Some Greek thoughts

One of the blessings and curses of learning Biblical Greek over the last few years has been how much fun it is to really dig into the grammar and syntax of the language. I say blessings and curses because while it helps me gain confidence and skill as an interpreter of the New Testament, the minutiae of the language is not particularly interesting (or often, comprehensible) to those that don’t know the language and I have seen my wife’s eyes glaze over a few times as I share about something that excited me in a passage. She is very patient to listen to me in general but in order not to have the same effect on the congregation during my sermon this week, I thought I would share here a few insights from the more technical study of the passage. Hopefully at least a few of you will find it interesting and I hope it will prepare you some as we dive back into John on Sunday. 

The passage for this week is John 20:24-31, the story of Doubting Thomas. This is a justifiably famous story in which Thomas, who was not present with the rest of the disciples, declares that he will not believe unless he actually sees and touches the wounds of Jesus.

Thought #1—typos

Thomas declares that he will not believe unless he sees the typos of the nails on the hands of Jesus. This word is translated several different ways in our common translations:

NIV, ESV—Marks



The word is used for the mark which is formed when a wax seal makes an impression on the wax. The seal imprinted on the wax is the typos. It is also the word used in the NT when we talk about figures in the Old Testament that represent things in the New Testament. For example, in Hebrews 8:5, the author says that the earthly temple in Jerusalem is a typos for the true heavenly temple. Now in our text here, the meaning is pretty simple—it just means the scar that was marked into the hands of Jesus by the nail.

Thought #2—Not apistos but pistos

Jesus gives a series of five imperatives in verse 27, all of them directed at Thomas. Take your finger, See my hands, Take your hand, Put it in my side—these four are all physical commands which Thomas is to obey according to what he had just said—Jesus mirrors his words pretty closely. The final command, however, is for Thomas to be or become. A word for word translation which is somewhat awkward is become not unbelieving but believing. By seeing and touching Jesus, Thomas becomes pistos and stops being apistos.

Thought #3—A couple of hinas

The hina clause is used in Greek to express the purpose of the main verb. Sometimes, although this is rare, there may be a double hina clause to express multiple purposes for the same verb. Verse 31 has two of these closes. The main verb is perfect passive indicative of the verb to write. Perfect verbs express a present state caused by an action completed in the past. So we translate the opening “These things have been written” or more simply “These things are written.” Then two purposes are given for the verb—the first “that you may believe” and the second is “that believing you may have life in his name.”

Not too complicated, right? Actually the Greek in our passage this week is not particularly difficult. I do have some questions about the changing aspect of the imperatives in verse 27, but I will talk them over with my professor before Sunday!