Monday, April 29, 2024

Acts 2:5 - 2:6: What is an ἔθνος?

  In Acts 2:5 we read this:

ἄνδρες εὐλαβεῖς ἀπὸ παντὸς ἔθνους 

τῶν ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν 

devout men from every nation under the heaven

Note that, (1) this form of ἔθνος, τό is neuter singular genitive, although the ending looks like it could be masculine plural accusative,

(2) this word is, indeed, related to the English 'ethnic',

(3) almost every English translation that I have seen translates 'ἔθνους' as 'nation' in this verse, but

(4) another common translation is 'Gentiles', i.e., people who are not Jewish. 

Indeed, 'nation' might be misleading in the New Testament, as the modern conception of this word is something like 'the entity called France, or India, or Canada', and so on.  'Nations' have borders, their own governments, possibly their own language/s and monetary system, and so on. 

The usage in the New Testament does not seem to be 'nation' as in 'France', but 'nation' as in 'an established group of people, bound by ties of language and/or tradition, sometimes living together'.  The term often suggests a contrast between Jewish and non-Jewish groups.

There is a trace of this meaning in the term that was often (although not always) used for the head of state when Greek was a monarchy: the 'King of the Hellenes' - i.e., of a group of people - as opposed to the 'King of Greece' - i.e., of a nation.

'Τὸ ἔθνος' is known from Homer down, and it did not necessarily even refer to human beings:

τῶν δ᾽ ὥς τ᾽ ὀρνίθων πετεηνῶν ἔθνεα πολλὰ

χηνν γεράνων κύκνων δουλιχοδείρων

as many flocks of birds in flight,

cormorants or geese or swans, with necks outstretched . . .   (Iliad, 2: 459)

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Vocabulary notes on Acts 2:5-6; What is a dialect?

In Acts 2:6 we have the phrase

ἤκουον εἷς ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ λαλούντων αὐτῶν

they were hearing one each the own language being spoken of them

each one of them heard their own language being spoken 

The Greek ἡ διάλεκτος (note the feminine) is related to the English 'dialect'.  What exactly does it mean?

In English, a 'dialect' is commonly understood to be a sub-type of some language, but American linguistics professor John McWhorter says:

"The difference between a language and a dialect is mostly meaningless and entirely political."

Do my own slight oddities in English pronunciation and word choice - relics of a Minnesota childhood - constitute a dialect?  Probably not.  What about Norwegian and Swedish?  Some consider them dialects of 'modern Norse', but I'm not sure what Norwegians and Swedes think about that.

And what about Greek?  Most of the English translations of the phrase τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ use 'in his own language', but some use 'tongue', and a few 'dialect'.  

Without native speakers of koine at hand, it's difficult to know exactly how the phrase would have been understood.  I refer the reader to some of the commentary on this verse, here.

Note that ἡ διάλεκτος is related to the koine verb διαλέγομαι, which is translated in a variety of ways, including 'I converse, discuss, reason, ponder' and so on.  Διαλέγομαι itself is a compound verb, with the preposition διά and the root verb λέγω.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Acts 2:5- Acts 2:6, translated by phrase

Remember that in the beginning of Acts 2, the disciples were in one place and they heard a sound like a strong wind.

Ἦσαν δὲ εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ . . . there were in Jerusalem

κατοικοῦντες Ἰουδαῖοι, . . . . dwelling / inhabitant Judaeans

ἄνδρες εὐλαβεῖς . . . .  men devout

ἀπὸ παντὸς ἔθνους . . . . from every nation 

τῶν ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν· . . . . of [those] under the heaven

6  γενομένης δὲ τῆς φωνῆς ταύτης . . . . having happened the sound this

συνῆλθεν τὸ πλῆθος . . . .  they gathered the crowd

καὶ συνεχύθη,  . . . . and they were confused

ὅτι ἤκουον εἷς ἕκαστος . . . . because they were hearing one each

τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ . . . . their own language

λαλούντων αὐτῶν. . . . being spoken of them

5  Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.

6  When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Nomina sacra in Acts 2:4

Here's Acts 2:4 again, in koine and in English:

καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες Πνεύματος Ἁγίου . . . . and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit 

καὶ ἤρξαντο λαλεῖν ἑτέραις γλώσσαις . . . . and began to speak in other tongues 

καθὼς τὸ Πνεῦμα ἐδίδου ἀποφθέγγεσθαι αὐτοῖς . . . . as the Spirit enabled them

 In the Codex Sinaiticus, Acts 2:4 shows two nomina sacra, both for versions of πνεῦμα.  See if you can pick them out below:

The last word in the second line is ΠΑΝΤΕC (πάντες), so 'πνεύματος ἁγίου' should follow on line three.  Where is it?

The first three letters on that line are ΠΝC with a centered overline;  this is the nomen sacrum for πνεῦματος, i.e., 'πνεῦμα' in the genitive.

