Announcement: The Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Prepositions

Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Prepositions

djr_0085_17212375711_oI am pleased to announce an event that will bring together experts in a variety of disciplines in order to tackle an age-old problem with new theoretical approaches. This summer those pesky Greek prepositions are getting a lexicographical makeover at a two day “workshop” in Cambridge, England. The event is called:

The Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Lexicography: Cognitive Linguistic Approaches to Lexicography and Theology

This event will take place from 30 June-1 July 2017 at Tyndale House, Cambridge, the biblical studies research library par excellence. Although it is a fairly brief event, this workshop is structured to offer the maximum punch to advance the state of the question in the semantics of Greek prepositions. And, as is evident from the tagline, cognitive linguistics is central to our approach.

The Back Story

Last June I found myself in the small, bible-software-saturated city of Bellingham, Washington, shortly after finishing up a seminar in Septuagint studies at Trinity Western University. The idea for this preposition workshop began to take shape during this visit – naturally, over some delicious local brews. I sat down with Steve Runge, Rick Brannen, and Mike and Rachel Aubrey to discuss collaborating on a longer-term project applying newer linguistic theories to challenges within traditional approaches to Greek grammar.

This workshop will focus on prepositions and is the first in what we hope will be a series of similar events that will subsequently deal with connectives and particles. It remains to be seen whether and how that plays out, but at the moment Steve and I are teaming up to organize a top-notch preposition workshop and then
making the proceedings available in published form.

In case you are wondering: Yes, this workshop is intentionally designed to replicate the Linguistics and the Greek Verb conference held at Tyndale House in July of 2015 (see here). That model of highly-focused and interdisciplinary analysis of a single – albeit multifaceted – issue in Greek proved very effective. It was the genesis for the very well-received volume The Greek Verb Revisited (Lexham, 2016 [Amazon]), edited by Chris Fresch and Steve Runge.

Issues with Greek Prepositions: A Cognitive Answer

What’s wrong with Greek prepositions? Well, nothing.

But scholars have long been aware that they are exceptionally difficult to pin down. And for that reason they often play a pivotal (if seemingly subtle) role in biblical interpretation and theology. [1] Ignore for now the question about what actually counts as a preposition, versus the so-called “improper” prepositions like ἐπάνω that do not prefix to verbs. djr_0242_17025394410_oThe “traditional” Greek prepositions have been enough to constantly challenge biblical lexicographers and exegetes alike as they seek to properly understand them (pardon the pun).

The problem is a semantic one. First of all, what is the best approach to describing the meaning of Greek prepositions given the variety of functions they serve in the Koine period? Second, to what extent are Greek prepositions polysemous and (where necessary) how can we correctly determine the number and boundaries of the senses? Third, by what means can our semantic description of Greek prepositions accurately and accessibly present relevant information in English (i.e., in a lexicon entry)?

These and other questions are largely theoretical in nature. So a central goal of this workshop is to bring the insights of general linguistics – and specifically cognitive linguistics – to bear upon the study of Greek. Unlike other theories, cognitive linguistics approaches polysemy using a structured model known as prototype theory. This reformulates the notion of a single “core” or “basic” meaning, and instead attempts to provide a motivated account of the various senses of a word in terms of a “radial network.” An important assumption of this approach is that meaning is conceptual and embodied. Human experience of the physical world informs the conceptual structure on which linguistic meaning is built. In this account, more basic shemas like DIRECTION are mapped onto more abstract concepts like PURPOSE or RECIPIENT.


A radial network for the English preposition “over.”*

Judging by the often comically long entries for prepositions in Greek lexicons, you might think that these words are so polysemous that it’s barely worth the effort to understand them. (I’ve often felt this way about German prepositions.) But very often, huge lexicon entries are the inevitable consequence of non-isometric semantic overlap between Greek and English. This requires traditional lexicographers to use a wide array of English prepositions – whose meanings do not everywhere overlap with the Greek preposition under discussion – to gloss the various meanings where they ostensibly do overlap.

Thankfully, combining cognitive linguistics and prototype theory can provide a principled and organized account of prepositional semantics without falling into this polysemy fallacy. Doing so, in turn, can help us understand and translate the New Testament (and Septuagint) texts, and fashion better lexicon entries for these words for non-specialists.[2]

Two Relevant Monographs

We will not be the first to attempt to apply cognitive linguistics to the study of Greek prepositions. At least two others have done so in the last fifteen years:

  1. Bortone, Pietro. Greek Prepositions from Antiquity to the Present. Oxford University Press, 2010 (Amazon)
  2. Luraghi, Silvia. On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases: Semantic Roles in Ancient Greek. Studies in language companion series 67; John Benjamins, 2003 (Amazon)

These books have been deftly reviewed and compared by Mike Aubrey in several posts (start here). If you’re new to this conversation, I highly recommend reading these.

