Monday, September 29, 2014

Some goals for the teaching of Greek and Latin

1. The goal of a language course and the goal of a text course are different. If we truncate the language courses in order to get to high-level texts, we will always hamstring students. This is in fact one of the flaws of many Grammar-Translation approaches. They teach grammar up front, a rote-memorised core vocabulary, and let loose students on the highest literary, theological and philosophical texts from antiquity. Imagine after one year of English study (EFL night classes) someone wanted you to write sophisticated analyses of Shakespeare, Milton, Eliot, Austen, etc., equipped with a grammar of English and a dictionary.

2. The goal of a language course then is to teach language. We will produce better students of texts if our students acquire more language first, more linguistics later.

3. In my view, my dream is to see the development and spread of courses/teachers/methods that have some of the following features:

a. Instruction in target language 90% of the time or more. Actually I would really like to see methods that moved to 100%. I will explain why. I'm not opposed to shared language instruction, I think it can be very useful, it can shortcut long and difficult attempts to convey something in the target language. However, my experience teaching here is that students who do not already possess a majority language (English, French, German, etc..) are regularly needing to learn Greek/Latin/etc., with or through another non-native language. This is quite frankly a little absurd, it's not fair and it's not easy. I'm not complaining about the unfairness of it, but I think we could rectify this by pushing language instruction towards 100% in the target. Then anybody with the skill and training could turn up in a place like here and teach Greek directly. That's the direct method in action.

b. Hours in the language count. Pegging the required hours to academic standardisation, particularly the concept of the US credit-hour, doesn't work. It's an equivalence driven by US academic bureaucracy, that has no real bearing on genuine language learning. Want to produce genuinely competent language acquirers? Give them the hours in the language necessary to acquire it. Anything less is selling students short and deceiving ourselves.

c. Change the assessment. Students learn to the test, even when teachers don't teach to the test. Assessment ought to be linked to communicative competencies. Can students perform communication tasks X, Y, Z. I would peg this to something like CEFR, or the ACTFL standards (though I can't speak to whether Alira is any good. Remove translation as a way of testing competency. It only encourages students to learn to translate. Translation is not a basic skill, it's actually a high level art that should be held-off, rather than brought forward. Test students to see if they understand and can respond to target language material. Recognise that output generally lags behind comprehension. Test for what we want students to achieve.

c-1. Actually I think we should minimise as much assessment as possible. For the following reasons: (i) continual assessment tasks detract from teaching. (ii) effective small-group teaching will result in the teacher having a fairly accurate idea of student competencies anyway, (iii) formative assessment is irrelevant because of (i) and (ii), we are actually only interested in summative assessment: what can a student do with the language at the end. (v) students must learn, but if we are doing acquisition-based teaching right, then students will learn; if they don't reach those outcomes either (a) we didn't teach right, (b) we didn't teach enough.

d. Emphasise community. Western education is endemically individualistic. But language is about communication, which is relational, and languages don't live or die by individuals, but linguistic communities. We need to foster living language communities in classical languages, if we value those languages enough to want to study ancient texts. If a language is only useful 'inside the class', students will only value it in the classroom, and ultimately that will mean a decrease in motivation.

4. Anything short of communicative competency will not set students up for textual studies. In my view, that's about a B2 on the CEFR. Of course, students may stop before that level for many reasons, but if we are talking about designing a course of study, we need to get to this level. Otherwise, students are not genuinely equipped to deal with high-level texts. If we short cut the language to get to the texts, we will produce genuinely less good scholars. Or we will take a lot longer to do so. Or we will produce a lot fewer of them. We already have that.

In a future post I might talk more about what the goals of text courses should be. Let me close with a few caveats.

А. I'm not opposed to common-language instruction, but I think it should be minimal. Time spent in a common language is time spent (a) talking about the language rather than acquiring it, (b) time not spent in the language. The primary exception is that a common-language explanation can sometimes shortcut a difficult or impossible target-language explanation, and may actually save time for more target language time.

Б. I'm not opposed to grammar, I just think this goes with the above. We are trying to acquire/impart a language, not a study of its grammar. However, grammar will certainly help us. What is best, is to learn and discuss grammar in the target language. Then we are doing both.

В. I'm not opposed to translation. Rather, as I said above, translation is actually quite a difficult skill. Students will generally be better at translation into their native tongue than out of it. Time spent in translation in early stages encourages 'translation mentality', rather than thinking and processing in the target language. That's why it's better to delay it. Also, written translation should probably be put off until after some exposure to the difficulty of oral translation.

Г. I would say I am opposed to Grammar-Translation overall though. It doesn't produce what I think we want. It actively works against language acquisition. It favours a minority of exceptional students who are likely to reproduce the same method. It leaves students behind, reinforces stereotypes about 'language giftedness', 'translationese', 'code-breaking', shortcuts to difficult texts, and has created generations who have blatantly wrong and false ideas about Latin, Greek, classics, and language learning. While I love grammar, I believe the current changes in classical language pedagogy have the challenge of simply undoing a lot of what G-T created in this pedagogical field.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Backwards Course Design and Communicative Language Learning Models

Recently I unexpectedly had two days of teacher training seminars, dedicated to course and curriculum development. Despite having no warning beforehand it was very enlightening. In this post I am going to spend some time re-presenting some of what I learnt, and discussing how it might apply for communicative models of language learning.

The core of the backwards design model is to begin at the start. That is, what is the goal or outcome of the course or subject supposed to be. Only be knowing and establishing where you want to get to will we have any chance of arriving there.

