Thursday, March 13, 2008

Using the Greek New Testament for devotions part 8: Spotting the author's frequent phrases

Spotting the author's frequent phrases like 'monon alla'

Today I was reading John 11:51-52 in my Zondervan Readers Greek New Testament. (I've been using different GNT's each day to experiment with their usefulness compared to one another - I'll post on this some time in the near future).

In the ESV, it goes like this:
John 11:51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
And I noticed a construction in the Greek that looked familiar to me, 'monon alla' meaning 'not only, but ...'
I was sure that I had seen this same phrase when reading 1 John 2:2 a few weeks ago. I looked it up and saw that it was the same phrase.

This was interesting to me, because 1 John 2:2 is a difficult verse to interpret - at face value (and with a 2008 English mindset) it sounds as if a propitiation has been made that actually turns God's anger away from every single person on the planet (even if they reject Jesus) - but we know from other scriptures that in fact God's wrath is upon those who reject Jesus. So its a tricky verse to understand.

The Puritans used to interpret difficult passages, by looking at easier to understand passages, and this seems to make sense to me - so this is what I did today:

a) A few hours after my devotional, when I had some time, I looked up (in Bibleworks) all the times this phrase is used (I used the GSE search). I found that its only used.

b) I noted that out of the 12 times it occurs in the NT, 7 of these are by John. Therefore this seems to be a phrase that he is keen on using.

c) I divided my list up into times when monon alla was used in a normal way, and when it was used in a way similar to John 11:52.

d) I then looked up monos in BDAG and saw that they give 2 meanings:
1. pert. to being the only entity in a class,
2. a marker of limitation, only, alone, (under this category BDAG listed the phrase monon alla)

e) I read through the list of verses similar to John 11:52, looking at how the limitation of monon was applied.

=> I need to spend more time studying this, but at first look my findings are that:

1) John is keen to let his readers know that salvation is not limited to Jewish disciples (or exclusively the apostles), but for Gentile disciples too. In light of this 1 John 2:2 should be easier to understand.
John 11:52, John 17:20, 1 John 2:2, 2 John 1:1

2) Paul is keen to let people know that the children of Abraham are not limited to ethnic Israelites, but those who have faith in God.
Romans 4:12, Romans 4:16

This needs more work, especially in terms of seeing how this fits with other passages that do not necessarily contain the phrase monon alla - but hopefully this does demonstrate the benefit of reading the NT devotionally. In this case, my devotional reading revealed something that helped my later exegesis.