A Closer Look at Harris' Prepositions & Theology in the Greek New Testament
I can still remember my first semester of elementary Greek in seminary years ago. About halfway through the course, most of us were a bit overwhelmed. So, one of my classmates raised his hand and asked our instructor how long he thought it would take for us to “master” New Testament Greek. Without even hesitating, he shot back, “There’s always something more to learn when it comes to Greek.”
When I first saw the title of Murray J. Harris’ book Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament, I remembered my Greek instructor’s words. There always seems to be something to explore at a deeper level when it comes to biblical languages. However, that doesn’t mean that such explorations are always all that interesting. Fortunately, Murray Harris, professor of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical School in Deerfield, Illinois, has written a work on Greek prepositions that is engaging from the first chapter. Really.
Even any first-semester student knows that propositions in Greek can be tricky. Recognizing this, Harris writes,
This volume is offered to the reader in the hope that it may encourage close study of the Greek text of the New Testament, since interpreting the text grammatically — including giving attention to the nuances of prepositions — is the necessary prelude to understanding it theologically [p. 15].
Good translation comes from a combination of study, experience and perhaps a bit of common sense. How can prepositions affect exegesis and theology? Consider this example given by Harris on p. 41:
In the last clause of the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:13b), not ἐκ but ἀπό follows ῥῦσαι. In the NT ῥύεσθαι ἐκ denotes deliverance from nonpersonal evil (7x; note esp. 2Pe 2:9, ἐκ πειρασμοῦ, never personal enemies, while (elsewhere) ἀπό with ῥύεσθαι is twice used with persons (Ro 15:31; 2Th 3:2) and once with a nonpersonal object (2Ti 4:18). In Mt 13:19, 38 and probably 5:37, as also in Jn 17:15, ὁ πονηρός refers to “the evil one” (= the devil/Satan). If τοῦ πονηροῦ in Mt 6:13 referred to “evil,” we might have expected ἀπὸ παντὸς πονηροῦ (“from all/every kind of evil”; cf. πᾶν πονηρόν in Mt 5:11). Cf. 2Ti 4:18, ῥύσεταί με ὁ κύριος ἀπὸ παντὸς ἔργου πονηροῦ. The probability, then, is that τοῦ πονηροῦ means “the evil one” rather than “evil.”
If, like me, you first memorized the Lord’s Prayer from the King James Version, you quickly see how a proper understanding of prepositions makes a big difference in how one understands, translates, and even recites ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.
In Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament, Harris devotes an entire chapter to each of the 17 “proper” prepositions found in New Testament Greek with lesser but adequate attention given to the 42 “improper” prepositions. Thus, this work serves as both a reference as well as a book offered for further study of Greek. Although I believe this book will be best appreciated by those who have studied at least a second year of Greek, there’s nothing to prevent someone who has completed only a first semester from gaining insights from it as well.
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Harris' Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament
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Prepositions and Theology in the GNT
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