Can the use of Greek help the preacher? An example

Should a preacher refer to Hebrew or Greek from the pulpit? In all but a few instances, emphatically not, see “But the Greek REALLY says…” Why Hebrew and Greek are not needed in the pulpit, Part 1

The study of original languages, like all study of technical background, is to inform the preacher, not to impress the audience. The preacher takes that material and puts it into plain English (or Spanish, in my case). Unless the audience can read the biblical languages, there is no reason to mention them, and plenty of reasons not to.

Yet, I wanted to give at least one recent positive example of how the original Greek text helped me preach the Word with greater clarity. The following is a minor point, but was able to play a part in a sermon. A few weeks ago I preached on John 6, John’s version of the feeding of the 5000. Part of John 6:13 reads that after everyone had their fill, the apostles ἐγέμισαν δώδεκα κοφίνους κλασμάτων (“they filled twelve baskets of fragments/pieces”).


1 The word used for “basket” is kophinos/κοφίνος. The reference to twelve baskets indicates one basket for each apostle.

2 Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon (3rd edition) state that a kophinos is “in the NT prob[ably] a large, heavy basket, probably of var[ious] sizes, for carrying things.”

3 Liddell, Scott and Jones, Greek-English Lexicon, states that the term was used especially by Jews. Juvenal says twice that Jews lived in poverty with only a basket and a truss of hay. This seems to indicate a largish basket.

Kophinos, a large sack or basket

4 My thoughts so far: Interesting enough, it is the same noun used in all four gospel accounts of the feeding of the 5000 (Matt 16:10, Mark 6:43, Luke 9:17, John 6:13). This is a striking coincidence, and perhaps all four evangelists wish to emphasize the large nature of the containers. Luke 13:8 D uses the same noun to signify  a basket of manure, which would also have been large, for agricultural purposes.

5 BDAG: in the Markan-Matthean feeding of the 4000, a synonym is used, σπυρίς, ίδος, ἡ … basket, hamper Ac 9:25. In connection w. the miracle of feeding Mt 15:37; 16:10; Mk 8:8, 20.

6 Moulton-Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek NT,  has much to say: κόφινος: In an interesting note in JTS x. p. 567ff. Dr. Hort has shown that  the distinction between κόφινος and σπυρίς is one of material rather than of size, to judge by the uses mentioned in classical and patristic writers. This conclusion can now be confirmed from the Κοινή, as when in certain military accounts, P Oxy I. 43 (a.d. 295) we hear of κόφινοι holding 40 λίτραι—…The word, which is of Semitic origin (cf. Lewy Fremdwörter, p. 115), was used specially by Jews (cf. Juvenal iii. 14, vi. 542), and Hort (l.c.) thinks that it was equivalent to the κάρταλ(λ)ος in which Jews carried first-fruits to Jerusalem. See  further s.vv. σαργάνη and σφυρίς…

7 Septuagint: In the two references in the LXX, a kophinos seems to be “burdensome”: “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket.”  (Ps 81:6, 80:7 LXX). There may be the implication of heavy volume and weight in Judges 6:19 LXX B – “And Gideon entered and prepared a goat kid and unleavened cakes from an oiphi of wheat flour, and the meat he put in the basket and the broth he put into the pot and he brought them out to him under the terebinth and drew near.” An oiphi = 22 liters, and there is an entire goat kid. This constitutes a substantial burden.

Conclusion: ALL this to say: I had always thought of these baskets as something like bread baskets for use on the dinner table. However, they turn out to be large baskets, hampers or sacks. While I would never have invested this sort of time in such a small point, and would have relied on a commentary to tell me this, the Logos Bible Software made it a snap to gather this information within a few minutes. Most of my material came from a study of the Greek text. I also found some useful material from Beasley-Murray’s commentary (Word Biblical Commentary) and Michaels’ (New International Biblical Commentary), both on Logos software.

Preaching John 6:13:

Option A, what I could have said but should not and did not: “Now, I know you can’t read Greek, but the word in the original is kophinos. And kophinos means a bag or sack of maybe 10 gallons [40 liters] or more. So the apostles came back, and they had twelve of these kophinoi. I should point out that in the feeding of the 4000, Mark and Matthew use the word spuris, which was probably a basket of a different material.”

Option B, what I used in a country church, where references to Greek would be worse than useless: “So, Jesus sent his apostles out with baskets to collect the pieces that were left over. Now, I’ve heard this story many times before, and I always thought of these baskets as small and flat…well, like this one here.” [I pointed to one that they used to collect the offering]. “It wouldn’t hold very much. But in fact these were the jumbo-sized baskets, I mean big sacks like this one.” [I pulled out a large bag of the sort we use to store frijoles or coffee beans]. “So when the apostles collected the leftovers, they had to haul these big heavy baskets back to Jesus.” [I mimed dragging a heavy bag]. “Do you see how this glorifies Jesus? Such a tiny amount of food goes out, and these big baskets come back.”

By the way, neither did I mention that in 6:12, “when they were satisfied,” John used the verb empimplemi/ἐμπίμπλημι , which means “to fill [to satiety].” I just said: “And the Bible says they were full. You know what I mean by ‘full’? When you eat and eat and you say, Man, I’ve got to loosen my belt! [laughter]. That’s what the Bible tells us happened!”

Two presentations, exact same insight from the Greek.  “B” communicates more clearly and is the better choice.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. The question is if the preacher stands behind the pulpit and tosses around a few Greek words each week (which may or may not be correctly applied), who gets the glory?

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