This was broken down into identifying a series of Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) across three/four areas:

1. Knowledge
2. Skills
3. Character/Values
(4. Community)

A lot of courses are designed purely around 1 - the impartation of knowledge. This, as most of us well know, is simply not that useful. Trying to merely impart a body of knowledge rarely creates good learning or successful learners. Undoubtedly we are trying to impart knowledge, but we must consider carefully not only what knowledge but what for.

The second element is also relatively clear - we generally want students to emerge being able to do certain things. In some courses this will overshadow knowledge. We have very practical goals.

The third element is more elusive. In some course syllabi that I have read it is taken to the Nth degree, it seems like some universities are producing paragons of modern western ethics just with their entry level courses! However, much as I am inclined to be a little dismissive, all learning is also character-forming. We do communicate and impart values, even if we don't think we are. All the more reason to think clearly about it.

The fourth element emerges when we recognise that we are creating learning communities, and shaping learners who will go on to work in communities. We didn't discuss this a lot in our seminars, but it was good to highlight it and at least bring it to the table.

When we consider CLLM and Classical Languages, what are our ILOs? What are yours?

This needs to be done at a macro, mediate, and micro level. That is, we want to think about the whole course of study, individual units of study, and then each lesson. For the course of study my goal is something like this:

To produce persons who know a body of vocabulary around the 5000 word mark, and all the fundamentals of grammar, who can utilise this knowledge actively in four key areas of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, and have been shaped to be persons self-aware about the nuances and challenges of cross-linguistic and cross-cultural interactions.

If I was talking in CEFR terms, I think a course of language study ought to produce students at a B2 level, after 2-3 years, and at a C1 level after 3-4 years.

There is more to say on this level, but this post is primarily exploratory. So let me move on.

From the ILOs, we then consider 3 more things sequentially:

1. Achievement Based Objectives
2. Assessment
3. Learning Strategies.

Our Achievement Based Objectives are attempts to describe clearly what a student will be able to do at the end of the course. They must be linked to the ILOs in a way that expresses: how do we know that a student has reached this outcome.

To give an example, if my outcomes include students being able to parse Greek verbs accurately, then one of my Objectives will be "will have accurately parsed (number? range? etc??) Greek verbs".

How we shape our Outcomes and Objectives eventually will shape how we teach, and more importantly how our students learn. In other words, even if we don't teach to a test, students learn to what they are tested on. Objectives are closely connected to Assessment.

So if my goal is an active vocabulary of 5000 words, my Objective must express this, but express it in a way that isn't, say, a 5000-word vocabulary test. Because my outcome isn't "knows English glosses for 5000 words". Instead, I'm going to have Objectives something like, "has read Greek texts with required vocabulary around the 5000 word range", "has given oral presentation demonstrating 5000-word breadth of vocabulary", etc.. I may have several objectives for one Outcome. Again, I am not saying that they need to demonstrate in speech exactly 5000 words, but rather I would expect that their oral activities would demonstrate that there was a 5000-word vocabulary "in their head".

On to Assessment: answer the question how will the teacher know that the student knows?

These can often be formulated in relation to the Objectives. Essentially I must design actual assessments that provide proof that a student has attained the objectives. This is a really key point, because the reality of assessments is that (a) students will learn towards what is assessed, not towards what is 'proposed'. I can tell my students as much as I please that I want them to have a core vocabulary of 5000 words, but unless I have a means of testing that requires a core of 5000 words, they will not strive to acquire it. If, however, I should devise assessments that require, say, a passive 'flashcard-type' knowledge of 5000 words, that is also exactly what I will get - rote memorisation. So if my Objective is actual acquisition of circa 5000 words, then my assessment must be designed to elicit proof of 5000 words. Not that I necessarily have to hear 5000 different vocabulary items come out of their mouths in comprehensible sentences, but at least their output must reflect a body of vocabulary around that large.

Last is Learning Strategies, and this is very closely tied to assessment. How will the students learn. Not "how will I teach?". Teaching is one thing, learning is another. They are obviously related, but it we ask the learn question first, we will often get to the teach question better. One may teach and no one learn, but we are unlikely to have students learning without any teaching (unless we are fostering autodidacticism, but that's another thing!).

If I want students to emerge with a core 5000 word vocabulary, and I am going to design assessments that require them to expressly demonstrate actual communicative competency in both oral, aural, written, and reading formats of this kind of vocabulary, then my learning strategies must be geared towards this. So, handing out vocab lists and telling them to memorise is just not going to cut it - I will end up with students with rote knowledge. If I test for rote knowledge, that is also what I will get. Instead there must be another way. Since I have been talking about vocabulary in this post, it's going to be something like this:

Students will learn 5000 words of core vocabulary through continual, repeated exposure to gradually increasing amounts of new vocab in comprehensible contexts over the course of the whole syllabus. That exposure will be firstly aural input, reinforced by reading practice, and then further solidified by opportunities to utilise acquired vocabulary through oral and written output.

All of this is going on at the very macro level. I'm talking about designing a whole multi-year syllabus. Once that has been done, across a number of objectives, then one must break it down into units (e.g. semesters), sub-units, and even individual lessons. If we are talking vocab, then what are my Objectives for each semester, how will we go from X vocab to X + Y vocab? Will we employ different processes at different stages? Will the assessment vary significantly in the first unit? How much will each lesson emphasise this aspect, as opposed to other objectives we are working on.

I think this is enough on this topic for today. If you have either some thoughts or questions, please comment away. I hope to return to this theme in relation to the question of teaching the discipline and field of History.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Genre, Literal, Poetry and the Poetic

Today I was writing a response to someone who wanted to claim that a certain part of biblical text was poetry. My objection was that simply the features of poetic speech do not make for poetry. It reminded me of a similar but reverse conversation I once had, in which I pointed out that a different part of scripture, while not being poetry, was poetic.

