A Conversation With Eric Sowell: Interview Series, Pt. 6

I recently had the privilege of chatting with Eric Sowell, a self-styled computer techie and lover of all things Greek. It was an interesting convo as we talked about things ranging from Greek to Aramaic, Computer Programming to "Q" and English Bible translations to "Match.com". I've posted the interview below. After reading, be sure to visit Eric's site, "Archaic Christianity". Enjoy.


Michael: Eric, first let me say thanks for agreeing to take a few minutes to chat. Second, let me ask you to say a bit about yourself (e.g. family, education, vocation, profession, interests, etc.).

Eric: Well, my name is Eric Sowell. I'm 32 years old, have a chicka and three children, ages 5, 3, and 5 months old. I was a double major in college (Business and Religion). I hated that first part. Then I went to DTS and got a ThM. My interests are varied. I like programming, Greek, biblical studies, history, Greek, reading, Greek, and many other things. I taught myself how to program my last semester in seminary. Now I am a programmer full time, and have been for almost five years. Currently, I am a Senior Application Engineer for Match.com International. I help people find love. I am generally in the lead on the programming and architecture of their subscription services. My work is entirely C#, ASP.NET, and Sql Server. On side projects I will frequently get into Windows Presentation Foundation, a Windows programming API. But at this point we're just getting really geeky...My main research interests at the moment are a) Greek generally—as in outside of the NT—and b) the thoughts and formation of the early church.

Michael: Before we get to some of the things you just mentioned, let’s talk about the title of your blog, which is “Archaic Christianity”. Tell us the reason/impetus for giving your site this name.

Eric: At the time of when I started the blog, www.earlychristianity.com was taken. I wanted the blog for general purposes of biblical studies and Greek blogging. But, I knew that a large focus of my reading and thus my fodder for blogging, would ultimately end up being around early Christianity. Hence the title.

Michael: Now, you and I have had a number of conversations and at some point, the convo always comes around to talking about Greek. So, let’s go ahead and chat about that for a moment. Tell us about some of your current interests and studies in the field of the Greek language.

Eric: I suppose there are a number of different goals all mashed together in my head in these studies. First, given the number of years I have studied Greek, my "actual" knowledge does not measure up. I'm trying to study harder and differently to figure out why. Current Greek pedagogy is not very good, in my opinion. I'm not the only one who isn't good at Greek despite the time spent with it. Second, and related to the previous, I like teaching Greek. I am interested in figuring out ways of learning better so I can pass that on in my teaching. Third, and this is related to both, I am trying to learn Koine Greek more broadly. I think studying just biblical Greek, even if you only want to read the scriptures, is a terrible way to go. So I'm branching out more broadly to understand the language better and to prepare materials for others to learn as well. I guess that sums up most of it.

Michael: So, in the field of Greek / linguistic studies, where do you think the greatest need lies? Pedagogy? Research? Literary works? Etc.

Eric: Pedagogy, by a long shot. You will have more people working on the latter if you can fix the former. Linguistics and syntax related to Greek are both very important, but that's step two. That information is barely useful for those who can't read the language very well.

Michael: Can you suggest two or three tools for beginners in Greek? What has been most helpful for you?

Eric: The best first year NT Greek book I have used is Mounce, but since I think the pedagogy is all wrong, I can't really recommend it. Athenaze for classical Greek is a better starter, frankly. The differences between classical and Koine Greek are exaggerated to a degree, I think. Sure, classical can definitely be harder, but it is clearly the same language. If someone wanted to learn to read the Greek NT, it would be better for them to start with classical given the nature of the tools for learning biblical Greek (I don't think they are all that good!). The lexicon BDAG is very nice. It is a must have. Wallace's syntax is also great to study after the first year of Greek.

Michael: So, for my readers who may be unfamiliar with Athenaze, could you say a little about that?

