Lesson 7.1 — A History of Greek Lexicography,
+ English Grammar on Verbs

We found that verses started to make more sense to us when we began to unpack how Greek nouns worked with respect to case (nominative, genitive, etc.) and number.  We will find that verses make even more sense once we figure out how Greek verbs work.

In a moment, we will think about how verbs work in English.  But first, let's take a little detour to talk about Greek lexicons (i.e. Ancient Greek-English dictionaries).


Something About Lexicons

In using BibleHub, you have run into Thayer's lexicon before.  It was considered an outstanding piece of scholarship...130 years ago.  There are two major problems with Thayer.

  1. He had the poor fortune to finish his work just before Hunt and Grenfell discovered the treasure trove of Greek papyrii at an archaeological dig in Egypt.  These documents (which number in the hundreds of thousands) have opened a window for us into first century Greek.  We know a lot more about the meaning of NT Greek words than we knew when Thayer created his lexicon.
  2. Thayer was a Unitarian, and allowed his theology to seep into his treatment of words.  For instance, if you go to https://biblehub.com/greek/5207.htm you will see in Thayer's whole discussion of the Greek word for "son" he NEVER ONCE alludes to one of the key uses of the word "son" in the NT.  That is, he has nothing to say about Jesus as the Son of God, nor anything at all about the deity of Jesus.  Unitarians believe that Jesus was definitely not God incarnate.

    It would be the case that BDAG (the current best-option as a Greek lexicon) also lets theology seep into its definitions, but because the editors were actually Believers, their definitions are a good bit more helpful to us today.

You can click  to see a short history of Greek lexicons, from the Renaissance period to today.



English Grammar:  Verbs

A verb is a word that describes action or state of being.



There are three persons:  first, second, and third.



Number refers to whether a verb is singular (referring to one thing) or plural (referring to more than one thing).



A verb must agree with its subject in person and number.  This means that if a subject is singular, the verb must be singular.  If the subject is third person, the verb must be third person.

For example, you would not say "Bill say to the class that there are no test."  Since "Bill" and "test" are singular, you would say, "Bill says to the class that there is no test."  The presence or absence of the "s" at the end of "says" is an example of agreement in English.

You also would not say, "I were here."  "I" is singular but "were" is plural.  You would say "I was here."



Time refers to when the action of the verb takes place.  In English the different "times" are past, present, and future.



Tense in English refers to both the time when the action of the verb takes place, and the form of the word.

The time of the verb is from the standpoint of the speaker/weriter, not the reader.  What is present to the biblical writer may or may not be present to us.



Aspect is not the same as tense although it is related to it.

What is the difference between saying "I studied last night" and "I was studying last night"?

Aspect can be designated in the different times.





Mood is a bit of a catch-all category in Greek grammar.  Three of the moods refer to the relationship between the verb and reality.

Indicative Mood 

A verb is in the indicative if it is describing something that is.  Indicative verbs make statements or ask questions about reality.

Subjunctive and Optative Moods

A verb is in the subjunctive mood (much less common than indicative in the NT) or optative mood (even more uncommon) if it deals in hypotheticals — expressing a possibility or probablility.

We will run into our first subjunctive-mood verb in Acts 2:21.  So we will wait until then to talk about the subjunctive.

We will have to wait until Acts 8:20 to run into our first optative-mood verb.  We will wait to address this mood as well.

Imperative Mood

The imperative mood expresses a command.  We will run into one of these soon, in Acts 1:20.  The disciples want to choose a new leader to replace Judas in their company of 12, and have narrowed it down to two people.  They are praying that God would give them insight and they say:

"Show us which of these two you have chosen."

The verb "Show" is in the imperative in this verse.

Minor point:  Imperative verbs occur in both the present and aorist tenses...but these are unrelated to time. Imperative verbs are pretty obvious when it comes to translating them.  You will not need to concern yourself with whether you are seeing a "present imperative" or an "aorist imperative".

Infinitive Mood

It is easy to recognize an infinitive in English, as the verb is preceded by the word "to".  We ran into this in our very first verse, Acts 1:1.

Infinitives can sometimes be used to turn a verb into an adjective.  Don't worry about this now.  I will point it out to you when it happens in the text.


Participles are an enormously common and versatile tool in biblical Greek, allowing verbs to be used:

Participles are unlike the other moods, in that a participle can have gender and case as well as number, and so can agree with nouns that they are connected with.

We will run into participles in virtually every verse we translate.  I will help you get a feel for them over the coming weeks and months.


Go to the next page by clicking  to practice with these concepts.