Which gets me to today's reflection. What ought to be going on when we read a text?

One of the helpful realisations over the last 200 years is the necessity of attention to genre in deciding what a text is trying to mean. We don't want to misread texts by deriving an understanding that those texts did not intend to mean. This is, ultimately, authorial intention. It was fashionable, for a while, to deny that authorial intention was meaningful at all, or accessible, or something to even think about. Texts just 'are', cut off from their makers. But I think that view is a philosophical anomaly safely left to the side for the moment. Texts are the means by which speakers and auditors communicate (or writers and readers, if you prefer).

When it comes to biblical texts this whole argument has higher stakes. What do different parts of the Bible mean to mean? Attempts to answer this question form the battleground of hermeneutical methodologies. There are those who have cut biblical texts free from any context, and implied author, so that they may be freely interpreted only with reference to what the reader finds in them. This is merely allegory repackaged, and quite frankly it's not a good way to read texts in general. The pure allegorical reader has the ability to find whatever they want in a text because the text exercises no control over the meaning they derive from that text. They are solipsists engaged in a narcissistic spiritual conversation with themselves.

There are others who are super-hyper-extra-literalists. Starting from a doctrine of Scripture that asserts the truth and inerrancy of the Bible, they feel constrained to interpret its every statement as true and meaningful in the same way. This is the essential hermeneutic of very conservative fundamentalism. I portray the position only for exaggerated polemic.

I would say that most readers find themselves lining up some version of a reading that involves an attempt to understand what the implied author was attempting to convey to implied readers in their socio-literary-historical context. That is the product of the history of philology and biblical criticism in the last couple of centuries.

Which brings me to discussions of genre. We rightfully recognise that texts signify in different ways. One way to describe that is through genre. Genre is a way of classifying and describing different 'types' of texts that have different conventions, different purposes, and different methods of conveying meaning. Genre is best thought of as a mostly firm, but slightly fluid, category. That is, every instantiation of a genre both draws on that genre's history and convention, and slightly alters it. For example, Vergil uses Epic, but he also changes what 'Epic' is. Later Latin poets utilise post-Vergilian Epic, and also alter what 'Epic' is. Eventually 'Epic' becomes unstable enough and unsuited enough that it cannot genuinely be written in the way Vergil wrote it. No one writes Epics today, because the endeavour has become impossible.

One of the macro-categories of distinction is between prose and poetry. We recognise that poetry does something very different to most forms of prose. Saying something is poetic seems to give an automatic license to recognise that the kinds of statements poetry makes, are not meant to be taken 'literally'. I think this is an area where there is real lack of clarity in interpretation. There is far more going on here.

In ancient writings, there is a far stricter and more formalised understanding of poetry than in contemporary English. Indeed, after what I call the 'free verse revolution', English language understandings of 'poetry' are far more varied than ancient counterparts. This is part of the problem here: in English, the presence of a number of poetic techniques may lead us to consider something poetry rather than prose, vague and slippery as that distinction can be. But in Greek, Hebrew, etc, the mere presence of poetic techniques does not poetry make. Rather the presence of formal markers of poetry convention demarcate what is poetry.

If we identify a certain part or portion of a biblical text as poetry per se, it is necessary to consider and read it in relation to ancient genres of poetry and their conventions. That is what I could call responsible reading.

However if we identify something as exhibiting a high number of poetic techniques or features, we have not then found 'poetry'. We in fact have not resolved the genre question. There is not a 'catch-all' category of 'prose' that demands certain interpretations. Rather the presence of poetic techniques are a guide to the type of text we are dealing with. It's for this reason that, for example, simply recognising that Genesis 1 is not 'poetry' does not demand a 'prose' interpretation. It's still highly formalised and poetic writing. We have excluded some forms of genre analysis, but we have not thereby resolved the genre question itself.

This simple dichotomy of "poetry is not meant to be taken literally, prose is" must go. It's like trying to sand wood with a hammer. It just won't do.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Advanced Greek Grammar: Nothing is as it seems

When you start to get more 'advanced' in Greek grammatical studies, you really begin to discover that nothing is what you thought it was. Here are three examples.


Traditional grammars tell you that Greek has an active, middle, and passive voice. And they parse out the meaning like this: "I kill you" (Active); "I am killed by you" (Passive); "I kill you with some relationship to myself" (Middle). And then they tell you that there are deponent verbs which 'lost' their active voice and just use middle and passive forms for active and passive.

But most in this field now agree that this is not really correct. In fact, we would be better off speaking of two voices: active and 'subject reflexive'. The old 'middle' and 'passive' are really subdivisions of a form of verb that sees the subject as somehow involved in the action, hence 'subject reflexive'. And the so-called 'deponents' are not deponents at all. Their 'core meaning', if we can indulge that for a moment, already involves the idea of "subject affectedness", which is why they aren't unusual, they never have an "active" or "common" voice to begin with.

Perfect, perfective

Traditional grammars tended to teach the Greek perfect tense-form along the lines of the Latin perfect. That is a shame because it was mistaken. More recent work has highlighted the complexity and interrelationship of tense and aspect in Greek, particularly the way aspect is primary outside the indicative mood. So now there is considerable debate about what aspect the perfect tense has. If you go with Con Campbell, the perfect tense-form is actually imperfective in aspect, and marked for 'proximity'. Porter et alii describe the perfect as 'stative' in aspect, a more widely held view. Some still hold that the Perfect is perfective, but I would describe this as a relatively minor view. Overall, the momentum of opinion is that the perfect is not perfect!

