Merry Christmas Wishes from the Deckers

December 24, 2009

Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

Luke 2:8 Καὶ ποιμένες ἦσαν ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῇ αὐτῇ ἀγραυλοῦντες καὶ φυλάσσοντες φυλακὰς τῆς νυκτὸς ἐπὶ τὴν ποίμνην αὐτῶν. 9 καὶ ἄγγελος κυρίου ἐπέστη αὐτοῖς καὶ δόξα κυρίου περιέλαμψεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν. 10 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ ἄγγελος· μὴ φοβεῖσθε, ἰδοὺ γὰρ εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν χαρὰν μεγάλην ἥτις ἔσται παντὶ τῷ λαῷ, 11 ὅτι ἐτέχθη ὑμῖν σήμερον σωτὴρ ὅς ἐστιν χριστὸς κύριος ἐν πόλει Δαυίδ. 12 καὶ τοῦτο ὑμῖν τὸ σημεῖον, εὑρήσετε βρέφος ἐσπαργανωμένον καὶ κείμενον ἐν φάτνῃ. 13 καὶ ἐξαίφνης ἐγένετο σὺν τῷ ἀγγέλῳ πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου αἰνούντων τὸν θεὸν καὶ λεγόντων· 14 δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

Luke 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”


It was Dave Doran’s blog that caught my eye today:

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing … is based on a poem with 10 four-line stanzas by Charles Wesley published in 1739. Wesley wrote the poem within a year of his conversion to Jesus Christ, and it stands as one of the finest of his more than 6,500 hymns. It has gone through many revisions since its original writing, beginning with a modification by George Whitefield in 1753.

Wesley’s original line was:

Hark, how all the welkin* rings,
Glory to the King of Kings!

[* archaic for “heavens” or “sky”]

Which Whitefield changed to its present form:

Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.


In light of that, I heard a radio preacher waxing eloquent this past week that the carol is wrong because angels don’t sing. (Apparently only people do that!) He was quite relieved to discover the original words and to realize that Wesley hadn’t made a mistake after all. 🙂 I’ve heard that “preacher’s point” before, but I’m a bit baffled by it. I assume it is based on the fact that English translations use the verb “say” rather than “sing.” It’s true that Luke did not use a specific word for singing here (e.g., ᾄδω or ὑμνέω). The verb in Luke 2:13 is simply λέγω—which according to Danker’s brand new Concise Lexicon the NT Greek,* means “make a statement/utterance,’ whether in oral or written form.” Its uses “ranging from simple statement to strong asseveration in a variety of contextual nuances (for which Engl. has an extensive repertoire of expressions)” (213–14, s.v. λέγω). I would consider it precarious to predicate the lack of a particular form of verbal utterance from the use of a general verb of communication such as λέγω.

*Danker’s new work just arrived in my box this week. I saw a copy and ordered it at SBL this year. Though this isn’t the place for a review, I like what I’ve seen thus far—though I’ve only spent a couple of hours reading it. (Yes, you read that correctly! 🙂 ) The typography is very nice. The definitions and glosses are not just copied from BDAG, but have been designed specifically for this purpose (though there are obvious similarities). I’m now trying to decide whether to make it my new standard for first year Greek. My only hesitation is that it does not include principle parts for the more difficult forms under each lexical form as does the “Big BDAG” (it does list these alphabetically with “see…” references) and as does Trenchard’s Concise Dictionary of NT Greek which I am using presently. Trenchard’s work did not fare well at the lexicography section at SBL this year, particularly for its careless handling of glosses (which all come from BDAG). It’s still an improvement over Newman. The cost of this new “Little BDAG” is also a factor. The list price is $55, which seems high for a “short” lexicon—and I require BDAG in 3d semester. Perhaps more on that later.

[If you’re interested in Danker’s work, see also Will Varner’s review.]

7 responses to Merry Christmas Wishes from the Deckers

  1. I’m pretty sure that Mexicans drink ice cream & soup because they use the verb debir rather than comer.

  2. I know better than to disagree with Dr. Decker. But as the saying goes, “Fool’s rush in…”

    I’m probably not, but could have been that radio preacher. I consider singing to be something distinctly human that we possess because we are created in the image of God who sings. (Zeph 3:17).

    What I find baffling is the logic to the objection to this position. To say that the Greek uses a general word for communication is a long way from saying that it allows for singing. Is there anything in the text that suggests music in any way? Not that I have found. Wouldn’t the most normal reading be “to say?” It would seem to me that the burden of proof is upon those that insist that angels sing, for the only motivation for this position seems to be to justify our hymnody.

