Tag Archives: exegesis

3 Quick Characteristics of Patristic Exegesis

According to Judith Kovacs[1]

  1. Careful attention to the scriptural images and symbols
  2. Understanding specific passages in the context of the whole Canon
  3. Concern for how the study of Scripture can foster the spiritual life of the interpreter

  1. Foster, Paul. 2010. Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 78  ↩

A Grammatical Note on the Structure of Mark’s Prologue

Is the prologue of Mark 1:1–13 or 1:1–15? In France’s commentary on Mark he notes that the prologue is most likely 1:1–13 based on thematic reasons. He says:

“From v. 14 on the Spirit and the wilderness are no longer mentioned, and the scene has shifted from the Judaean wilderness to the inhabited towns and villages of Galilee. John the Baptist, a central figure in the prologue, has now been removed from the stage. The heavenly visions and supernatural actors of vv. 10–13 are replaced by everyday scenes people by ordinary Galileans. Verses 14–15 introduce the preaching ministry of Jesus which is to be the focus of the first act of the drama. The story has begun.”[1]

I think there is also a grammatical explanation that v. 14 begins the “first act of the drama.” Until now Mark has used the connective καὶ to join each step of the story. Along with his use of εὐθὺς this helps the reader feel the “quickness” of the story. When the reader reaches v. 14, Mark changes from the connective καὶ to δὲ[2] (Μετὰ δὲ τὸ παραδοθῆναι τὸν Ἰωάννην ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ). Runge notes, “The use of δέ represents the writer’s choice to explicitly signal that what follows is a new, distinct development in the story or argument, based on how the writer conceived of it.[3]” Therefore, along with Mark’s unmarked use of καὶ he uses the marked δὲ to bring attention to the reader that the next part of the story is about to begin.


  1. France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002, 59.  ↩

  2. The only other use of δὲ before this is in v. 8 with the words coming from John, “ἐγὼ ἐβάπτισα ὑμᾶς ὕδατι, αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς °ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ”. In this case it is used to express a contrast between his baptism and Jesus’.  ↩

  3. Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis, 31 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010).  ↩

James 1:26 – Teleios and the Tongue

In a previous blog post I argued that in James 1:4 the word τέλειος should be rendered as complete or whole and that one of the main themes in James is this idea of wholeness. In James 1:26 (and continued in 3:2) this theme is continued by showing that the way a person speaks identifies their lack of τέλειος.

James 1:26 – “Εἴ τις δοκεῖ θρησκὸς εἶναι μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν γλῶσσαν αὐτοῦ ἀλλὰ ἀπατῶν καρδίαν αὐτοῦ, τούτου μάταιος ἡ θρησκεία” (If anyone thinks he is religious although he does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (LEB)).

James 3:2 – πολλὰ γὰρ πταίομεν ἅπαντες. εἴ τις ἐν λόγῳ οὐ πταίει, οὗτος τέλειος ἀνήρ, δυνατὸς χαλιναγωγῆσαι καὶ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα. (For we all stumble in many ways. If a man does not stumble in his words, this one is a complete man, also able to bridle the whole body.

The word δοκεῖ begins James 1:26, which has the gloss to think or to seem/suppose. Looking at other uses throughout the New Testament we can say it more narrowly connotes thinking something is true when in reality it is false. For example, Matthew 3:9 says, “καὶ μὴ δόξητε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς· Πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸν Ἀβραάμ” (for if you think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abram as our Father’). Also, in 1 Corinthians 3:18, “εἴ τις δοκεῖ σοφὸς εἶναι ἐν ὑμῖν ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ” (if anyone thinks he is wise among you in this age). Both these passages let the reader know that the person doing the “thinking” sees himself as being right but in reality he is wrong. This is what is happening in James 1:26: the man thinks himself as religious but in reality his religion is worthless.

The next clause exposes the contradictory nature of his thinking. The participle χαλιναγωγῶν is probably best translated as a concessive participle indicating that “the state or action of the main verb is true in spite of the state or action of the participle”.[1] This brings about the contradictory aspect of his opinion of himself. If anyone thinks he is religious, although he does not bridle his tongue. Why is bridling the tongue a sign of a truly religious person? The tongue shows the outflow of the heart by showing our weaknesses. A person that bridles their tongue is one that is becoming a more complete and whole person. They are slow to speak, which is one of the first steps to being slow to anger (1:19). Matthew exposes the Pharisees for being hypocrites with their tongue. In Matthew, Jesus tells us that they expose their evil hearts when they speak (Matt 12:34) and later tells his followers that “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matt 15:18). James, in line with the teaching of Jesus, says that if you can not bridle your tongue then you have evil in your heart. No matter what religious activities you are doing that makes you think you’re religious if you can not bridle your tongue then there is still much soul work to be done. A τέλειος person is one that can bridle is tongue because his heart and actions are in line with one another.

