Category Archives: Greek Bible Stuff

The Translator Is a Traitor

Roger Pearse notes some altered translations of Bible passages about sexual practices.

And here’s a paper by Daniel Jennings on how some significant Bible texts about divorce have been… softened.

It’s disappointing. And it shows that some people don’t care about saving souls.

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“Distinguished among Mortals”

Fr. Hunwicke is a classics guy, so his well of reference is very deep.

He recently mentioned that a certain line in the Greek tragedy Hippolytus is hated by feminists.

The line is about Aphrodite, and describes her as “episemos en brotois,” which means “distinguished among mortals.”

The thing is — Aphrodite was a goddess, not a mortal. The line means that mortals were impressed by her, without meaning that she was part of the mortals’ group.

Why should we care?

In Romans 16:7, Andronicus and Junia are described as “episemoi en tois apostolois” (“distinguished among the apostles”), without actually being described as apostles. So logically, St. Paul is saying that the apostles think his kinfolk (syngeneis) are excellent, but not that Andronicus and Junia are part of the group of apostles.

It is like saying, “Spongebob is popular among kids,” which does not imply that Spongebob is a kid among kids.

This is very common in foreign languages. Phrases don’t mean what they literally seem to mean. Groups and words don’t include what you think they should include. “Heos” means “until,” but it doesn’t imply that a time ends at the time talked about after “heos,” which is why Jesus will continue to love you and be with you after the end of the world, not only “until” the end of the world.

This is also why you should be very, very wary of posts written about Greek and Latin by people who are not experts in Greek and Latin — which would definitely include me. One of the problems with self-study is that, even with the Internet existing, it is difficult to find reference material or definitive answers to certain questions. If you don’t know that you should be looking, it gets even harder.

The Wikipedia article about Junia talks about some of the issues with the wording, so you can see what the fuss is about.

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More Headcovering

Here’s an interesting passage from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.

2 Samuel 15:30 — “… and [David’s] head was covered… and all the people with him, [each] man covered his head also….”

This is a passage about David mourning and weeping, of course. But the words in Greek are “ten kephalen epikekalymmenos” (he covered the head) and “epekalypsen aner ten kephalen autou” ([each] man covered the head of him). So that goes along with the previous wording we saw in the Byzantine putting up your hair rite. (Okay, I know that’s not what it was, but that’s how I can remember it.)

Exodus 29:6-7 – “And you shall put the mitre on his head” (epi kephalen) “and put the holy crown on the miter. And you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head” (epi ten kephalen) “and anoint him.”

Another interesting parallel to Paul’s comment about women having authority on their heads. First lets’s run Paul.

1 Cor. 11:10 — “Because of this, the woman ought to have authority on the head, because of the angels.”

“Dia touto, opheilei he gyne exousian echein epi tes kephales, dia tous angelous.”

Matthew 7:29 — “For He taught them as one having authority, and not as their own scribes.”

“Gar en didaskon hos echon exousian, kai ouk hos auton grammateis.”

Usually when Greek says “on the head,” it means “on the head of the person I’m talking about.” So normally you would translate it as “the woman should have authority on her head.”

So… yeah. Unless I’m really, really missing something in the Aramaic or Hebrew, it seems like Christian women should have authority on their own heads. Their own authority, granted by God. Much like Jesus had authority from the Father. It wasn’t saying that He had no power at all, but that it was delegated authority. He was acting as God’s official; and they are officials also.

Daniel 3:3 in the Theodotion LXX actually uses “oi ep’ exousian” as a translation for “the sheriffs” or “the authorities.”

Daniel 4:3 in the LXX uses “he exousia” to translate “dominion” or “His dominion.” And it’s that way in a lot of other verses, too.

Look. If anybody was saying “dominion is on his head,” they’d be sure we were talking about a king or another mighty servant of God. So exousia on a woman’s head is probably the same – a sign of her authority and her right to make decisions. She’s only a subordinate to her husband the way a first officer is subordinate to a captain — ie, she runs things most of the time, and only needs to consult on big stuff. She’s his ‘ezer.

Before the angels, both Christian men and Christian women should remember that they are able to judge in small things, as they will judge angels later. So women should be able to judge what’s appropriate to wear on their own heads, surely? If an individual woman is wearing something inappropriate, that’s her individual ignorance or bad judgment.

So women’s hats and veils, etc. are symbols of office, dignity, and authority. It’s not about shame, or keeping men from being tempted, or anything like that.

