Bible Review 8:2, April 1992

Greek for Bible Readers

By David Alan Black

Bible Review

Looking at the structure of sentences and literary techniques

A subtle understanding of a passage in the Greek New Testament (NT) requires that we study its structure. Structure cannot be translated into another language, because languages do not use the same grammatical system. Readers using only an English translation of the NT can only guess important distinctions in the original Greek text between main points and secondary points.

Rewriting a passage even with an elementary knowledge of Greek is often helpful for determining its structure, which in turn will help us better appreciate the passage’s meaning. Greek sentences normally consist of one main clause and (usually) one or more subordinate clauses. The main clause contains a finite verb—a verb, which combined with a subject, forms a sentence that can stand on own, for example, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). In structural analysis, we first identify the main clause, then the subordinate clauses, as the following analysis of Hebrews 12:1–2 illustrates:

“Therefore, having so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, laying aside every encumbrance and the easily-en-tangling sin, let us run with endurance the race set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the Joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Note that “let us run” (trev cwmen, trechoµmen) is the only independent finite verb in the passage. By placing this line first, the main point immediately is evident: running the race with endurance.

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