3:714-15), Achaemenides tells Aeneas and crew, “Three times now the horns of the moon have filled with light / since I’ve dragged out my lonely days through the woods” (Aeneid 3:746-47). It was a time in which Polyphemus was still recovering from his wound: “Soon as the giant gained deep water and offshore swells, / he washed the blood still trickling down from his dug-out socket, / gnashing his teeth, groaning, and wades out in the surf” (Aeneid 3:766-68). Wherefore, Homer states the action as it was occurring, but Virgil tells the story through events happening about three months after the fact.

There is no doubt in my mind that Virgil attempted to harmonize his retelling of the story with the account given by Homer. When reading the story in Homer, one comes away with the idea that all the Greeks still alive managed to escape at sea with Odysseus: “But my sacrifices failed to move the god: / Zeus was still obsessed with plans to destroy / my entire oarswept fleet and loyal crew of comrades” (Odyssey 9:617-19). How then can Achaemenides still be stuck on the Cyclops’ island when Aeneas and his cohorts arrive? The key to harmonization is that Virgil produces Achaemenides as a companion of Ulysses who was accidentally abandoned unbeknownst to him. “But here my comrades left me, forgot me—this monstrous cave of the Cyclops—fleeing in terror from its brutal mouth” (Aeneid 3:714-16).

Though Virgil does a magnificent job at harmonizing with Homer, I believe he made a mistake which escaped his notice, or one that he was unable to fix since he never edited the Aeneid for a final draft. In describing how the sailors cast lots to determine who would stab Polyphemus in the eye, Homer mentions that lots were cast before the Cyclops fell asleep, but Vergil places the lots after the Cyclops fell asleep. In Homer’s account, Odysseus and his cohorts cast lots while Polyphemus was away from his cave tending his flocks (9:370). He later returns after Odysseus has contrived his clever plan and then fell asleep (9:376, 416). But Virgil’s rendition is such:

Soon as the monster gorged himself to bursting,
buried deep in wine, his neck slumping to one side,…
we prayed to the great gods, drew lots, rushed in a
ringaround him there and drilled out with a stabbing spike
his one enormous eye (3:731-37a).

Though Fagle’s translation is a dynamic equivalence, his rendering of the Latin text remains true to the sense of Virgil’s nam simul expletus dapibus uinoque sepultus… /numina sortitique uices una undique circum (III:630-34). The Latin simul, whence the English “simultaneous,” places the events of casting lots at the same time of the Cyclops’ slumber—the adverb expresses contemporaneous action governing several events in the same sphere of time. Lewis and Short offer the meanings “at the same time, together, at once, as soon as” (A Latin Dictionary, 1702).

There are two possibilities in which Virgil can still harmonize with Homer over the issue of the lots, but they are highly unlikely. There could have been two different times in which lots were cast, but this would be superfluous for determining who would drive the spike into Polyphemus’ eye. Or Achaemenides was so wretched, beat-up and distressed that he simply forgot the sequence of events as he tried to relate them nearly three months after the fact. Certainly a minor detail like this is plausible, but one must eisegete this assumption into the text since Virgil nowhere hints this was his intention for the reader to understand. As mentioned above, I think the best answer to the problem is that Virgil simply overlooked this minor detail and would have fixed it if he had an opportunity.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” By this I am convinced that there is value in forming a Christian worldview through everything the believer does, even in harmonizing the works of Homer and Virgil. But how does harmonizing the stories about the Cyclops bring glory to God? Namely this--through such an exercise, the interpreter of God’s word in the Bible gains greater expertise to handle many of the difficulties pertaining to discrepancies in the synoptic gospels. There is no reason for the believer to be intimidated by the scoffers who attack the veracity of the Scriptures.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Offensive εὐαγγέλιον

Interesting times on the Textkit forum! It all started a few months ago when I engaged a bright young man in a discussion about the integrity of the New Testament writers, which he maintained were “pseudonymous.” It was the first time I had ever witnessed a discussion nearly get heated on that website devoted to the study of classical Greek and Latin. Our message exchanges ended when I refused to budge from assuming the veracity of the Bible as a divine source of authority. His approach was to assume the exact opposite, and so he withdrew his initial challenge to debate the orthodox position. The other participants in the forum noted this gentleman’s demeanor which quickly degenerated into a condescending smirk that I would actually believe the Bible was true.

More recently on Textkit an entire thread which had run for three years was shut down by the moderator. This one focused on John 1:1c: καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. As you can imagine, all the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Trinitarians were “duking it out” over the precise meaning of that clause. I also joined the discussion by observing how the New World Translation of John 1:1 affirms polytheism by having two different gods; in essence it gives biblical support in favor of paganism.

Why is it whenever philology spills over into the realm of theology tensions get heated? All the other discussions on Textkit are polite and friendly, but not so when issues of the Bible rise to the surface. Ideally theology should flow out of philology. Although philology is an ambiguous word by nature, what I mean by “philology” in this sense is that theology should flow from the exegesis of biblical texts in the original languages.

The only answer I can think of to the question above is that the gospel is offensive. An accurate presentation of the gospel necessiates discussion of sin, and sin reminds people of hell. The good news is that Jesus is God's remedy for the consequences of sin. Ironic that “good news” would offend people, but it is so. My former pastor from El Paso used to say with a neat chiasm: “The Bible comforts those who are afflicted, and it afflicts those who are comforted.” In a like manner, Jesus explained it this way:

“For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household” (Mt 10:35-36).

Monday, August 06, 2007

In Search for True Ablative Form

Spending the vast majority of my studies in the Koine, and being in favor of the system of eight cases, I was hopeful that perhaps I would find traces of the original ablative form the further back in time I could go searching in Greek sources. When I started working on the first line of Hesiod’s “Works and Days” last week, I think I may have found such a trace in the –θεν morpheme of Πιερίηθεν, from Pieria. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw this—it even survives into the NT with ἄνωθεν, from above.

Now obviously a lot more research is needed to establish such a conclusion as fact. But I am finding several resources which discuss the matter--Monro's Homeric Grammar being one--so I'm not the only person who's noticed the issue.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Back Online!

Hi everyone.

I know I've broken rule #1 governing all bloggers--namely, you have to write every week. As you can determine below, it took me a while to learn about Unicode in order to put up a Greek text without computer gibberish. Anyway, I've just broken the ice learning how to do it, so I hope from here out to be more active on this blog posting as I continue to learn Unicode and the formatting features of Blogger, which, by the way, are not very simple to someone as computer-illiterate as I am.

I have also made another update for this blog. I've changed the description of this blog to include an element about the Christian worldview. That is, I want to incorporate the Christian worldview since I make judgments about all matters of life through this perspective. It is the supreme worldview and the only one which makes rational sense of this universe. In keeping with the words of Paul who wrote, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God," my goal for this blog is to glorify the Lord through the learning I gain from philology by offering my thoughts for the benefit of others.