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Clothed with Power

In the Ascension Thursday readings, we are looking back and looking forward.

We look back to David fleeing Jerusalem with his followers, barefoot as a sign of repentance for his sins and failings that led to Absalom’s revolt. He is followed by two priests with the Ark of the Lord, but he orders them to take back the Ark and remain in the city. In the Septuagint, they “sat down” there, just as the Apostles are ordered to “sit down” in the city. And David goes up to the Mount of Olives, talks to his friend Hushai and to God, and then leaves to be an outlaw in the wilderness. Again.

But Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives in triumph, sending His followers back to the city to rendezvous with the Holy Spirit and be clothed with power, and then to go out and evangelize the world. But the painters remembered David’s bare feet; and they often draw the Ascension with Jesus’ bare feet being the last thing the Apostles see, as He disappears into the clouds.

So then we look forward. The angels say that Jesus will return the same way He left, as if the Apostles should already know that. And they should, because the angels are referring to a Messianic prophecy, and here come the feet again:

(Zechariah 14:1, 4-5, 9) “And the days of the Lord shall come… And His feet shall stand that day upon the Mount of Olives… And the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Him… And the Lord shall be king over all the earth.”

But then we think a little bit back , but still forward, to the Apostles’ mission and the beginning of the Church, at Pentecost.

We often think of Confirmation in terms of the mighty wind and tongues of flame of the Holy Spirit. But this reading tells us that it’s also being “clothed with power from on high.” Or, since it’s the same word, “clothed with miracles” or “clothed with mighty works.”

One of the first things that happened was God replacing Adam and Eve’s worse-than-poison-ivy fig leaf clothing with clothing made of animal skins. But before that, Jewish tradition says that Adam (and presumably Eve) was clothed with light, by God’s grace. Now we read that everyone in the Church who is confirmed is clothed, by the Holy Spirit, with miraculous power.

The Gospels use the exact same word and tense to refer to how Jesus tells the Apostles not to worry about how they’ll be dressed or what they’ll eat. Apparently we’ll always be clothed in miracles, so I guess that means the other clothes really are less of a worry.

This kind of “clothed” is also a reference to an office. It’s not about us. It’s the job we’ve been given to do and be. We are becoming more and more like Christ, but (right now) that’s because we’re supposed to be doing His work and representing Him.

So it’s a very interesting reading.

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Authority Words in the Bible

It turns out that the word “authority” in English translations of the Bible covers a whole range of Greek words. Which are not the same at all.

There’s “exousia” and all of its derivatives, which usually are the words used in the Gospels. No problem there. There’s an interesting Esther LXX version that has Esther along with Mordecai sending out letters with authority.

Then there’s “those in authority,” which is really “hyperoche,” preeminent people or superiors.

Then there’s the Titus “with all authority,” which is “meta pas epitage,” where epitage means a command, and a bunch of other similar meanings. It’s not the Gospel thing where Jesus is teaching with authority; it’s Paul telling Titus to teach it like he’s ordering it.

The bit about women not usurping authority over a man is “authentein,” which originally could mean “to do something oneself” (which is where we get our word “authentic”), but which eventually meant “to domineer over somebody else, in a self-appointed way.” I think this is significantly different from “usurp authority,” unless there’s some Greek literature example I’m missing. “Don’t let women push men around” is significantly different than “don’t let women run anything involving men.” It’s more like, “Thou shalt not be Karens.” Adding that they should be “in silence” means “and mind your own business” in Greek.

While I was poking around, I looked at the verse about “let the women learn,” and it’s got some interesting things going on.

“Gyne en hesychia manthaneto en pase hypotage.”

Okay, the first interesting thing is “manthaneto,” which is from the same rootword “matheo,” to learn, as “mathetai,” disciples or students. 3rd person singular, present imperative active.

Yup, it is a command, and “gyne” is singular, in the nominative case.

The other interesting thing is that the sentence is set up with “en hesychia” and “en pase hypotage” separated by “manthaneto,” which is a nice stylish way to put it. It’s not supposed to be a nasty comment, IMHO. But how can “silence” be nice? And “hypotage” means subjection, right?

Well, let’s go to “hypotasso” first. It was originally a word about arranging a Greek phalanx in a military way. The men in a phalanx were fellow citizens, not slaves, and they normally would have no command over each other. But they’d elect or choose some military leader, and obey him in battle and in the field. He wasn’t better or worse than them; they had put him in charge. He had command, as we saw above with “epitage,” but he fought in the same phalanx line with all the rest.

