Mysteries of the Koine

DAY 1 Algebra is Greek to Me—Greek Isn’t

If you don’t know biblical Greek and wished you did, join us on the KOINE Road. You won’t become experts in the language, but you will discover some mysteries hidden in the text of the Greek New Testament. Along the way we share a Greek word or two, some grammar and a few cultural tidbits.  You will also discover the Horizontal Church and its critical role in fulfilling The Great  Commission.                                                                                                               

The KOINE Road:  Koine means “common” and was the everyday tongue spoken in Jesus’s’ day. The inspired writers of the New Testament were the first to write in KOINE, the Greek language of the market place.  We don’t have to know it to understand much of the Bible since there are many excellent translations. Nevertheless, the saying, “there’s something lost in the translation,” is true. It’s also true that some of these translations don’t harmonize well.

 Invisible truths hidden from those with little or no knowledge of Greek will be explored. We invite you to join us on this journey along the KOINE road as we uncover vital, unseen facts. The journey promises to be exhilarating, but may also be exasperating.  Surprises and eye-popping scenery, not seen in the best translations await us.  If linguistics isn’t your thing, don’t worry.  We use every day American English as a key to unlock these mysteries.

Blind Spots Another source of these KOINE mysteries is something not often considered—the huge gap between our own culture and the culture of the New Testament. The inspired writers lived in an eastern, i.e.an oriental world. We are westerners, separated from them not only by 2000 years of history, but several seas and continents. Since they lived in such a different world from us, we must be cautious about conceptions that may be foreign to them. We call these misconceptions “cultural blind spots.” Our challenge is to see around them and resolve the gaps between our two worlds.

We Do It With Mirrors That’s right mirrors, similar to the rear view mirror in our cars. We adjust them just so, in order to help you see things that would otherwise be missed. Our goal is to  help you spot hidden biases and minimize mysteries hidden in our different languages and cultures. If we do our job right, the Scriptures should open up in a new way

Along the way we’ll hit some tough stretches. At times you may think, “That can’t be true!”  Fine!  We welcome a conversation. We have only one road sign on this journey: “We don’t argue.” The history of the church is strewn with doctrinal disputes which have divided us beyond belief. Since our focus is harmony in the body of Christ, we hope to engage in honest dialogue, but not prolonged debate.

Who Are We? We Are The Lazarus Project, a team of believers dedicated to resurrecting the Horizontal Church, praying for and encouraging Christian churches to follow Christ’s commandment to love one another that our growing unity will witness to the world that Chris’s original words are authentic and true.

 Day 2Confessions of an Ugly American

I am Wade, team leader of the Lazarus Project.  On the KOINE Road, you will find frequent references to “culture.” Our definition is, “the beliefs, customs, and worldviews of certain groups, places, or times.”  What qualifies me to lead you on this journey?  Qualification is a tricky business in God’s economy.  What qualified a fisherman in Galilee to head up the greatest movement in history? How did Paul, who presided over a good man’s death and hounded Christians, become the great apostle to the Gentiles?  They did what they did, not because of impressive resumes, but because they were called. Simply put, I feel His call to do this.

In high school I nearly flunked Algebra and got mediocre grades in Latin. When I joined the Air Force, they found I had linguistic ability, which floored my Latin teacher. I was sent to Yale to learn Chinese. I enjoyed it maybe because it’s not a dead language. While there I became disenchanted with God and gave atheism a whirl. But it wasn’t a good fit and I began to attend church, searching for answers. I found them among some terrific Ivy League Christians in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at Yale. Their faith was infectious and I fell in love with Jesus Christ.

I was trained by NSA to be a spy of sorts in Taiwan. I wasn’t very good at it, but discovered some other gifts. Later at Cornell, I got A’s in classical Greek, partly because of aptitude, but mostly because I had a passion to read Jesus’s words in his own tongue.  Later, at Princeton Seminary, KOINE Greek was mandatory. When I learned enough to read a few verses in John, I was hooked.

I have served Presbyterian Churches in New York, New Jersey and Florida, where I kept up with the Greek and still do. But I’m not what you would call a Greek scholar.  I’m more of a journeyman, still learning as I go. When reading Paul and Luke, I keep my lexicon handy. Their Greek is a lot tougher than John’s. The fact I’m not a Greek scholar may be in your favor. You may have heard super stars don’t make the best coaches. Things come too easy for them. Good coaching, they say, is often done by journeymen who had to work hard to make it. As a journeyman in KOINE, I feel qualified to do some coaching.