Absolutes are not absolute

This is the point that really inspired me to write this post. If you've studied Greek, you'll know that the genitive absolute is a construction that involves generally a noun and a participle, in the genitive case, usually at the start of a sentence, that tells you something correlated to the sentence, but having no grammatical connection to the rest of the sentence.

Galatians 3:25 is a good example: ἐλθούσης δὲ τῆς πίστεως οὐκέτι ὑπὸ παιδαγωγόν ἐσμεν. trans.  "with the coming of Faith, we are no longer under a paidagogos."

The key element of it being 'absolute' is that 'faith' is not attached to any other grammatical feature of the rest of the sentence. If it were, so traditional theory goes, it would be in the appropriate case and so would the participle.

This is all well and good, until you realise that many, many times the relevant noun in the genitive absolute phrase does appear in the rest of the sentence. So, for example, Mark 5:2:

καὶ ἐξελθόντος αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου εὐθὺς ὑπήντησεν αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν μνημείων ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ,
Trans. "as he got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs, unclean in spirit, encountered him".

The αὐτοῦ of the genitive absolute is Jesus, and this is the same referent as the αὐτῷ later in the sentence.

I don't have time to fully explore this, but instead I refer you to an excellent article Lois Fuller, "The 'Genitive Absolute' in New Testament/Hellenistic Greek: A Proposal for clearer understanding." Fuller shows how 'absoluteness' is not in fact one of the essential properties of this construction - the absolute is not absolute at all.


Things are just not as simple as they seem. Grammatical research continues to sharpen our knowledge of Ancient Greek. One of the things this should do, though, is change how we teach introductory Greek. This isn't 'advanced' knowledge, and one shouldn't have to unlearn 1st year Greek in order to do 3rd year Greek.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Learn Latin and/or Greek with me in 2015

So as in my recent personal news, we will be relocating back to Sydney towards the end of November. That creates some opportunities if you'd like to study Latin or Greek with me. I will be open to both individual tutoring, and running small group classes (4-10 people). If you are in the Sydney region and would be interested, please get in touch. I will also have some time available for individualised tutoring over the internet, starting from December onwards.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Interviews with Communicative Greek Teachers (6): Jason Weaver

Here now is the sixth in this series of interviews. I completed the first round of answers I received, and then put out a little call for more responses, and so was introducted to Jason Weaver, who has been working for some time as Biblical Languages and Exegesis Consultant for New Tribes Mission. Most excellent to hear from another respondent.

Earlier posts in this series may be read here (Parts OneTwoThreeFour, Five).

1. What has been your own academic background?

I entered the training program of New Tribes Mission at 18 years old and upon completion received a BA in Intercultural Studies.  Afterward, I taught at the 2 year Bible College ( for 10 years covering courses in Systematic Theology, Biblical Studies, and Greek.  During that time I also completed an MA in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

2. Specifically in relation to Greek, how did you first learn it? What was that learning experience like?

I began studying Greek on my own using The Basics of Biblical Greek by William Mounce.  Once I finished that, I began ‘reading’ (translating) portions of the NT and began reading through Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.  It was a couple of years before I took any official courses in Greek.  I liked grammar and was quite motivated so I pressed on through the grammar/translation method not knowing anything else.  I progressed in my familiarity with the portions of the NT that I ‘read’ regularly in Greek, but I wasn’t making any progress in my ability to read anything in Greek that I wasn’t already familiar with.  All my grammar study didn’t seem to increase my ease of reading, which is what I was really after. 

3. You're currently working as an Exegetical consultant with New Tribes, tell us a little about what that involves day to day.

The main goal of my job is to support Bible translators in interpreting the texts that they are translating.  I answer exegetical questions via email on a regular basis and I do overseas seminars once or twice a year that help train folks to translate epistles.  The other major aspect to my job is to teach Greek to current and potential translators.  This semester, for example, I have six students in Greek, and it runs full time for 6 ½ weeks.  Next year I’m scheduled to run Greek 3 times: 6 ½ weeks in the spring, 4 weeks in the summer, and another 6 ½ weeks in the fall.  Since I’m located at the Missionary Training Center (, I also teach a few other classes and help in the discipleship program.

4. What role do communicative methods play in your teaching? How did you come to utilise them?

I taught Greek for five years using the traditional grammar/translation approach with classes meeting one evening a week.  I don’t remember where I came across it first, but somehow I discovered Randall Buth’s Living Koine Greek materials.  Since I had been trained as a missionary in language acquisition, I understood the merit of the approach.  However, like many others, I wasn’t sure if it was worth all the effort since all I want to be able to do is read the NT.  After using Buth’s materials myself I became persuaded that the benefits of the approach far outweighed the work it would take to implement it. 

After trying the approach for a semester I realized that I needed some help to know what to do with class time, so I signed up for one of the Biblical Language Center’s 4 week courses in Israel (2009).  It was a great time.  The two teachers I had were Randall Buth and Jordash Kiffiak, both are very good.  I came back with better Greek and the tools to teach it in the classroom that still form the foundation for my course today.  I took a second course from the BLC in Israel (2010) and then was privileged to teach with them for two annual courses in Fresno CA (2011, 2012).  These experiences, along with substantial online interaction with Jordash, are what have brought me where I am today in teaching Greek.

Currently, the curriculum for my Greek course is all built around using communicative methods.  I’d say between 70%-80% of class time is devoted to TPR, TPRS, and other live language exercises.  Being at a training center instead of a college or seminary gives me the freedom to craft my course however I want.  The downside to this is that my course is the only Greek course available to them in our program, so I have to make it count!

