Notes from the Ph.D. (1)

I’ve been deliberating about how to share the twists and turns of my Ph.D. journey without turning this site into an academic center.  One of my solutions is to regularly share collections of notes, snippets, and observations from my seminars and studies.  If an experience prompts more full-orbed reflection, so be it.  But most often I will simply bullet-point the quotes, tidbits, sights and sounds that are most interesting, insightful, and instructive.  The working title for these posts will be “Notes from the Ph.D.,” by which I mean “Notes from My Ph.D. Program,” not “Notes from Me, the Ph.D.”  I mean the former, not the latter, because there’s no guarantee that I’ll ever have a Ph.D., and if I do, I strongly hope that I’m never identified by it.

Many of these snippets spring from class lectures, so I would ask that you take three approaches to what I share: (1) view these as general observations, not technical, documented research; (2) give my professors some leeway by not assuming that what I share here is their most precise thinking or teaching on any given issue (often I will be reproducing quick asides and brief explanations given in the course of a larger discourse or a tangential class discussion); (3) please do offer corrections if you see something that strikes you as inaccurate or misleading, because errors and typos are certainly possible (though I will be very careful to take precise notes and only pass along those insights that I believe I can reproduce accurately).  All that being said, the men under whom I’m studying are recognized and respectable scholars in their fields, so my caveats above should not lead you to conclude that I’m just sharing guesses made by amateurs.

Without further ado, here are some notes from my first few weeks in the Biblical Studies Ph.D. here at Southern Seminary.

Intertestamental Language and Literature: Jewish Historians (Dr. Peter Gentry)

  • Our period is Alexander the Great through c. A.D. 200.  Studying this period will give us a context for the NT.  If you understand how a word appeared early (e.g., in the Hellenistic period) and how it looked later on (e.g., after A.D. 200), you can understand and recognize the morphological development happening in the NT.  For example, John often uses the word teknion, a combination of teknon (“child”) with the diminutive ending -ion.  This noun is often translated “little child.”  But a couple decades ago, research was showing that the diminutive ending was on the rise in NT times due to inflation in the language.  So teknion meant “little child” earlier on but over time it may have been flattening out to mean simply “child.”  This flattening would be akin to contemporary usage of the word “awesome.”  If you were a reader in the year 2500 examining 21st century documents, you might assume that the word “awesome” meant “awe-inspiring,” but this would likely be inaccurate.  In many contexts, it would just mean “cool.”  This is how an understanding of historical word development can contribute to biblical interpretation.  [Note that Dr. Gentry did not specify whether or not the meaning of teknion had flattened out by NT times; he only gave this as a possible example based on research being done a number of years ago.]
  • Most Greek teachers and students put a lot of effort into verbal morphology, which is understandable.  But this means that most Greek students have done very little in the formation of nouns.  It’s important to know that there are principles that govern the morphology of nouns (just like verbs), and these principles offer considerable help to the student.
  • What do people do when they’re reading and they come across a word they don’t know?
    (1) They lean on their knowledge of word formation in the language, whether consciously or not.
    (2) They make a guess based on the context.
    E.g., “justification” = abstract noun (-tion) based on a factitive verb (justify) derived from an adjective (just).
  • On the appearance of the much-discussed Greek word καταλλαγεω (“to reconcile”) which occurs in 2 Maccabees 1:5:  To be reconciled to someone basically means that you benefit from their change of attitude toward you.  In Matthew 5:24, your brother has something against you, so it’s not about you changing your attitude toward him.  It’s about him changing his attitude toward you.  The Bible doesn’t deny that we have ugly attitudes toward God, but that’s not the emphasis in Scripture with the predominantly passive verb “be reconciled.”  Our problem is that God rightfully burns with anger against us because of our sin, and we need His attitude toward us to change.  This distinction is important for the contemporary debate over penal substitutionary atonement.  Get the form right and you’ll get the meaning right.  Theology is built on morphology.
  • The Greek greeting is “grace” and the Hebrew greeting is “peace.”  This is why Paul greets his readers with “grace and peace” — the best of both worlds.
  • “I spend most of my time trying to hang students on the horns of dilemmas.”
  • Greek language is hypotactic instead of peritactic.  Greek language wants to subordinate things.
  • “You remember the Hebrew Scrabble nights that we have at our house…”
  • What difference does it make whether an aorist verb is 1st aorist or 2nd aorist?  The 1st aorist is transitive and the 2nd aorist is intransitive.  This can help you in situations where the subject and object are not immediately distinguishable.
  • “‘My Fair Lady’ is one of my favorite movies because the protagonist is a philologist.”  Student:  “Did you say the antagonist is a philologist?”
  • There’s an increase of compound verbs in Hellenistic Greek.  In classical Greek you might have just the verb itself, but here in Hellenistic Greek you have inflation in the language, so there are many more compound verbs.  For instance, if you have an adverbial phrase, often you will find a prepositional phrase introduced by the same preposition that’s prefixed to the verb.  So there’s a natural repetition which Classical Greek would consider redundant.  This means you would have to study a particular author to determine whether he uses the simplex or complex forms more regularly.  Then you could tell if there’s an emphasis when he uses a compound verb.
  • Notice that there are different words spelled ως.  They’re homonyms, but they’re different words.
  • In the Septuagint, the phrase το περι αμαρτιας is the standard way that the author of Leviticus refers to “the sin offering.”  This is vital to understand, because it occurs in the NT, and it doesn’t mean “something concerning sin,” but the technical term “sin offering.”  A related example of this kind of OT usage of a term is found in 1 Corinthians 5.  The language that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 5 when addressing the issue of perverted sexual sin within the church comes right out of the list of sexual activity prohibited by the law in Leviticus 18.  So the woman being slept with is the man’s mother, which is clear if you know the Septuagint.
  • German scholar Ferdinand Hitzig:  “Gentlemen, have you a Septuagint?  If not, sell all you have, and buy a Septuagint.”
  • “Bauer memorized the entire Greek New Testament and then he scoured the extra-biblical literature looking for parallels, all without the aid of our concordances.  This is why I want you to refer to it as Bauer’s lexicon instead of BDAG.”