The Details of the Workshop


Steve Runge and I are motivated to make the complicated accessible, and to bring the best of linguistic theory into the service of biblical studies. So we have tried to invite the best on all sides of this cross-disciplinary topic. We are looking forward to participation by two cognitive linguists, two Classical Greek lexicographers, and several biblical scholars. Because of our tight topic and event time frame, we are not issuing a call for papers. But we want to facilitate participation, which is why we have done our best to make this event very affordable, with only a £50 registration fee.

So if you want to know more, or are convinced enough already, head over to our website:


At the moment the event registration is not open. But you can sign up at the right to be notified by email as soon as it is.

And finally: spread the word! You can download a flyer to share here.


[1] For a recent exploration of just one relevant topic, see Con Campbell’s Paul and Union with Christ (Zondervan, 2012 [Amazon]), which explores the theological implications of the phrase ἐν Χριστῷ (interview here). Also see Campbell’s essay in ‘In Christ’ in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation (eds. M. Thate, C. Campbell, and K. Vanhoozer; Mohr Siebeck 2014 [Amazon]).

[2] But wouldn’t this mean the same problems and solutions would apply to Biblical Hebrew, you ask? Yes indeed. All good things in time.

* Claudia Brugman and George Lakoff, “Radial network,” in D. Geeraerts, D., ed., Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Berlin: DeGruyter, 2006, p. 129.

Photo credit Doug Robar

Book Highlight: Christian Dogmatics

Or: “Don’t Forget Your Theology”

This post is a little bit outside of my usual strike zone for an Old
Testament and Septuagint Studies blog like this one. So I’ve titled it a “Book Highlight” since that seemed to make sense, although the spirit of this post is a review. But, having read and thoroughly appreciated Michael Allen and Scott Swain’s manifesto for scriptural interpretation, Reformed Catholicity, I knew that I had to read this volume too: Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic (Baker 2016). 

This volume is essentially a one-stop tour of theology from a broad and historically Reformed perspective. Almost every major loci of dogmatics is treated by an academic dream team of scholars from numerous institutions. They are all eminently qualified for the task. Each essay is about 25 pages long, and is equally introductory, thorough, and intellectually challenging. It would make an excellent text for the college or master’s level theology course.

Part of what I particularly like about this book is that, while its contributors set out to explicate their theological topic according to the historically Reformed approach, not all of them are formally affiliated with that tradition itself. To quote the introduction, “What binds the different essays together is their attempt to draw on the fecund resources of Holy Scripture within the context of the catholic church of the Reformed confessions … [and their contributors’ commitment] to the proposition that theological renewal comes through dependence upon the generative resources of the Triune God in and through the gospel and that such dependence is best expressed in our particular historical moment by way of retrieval” (p. 2).

The basic idea behind “theological retrieval” is that the contemporary theological task must be undertaken with the full history of tradition that has sustained the faith that has come before it. This will include, of course, the orthodox creeds and confessions, but also earlier theologians and exegetes from the Church Fathers up to and beyond the Reformers.


Just have a look at the range and caliber of contributors to get an idea of the quality of contributions:

Introduction  Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain
1. Knowledge of God  Michael Allen
2. Holy Scripture  Kevin J. Vanhoozer
3. Divine Attributes  Michael Allen
4. Divine Trinity  Scott R. Swain
5. Covenant of Redemption  Scott R. Swain
6. Creation out of Nothing  John Webster
7. Providence  John Webster
8. Anthropology  Kelly M. Kapic
9. Sin  Oliver D. Crisp
10. Incarnation  Daniel J. Treier
11. The Work of Christ Accomplished  Donald Macleod
12. The Work of Christ Applied  Richard Gaffin
13. The Law of God and Christian Ethics  Paul T. Nimmo
14. The Church  Michael Horton
15. Sacraments  Todd Billings
16. Kingdom of God  Michael Horton

Add to that the remarkable collection of figures who have endorsed the book. I am not going to go into detail describing the content of each chapter, in part because it’s obvious what each deals with. But also, to be honest, because I haven’t finished working through them all yet! It is a dense and richly rewarding read, I can attest, and I don’t plan to rush. Instead, I’ll give some macro-level thoughts on the vision of this volume and highlight its intersection with my normal wheelhouse: biblical studies.

Scripture and Theology

It is an eminently biblical principle that faith and knowledge of God is to be passed from one generation to another (Exod. 13:8-10; Ps. 44:1; Deut. 4:9; 2 Tim. 4:1-4). Each generation therefore receives and is trained in the gospel from those before it, and this process therefore rightly generates a tradition, biblically conceived (1 Cor. 15:3). Helpfully, Allen and Swain distinguish between the biblical concept of theological tradition – being intellectually and spiritually shaped by the Christian confession – and mere “custom” that may perpetuate error through history (p. 5). To that extent, the task of this volume is dogmatic, and not “systematic.” The latter implies doctrinal deduction from a logical principle, while the former entails reflection on the task of Christian confession to “equip the saints for a more faithful hearing of and testimony to the words of the prophets and apostles” (p. 6).