I still find it difficult to know how much grammar/analysis to cover and when to do so.  Since we don’t have a year or more of full-time language learning, students don’t have time to fully learn the language before talking about such things (see my thoughts at the end).

5. What sort of responses do you get from students by using communicative methods? What impact has it had on your teaching?

As far as my teaching, it has completely transformed what I do.  My ultimate goal of students learning to read and understand the Greek NT remains the same, but almost every step on the way to reaching that goal has changed.  Specifically, I’m learning that it’s better to spend time gaining some competency with the most common forms in the language rather than flying through every possible way to form nouns and verbs in the first year.  By the end of the course, my students have been exposed to all the different moods and tenses of the verb, but we don’t spend time going over how to form all their endings.

The students love it!  One very positive aspect to the approach is that it allows those who aren’t necessarily analytical or aren’t the best at grammar to begin to read the NT.  I’ve also had several students tell me that they did nothing with their Greek after class and picked it back up a year or more later.  When they did so, it came back quickly.  This is another strength of the approach.  It’s especially helpful since I train translators who will likely learn two more languages before they start getting back into their Greek for the purpose of translating.

6. If you could name one desideratum, a resource for communicative teaching that would appear 'overnight', what would that be?

I’d love to see a Koine version of Rosetta Stone!  While this wouldn’t directly help in the classroom, the potential for motivated students to learn on their own would be immense.  It would also provide a great source for homework.

Also, while not a physical resource, we need a place to go and spend a semester or more in Greek.  Such an experience would greatly increase a teacher’s ability in the language and eventually provide a great opportunity for students as well!  The problem, of course, is the organization and funding it would take to do something like this.

Some closing thoughts from me

I'd never corresponded with Jason before, as I mentioned. I'm not sure a Koine version of Rosetta Stone would be useful, simply because Rosetta Stone is a wildly over-priced, unsuccessful learning tool. While I am in theory very pro- using technology to facilitate language learning, I have yet to encounter much in the way of truly useful language learning software.

Meanwhile a 6-month Greek immersion school would be a wonderful thing. I expect it will remain a pipe dream for a little while yet.

I have some other thoughts on related topics, but they will need to await another day. I have at least one more interview slated to come in, but we're definitely open to hearing from anyone else teaching Greek communicatively, in whatever context; don't wait for me to e-mail you, e-mail me today.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

1 Cor 14:1-12 A translation

Pursue love, be zealous for things spiritual, especially that you prophesy. For the one speaking in a language does not speak to people but to God, for no one hears, but he speaks mysteries in the Spirit. But the one prophesying speaks edification and encouragement and consolation to people. The one speaking in a language edifies themselves; but the one prophesying edifies the assembly. I wish you all t speak in languages, but moreso that you prophesy: greater is the one prophesying than the one speaking in languages, unless someone translates, so that the assembly might receive edification.

Now brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in languages, what shall I benefit you, unless I shall speak to you either in a revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? Just as lifeless instruments give a noise, whether flute or guitar, if they do not give distinction between notes, how will it be known what is playing on flute or guitar? And if the horn sounds an unclear noise, who will prepare for war? In this way also if you do not give clear speech through your tongue, how it will be known what is spoken? for you will be speaking into the air. Perchance there are many kinds of noises in the world, and none meaningless. but if I do not know the meaning of the sound, I will be an alien to the one speaking, and the one speaking will be an alien to me. So in this way you also, since you are zealous the spiritual, be zealous for building up the assembly so that you might abound.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Love is a verb?

Yes, but that's not an argument.

It's a commonplace to state, "love is a verb", and then to say that therefore it's about actions, not about emotions. This is a common Christianesque argument. The problem is that saying "love is a verb" does not negate the fact that it is also a noun. It's a noun in every language that is likely in view (English, Koine Greek, Hebrew). Merely stating that it is a verb does not entail some essentialist view of it, no more than saying, "love is a noun" somehow desiccate it of its verbal notions.

If your argument is, "Love is a verb", my conclusion is, "you're a linguistic ignoramus."

Friday, September 05, 2014

Personal News

As this post goes live, I am at a conference in Japan.

We recently came to a firm decision that at the end of 2014 we will return from Mongolia.

It was not an easy decision, and in this post I am going to both explain and explore the reasons, the implications, and some of the attendant issues.

We first came to Mongolia in March of 2012, about 2.5 year ago. Our intention was to learn Mongolian well, and spend an open, but longish, number of years serving here, with an eye to theological education ministry. In 2013 I began teaching at UBTC, part time for one semester before switching to full-time. This present semester is my 4th, and the end of a second year. Overall this is a fairly 'short' time.

At the same time, beginning in March 2012, I commenced a PhD program. Although I am a fairly talented and resourceful individual, pursuing a doctorate in patristic theology while in Ulaanbaatar has proved challenging. The two great challenges are (a) availability of resources, and (b) undivided attention. Teaching a full-time load in a foreign language has proved enjoyable but taxing. While I have many resources, access to secondary literature is a major barrier.

Over this past summer I gave considerable thought, and prayer, to not only our immediate, but our long-term future. Although I have no prophetic 'word from the Lord', I've come to believe that returning to Australia at this time to pursue full-time studies will bring greater benefits and greater opportunities for life-long ministry in the future. Primarily this has to do with completing the PhD, and working in the related of fields NT studies, Church History, Patristics, and Greek (and Latin) language.