Theological German (Dr. Mark Seifrid)

  • “This is a course about swimming.  As long as you keep swimming, you won’t drown.  You will often feel like you’re about to drown, but just keep swimming.”
  • With any language acquisition, you have to go into the corner and murmur to yourself.  It’s not the recognition of the words but the multi-sensory action and repetition that teach you the language.


  • I feel like a rookie in Greek despite taking nine courses in college, four courses in seminary, and feeling quite at home in the Greek NT.  Translating extra-biblical literature from a different period of linguistic development is a tremendous sharpening tool.  Having to look up every other word and often feeling clueless about the grammar and context can become grueling, but it’s the perfect approach for honing language skills.  This is exactly what I wanted.
  • There’s an entire world of German biblical scholarship which is in large part inaccessible to non-German readers.  In conservative evangelical scholarship one often leaves with the impression that the only German theologians are “dead German liberals.”  I get the impression that there were more than enough of those.  But there were also some German biblical scholars who were orthodox and made immense contributions.
  • I’ve noticed that we young students tend to talk freely and confidently about the few things we know.  We’re happy when there’s an open door in conversation for us to share our knowledge, even when it’s fairly shallow.  At the same time, I’ve recently noticed that some of the most knowledgeable professors here are quick to admit the areas in which their knowledge is limited and the innumerable topics that still need to be researched — in short, they freely acknowledge what they don’t know.  This must be a good part of wisdom.

2 thoughts on “Notes from the Ph.D. (1)

  1. Thanks Gunner! Gives those of us who would love to study further a taste… Especially love the Greek comments, keep ’em coming ;)


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