It has now been forty years since Dr. Marvin R. Vincent wrote his most useful series of
volumes entitled Word Studies in the New Testament. They are still helpful for those for whom they
were designed, but a great deal of water has run under the mill in these years. More scientific methods of
philosogy are now in use. No longer are Greek tenses and prepositions explained in terms of conjectural
English translations or interchanged according to the whim of the interpreter. Comparative grammar has
thrown a flood of light on the real meaning of New Testament forms and idioms. New Testament writers are
no longer explained as using one construction "for" another. New light has come also from the
papyri discoveries in Egypt. Unusual Greek words from the standpoint of the literary critic or classical
scholar are here found in everyday use in letters and business and public documents. The New Testament
Greek is now known to be not a new or peculiar dialect of the Greek language, but the very lingo of the time.
The vernacular Koine, the spoken language of the day, appears in the New Testament as in these
scraps of Oxyrhynchus and Fayum papyri. There are specimens of the literary Koine in the papyri
as also in the writings of Luke, the Epistles of Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews. A new Greek-English
lexicon of the New Testament will come in due time which will take note of the many startling discoveries
from the Greek papyri and inscriptions first brought to notice in their bearing on the New Testament by
Dr. Adolf Deissmann, then of Heidelberg, now of Berlin. His Bible Studies (Translation by Alexander
Grieve, 1901) and his Light from the Ancient East (Revised Edition translated by L. R. M. Strachan,
1927) are accessible to students unfamiliar with the German originals.
There is no doubt of the need of a new series of volumes today in the light of the new
knowledge. Many ministers have urged me to undertake such a task and finally I have agreed to do it at
the solicitation of my publishers. The readers of these volumes (six are planned) are expected to be
primarily those who know no Greek or comparatively little and yet who are anxious to get fresh help from
the study of words and phrases in the New Testament, men who do not have access to the technical books
required, like Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary of the New Testament. The critical student will
appreciate the more delicate distinctions in words. But it is a sad fact that many minister, laymen, and
women, who took courses in Greek at college, university, or seminary, have allowed the cares of the world
and the deceitfulness of riches to choke off the Greek that they once knew. Some, strangely enough, have
done it even in the supposed interest of the very gospel whose vivid messages they have thus allowed to
grow dim and faint. If some of these vast numbers can have their interest in the Greek New Testament
revived, these volumes will be worth while. Some may be incited, as many have been by my volume, The
Minister and His Greek New Testament, to begin the study of the Greek New Testament under the guidance
of a book like Davis’s Beginner’s Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Others who are without a turn
for Greek or without any opportunity to start the study will be able to follow the drift of the remarks
and be able to use it all to profit in sermons, in Sunday school lessons, or for private edification.
The words of the Canterbury Version will be used, sometimes with my own rendering added,
and the transliterated Greek put in parenthesis. Thus one who knows no Greek can read straight ahead and
get the point simply by skipping the Greek words which are of great value to those who do know some Greek.
The text of Westcott and Hort will be used though not slavishly. Those who know Greek are expected to keep
the Greek text open as they read or study these volumes. The publishers insisted on the transliteration
to cut down the cost of printing.
The six volumes will follow this order; Volume I, The Gospel according to Matthew and
Mark; Vol. II, The Gospel according to Luke; Vol. III, The Acts of the Apostles; Vol. IV, The Pauline
Epistles; Vol. V, The Gospel according to John and the Epistle to the Hebrews; Vol. VI, the general
Epistles and the Revelation of John. For purely exegetical and expository development a more chronological
order would be required. These volumes do not claim to be formal commentary. Nowhere is the whole text
discussed, but everywhere those words are selected for discussion which seem to be richest for the needs
of the reader in the light of present-day knowledge. A great deal of the personal equation is thus inevitable.
My own remarks will be now lexical, now grammatical, now archaeological, now exegetical, now illustrative,
anything that the mood of the moment may move me to write that may throw light here and there on the New
Testament words and idioms. Another writer might feel disposed to enlarge upon items not touched upon here.
But that is to be expected even in the more formal commentaries, useful as they are. To some extent it
is true of lexicons. No one man knows everything, even in his chosen specialty, or has the wisdom to pick
out what every reader wishes explained. But even diamonds in the rough are diamonds. It is for the reader
to polish them as he will. He can turn the light this way and that. There is certain amount of repetition
at some points, part of it on purpose to save time and to emphasize the point.
I have called these volumes Word Pictures for the obvious reason that language
was originally purely pictographic. Children love to read by pictures either where it is all picture of
where pictures are interspersed with simple words. The Rosetta Stone is a famous illustration. The Egyptian
hieroglyphics come at the top of the stone, followed by the Demotic Egyptian language with the Greek translation
at the bottom. By means of this stone the secret of the hieroglyphs or pictographs was unraveled. Chinese
characters are also pictographic. The pictures were first for ideas, then for words, then for syllables,
then for letters. Today in Alaska there are Indians who still use pictures alone for communicating their
ideas. "Most words have been originally metaphors, and metaphors are continually falling into the rank
of words" (Professor Campbell). Rather is it not true that words are metaphors, sometimes with the
pictured flower still blooming, sometimes with the blossom blurred? Words have never gotten wholly away
from the picture stage. These old Greek words in the New Testament are rich with meaning. They speak to
us out of the past and with lively images to those who have eyes to see. It is impossible to translate
all of one language into another. Much can be carried over, but not all. Delicate shades of meaning defy
the translator. But some of the very words of Jesus we have still as he said: "The words that I have
spoken unto you are spirit and are life" (John 6:63). We must never forget that in dealing with the
words of Jesus we are dealing with things that have life and breath. That is true of all the New Testament,
the most wonderful of all books of all time. One can feel the very throb of the heart of Almighty God in
the New Testament if the eyes of his own heart have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit
of God take of the things of Christ and make them ours as we muse over the words of life that speak to us
out of the New Covenant that we call the New Testament.
A. T. Robertson
Taken from "Word Pictures in the New Testament" by A. T. Robertson. Used by permission of
DIVISION, a division of Baker Book House Company, copyright ©1930. All rights to this material are
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