This brings us to our final analysis of this passage. The ἀλλὰ in this passage is key for our interpretation and seeing that bridling the tongue is one attribute of a τέλειος person. Runge says that the ἀλλὰ often times functions as a “corrective” in the sentence[2]. He says that a corrective “introduces a correction of the expectation created by the first conjunct; an incorrect expectation is cancelled and a proper expectation is put in its place.” In this case, I think it is serving as a corrective to everything before it (Εἴ τις δοκεῖ θρησκὸς ⸀εἶναι μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν γλῶσσαν ⸀αὐτοῦ ἀλλὰ) Whatever the expectation was created with the first clause the words after ἀλλὰ will provide clarification. In this case ἀπατῶν καρδίαν ⸀αὐτοῦ, τούτου μάταιος ἡ θρησκεία (but deceives his heart, this religion is worthless). A person who does not bridle his tongue is deceiving his heart and his religion is useless. A τέλειος person is one that is not deceiving his heart because his heart and actions are in line with one another. This interpretation is clarified by a passage later in his writing (3:2) when he says “πολλὰ γὰρ πταίομεν ἅπαντες. εἴ τις ἐν λόγῳ οὐ πταίει, οὗτος τέλειος ἀνήρ, δυνατὸς χαλιναγωγῆσαι καὶ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα” (For we all stumble in many ways. If a man does not stumble in his words, this one is a complete man, also able to bridle the whole body.) Part of being a τέλειος person is controlling your tongue because the tongue reveals the heart.

James, in his wisdom writing, is showing Christians what it means to live a life of wisdom. A life of wisdom is one that knows God and his actions line up with God’s heart. A τέλειος person is one that is loving God and loving neighbor not only in his actions but in his heart also.


  1. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 634 (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999).  ↩

  2. Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis, 93 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010).  ↩

James 1:4 – so that you may be perfect?

As I was reading the other day I came across James 1:4 which reads similarly to Matthew 5:48. The latter passage is often translated “Be perfect as you Father in heaven is perfect” (ESV), which probably is not the best translation. The word translated “perfect” is τέλειος, which carries the idea of being whole or complete. I recently took a class on Matthew and we had a discussion that for Matthew the word τέλειος is signifying by a whole or complete person, one whose heart matches their outward actions. Our English gloss “perfect” signifies for the reader the highest standard, flawless, and lacking in nothing, which does not match the same connotation that τέλειος gives the original readers.

James 1:4 reads “ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ ἔργον τέλειον ἐχέτω, ἵνα ἦτε τέλειοι καὶ ὁλόκληροι ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι.” (And let steadfastness bring about a complete work so that you may be whole and complete, lacking in nothing [my translation]) The ESV translates τέλειος as “perfect” here also. Is James using τέλειος in the same way Matthew is? I believe he is based on 2 observations:

  1. The καὶ connecting τέλειος and ὁλόκληρος “constrains the connected element to be closely associated with what come before[1].” In this case the word ὁλόκληρος has a definition of to “being complete and meeting all expectations, with integrity, whole, complete, undamaged, intact, blameless[2].” James is using both τέλειος and ὁλόκληρος as synonyms showing that the one who endures through trials will become a complete and whole person. When a person faces trials generally their heart will be exposed. If their heart is towards God then trials will bring one closer to him in faith. Their actions will flow from a love towards God and neighbor and in this way they are a whole and complete person. If a person has been doing good deeds with an impure heart then trials will bring about a wholeness to this person as well but in an opposite fashion. The actions of a person with a hard heart will reveal actions that are not in accordance with loving God and neighbor. In this way “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” – Matthew 7:18

  2. The other reason is based on a thematic argument from James. According to Richard Bauckham, the book of James centers around this idea of wholeness saying, “the thought of the whole letter is structured as an explication and application of the notion of wholeness[3].” He goes one to say…

    “Wholeness cannot be found simply by accepting whatever one is in all one’s disordered and distracted existence. Wholeness is a goal towards which one can move only in relation to a centre which is already whole and from which one can gain wholeness. This means moving in one direction rather than others. It means rejecting values and behavior which are inconsistent with the goal. It means refusing all the idolatries which dominate and diminish human life in favor of the one love which can truly liberate and include all that is good[4].”

The one who endures trials in this life will have his heart revealed. He will be either a good tree producing good fruit or a bad tree producing bad fruit. In this way, the person will be τέλειος and ὁλόκληρος, their hearts matching their actions.