In the sixth line (third from bottom in this snip) you can make out another, fainter overline, centered over the three letters ΠΝΑ.  This is the nomen sacrum for the nominative form πνεῦμα.

Here is the same verse in the Codex Vaticanus.  The first word of the verse (καί) is the last three letters of the first line.

The genitive 'πνεύματος' begins line 3; there is no nomen sacrum abbreviation, nor is 'πνεῦμα' abbreviated at the end of line 5, carrying over to line 6.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Nomina sacra: an introduction

Nomina sacra are abbreviations used in ancient manuscripts for certain names or titles; our interest is in the Greek abbreviations, although nomina sacra are also found in other ancient languages (e.g., Latin).

The singular is nomen sacrum, 'sacred name', from the Latin.  A nomen sacrum consists of a few letters of the source word, with an overline; one of the more familiar places to see them is in traditional iconography:

The letters to the top left are Ι C, the first and last letters of 'Ιησοῦς (lunate sigma).

The letters to the top right are Χ C, the first and letters of Χριστός.


Here is the familiar beginning of John's gospel, in the Codex Sinaiticus:

The Greek, in conventional typescript, is:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος 
καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν 
πρὸς τὸν Θεόν καὶ 
Θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος . . .

You can see two nomina sacra with overlines:

 1  for Θεόν (ΘΝ), on line 3, and

2  for Θεός (ΘC), on line 4.

 Notice that the first, ΘΝ, reflects the accusative case of the source word.


Below is a list of some of the nomina sacra found in the New Testament, showing the nominative form/s and the genitive form/s:

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

'Aποφθέγγομαι, from Acts 2:4

The last phrase of Acts 2:4 is

καθὼς τὸ Πνεῦμα ἐδίδου ἀποφθέγγεσθαι αὐτοῖς

as the Spirit was giving to utter forth to them

Ἐδίδου is the 3-S, imperfect active indicative of the -μι verb δίδωμι: 'it was giving'.  By sense this verb can take an infinitive, and thus we have ἀποφθέγγεσθαι, the present middle/passive infinitive of ἀποφθέγγομαι, 'I speak out, I declare'.

it (the Spirit) was giving to them to speak out

I would call ἀποφθέγγεσθαι a deponent verb.  It is used three times in the New Testament, all of them in Acts.

Ἀποφθέγγομαι is a compound verb, with the preposition ἀπό preceding the root verb φθέγγομαι, 'I speak aloud, I utter'.  Φθέγγομαι itself is used only three times in the New Testament; once in Acts, and twice in 2 Peter.  

Note this use:

ὑποζύγιον ἄφωνον ἐν ἀνθρώπου φωνῇ φθεγξάμενον 

a speechless donkey spoke with human voice (2 Peter 2:16)

Although difficult to recognize - at least for me - the form φθεγζάμενον is, yes, a form of φθέγγομαι: an aorist middle (deponent) participle, neuter nominative singular.  Neuter because it refers to the donkey (ὑποζύγιον - i.e., 'under a yoke').

At first I was stumped as to any English relative of φθέγγομαι, but I then realized that a Greek relative of this verb is the noun φθόγγος, -ου, ὁ, 'a sound'.

And yes, the English 'diphthong' (literally, 'two sounds') comes from φθόγγος, although oddly - as best I can tell - 'diphtheria' comes from a completely different Greek word.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Acts 2:4: The noun πνεῦμα, 'spirit' - and what else?

καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες . . . . and they were filled all

πνεύματος ἁγίου,. . . . of spirit holy

καὶ ἤρξαντο λαλεῖν . . . . and they began to speak

ἑτέραις γλώσσαις . . . . other / different languages (tongues)

καθὼς τὸ πνεῦμα . . . . as the spirit

ἐδίδου ἀποφθέγγεσθαι αὐτοῖς.


And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The noun πνεῦμα, τό, has a variety of related meanings, including 'wind, breath, spirit'.  

The first use of πνεῦμα that I was able to find comes from the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximenes of Miletus (ca. 585-528 BC), who wrote:

οἷον ἡ ψυχή ἡ ἡμετέρα ἀὴρ οὖσα συγκρατεῖ ἡμᾶς, καὶ ὅλον τὸν κόσμον πνεῦμα καὶ ἀὴρ περιέχει

as our soul, being air, constrains us, so also the entire cosmos is enveloped by breath and air

In the New Testament, πνεῦμα is used in a variety of ways:

τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ

the wind blows where it wishes  (John 3:8)

πνεῦμα ζωῆς ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ εἰσῆλθεν ἐν αὐτοῖς

a breath of life from God entered them  (Rev 11:11)


ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς . . . ἀφῆκεν τὸ πνεῦμα

Jesus . . .  yielded up the spirit  (Matthew 27:50)


καὶ τοῖς πνεύμασι τοῖς ἀκαθάρτοις ἐπιτάσσει, καὶ ὑπακούουσιν αὐτῷ

he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him (Mark 1:27)


A number of the uses of πνεῦμα are in combination with the adjective ἅγιος, ἁγία, ἅγιον, 'holy, sacred'.

