For a while now, President Nelson has been including (ostensible) references to ancient biblical Greek in his talks, such as in his most recent one.

This could be seen as a good thing. If more and more leaders were to study biblical languages, perhaps more and more members would too, and maybe the Church would engage in mainstream biblical scholarship and even develop a viable hermeneutic for the 21st century.

But there are some issues with RMN’s references. Misspellings. Overlooked accent marks. Incorrect grammatical terminology. Questionable definitions. And because his references do not have accompanying citations leading to a dictionary or a grammar book — instead, the citations lead to his own previous talks or simply to passages in the New Testament — there is no obvious indication as to what sources he’s been basing his study on.

Particularly puzzling is his reference to “teleiono,” as found in a conference talk from 1995 and more recently in the current Gospel Doctrine manual, at Matthew 5:48. This is it:

The term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means ‘complete.’ … The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means ‘to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.’ Please note that the word does not imply ‘freedom from error’; it implies ‘achieving a distant objective.’ …

Since “teleiono,” with an “n,” cannot be found in any dictionary or lexicon of ancient Greek, whether classical or biblical, you might suppose that we’re dealing with a typographical mistake.

There is indeed an ancient Greek verb “teleioo,” more properly transliterated “teleióō” (τελειόω). [Sidebar: unlike English dictionaries, in dictionaries and lexica of ancient Greek the lemma for thematic verbs is not the infinitive form/s but the first-person singular of the present indicative active.]

So maybe he was using the right dictionary for the right language but just accidentally wrote or typed the word a bit wrong. Or maybe the mistake crept in during the preparation of the talk for publication by editorial staff. 

That’s not what happened though. For one thing, you can clearly hear him say “teleiono,” with an “n,” in the recording of the 1995 talk (go to the 5:00 mark). And for another, that verb, which cannot be found in any dictionary of ancient Greek, can, however, be found in MODERN Greek dictionaries because it is MODERN Greek.  

Using a modern Greek dictionary to understand the New Testament is like using an Italian dictionary to understand Cicero. And to do that in a public address as a leader of a worldwide organization is what ancient Greeks would call hubris.

7 Replies to ““Teleiono””

  1. It is embarrassing that the highest authority in the church apparently does not know the difference between modern and biblical Greek. And this is not some easy mistake to make. It’s like aiming for Hemingway and hitting Chaucer, but still being off by a thousand years, give or take a few centuries. We don’t get to give him a break for this. It’s like me with my hands on somebody’s heart saying, “Let’s just go ahead and ziplock this here o-ring. Hand me the dongle, stat.” This is the mark of colossal ignorance about the bible, its languages, how languages work, etc. It is also embarrassing that he trades upon his ecclesial authority, with precisely zero expertise in Greek, to draw a theological point for an audience not in a position to question or criticize his pronouncement.

    Aside from these embarrassments, it is downright scandalous that among the entire quorum of the twelve and first presidency there is not a single person who has one bit of training or expertise in anything within 10 country miles of the bible. Heck, most of these men have never bothered to read the bible outside of the KJV and the standard LDS apparatus (notes and bible dictionary). And I am willing to bet significant money that not a one of them could tell you what are the most important biblical commentaries, what the Anchor Bible Dictionary is, or even what Strong’s Concordance is, you know, the basic tools of clergy and laymen who are doing their own homework in trying to approach the bible even if they don’t have extensive linguistic, historical, and theoretical training.

    Joseph Smith, also something a language impostor, didn’t know Hebrew and Greek beyond the most rudimentary of levels. But at least he tried.

    As the OP said, this is hubris. And it is on a breathtaking scale.

    A final note: apparently President Nelson also likes it to be known that he is fluent in Mandarin. I am not qualified to assess this claim. My gut tells me that this is more empty bluster. Kinda like that falsified conversion story he had to retract a few days ago.


  2. This reminds me of a story from my BYU undergrad in the early 80s. I signed up for a NT Greek readings class. For me the class seemed easy, because I had been beating my head agains5 classical authors.

    In contrast, a young woman also signed jo for the class, and she expected it to be a walk in 5he park. Why? She was natively Greek and grew up speaking the language in the home.

    As we got into it, I felt so sorry for her. She struggled more than anyone else in the class. She simply hadn’t known that being fluent in modern Demotic Greek and reading Thea client language are two different things.

  3. Apparently not everyone would agree that

    biblical Greek : modern Greek :: Latin : modern Italian.

    For example:

    Wikipedia: “Koine is largely familiar and at least partly intelligible to most writers and speakers of Modern Greek.”

    italian.stackexchange.com: “it is very hard for native Italian speakers to understand a Latin text if they haven’t study the language.”

  4. Nat,

    Do you have point or do you think you have scored one? Oh that is right. You aren’t qualified to make a substantial comment or criticism so you try to cast shade on the OP by the saddest little argument you ever did see. Bless its soul.

    Do you want to try again or just skitter off tail tucked away?

  5. Anon cuz obvs,
    Church leaders in SLC have been citing the NIV (New Test) in conference with increasing frequency over the past 10 years, but especially in the last 5. There are a few articles on the bloggernacle tracking it and showing a shift in interpretations and even quotes from the NIV. There is a study/training program akin to the school of prophets for the 70 and Q15, which includes essay writing, talk refinement, writing hymn lyrics, studying social issues, writing books, concordance work, etc. the NIV and some study of modern biblical scholarship has been included.

    It actually makes me angry to see them using versions of the Bible in the vernacular for their own illumination and ministry while insisting that the rank and file fumble through Elizabethan. They leave the cultural taboo from the 8th article of faith in place, insisting that the JST and KJV are the most inspired, while frequently scoffing at the flawed and derivative translations of mere men, yet in their group studies use these very materials. Can you buy the NIV or something similar at DB or through distribution? No. Would an average member who gave a sacrament talk testifying of or reading from the NIV be key-hauled? Yes, but the GAs are able to sneak the NIV in orally, only citing some (not all) references in the fine print of the published Conference Ensign.

    It must be difficult to be a prophet or Q15 member wanting to study ancient Hebrew or Greek or other faith traditions. Who can they turn to as a teacher? Seriously, could they enroll at a Jesuit University? At the Community of Christ’s Graceland University? BYU or the U? Prior to joining the hierarchy, Holland received a PhD from Yale on American Studies (religious dissertation) and his son is a prof at Harvard Divinity. Gong had advanced degrees in philosophy. Ballard on the other hand was a car salesman. What can they do from the time they enter the calling until they die to continue learning without remaining in the echo-chamber?

    I lift an eyebrow as GAs attend large Christian or world religions conferences (which of course bleed conservative), not only representing our faith, but finding opportunities to unite on politics and positions with other religious conventions and congresses. I have to wonder how much influence these conferences have on our conservative positions. Rubbing shoulders with Raphael Cruz on pro-life stances during the last election season makes my blood boil. Conservative evangelical lenses seem to be more and more comfortably used by our members, and I’m not sure whether it is starting at the top or as a grassroots movement, or both. The church’s LGBT, pro-life, and prosperity doctrine trends seem to run parallel to the consensus of these conservative meetings. Just saying.

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