So no, this isn’t some weird slavish submission thing. If it had been, why would Jesus have been subject to His parents, in Luke 2:51? (“en hypotassoumenos”) He was by nature the boss of them, their God and Messiah. But like the citizens of Athens, He chose them and obeyed them voluntarily, because it made sense to Him in the situation.

Secondly, “silence” isn’t a bad thing in Christianity or in Greek secular literature. Someone who lived in silence was someone who didn’t meddle in his neighbor’s business. Hesychia was seen as the root of Christian mysticism, because it let you listen to God.

In general, a good disciple of a secular philosopher would listen receptively and take it all in. He would regard himself as under orders while learning, even if he later went off and did his own teaching.

Secular female disciples would ask questions of their teacher and try to spend a lot of alone time with the teacher, but from various verses in Paul, this wasn’t seen as fitting for Christian women. The female disciples of Jesus traveled around and spent time with Him in an aboveboard way, just as the informal female rabbinical students (mostly relatives or daughters of rabbis) did. And maybe that’s why we don’t hear about female Christian disciples getting the sexual harassment that was standard for female secular philosophers and students.

“I do not permit women to teach” is clearly about formal teaching, during Mass, because Paul compliments how Timothy was taught Christianity at home, by his mom and grandma.

And finally, the whole chapter begins with Paul talking about unauthorized men who presume to teach crazy talk while sinning, and the men who believe them. So yeah, people take some of these verses as anti-woman, when really Paul is just telling all these people to quit doing crazy stuff at church.

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Clothed by Jacob, Supported by Leah

Every so often, we have to remind people that the Woman in Revelation 12 is alluding to Biblical imagery from the Book of Genesis, not to anything pagan.

“A great sign appeared… a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head, a crown of twelve stars.”

Specifically, we’re being referred to Genesis 37:5-10 —

“Joseph told his brothers a dream that he had dreamed, which made his brothers hate him more…

“‘I thought we were binding sheaves in the field, and my sheaf stood up, and your sheaves bowed to my sheaf…’

“His brothers answered, ‘Are you going to be our king? Or shall we be subject to you?’…

“He dreamed another dream, which he told to his brothers, saying, ‘I dreamed a dream where the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’

“And when he had told this to his father and his brothers, his father [Israel/Jacob] rebuked him, saying, ‘What does this dream that you have dreamed mean? Shall I, and your mother, and your brothers, bow down to the ground before you?'”

At this point, Joseph’s biological mother Rachel is dead. But Leah is still alive, and is the highest-ranking woman in the household. She’s “the moon.” Jacob, now named Israel, is “the sun.” The eleven stars (the Hebrew says “one and ten”) are all the other sons of Israel.

Leah doesn’t get a lot of modern attention; but both Judah (and hence David) and Levi (and hence the priests) are descended from her. The rabbis liked to point out that Rachel got all the earthly attention, but that the eternal promises from God went to Leah’s sons. Leah is the “rafter” that holds up the whole roof of the house. (Although often Leah and Rachel are described as twin rafters, where both are needed.) Leah is also seen as a prophetess, because her words about her children came true.

Most importantly, though, Leah is tied to Mary by her words in Genesis 30:13, on the birth of her son Asher — “The daughters [ie, women] will call me blessed.”

So the Woman of Revelation 12, previously tied to the Ark of the Covenant, is shown to be clothed with the sun — ie, showing her descent from Israel — and she has the moon under her feet — showing that she springs from Leah. All the tribes of Israel crown her. She comes from them, but she is higher in status than all of them.

The interesting bit is that “hypokato ton podon” is the same Greek used by Matthew and Mark to translate, “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'” (Ps. 110:1)

The idea of the original psalm, in Hebrew, is that the enemies become a footstool. (The Septuagint translation is “hypopodion ton podon sou.”) Hypokato literally means something like “down under,” whereas “hypo” just means “under.”

But there is a Septuagint text that uses “hypokato ton podon autou” — Ps. 8:7/8:6.

The Gospel writers deliberately honor Jesus, and indicate both his divinity and His humanity as the everlasting king of the House of David, by combining Ps. 110:1 with Ps. 8:7/8:6. (1 Cor. 15:25 has Paul talking about these verses together, also.)

So…. what kind of “mighty sign” is it, if John combines Ps. 110:1, Ps. 8:7/8:6, and Rev. 12:1?

Let’s go back and look at Psalm 8, to get the context.

