Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 21 Number 6 June 2019
Page 9

A Birdie Told Me

Denny Petrillo

Denny PetrilloI still don’t know how my Mom found out. As a young boy I had done something I shouldn’t have done, but I didn’t worry. Mom would never find out, I thought. Wrong. She confronted me about it the very next day!

I got the nerve to ask her how she found out. “A birdie told me” was her reply. I still, to this day, do not know how she found out. I doubt, though, that some winged creature revealed it to her.

Solomon mentioned something like this in Ecclesiastes 10:20. What did he mean by “the winged creature will make the matter known”? Solomon was using an ancient saying that is still popular today. In using this expression, he revealed several important truths.

First, we must appreciate the speed of words. We often say that “good news travels fast,” but in this modern age of technology, news (good and bad) travels at speeds never before imagined. On my computer, I can talk with a friend in the Ukraine. My message is instantly received by him, and he responds immediately. Knowing, therefore, how quickly news gets out, we should choose our words carefully.

Second, we must appreciate the power of words. We can say anything—even in “confidence” (like our bedroom)—that can negatively affect us as well as others. Words do hurt, offend and kindle hard feelings. Therefore, it is vital that we guard what we say at all times—even in situations where we believe none will ever figure out what we said. Paul said that our speech should “always” be with grace (Colossians 4:6). He told the Ephesians to “let no unwholesome word proceed out of your month” (Ephesians 4:29). No qualifiers are allowed. There is no room for any words that are critical, derogatory or that might be classified as gossip.

Third, we must appreciate the appropriateness of words. Again, we’re reminded of Paul’s admonition to “consider how we ought to respond to every person” (Colossians 4:6). In Solomon’s example, a person wanted to “curse” both a king and a rich man. What the king and the rich man did to provoke this curse is not stated. Let’s assume that they did something terrible, thus eliciting such a response from the man. Yet, here is the point. Even though they may deserve the curse, it still shouldn’t be given—even by one in private. We should develop the quality of being “slow to speak” and “slow to anger” (James 1:19). Is it ever appropriate to curse someone? To speak evil of someone? No! Solomon was warning about inappropriateness of such words, even when spoken in private.

Fourth, we must appreciate the danger of words. A few verses earlier, Solomon warned that “the lips of the fool consume him” (10:12). What would happen if the king and the rich man discovered what was said? It is assumed that it would not be good for the one who uttered the foolish curse. Jesus warned that if one cannot control his angry words, he will get what he deserves (Matthew 5:21-26).

So, what is the practical lesson to be learned? We must learn to control our tongues! James spent considerable time making this very point in his epistle (James 3). May we always exercise wisdom with our words, not only in what we say but where we say them.

It Looks Greek to Me

David R. Kenney

David R. KenneyThe expression, “It looks Greek to me,” is an idiom that refers to something written (or spoken) that is not understandable to the recipient. It is a common expression. However, one wonders if people recall its origin. This idiom is found in Shakespeare’s famous work, Julius Caesar. I recently recommended that my class read Julius Caesar since it contains some of the great lines we often use but do not realize their origin. One may use the expression, “It looks Greek to me,” but an astute responder might reply, “What kind of Greek?” While the Greek language has been around for centuries, the language has gone through significant changes over time.

For example, the Greek poet Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are believed to have been written in the 8th century B.C., although the oldest copy we have dates to 3rd century B.C. These two works are among the oldest Greek writings in existence. The type of Greek in Homer’s day is sometimes called Classical Greek (1000–330 B.C.), but there were other types of Greek prior to Homer’s day. Another significant Greek language period is sometimes called Hellenistic Greek (or Koine Greek). This form of Greek was spread worldwide by the conquests of Alexander the Great. This was the universal and common Greek (the word koine means common) from 330 B.C. to A.D. 330. There were other forms of Greek to follow the Hellenistic Greek, such as Byzantine Greek (330 B.C.-A.D.1453). The Greek spoken today, or Modern Greek, has been used since A.D. 1453, but it differs from the versions of Greek of prior periods.

Scholars at one time struggled with the type of Koine Greek in the New Testament. In fact, one scholar actually stated the NT was written in “Holy Ghost Greek” because it was so distinct from the other writings in Koine Greek. Not everyone agreed with this, but still scholars thought Koine Greek of the New Testament was distinctively rare. Then, the archaeologist’s shovel and additional discoveries brought clarity. It was discovered that Koine Greek of the New Testament was the conversational type of the period (contrasted with the Vulgar and Literary) as seen in its presence on recipes, contracts and other documents. For example, documents found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (some of which were not religious writings) helped confirm that Koine Greek was not as obscure as prior scholars thought. These discoveries shifted the debate from the uniqueness of the Koine Greek of the New Testament. The New Testament was written to be read by as many people as possible, and Koine Greek was a universal language of the period to accomplish this goal. We can see a comparison in our English of today compared to the English of the 19th century, or our everyday writing and speaking contrasted with legal contracts drafted by attorneys. Remember, today something may be common, but tomorrow may be another matter!

God scattered the world by confusing languages at the tower of Babel so the power of words to divide or to unite is not to be underestimated. Words are the vehicle of thought! How can one truly understand the thought without understanding the words supporting that thought? I totally agree with Basil Overton’s assessment: “I believe one can become a Christian, live the Christian life and go to heaven, if he never knows a word of Greek. But there is personal satisfaction in gaining insights from the study of Greek.” Jesus commanded, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15 NKJV). I believe God providentially provided the Koine Greek language as a vehicle to help us fulfill that command.

Works Consulted

Ayto, John, Editor. Oxford Dictionary of English Idiom. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Barclay, William. New Testament Words. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.

Overton, Basil. Gems From Greek. Abilene: Quality Publications, 1991.

Silva, Moisés. “Bilingualism and the Character of Palestinian Greek.” Biblica 61.2 (1980): 198-219.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar–Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

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