In many ways leaving the 'mission field' is very difficult especially when it's voluntary. I think within evangelical circles there is a simultaneous problem of making too much of missionaries, and too little of missionary life. That is, 'missionary' is a title with an unhelpful mystique and prestige, it's the highest rank you can achieve, short of martyrdom. To step back from that into other worlds, other ministries, can seem like, and for us feel like, a kind of 'failure'. This is simply not true, but that doesn't mean it doesn't feel true. However, I can honestly say that over these past almost-3 years, that we have "done good" in Mongolia. It wasn't a waste of time, it was a 'success', if you want to use that language. At the same time, we make too little of missionary life, because we think missionaries are so great, and fail to adequately appreciate the real difficulties and sacrifices involved in living in foreign cultures, ministering in strange lands. I would say that we have done pretty well, and been well supported, but it has been taxing.

It's also quite difficult because we are well aware that there are significant, great, gospel needs in Mongolia, and that we will leave some 'holes' here. Holes that God can fill, but holes nonetheless. This will be true at the college, at our international church, in our organisation's UB team, and in our personal relations. We are at a point where my language skills in particular are 'quite good', having been able to preach in Mongolian a few times over the summer.

Returning also comes with a financial cost for us. Perhaps ironically, to go from missionaries back to Australia takes us from a surprisingly financially stable situation, to an incredibly uncertain one. For my part, I am hoping to take up a scholarship as well as find some part-time work to support us. My wife, too, will be exploring employment possibilities. My assurance in this is that God's provision is not merely a 'special promise for missionaries', but his enduring character.

At present, we will continue here until the end of November, and I will see out the teaching semester. We will return to Sydney where I will pursue full-time doctoral studies for the next 1.5 years. During that time I am planning, Deo volente, to visit Mongolia at least three more times to teach some intensive courses. At that end of that year and a half, we will again re-assess what future possibilities there are for mission, ministry, work, and the Lord's Kingdom.

For those of you who pray, I would ask you to commit this time and our plans to the Lord.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

State of the Projects, September 2014

 I decided I would start writing monthly 'update' posts that just cover a range of things I'm working on, from major projects to minor tasks.


Was going well in early August, but has slowed right down with the start of school here. Not expecting to get a terrible lot done in the next two months either.

Greek Ørberg

Despite the (relatively) large interest, I have basically shelved this project for now. I send an e-mail to Domus Latina some months ago, and tried a few other indirect means to make contact, but without any real success. If I cannot even secure a permission for translation rights, there is little point in persevering with a project that could never legally see the light of day. So we're stalled at chapter 13.

Greek via a natural method Reader

I did however start a second, vaguely related, reader project this month, of which two chapters are available. I think this approach will give us more freedom, and hopefully avoid any possible issues of copyright, thus leading to a genuinely free product.

Patristic Readers

Getting the first reader done was an important milestone, just to have something 'finished'. I'm at work on a second text, and a little over half-way done. I expect it may see a pdf release in October sometime, before working on a third text before year's end.

Neo-Koine core vocab

A while ago I wrote about 'Developing the Neo-Koine vocabulary'. I have been at work on a core list of 600 odd words that would prove a useful base for anyone interested in a more active, contemporary usage of Ancient Greek. The Greek version of my list is at 220 words, and I add about 50 words a week. One I reach 620 I will publish a version of this for public use and critique, while continuing to add to it.


Semester has started and I'm teaching New Testament Theology as well as Greek Exegesis of John's Gospel. I have some thoughts on writing some exegetical notes on John, but we shall have to see. I also have an idea for an article.

Productivity prospects for September:

Are low, as I am in Japan for two weeks and will not be able to get as much done in these areas. Still, there will be a solid 2.5 weeks after I return and hopefully we will see some more progress.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

1 Peter 5:12-14 Exegetical Notes


12 Διὰ Σιλουανοῦ ὑμῖν τοῦ πιστοῦ ἀδελφοῦ, ὡς λογίζομαι, διʼ ὀλίγων ἔγραψα, παρακαλῶν καὶ ἐπιμαρτυρῶν ταύτην εἶναι ἀληθῆ χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰς ἣν στῆτε. 13 ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς ἐν Βαβυλῶνι συνεκλεκτὴ καὶ Μᾶρκος υἱός μου. 14 ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἀγάπης. εἰρήνη ὑμῖν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ.


v 13 Βαβυλῶνι / Ῥώμῃ
The latter reading found only in a few miniscules, and likely secondary

v14 ἀγάπης / ἁγίῳ
The latter likely an accommodation to the familiar expression of Paul

v14 Χριστῷ / Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ / κυίῳ Ἰησοῦ
The shorter reading to be preferred, as also supported by different text-types

v15 ἀμήν / omit
Several texts have a concluding ἀμήν. But this may be understood as a scribal impulse.


Through Silvanus, to you, a faithful brother, as I reckon, I have written briefly, exhorting and attesting this to be the true grace of God: Stand in it. The co-elect in Babylon, and Markus my son, greet you. Greet each other with a holy kiss. Peace to you all that are in Christ.


The text of 5:12-14 parallels the structure of 1:1-2. In both cases it is Peter who sends the letter, there is mention of ‘the chosen’, in chapter 1 it is a reference to the recipients, while in 5 the church wherever Peter is is also ‘chosen’. Chapter 1 addresses the Diaspora, while 5 locates the source as ‘Babylon’, in both cases recontextualises Old Testament references for New Testament contexts, and both provide a greeting of peace.

Two main questions arise, (1) the role of Silvanus, and (2) the meaning of ‘Babylon’.
If the letter is genuinely Peter’s, and if the Greek is ‘too good for him’, then the traditional understanidng is that Silvanus, presumably a Roman citizen, served as amanuensis. However, διά + person is more commonly used of the person who carries the letter, i.e. a courier (so Achtemeir, Cloeney, Grudem, Elliot, inter aliis). Furthermore, in Acts 15:23 a Silvanus acts as a courier for the Apostles’ letter from Jerusalem to Antioch.