The Ugly American, a 1958 novel, was about several Americans abroad who struggled with more than their share of cultural blind spots. Unlike many people around the globe, Americans seem unable or unwilling to learn foreign languages or grasp how other people view and experience their world. I also struggled for years to make sense of some puzzling things in Scripture. That’s also to your benefit, since it helps me to help you with the struggle.

My Cultural Blind Spots I’ve enjoyed some great cross-cultural courses at Wheaton College, but most of my education has been in the school of hard knocks. I’ve fallen into the Ugly American mode a bit myself.  One of my gaffs was that I favored a bright red sweater while hobnobbing with the locals in Taiwan. How could I have known that Chinese men feel it is shameful for a man to wear that color? Thankfully, a pastor adjusted my mirror.

While teaching in a Gypsy home, I placed my Bible on the carpet by my chair. An elder solemnly walked over, picked it up and put it on a table, saying in Romany, “mari may.” (unclean)  He adjusted my mirror, helping me see my blind spot. Gypsies believe certain things should never touch the floor. God’s Book is one of them, which makes sense. In spite of all that, God used me to help plant several churches: one while in the Air Force in Taiwan. The other was a church among American Gypsies in L.A, which has spread to many dozens of U.S. cities where Gypsies live. I also had leadership roles in new church plants in Illinois and Florida and my wife was in on the ground floor of another church plant in Florida.

P.S. My oldest son is married to a Gypsy woman and has Gypsy children.  He continues the work, laboring to keep the Spirit of Christ alive among these old-world people. His current dream is to start up a school for Gypsy children. My other son coordinates the planting of churches in Muslim lands and ministers to persecuted Christians there. My daughter serves the Lord and is married to a Sikh who now attends church with her. Am I proud of my cross-cultural children?  Of course I am, but also a bit perplexed.. How did they turn out so well?

DAY 3Tu/Humeis  Is It You or is it You?

Second Person Blues: Before we uncover mysteries of KOINE we have a mystery in our own language to settle: the second prson pronoun “you.” English makes no distinction between plural and singular. Originally English utilized “thou” for singular and “ye” for plural. But today even Quakers have discarded these pronouns. Why? It’s possibly due to how individualism became a dominant value of our culture. Whether we say “hey you guys” or “hey you guy”, we’re stuck with plain “you.”  Confusion is compounded by a rule of grammar—we say “you are,” whether we mean one or many. Greek makes a clear distinction between singular “you” and plural, also called the collective.

Who is the Light?  To illustrate this, consider Jesus’s statement, “You are the light of the world.”  (Matt 5: 14 NLT). Jesus uses the Greek humeis {hoo-MAYS], the plural pronoun not tu, the singular. Further, He uses esta, the Greek verb for “you (plurall are,Like other Greek verbs, this form tells us whether the you is singular or plural, so humeis isn’t needed. Yet Jesus uses it. My Greek grammar explains that the pronoun is used with the verb for emphasis. So, a literal translation would read, You all are the light of the world, no one but you all.”

I read our Lord’s quote to my friend and asked him, who is the light? “I guess I would say me,”—and so would most of us.  When we read “you,” we assume it means “me”, not “us.”   We sing “This Little Light of Mine,” never “ours.”  Out blind spot is the individual trumps the collective.  I adjusted his mirror a bit so he could see his blind spot. “Are you going to light up the world all by your lonesome?”  He grinned.  Of course his little light, even a million scattered lights like his, can’t possibly light the world. Then who is the light?  It’s Jesus’ great light shining through His collective body, the church, which could be as few as two or three gathered together. We find the same in these texts: ”You [pl.] are  the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:16), “…let your (pl) light shine before men; that they may see your (pl) good works, and glorify your (pl) Father who is in heaven (Matt 5: 16 ASV). Jesus also taught us to pray “Our Father,” not “my father.”

When he left us, Jesus had 120 highly committed disciples to carry on the work. These people, when gathered are called the church, the body of Christ, the family of God and God’s household. Together we possess a collective dynamic which can be termed teamwork. Teams accomplish great things which individuals can’t.  It wasn’t a person who got us to the moon but a team. Think about the lighthouse lens with many facets. It can focus a single flame to explode into a life-saving beacon.  Jesus’s church can be like that, but not when we are scattered and divided.