Πνεῦμα is neuter, and so the adjective ἅγιος, -ία, -ον is used in the neuter as well.

(Note the rough breathing on this adjective.  This is why English speakers refer to the church in Istanbul as Hagia Sophia, not Agia Sophia.)  

Πνεύμα gives us pneumonia and pneumatic in English, both words referring to 'air' or 'breath'.

In a coming post we will look at the nomina sacra used in early manuscripts, including the nomen sacrum for 'Holy Spirit'.  But first: the uncommon verb ἀποφθέγγομαι and its root φθέγγομαι.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Ἐφ’ ἕνα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν: why is it ἐφ' ? What is ἐφ' ?

In Acts 2:3 we see the final phrase

ἐφ’ ἕνα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν . . . on each on of them

referring to the 'tongues of flame'.

The preposition ἐπί is a very common word in the New Testament, used about 900 times.  The basic meaning is something like 'on' or 'upon', but lexicons (see, for example, this page in Thayer's) have numerous variations on this theme.

Our question refers to the spelling.  Ἐπί is found in three versions, depending on what letter follows:

1)  ἐπί (ἐπὶ) before a consonant

ὅτι τὸν ἥλιον αὐτοῦ ἀνατέλλει ἐπὶ πονηροὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς καὶ βρέχει ἐπὶ δικαίους καὶ ἀδίκους

for (he makes) his sun rise on the evil and the good, and it rains on the just and unjust   (Matthew 5:45)

2)  ἐπ' -  simple elision before a vowel with a smooth breathing 

ἰδὼν τὴν πόλιν ἔκλαυσεν ἐπ’ αὐτήν

having seen the city, he wept over it  (Luke 19:41)

3)  ἐφ' - elision before a vowel with a rough breathing.  The 'π' now changes to 'φ' for reasons of euphony.  Thus in Acts 2:3:

ἐφ’ να . . . upon one

Also, for example:

ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ ἐφ’ ἵπποις λευκοῖς

(they) followed him on white horses (Rev 19:14)


Monday, April 01, 2024

Acts 2:2 and 2:3

2  καὶ ἐγένετο . . . . and it happened

ἄφνω ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ . . . . . suddenly out of the heaven

ἦχος . . . . a sound

ὥσπερ φερομένης πνοῆς βιαίας . . . . like of a moving wind violent

καὶ ἐπλήρωσεν . . . .  and it filled

ὅλον τὸν οἶκον . . . . all the house

οὗ ἦσαν καθήμενοι, . . . . where they were sitting


3  καὶ ὤφθησαν αὐτοῖς  . . . . and there was seen by them

διαμεριζόμεναι γλῶσσαι . . . . distributing tongues

ὡσεὶ πυρός, . . . . as of fire

καὶ ἐκάθισεν . . . . and it sat

ἐφ’ ἕνα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν, . . . . on one each of them


2  Suddenly a sound like a rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

3  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.


Comments on vocabulary and idiom:  

1  The common phrase 'καὶ ἐγένετο' often means something like 'then this happened', without  adding much else.  The form ἐγένετο is used about 200 times in the New Testament.

2  The English 'echo' derives from ὁ ἦχος ('sound', 'report')   

3  The adjective βίαιος, -α, -ον, 'violent', is a hapax legomenon.

4  The use of the word γλῶσσα in Greek is fairly similar to its usage in English: it can refer to the physical tongue, or to a language.  

Note, however, that there are variations on these two themes, as seen here: 'tongues' of fire presumably refers to the shape of flames.  In addition, 'tongue' can stand in for 'speech', as in James 1:26:

Εἴ τις δοκεῖ θρησκὸς εἶναι, μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν γλῶσσαν ἑαυτοῦ ἀλλὰ ἀπατῶν καρδίαν ἑαυτοῦ, τούτου μάταιος ἡ θρησκεία.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not bridle his tongue, he deceives his heart and his religion is worthless.


1  The participle φερομένης (feminine singular genitive, present middle/passive) is a form of the fairly common verb φέρω, which usually means something like 'I bring', 'I produce', 'I bear'.  When Jesus' disciples bring him a colt on Palm Sunday, this is the verb used:

καὶ φέρουσιν τὸν πῶλον πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν  (Mark 11:7)

The use of φερομένης here is a bit more difficult to figure out, with the participle being typically translated as 'rushing', 'blowing'.  The adjective βιαίας adds to the sense of a strong wind.

2  Ah, ὤφθησαν.  Where do I start?  The verb forms for 'seeing' are varied; in this case ὤφθησαν is parsed as 3-P, aorist passive indicative of ὁράω.  Note that these forms are also listed under ὁράω:

ἰδού  (single most common, at about 200 uses in the NT)




So - do not be surprised if ὤφθησαν is unfamiliar.  This is its only use (i.e., this particular form) in the New Testament.