“O LORD our Lord, how excellent is Your Name in all the earth!

You have set Your splendor in the heavens.

Out of the mouths of babies and suckling children, You have ordained praise

Because of Your adversaries, to silence the Enemy and the vengeful.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

The moon and the stars which You have established firm,

What is man [enowos] that You are mindful of him,

And the son of Adam [ben Adam] that You visit him?

For You have made him a little lower than the angels,

And have crowned him with glory [kabod] and honor.

You made him reign over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet:

Sheep, and oxen, and even the beasts of the field,

The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea

That pass through the paths of the seas.

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is Your Name in all the earth!”

So I think we have to understand the Woman through the lens of this psalm. Even a fallen ordinary human is walking around crowned with God’s kabod, and has power over all created things, including the moon and the stars. A Christian who overcomes until the end will have the iron rod that rules the pagan nations and will wear a crown. Mary and the Church, Daughter Zion, are not any less important than that.

So why does this image of the Woman upset people?

(One last thing: Leah’s name means “cow,” and Rachel’s name means “ewe.” So if the Woman is standing on Leah, she’s standing on the cows, and one assumes, on the sheep too.)

(And walking around crowned with God’s kabod is obviously connected to the whole female headgear discussion, which supports the idea that women are indeed wearing diadems of authority, including the coming Christian authority to judge angels.)

Of course, what we usually connect to Rev. 12:1 is Songs 6:4, 10 —

“My love, you are as fair as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with flags flying!

“Who is this who peers out [the window] like the dawn?

“Fair as the moon, pure as the sun, terrible as an army with flags flying?”

And since the Beloved is clearly Israel, we’re back with Daughter Zion again. Tirzah was the capital of Israel in the North, as Jerusalem was capital of Judah in the South. “Tirzah” means “my pleasure” or “pleasant,” and alludes to God’s promise in Isaiah 62:4 that “you shall be called ‘my delight.'”

But what did it say in Songs 6:9?

“The daughters saw her, and called her blessed.”

Hmmmmmm. Almost like we’re talking about Mary, isn’t it? Obviously there’s no reason at all to connect the Woman with Mary, noooo.

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“Neighbor” vs. “Kinsman”

Today I learned that, in a few places in the Vulgate translation of the Old Testament, “proximus” (usually “neighbor”) actually means “near kinsman,” or “the avenger of blood.”

In one of these cases, “vicinus” is used to represent a neighbor who physically lives close to a person. (A “vicinus” is a person in your neighborhood, a person whom you meet when you’re walking down the street, a person whom you meet each day.)

The Greek used for “neighbor” in “love your neighbor” is “plesion,” a neuter noun which means “person living physically nearby.” The Septuagint uses other words for the avenger of blood.

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Jesus Wants You to Ask for Stuff

It’s okay to want to pray for things you need. It’s a sign of spiritual growth to be happy with what God gives you, or to ask for important things that are worthy of prayer; but the lives of the wonderworking saints tell us that a lot of things are worthy of prayer, according to God.

It’s a sign of spiritual trouble if you are ashamed to pray for what other people need or what you need, or think that prayer is useless. Jesus orders and encourages us on many occasions to ask the Father for stuff we need, to be persistent about it, and not to be afraid that the outcome will be bad. The Lord’s Prayer that He gave us is all about asking for essentials and for eternal life. He’s not a vending machine and the “prosperity gospel” is heresy; but He’s not stingy, either.

John records that Jesus spent a lot of the Last Supper leading up to telling the Apostles to ask the Father for stuff. He’s the true Vine, we’re the branches, and we dwell in Him if we keep His commands. If we keep His commands and dwell in Him and His words and His love, we will bear much fruit. If we keep His commands, we are His friends, and He will lay down His life for us.

John 15:16-17 – “Y’all did not choose me. But I chose y’all and I appointed (etheka: literally, placed, laid down – the same verb in “lay down his life for his friends”) y’all, so that you may go out and bear fruit and your fruit may dwell/remain — so that whatever y’all might ask the Father in My Name, He may give to y’all.

“I command these things so that y’all may love one another.”

John 16:24 – “Up until now, y’all have not asked for anything in My Name. Ask and you will receive, so that the joy of y’all may be filled up.”

So basically, Jesus did all this for us, and we bear fruit in response, so that we can have joy and eternal life, and so that the Father answers our prayers, and so that we love one another. That’s a lot of trouble for the Trinity to go to, if we never ask God for what we need; and it’s ignoring a direct commandment.