    Is there anyplace else in Scripture where angels are said to sing? Not that I’ve found. The only possibility is Rev 5:9 depending on who is the referent to the pronoun “they,” as well as identifying who are the four living creatures and who are the elders. That’s a lot of “ifs” to justify the words of a hymn!

    As for the argument that Eph 5:19 justifies an expansion of “general communication” to include singing, this seems to be reading into the text. If one takes the general sense in context it makes good sense. So you could read, “Communicate to one another with singing.” No one is arguing that singing isn’t a form of communication. But merely stating that the general communication in this text is singing is a long way from saying that it always in every context includes the idea of singing.

    Additionally, this argument is a classic case of equivocation. In Luke 2:13 the Greek is λέγω where in Eph 5:19 the Greek is λάλος. Assigning a meaning to one is not the same as assigning it to the other.

    There, I’ve said it. You may fire when ready Gridley. 🙂

    Oh BTW, Rod if you want some entertaining listening, Joel Williamson and I have started a podcast. It’s called “Becoming Mature” and you can find it on the iTunes store. I’m doing all the technical work so the intermittent problems I’m having with iTunes are my fault. You can also find it here: www. becomingmature.org/podcast. I didn’t respond to this post as an opportunity for shameless self-promotion, but when a target of opportunity presents itself… 🙂

  3. Hey Bruce! Hadn’t heard from you in so long I was wondering if they hauled you to the hospital one last time and I hadn’t heard about it! 🙂

    > as the saying goes, “Fool’s rush in…”

    … where angels fear to sing? 🙂

    > Is there anyplace else in Scripture where angels are said to sing?

    How about Job 38:7, “the morning stars sang together”? In the context, I think it’s fairly clear that the reference is to angels. There were no other sentient creatures at the time referenced.

    > Is there anything in the text that suggests music in any way?

    Well, the content of αἰνέω seems pretty appropriate to song to me! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” That sounds eminently singable.

    You seem to think the burden of proof lies on those who would allow, but not require, that the medium be song. I would think that the negative assertion, denying something that the text does not explicitly deny, would carry the lion’s share of the proof. 🙂 I’m not claiming the angels did sing. I’m only suggesting that the denial of such a possibility is based only on the English translation and not on the Greek word.

  4. I’m surprised by your statement that “the denial of such a possibility is based only on the English translation and not on the Greek word.” I would contend just the opposite. The only reason someone would even suggest that the angels were singing is based on our English carols. I find nothing in the text to even remotely suggest it.

    Saying that something sounds singable…really…is that your argument? This is your attempt at humor, right? Something sounds singable? I can’t imagine in the deepest recesses of my sanctified imagination a more subjective criteria than that.

    But then again, (as I end all my sermons these days) what do I know? 🙂

  5. I think you’re missing my point Bruce. I’m not arguing that the angels *did* sing. I’m only saying that denying that they did is based on the English translation “the angels *said,* and the use of λέγω is not adequate to justify that.

  6. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
    Or close the wall up with our English dead.”

    OK, got it. But I think you’re missing my point as well. I’m not arguing from the English. I’m arguing from the Greek. When I look up λέγω in BDAG, I find a general word with the following suggested uses:

    1. to express oneself orally or in written form, utter in words, say, tell, give expression to,

    2. to express oneself in a specific way, say

    3. to inform about / tell of someth., speak, report

    4. to identify in a specific manner, call, name

    As I did a quick survey through the uses, λέγω appears to be a very general word with a wide range of uses. But no where (although I could have missed it), did BDAG suggest the word was broad enough to include music.

    That’s not to say that it *couldn’t* include music I suppose, but there would have to be some contextual clue to indicate this broadened usage. As I look through the passage, I find no textual indicator to move me in that direction. While you contend that the denial of singing is based on the English, I suggest the broadened use of λέγω is based upon the English.

    “I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The game’s afoot,” so as always, I stand ready to be corrected. 🙂

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Hark, the Herald Angels “Say”? « Immoderate - December 24, 2009

    […] Rod Decker notes (on the authority of Danker’s new lexicon) that this is a spurious objection. I agree wholeheartedly. It is true that λέγω can refer to speaking, but in Ephesians 5:19 (λαλουντες εαυτοις ψαλμοις και υμνοις και ωδαις πνευματικαις αδοντες και ψαλλοντες εν τη καρδια υμων τω κυριω) it quite evidently refers either to singing (specifically) or to communication that includes singing (generally). […]