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Dr. Adolf Deissmann
who has done so much
to make the words of the
New Testament glow with life
It has now been forty years since Dr. Marvin R. Vincent wrote his most useful series of volumes entitled Word Studies in the New Testament. They are still helpful for those for whom they were designed, but a great deal of water has run under the mill in these years. More scientific methods of philology are now in use. No longer are Greek tenses and prepositions explained in terms of conjectural English translations or interchanged according to the whim of the interpreter. Comparative grammar has thrown a flood of light on the real meaning of New Testament forms and idioms. New Testament writers are no longer explained as using one construction "for" another. New light has come also from the papyri discoveries in Egypt. Unusual Greek words from the standpoint of the literary critic or classical scholar are here found in everyday use in letters and business and public documents. The New Testament Greek is now known to be not a new or peculiar dialect of the Greek language, but the very lingo of the time. The vernacular KoinÂ, the spoken language of the day, appears in the New Testament as in these scraps of Oxyrhynchus and Fayum papyri. There are specimens of the literary KoinÂ in the papyri as also in the writings of Luke, the Epistles of Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews. A new Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament will come in due time which will take note of the many startling discoveries from the Greek papyri and inscriptions first brought to notice in their bearing on the New Testament by Dr. Adolf Deissmann, then of Heidelberg, now of Berlin. His Bible Studies (Translation by Alexander Grieve, 1901) and his Light from the Ancient East (Revised Edition translated by L.R.M. Strachan, 1927) are accessible to students unfamiliar with the German originals.
There is no doubt of the need of a new series of volumes today in the light of the new knowledge. Many ministers have urged me to undertake such a task and finally I have agreed to do it at the solicitation of my publishers. The readers of these volumes (six are planned) are expected to be primarily those who know no Greek or comparatively little and yet who are anxious to get fresh help from the study of words and phrases in the New Testament, men who do not have access to the technical books required, like Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary of the New Testament. The critical student will appreciate the more delicate distinctions in words. But it is a sad fact that many ministers, laymen, and women, who took courses in Greek at college, university, or seminary, have allowed the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches to choke off the Greek that they once knew. Some, strangely enough, have done it even in the supposed interest of the very gospel whose vivid messages they have thus allowed to grow dim and faint. If some of these vast numbers can have their interest in the Greek New Testament revived, these volumes will be worth while. Some may be incited, as many have been by my volume, The Minister and His Greek New Testament, to begin the study of the Greek New Testament under the guidance of a book like Davis's Beginner's Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Others who are without a turn for Greek or without any opportunity to start the study will be able to follow the drift of the remarks and be able to use it all to profit in sermons, in Sunday school lessons, or for private edification.
The words of the Canterbury Version will be used, sometimes with my own rendering added, and the transliterated Greek put in parenthesis. Thus one who knows no Greek can read straight ahead and get the point simply by skipping the Greek words which are of great value to those who do know some Greek. The text of Westcott and Hort will be used though not slavishly. Those who know Greek are expected to keep the Greek text open as they read or study these volumes. The publishers insisted on the transliteration to cut down the cost of printing.
The six volumes will follow this order; Volume I, The Gospel according to Matthew and Mark; Vol. II, The Gospel according to Luke; Vol. III, The Acts of the Apostles; Vol. IV, The Pauline Epistles; Vol. V, The Gospel according to John and the Epistle to the Hebrews; Vol. VI, the general Epistles and the Revelation of John. For purely exegetical and expository development a more chronological order would be required. These volumes do not claim to be formal commentary. Nowhere is the whole text discussed, but everywhere those words are selected for discussion which seem to be richest for the needs of the reader in the light of present-day knowledge. A great deal of the personal equation is thus inevitable. My own remarks will be now lexical, now grammatical, now archaeological, now exegetical, now illustrative, anything that the mood of the moment may move me to write that may throw light here and there on the New Testament words and idioms. Another writer might feel disposed to enlarge upon items not touched upon here. But that is to be expected even in the more formal commentaries, useful as they are. To some extent it is true of lexicons. No one man knows everything, even in his chosen specialty, or has the wisdom to pick out what every reader wishes explained. But even diamonds in the rough are diamonds. It is for the reader to polish them as he will. He can turn the light this way and that. There is a certain amount of repetition at some points, part of it on purpose to save time and to emphasize the point.
I have called these volumes Word Pictures for the obvious reason that language was originally purely pictographic. Children love to read by pictures either where it is all picture or where pictures are interspersed with simple words. The Rosetta Stone is a famous illustration. The Egyptian hieroglyphics come at the top of the stone, followed by the Demotic Egyptian language with the Greek translation at the bottom. By means of this stone the secret of the hieroglyphs or pictographs was unravelled. Chinese characters are also pictographic. The pictures were first for ideas, then for words, then for syllables, then for letters. Today in Alaska there are Indians who still use pictures alone for communicating their ideas. "Most words have been originally metaphors, and metaphors are continually falling into the rank of words" (Professor Campbell). Rather is it not true that words are metaphors, sometimes with the pictured flower still blooming, sometimes with the blossom blurred? Words have never gotten wholly away from the picture stage. These old Greek words in the New Testament are rich with meaning. They speak to us out of the past and with lively images to those who have eyes to see. It is impossible to translate all of one language into another. Much can be carried over, but not all. Delicate shades of meaning defy the translator. But some of the very words of Jesus we have still as he said: "The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life" (Joh 6:63 ). We must never forget that in dealing with the words of Jesus we are dealing with things that have life and breath. That is true of all the New Testament, the most wonderful of all books of all time. One can feel the very throb of the heart of Almighty God in the New Testament if the eyes of his own heart have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit of God take of the things of Christ and make them ours as we muse over the words of life that speak to us out of the New Covenant that we call the New Testament.
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