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“Thinking He’s the Gardener….”

So Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener — which is “kepouros” in Greek. It literally is “garden” (kepos) + “watcher, guard, keeper” (ouros).

The last time we saw somebody watching and guarding a garden, it was an angel with a flaming sword, keeping humans out of Paradise and away from the Tree of Life.

And then there was the leader of the Lord’s hosts, who talked to Joshua while bearing a flaming sword. He let Israel’s people into the garden of Israel, but they did not get the Tree of Life.

But He has not come as garden security, to keep her out. It’s Life Himself, alive after dying on a tree, alive after spending time in the cool of the evening in a garden.

And He calls her by name.

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“My Father Is the Farmer”

In John 15:1, Jesus says, “I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Farmer” (georgos).

“Georgos” literally means “land/earth” + “worker”, and thus “farmer.” It’s where we get the name George.

It’s usually translated as “vineworker” or “vinedresser” when it shows up in a vineyard context, especially since the Septuagint used it that way; but it really is just the generic word for “farmer.”

So yes, Jesus is in the construction trades like His Dad, and He’s a shepherd like His Dad; but the Father is a farmer too. So it’s not surprising, maybe, that Mary Magdalene would confuse Jesus with the gardener!

UPDATE: John 15:2 uses another surprising expression. It doesn’t warn us literally that branches not bearing fruit (me pheron carpon) will be cut off; it says that the Father “takes it away” (airei auto) in the sense of “picks up, pulls off, plucks, removes”; but also, that the Father “cleans up,” (kathairei) every branch that bears fruit, in the sense of “prunes.” And then Jesus adds, “Y’all are already clean (katharoi), by the Word that I have spoken to y’all.”

There’s a lot of “clean” and “pure” in John’s Gospel…. (As seen in my previous post.)

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Priest and Servant II: Sacrificial Victim

If you keep up with Brant Pitre, Scott Hahn, etc., you know that the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint don’t say, “Sacrifice this animal,” but “Do this to the animal” or “Do this animal.” So when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of Me,” He was saying, “Offer this sacrifice.”

So… in the Holy Thursday reading, we have John quoting Jesus as saying, “Do y’all know what I have done to y’all?… I have given y’all a pattern, so that as I did to y’all, y’all should also do.” (John 13:12, 15)

[Btw, the verse does NOT say, “to each other.” It just says they should do it. Argh, translators adding things!]

The word for pattern, “hypodeigma,” is the same word that is used for God’s patterns of the Temple furniture and layout and vestments, which He showed Moses on Mount Sinai. So yes, we are at a greater version of the heavenly banquet with God and the elders of Israel, and it’s not just an upper room but the heavenly mountain.

Also, when the Apostles (except Judas) are described as already washed and therefore “clean” (John 13:10), the word that is actually used is “katharos” and “katharoi.”

That means “pure,” really. It is used in the Septuagint to mean “clean” in the clean/unclean ritual sense, or to talk about “clean beasts” that are suitable for sacrifice. But it’s also used for “pure” gold as a material.

Anyhow… my point is that Jesus is serving the Apostles while making them priests, as I talked about in my last post. But also Jesus is preparing to “do” Himself, and for them to help “do” Him in a continual re-presentation of His perfect once-for-all sacrifice.

But by “doing” something to them, it implies that they are also being made into little Christs who will also be sacrificial victims. Jesus is implying that a servant who wants to be like Himself will sacrifice his time and effort, and maybe even his life, to serve others.

Also, it seems to me that it’s setting the Apostles up to turn other people into priests, and servants, and living sacrifices. It’s a process being instituted.

And then Jesus says something interesting. He says that a servant/slave (doulos) is not greater than the master/lord (kyriou), nor an emissary/apostle (apostolos) greater than the one that sent him. (cf. John 13:16) So yup, that’s pretty pointed! I don’t know why it’s not usually translated “apostle,” since every other use gets translated as “apostle.”

Before moving onto the actual Supper, He says, “If y’all know these things, blessed are y’all — if y’all do them.” (John 13:17)

Yeah, that’s not stern at all….

UPDATE: Going back to the “pattern,” it’s worth pointing out that all of us Christians have bodies that are temples where the Holy Spirit dwells, and where the Son and the Father dwell. So this is one of the heavenly patterns for how to build and furnish our individual temples.