However the fact that Silvanus was probably the courier does not rule out he, or Mark, acting as amanuensis. The affirmation of him as a faithful brother may suggest that the recipients knew him by reputation, but not personally.

Silvanus is mentioned in 2 Cor 1:19 as a companion of Paul, is listed as co-author of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and is the Latin version of Silas, who is listed as Paul’s companion in Acts. In Acts 15:22 he is among the trusted leaders of the Jerusalem church, and in 16:37 he holds Roman citizenship.

What about Babylon? Who is “she”? Does it refer to an individual woman, or a collective group? Traditionally two elided nouns have been suggested, ἐκκλησία or ἀδελφότης. While the first is unattested in the context, the second is used in 5:9 and might form a suitable antecedent. The meaning differs little, as it would refer to the Christian community there. Almost all modern interpreters understand ‘Babylon’ to refer to Rome. However, with what significance? We should avoid imputing apocalyptic references such as those found in Revelation, since 1 Peter is not such a book and is not obviously dealing with imperial ideology.

Rather, along the lines of Michaels, Davids, Achtemeier, and Kelly, “Babylon” forms an inclusio with “Diaspora” and indicates “a place of exile”, “not home”. While Rome may indeed by theh place, it is not certain. Peter is in a city of exile, just as much as his readers. Interestingly the Oriental churches have long taken it at face value - that Peter was indeed in Babylon and wrote from there.

However it may be, verse 12b ends with a clear and resounding exhortation: state firm in this truth grace of God. Peter has expounded throughout this letter the grace of God in Christ, and in the light of suffering, Jesus’ victory, and Jesus’ example, believers should stand firm to the end, secure in the vindication of Christ.

v13-14 then end with the final greetings, as we have discussed before.


Thus concludes my exegetical notes on 1 Peter. I hope you have enjoyed reading. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Some reflections from the FSI

Recently I was linked to a paper, "Lessons learned from fifty years of theory and practice in government language teaching", by Jackson and Kaplan from the FSI. It was a very interesting read and I direct your attention to it. I want to share just two personal points of reflection.

Lesson 4 deals with 'time on task'. The experience of FSI in training is that a great deal of time is required in class, and relatively intensively. 4 class hours a day, 5 days a week, plus 3 or more hours of individual study. that is a truly intensive environment. They also not that they have tried to shorten programs, but unsuccessfully. There is just a minimum that must be done.

They also discuss class size, and suggest that for lower level groups in relatively cognate languages, 6 is a maximum, while more disparate languages and advanced groups, 4 is a working maximum.

Those are pretty small classes. Far removed from the settings of a lot of classical language instruction.

I've written before about estimates of hours to fluency. Let's assume that ancient Greek falls into Category II, requiring 44 weeks, and 1100 class hours, to achieve FSI graduating standards. That would be 44 weeks of 5 class hours, 5 days a week. Not a program anyone is running in the classics.

If you compute that out at a standard 3 hrs a week, 14 week semester, it would take a theoretical 26 semesters to come close to that kind of fluency. This is why we have so few scholars in Greek with a genuine command of the language.

If you quadrupled class hours to 12, you could reduce semesters to 6. That, perhaps, would be workable in a university setting.

Since I'm engaged in a bit of hyperbole, perhaps I will clarify. Generally most institutions aren't trying to produce this kind of competency. We don't need diplomats and spies with Ancient Greek fluency. For a seminary, this goal is probably too high. However, if you look at that recent interview with Christophe Rico, about the outcomes of his students, that is a reasonable goal for a well-designed seminary program. For the seminary, then, I concede that you could run a 2 year foundational program that would produce students communicatively competent to read the Scriptures and discuss them in their original languages.

For classics departments, and for graduate studies, the goals need to be different, and they need to be higher. It's quite frankly bizarre and embarrassing that a NT professor could not be able to speak Koine. It's bizarre and embarrassing that we don't think it's bizarre and embarrassing. A 4-year university classics program ought to produce students communicatively proficient, to a high degree, in Latin and Greek. They don't need to be Demosthenes, but they should be able to understand Demosthenes by listening to a recording/performance. That is a high standard. I concede, it seems unrealistically high, but is it really? I would want a modern languages major to come out of their program able to listen to contemporary political dialogue and to read a wide variety of technical texts. I don't think expecting any less from a classics major is unreasonable.

You know, one of the reasons this occurred, for Latin, was simply the displacement of Latin for the vernaculars in the realm of academic discourse. Trace the history of Latin and Philology, and you'll see that once Latin is no longer the medium of discourse, and becomes only the object of study, actual ability in Latin declines rapidly. Is it necessary to discourse about Latin in Latin? No. But the necessity of doing so imposed a burden on the student that they couldn't merely read snippets of text and function in their vernacular: if they wanted to engage in academic society, there was no other choice but to master the language of the conversation.

I was also quite interested in their Lesson 10, that Conversation, while appearing easy, is actually a very hard skill to master. Informal, and especially multiparty, conversation is in fact exceedingly difficult. This echoes my own experiences.

"Many officers report that they would much rather give a speech or conduct an interview than be the only non-native speaker surrounded by native speakers art a social engagement such as a dinner arty or reception".