Eric: Athenaze is a textbook for learning classical Greek. It uses a very different approach for learning Greek. The typical approach for biblical Greek strikes me as very analytical: Memorize the paradigms and be able to recognize the words you find. Athenaze is a more reading-centric approach. There are still paradigms, but the focus isn't the regurgitation of paradigms but rather the reading (and writing to some extent) of the language. I think that is a better learning model. You wouldn't learn French the former way or German. You could try, but you would be missing out on much that makes learning a language easier. NT Greek classes as a general rule, don’t include much of any speaking or composition. That is a terrible idea. And there isn’t enough reading either. The vocabulary requirements are anemic.

Michael: Okay, on a different but related note, what do you make of the suggestion that the Gospels may have been first written in Aramaic and then translated into Greek?

Eric: I think the idea that all of them were originally written in Aramaic is rather far-fetched. It's possible that one or more were, but I haven't seen much that is compelling. I've only read a little bit about it, though, so I can't be too dogmatic. Since the idea has completely failed to catch on in scholarship I am not taking it seriously at the moment. That's not because scholarship is rarely wrong; the opposite is the case. It's just a combination of a) time and b) there is absolutely no manuscript evidence as far as I know. This is getting a bit off topic, but I suppose it is relevant to this question, so I'll say it: When some topic comes up that would require quite a bit of work and has little to no footing in the scholarly community, I won't generally get into it. I'll wait for people more qualified and interested in the topic to examine it and see where things end up. There are only so many things I can research at a time. Of course there are other examples. That Talpiot tomb and the Gabriel's vision finding are two recent examples. I'm really not going to care at all until a scholarly consensus comes about. On the former it has come about and the consensus is against it, so, not wasting my time on that was a good plan. We'll wait and see on the latter. The Aramaic gospels thing is pretty interesting, but my Aramaic is not good enough at the moment for me to really approach it as intelligently as it should be approached. But if the scholarly world starts taking it more seriously, then I probably would at that point.

Michael: Just as a side note, scholars like Matthew Black and also Craig Evans have done some great work on the Aramaic Gospels. Anyway, sticking with the “Greek” theme from before, do you think that ministers and laypeople should have a working knowledge of Greek or do you think it should be left to scholars?

Eric: I do think they should. Can you imagine a person who bases their life's work off of the work of Homer not knowing Greek? Could you imagine someone basing their life on Poe not knowing English? I cannot. Let's say you are going into the ministry. You plan on spending the next, say, 50-years of your life reading a text, studying it and exegeting it. It is absolutely ludicrous to me that you would be willing to put in that much effort of study and not be willing, on the front end, to learn the actual language in which the documents are written. For the layman, I don't think it is a necessity, but I think it is a good idea if you have the time. You won't be living in the text like a minister would (or should), but you will be studying it for the rest of your life. I think it helps as a study tool. At the very least, it gives you a range of tools that just aren't accessible and critique-able without that kind of knowledge.

Michael: Given that you are a Greek guru who, like me, probably tends to carry around your NA27 (Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the Greek NT, for those who might not know) or something similar, what English translation of the Bible do you occasionally use and what would you recommend (and why)?

Eric: I carry around my NET Bible/NA 27 Diglot for the NT. I have my NET full Bible for my old. If I'm not reading in one of those, I'll either read in a NASB or a KJV. The NET is much more explanatory than the KJV, but the KJV says some things SO much better. If I want to understand the proverbs and psalms, I'll read my NET. If I want to feel them, I'll often read KJV or sometimes NASB. The attachment to the NASB mostly comes from my own history. It was my translation of choice from High School through college and into seminary. Or, if I'm reading out of Jeremiah 31, I'll pick anything other than the NET, because I can't stand their translation of Jer 31:31.

Michael: You’re right, the KJV and its language becomes rather fun at some points. Like when it talks about he who “pisseth on the wall”. Anyway…let’s change gears for a bit here, let’s talk a little about theology. Who, in your estimation, are the leading theologians of our time and why?