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Priest and Servant

As we saw last night, Holy Thursday is about the institution of the Eucharist and the New Covenant; but right before then, it’s about the institution of the priesthood, and the obligation for the new priestly people, Christians, to act as servants toward each other.

Jesus takes off His himation, or cloak, which leaves Him in His long seamless robe; and then He ties a towel around Himself as a belt.

And what did the Jewish priests wear at the Temple? A long seamless linen robe down to the ankles, and a belt or sash tied around the robe.

But the way Jesus was doing it (ie, with the towel) seems to have been how servants did the footwashing for guests. So it was a sort of visual pun.

Leviticus 8:6 – “Moses had Aaron and his sons come forward, and he washed them. He put the linen robe on Aaron and fastened the belt around him.” (This is when Aaron and his sons are made priests of the Lord.)

Exodus 40:30-32 – “He placed the basin between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing; and from it, Moses, Aaron, and his sons washed their hands and their feet. They washed whenever they entered the Tent of Meeting or approached the altar, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

You get another priestly thing when Jesus warns Peter that unless he is washed, “You do not have a portion with Me.” (John 13:8) The Levites and priests of Israel were the only tribe that did not have a portion of the land; their portion and inheritance was God Himself.

(Oh, and here’s something funny. Peter didn’t just say, “Lord, you will _never_ wash my feet.” He said, “You will not wash my feet eis ton aiona,” which literally means, “to the age,” and is a translation of some kind of Hebrew expression about “olam.” It’s something like “ever in my life,” “in this age,” or even “forever.” So it’s a pretty exaggerated or emotional way to talk. Jesus says it because He’s God and He can, but Peter saying it is silly.)

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“The Word Is Hard.”

The other day, I was listening to a talk about the Bread of Life Discourse (aka “All that stuff in John 6”), and suddenly I wondered what the Greek was for “This is a hard saying.” (Sometimes you also see it translated as “This is a hard teaching.” It’s John 6:61/6:60.)

Ha! It was a good thing to check!

What the grumbling listeners said was, “Skleros estin ho logos.”

Which literally means… “The Word is hard.”

“Skleros” is something dried out and stiff, hence also hard, stubborn, unyielding, harsh.

And yup, Jesus the Word was particularly unyielding and stubborn about every single point in the Discourse.

The Word is hard. Sweet like manna, tender like a lamb, but harsh too. He’s not going to back down from telling you to gnaw on His Body and drink His Blood. His Flesh is real food, and His Blood is real drink. Come to the marriage feast of the Lamb.

UPDATE: In case you were wondering, St. Jerome has it as “Durus est hic sermo.” One of the Old Latin translations of “the Word of God” was “Sermo Dei” instead of “Verbum Dei.” So Jerome was riffing off the Greek here. The idea that “sermo” primarily means “saying” or “teaching” or “sermon” is a later understanding of the connotations, although it does go along with secondary meanings of “logos.”

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The Greek Words for Good and Bad

If you take a classical/koine Greek class, the first words you learn for “good” and “bad” are “kalos” and “kakos,” which also mean something like “beautiful” and “sh*tty.”

The Septuagint decided to translate certain kinds of good and bad things with two different Greek words: “agathos” and “poneros.” These also mean something like “admirable, excellent, suited to the purpose, fertile for agriculture” and “toilsome, painful.”

“Agathos” is good as in the seed falling on good ground, in a good heart. “Poneros” is bad, as in a bad decision for bad reasons, that makes life worse for you in the long run. “Agathos” is also used to express righteousness. In Greek literature, someone who is “agathos” is noble in character, the opposite of someone who is “kakos.”

There are some other Greek words for good and bad, but “agathos” comes up in today’s second reading at Mass in the OF, 1 Peter 3:18-22. We’re not actually asking God for a “clear” or “clean” conscience, but for a good, righteous conscience that bugs us and keeps us out of trouble.

(We also have the word “makrothymia,” which doesn’t mean “longsuffering” or “patience” the way we use it, even though that’s how it’s translated this week. “Thymia” is passion, temper, spiritedness, the way a bold warrior acts. It comes from “thymos,” which also means spiritedness, and usually a sort of righteous anger. “Makrothymia” is the quality of biding a long time before deploying the thymia and making havoc. “Slow to anger” is more to the point than “longsuffering.” In the Septuagint, Isaiah 57:15 has God promising to give makrothymia to the lowly of soul/mind (“oligopsychois”), where the Hebrew promises to “revive” the spirit of those with a humble spirit. So having makrothymia is a dynamic quality, promising action.)

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