Simply insert “biblical” before “critic.”

There is a persistent notion in the biblical studies academy that our discipline is a non-theological discipline, especially Old Testament studies (where sometimes one gets the feeling that it is an anti-theological discipline for some). Even academics who are active in and practicing some faith tradition (yes, including evangelicals) sometimes prefer to tell themselves they have “turned off” their theological thinking while exegeting scripture. The logic here is that doing so is somehow a more “pure” reading of the text, one that does not “fill in” (or, even worse, eisegete) theological categories that are alien to the virgin text. To change the metaphor, this turns into a kind of interpretive bumper bowling, where a strike is an objective and historically accurate understanding of the ancient text, and where throwing a gutter-ball is “thinking too theologically” and thus “straying” from the goal. Because biblical studies deals with physical evidence like manuscripts or archaeological realia, and intersects with “secular” fields like theoretical linguistics, the logic seems to go, our discipline requires “objectivity” and “disinterest.”

Of course, biblical studies is different from theology. Dogmaticians like those who contributed to this volume have a closed corpus of texts to interact with: the biblical canon. Now, the whole idea behind this volume is to self-consciously allow the weight of Christian tradition – biblically defined – to inform the theological task, which entails a huge range of “secondary literature” for study and reflection. But, unlike in biblical studies, it is exceedingly rare that something “new” comes up in theology. In fact, when that happens, it’s usually a bad sign. In biblical studies, however, it is not all that uncommon for something new to literally be dug up: a manuscript, an inscription, an ancient ruined city, whatever. Very often, these discoveries have some significance to the various tasks of biblical studies – sometimes with enormous implications, as with the discovery of the Qumran Scrolls in the Judean desert. So, to some extent, it’s understandable that biblical scholars often seem their discipline as “scientific” in a way that theological studies is not. The two departments do very different things much of the time.

Next year’s SBL conference will be held here.

But not all the time. There is and must be overlap between the two. That is underlying idea of biblical theology, for one thing, and has been increasingly acknowledged in the so-called Theological Interpretation movement. But more than that, we cannot claim to approach any intellectual discipline severed from our faith commitments. That goes for textual and linguistics studies as much as it does for hermeneutics and theology. Consequently, biblical studies is rightly and most faithfully carried out within the confessional context. That is how we appropriately reconfigure the image of interpretive bumper bowling for a discipline that exists within a secular academy that tends to become a smokey, midnight techno-neon bowling alley.

As someone who shares the goals and convictions outlined so well by Allen and Swain in their Introduction, I am grateful for their efforts. And – perhaps I should do it more – I encourage my readers, who most likely are textual and linguistic gearheads like me, to take up and read theological volumes like this one and get your “bumpers” set in the right places. To the extent we do so, our work too will contribute vitally to a more faithful hearing of and testimony to the word of God to his people in Scripture.

Exegeting the Septuagint Psalms – 2016 Course at Trinity Western University

Just a quick post today to publicize the 2016 course at Trinity Western University’s John William Wevers Institute for Septuagint Studies, near Vancouver, B.C. If you’re interested in advanced coursework in Septuagint, you should go. I have posted in the past about graduate programs that focus on Septuagint studies in North America – the short story is that there aren’t many. However, the Wevers Institute is the only place in North America where a full-fledged Septuagint degree is offered, as both a Master of Theological Studies and the shorter Master of Theology. If you are interested in LXX studies, you should definitely look into this program.

This year’s seminar will be led by Dr. Cameron Boyd-Taylor, a very prolific and respected scholar in the field.  Along with Dr. Albert Pietersma, Boyd-Taylor is one of the most vocal proponents of the Interlinear Paradigm for interpretation of the Septuagint. If you don’t know what that is, then please understand that you cannot be a Septuagint scholar without wrapping your mind around and engaging it. This seminar will be a fantastic way to get familiar with the concept of “interlinearity” from a (the?) leading scholar currently employing it. And it is not an uncontested issue!

The Wevers Institute also benefits from several excellent scholars, including Drs. Robert Hiebert (director), Larry PerkinsDirk Büchner, and Peter Flint, each of whom are working on Pentateuchal commentaries in the SBLCS.

Seminar Details

The seminar will be 3 credit hours and is entitled Exegeting the Septuagint Psalms: Theory, Method and Interpretation. It will be held from May 30 – June 3 of this year. I can personally attest to the benefits of traveling to the Vancouver area for this event. It’s a beautiful region that you won’t regret visiting. However, if you can’t swing the trip, the Wevers Institute is also offering live-streamed video sessions. The course description includes:

Students will study the translation technique, language and ideology of the text with a view to understanding the larger methodological and interpretive issues, and they will be introduced to the foundational principles and methodology of the above-mentioned research initiatives.

If you’re interested, email acts@twu.ca. Check out the poster below for more details:

2016 LXX Poster