I can preach competently in Mongolian, but I can sit at a table of native speakers and be entirely lost

Monday, September 01, 2014

Some challenges of teaching Greek for non-English-speakers

This is now my fourth consecutive semester teaching Greek exegesis in Mongolia, in Mongolian. This semester my students are studying John, which is a real delight. In this post I am going to explore some of the linguistic features of the Mongolian language in comparison to Koine Greek which provide difficulties for my students.

To set the scene, before I get these students they do two semesters of introductory Greek. They are taught in a quite traditional grammar-translation method using the textbook by Ray Summers. I’m not deeply familiar with that textbook, but it’s pretty standard fare. Their teacher is a quite competent Mongolian who also teaches English. So students learn Greek through the medium of an English textbook. This is less than ideal, but it is what it is. There was a translation project to try and create a Mongolian version, but lack of consistency between translators meant it did not see completion.

Nouns and Case

Case and inflection normally presents a considerable ‘up-front’ barrier for English speakers, since they have an almost caseless language. Not so Mongolians! Mongolian has 8 morphologically marked cases (depending how you count them, I count eight!): Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative, Ablative, Instrumental, Directional, and Comitative. It is agglutinative, rather than fusional, and there are also suffixes that mark subject-relatedness (i.e. reflexive), and a type of vocative.

So students do not generally fumble over the idea of cases. They need to adjust to working with 4 standard cases and the rare vocative, and they have to get use to fusional inflection across several patterns, but the very idea of morphological case is not an obstacle for them.

Mongolian lacks an article. Generally definiteness and indefiniteness are inferred from context, as in Latin. Where greater specification is required, definiteness can be marked by a demonstrative, or by the use of an enclitic marker. Mongolians tend to find the Greek article easy to ‘deal with’, but struggle with interpreting its significance in exegesis.


Mongolian inflects verbs for tense, but not person (generally) or number. Again, this provides no major obstacle in the field of tense. However voice and aspect become trickier.
Mongolian marks an active and a passive voice, but no middle. This is naturally a little tricky, especially with recent recasting of Greek as having active/middle, and passive as a category of the middle.
Grammatically speaking, Mongolian can be represented as having passive, causative, reciprocal, plurative, and cooperative voices. This do not have clear correlations to Greek morphosyntax, and so I do not normally deal with them as ‘voice’. Nor do Mongolians themselves tend to analyse them as ‘voice’.

Aspect is one of the trickiest points. Mongolian does distinguish between perfective / ongoing / habitual aspects in its tense system. However for Mongolian speakers, these are classified as tense distinctions, much as English speakers do. And ongoing and habitual are distinguished, they are not a single imperfective category. Further, they are only generally available as markings in Indicative type clauses.
This means that the concept and the implementation of Aspect is relatively foreign for Mongolian speakers. While aspectual distinctions are clear in the Greek indicative, at least for everything outside the Perfect/Pluperfect, they are difficult to convey outside the Indicative. I suppose this at least has parallels with the issues that English speakers also face!

Mood and Syntax

Mongolian constructs its complex sentences by putting the subordinate clause first, and by suffixing the infinitive verb with case-type endings and a further postpositional marker. This means that the idea of a whole ‘mood’ for subordinate clauses is foreign, as well as the order of clauses in Greek. Indeed, whereas Greek will generally move from Main clause through a series of subordinate clauses, Mongolian will reverse the order, starting with the ‘most subordinated’ clause and linking them in a chain, ending with the main clause. This makes reading long hypotactic sentences a real pain. It also has lead to some odd features in the standard Mongolian bible. Rather than preserve a close syntactical fidelity, the Mongolian Bible breaks long sentences by verse, preserving a correlation to other versified Bibles, and breaking long complex sentences down into shorter ones, by use of resumptives and other pro-words.

The relative

I’ve saved my two greatest difficulties for last. The first of these is the relative pronoun and relative clause. There is no corresponding structure in Mongolian. Instead, relative type clauses must be rendered as adjectival clauses. I will give an English example:

               The man, who was wearing a red shirt, sat at the station.
               The [red shirt wearing man] [at-the-station] sat.

While this example is trivial, the problem is exponential in Greek, which makes freer use of relatives than English does. Greek will regularly use a relative clause later in a sentence, and even as a way of connecting and introducing new sentences. All of these present difficulties for Mongolian speakers in processing Koine Greek. It is particularly difficult when a relative pronoun both refers to a prior subject and presents new information, as Mongolian must generally represent the former function with a demonstrative pronoun, but the new information as a separate clause, before continuing on with the main clause. Here is a made-up Biblicalese example:

               Christ died for our sins. Who, having rendered an acceptable sacrifice, then sat enthroned in 
heaven at the Father’s right hand, is now our hope and joy.

               Both the participial phrase and the ‘sat’ clause must be rendered as a distinct sentence, before the main clause can be rendered as something like, “That one is our hope and joy”.

The Participle

This is the second major headache for Mongolian speakers, as there is no real equivalent in Mongolian. There are participle-like formations. For example, one can link two verbs together to show that one happened after and as a follow-on from the other. Or, there is a participle type form that can indicate simultaneous action, that one verb was done by doing another, or as part of a continuative aspect. But there is no participle proper, because these are all really adverbial verbs, rather than verbal adjectives.
So the concept of an adjective formed from a verb is difficult to process, and attaching them to nouns is difficult to do, and the notion of using them adverbially in the variety of ways that Greek does is horrendously complex. All the adverbial uses of participles would be rendered by different complex clause constructions in Mongolian, requiring the Mongolian student to perform a very large one-to-many mapping of possible semantics and syntax.

I think English speakers often think Greek is ‘hard’. But English has a structure that is quite comparable to Greek, and maybe after reading this they will be a little bit more thankful for articles, relatives, and participles.