Eric: I have not done tons of reading in systematic theology since college. I did some in seminary because it was required, but I stayed away for the most part. The systematic tradition I am most familiar with is the reformed tradition, and I spent a lot of time in it in college. Since then I've moved away from their systematics simply because, in many ways, I feel they are still stuck in the 16th and 17th century. It's not that I don't think theology is important. I just think it needs to come after exegesis and study of history, and I'm not at all convinced they are keeping up with the former, and perhaps not the latter outside of the range of the protestant folks and Augustine.

Michael: Well, let's switch the label to "bible scholars" then. Who, in your estimation, are the leading bible scholars of our time and why?

Eric: One of the most influential books in my thought-life is Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright. He's not always right, but I think he is able to synthesize and explain better than anyone else out there. I do like Dunn and Bauckham quite a bit as well. Richard Hays rocks. Others have written great books, but I guess these are some of the guys I admire the most.

Michael: Other than Wright, are these scholars that have influenced you? If so, how? If not, who has and how?

Eric: Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul by Hays was very helpful for me. I was already going that direction with Paul, but his book really gave me some thinking points. So he didn't really transform my thinking, but his is the best work on Paul that I have read, I think. I have read some of Dunn and Bauckham. I respect them both greatly, but they have not had the impact on me that Wright has had. I haven't been able to read the gospels the same since I read JVG.

Michael: If those, in your view, are the leading biblical scholars, what would you say are the most important conversations in biblical scholarship that are currently taking place and why?

Eric: The “Historical Jesus” discussion will be very important for quite a while. The so-called "New Perspective on Paul" needs to be discussed quite a bit more as well. I also don't want people to drop “The Synoptic Problem”. That needs to be discussed ad infinitum until we can resolve this “Q” thing.

Michael: This is probably one of the areas where you and I would disagree. I am becoming increasingly convinced that when we understand Jesus as a social figure in His own context, theories like “Q” or even documents like “Q” are quite unimportant. But…let’s not go there right now. Instead, let’s switch gears once more. Other than working with the Greek language, you are also a computer guru and work with computer coding languages. What got you into that and what kinds of things are you currently working on?

Eric: I got into it because of a diagramming tutorial I did in Flash (Which they still sell at the DTS bookstore). As for what I'm working on, well, there is a morphology tutorial that has been in the works for too long. I'm also working on a new version of my manuscript digital image reader project I call "Graphe". I released that quite a while ago. In its currently released state it is not very user-friendly at all. I've got some fun things up my sleeve on this one. I also code my blog site. That's all done with ASP.NET, C#, and Sql Server. Some of the features I have planned should be useful to the world, but I won't say any more on that until I'm closer to getting it ready.

Michael: Okay, let me ask the question that I typically close interviews with: If you could only have access to one—and only one—book (other than the Bible) what would it be and why?

Eric: I would say a combined Hebrew/Greek Bible, but I'm not sure if that breaks your rule or not.

Michael: My goodness, you Greek geeks and your analytical minds! Well, let’s say the Bible, each portion in its respective language, is already there for access. Name one other book you’d like to have access to.

Eric: Okay, Holmes' recent edition of The Apostolic Fathers. After two minutes of very intense thought, definitely that work.

Michael: Eric, thanks again for taking the time to chat with me. I enjoyed our conversation.

Eric: Me too. Thanks for interviewing me.

Again, be sure to visit Eric's site at "Archaic Christianity".


  1. Excellent interview. Surprisingly fun to read considering the subject matter.

  2. earl,
    thanks for reading. glad you enjoyed it. i did too.

  3. Let's see...so I was the subject matter. Yet you say "surprisingly fun". I'm hurt :)

  4. sowell,
    hurt? hurt? use those superhero powers and fix it pal.

    blessings man, thanks again. (seriously, though, how many people in this world can have fun talking about greek, q, match.com, etc?)