We could begin with local churches coming together to shine Christ in their neighborhoods.  Let’s face it, most churches are not lighting up their world. Our neighbors tend to ignore us, partly because, contrary to Jesus’ strategy, our witness is fragmented into going-it-alone congregations.

Christians vs. That Roaring Lion The first church had a great reputation. Their united witness had crowds saying, ”These that turned the world upside down are come here also.”(Acts 17:6) An observer wrote, “Look at those Christians, how they love one another!” Filled with the Spirit, united with Jesus and each other, their individual lights coalesced and shone into their dark world. In three centuries their witness of love and light vanquished an empire, overthrowing its pagan gods and causing slavery to be on the wane. In the same arenas where Christians died for their Lord, they were abolishing cruel games in those arenas. It was Christians 10, the devil lion, zero.

DAY 4:  He is the Vine. Who are the Branches?

 ”When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. This is my command: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” (John 15:10,12)

Surprising Statistics. Recently I analyzed John 15, the “vine and branches” passage in my Greek testament. I highlighted the plural forms and was amazed to find Jesus used the plural 51 times in the first 17 verses alone—averaging three per verse. I intended to highlight the singular as well and was shocked. It was not to be found. He used the collective plural in the entire text.

Vertical and Horizontal Connections. Jesus emphatically taught our need to have a vertical relationship with him. If I don’t stay connected to Him, I am no good to Him. That truth is biblically true and is in our comfort zone. But when we make a turn outside that zone, it requires a major mirror adjustment. Jesus point in this text is: we are of no use to Him if we don’t stay connected to one another. How can this be? A careful examination of verses 9-12 reveals the progression of His teaching. We miss the logic since it’s hidden in the Greek and is foreign to our western mindset, but not to those early believers.

  1. Verse  9: We remain in him by remaining in his love.
  2. Verse 10: We remain in his love when we obey his commands to love God, neighbor and one another. But he isn’t speaking of loving God and neighbor here.
  3. Verse 12 and 17: He tells us what his command is: “Love one another as I have loved you,”

What is the Great Commandment? We are familiar with the first two commands to love God and our neighbor. They were given through Moses and endorsed by Jesus. (Matthew 22: 36-40). However, being connected to Christ by loving one another is not at a familiar idea.  We view abiding in Christ as vertical, not horizontal. Yet Jesus mandated twice in chapter 15 what He first ordered three times at the Last Supper: “”So now I am giving you a new commandment: (1) Love each other. Just as I have loved you, (2) you should love each other. (3) Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (John 13: 34,35 NLT)

We say three times is a charm. He really, really meant it!  In fact some believers celebrate Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin for “mandate.” It celebrates Christ’s clear order to love each other as He loved us. But how is this different from loving our neighbor?

Is Our Brother our Neighbor? Another troublesome blind spot requires a major mirror adjustment. We interpret “each other.” as “others.” Theologian, Scot McKnight, states, “Our task as Christians is to love God and others.” But as we shall see, Scripture does not lump our believing family in with neighbors and neither does common sense. Is it responsible for me to make the same sacrifices for my neighbor’s family as I do for my own? That said, let’s do adjust our mirrors to see how true that is.

  1. 1. New old: This was not a rehash of the old covenant command of Moses. The Lord endorsed it, but added a new command for a new covenant, a new order for a new order. Giving the Great Commandment three parts—a kind of trinity, not a duality.
  2. How we are to love. Moses said treat your neighbor as we wish to be treated. Christ orders us to lay down our lives (Gr: psyches, souls) for one another, as He did for us.
  3. 3. Whom are we to love. Love each other. Does that include our neighbor? No, the Good Samaritan story defines neighbor as the stranger along the way, not family members The promise. ”Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” This is both a promise and a principle. If we strive for harmonious, horizontal connections with each other, we advertise to the world, by our unity, that we are His.

The troubling converse of this is that disharmony calls our discipleship into question.

 Love Your Neighbor by Loving Your Brother: If obedience to Christ’s love command validates our witness to the world, then, if we really wish to win our neighbor, we are loving him when we love one another