Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The dos and don'ts of why you learn Greek

Every year when I teach Greek I hear the same question from at least one of my students: 

"Why do I need to learn Greek when we have so many good English translations?"

Over at the Relevant Magazine blog Ben Stevens has some good reasons to learn Greek. Here is how the article starts:
Somewhere in New York City right now, a 22-year-old Muslim is working on his Arabic. Just down the street, a young Jew is working on his Hebrew. But for whatever reason, the Christian who lives on the same block would never think to try to read the New Testament in its original Greek. In fact, most Christians (maybe even some reading this article?) have probably never even seen the book that guides their lives in its native language. Given what Christians think about the Bible, and the fact that so many of us read it daily, I have always found that very discouraging.
Ben goes on to list 8 helpful tips for learning Greek. 

  1. Learn Greek for the sake of grasping the historical divide.
  2. Don't learn it to quote the original words to people.
  3. Do learn it to bring more focus to your reading.
  4. Don't learn it so you can catch something everyone else missed.
  5. Do learn it to offer a reason for the hope you have.
  6. Don't feel like you have to learn it because your pastor did.
  7. Do learn it for the real excitement of reading the original words.
  8. Don't learn it because you expect it to be easy.

It really is a good article and he says some of the very things I tell my students. Read it here. 

HT: Ben Blackwell.


  1. Dear Dr. John,
    To the above, I humbly suggest that you add the following answer to your students' question: "because there are thousands of people groups who don't have any portion of God's Word in their own heart language, and God may be calling YOU to help provide the translation that will bring that Word to some of those groups!"
    For more, look for Wycliffe Bible Translators' website.

  2. This quote may be relevant (cheap pun) to this post: “The language of the Bible is not in itself a theological reality. The Hebrew language is not a theological phenomenon and is not symmorphus with the theology of the Hebrew Bible; nevertheless through the Hebrew language statements with theological implications can be made and are made. The Greek language is no different in this respect. Language, however, is not a 'tool' which can be 'used.' It is the field in which meanings exist, the means of communication. If the words are different, then the meaning is different. Language is not a tool but is essentially an entity in which the biblical material is built and within which it exists. Theology therefore has rightly emphasized the need for a command of the biblical languages if the Bible is to be rightly interpreted.” James Barr, The Concept of Biblical Theology, pp. 78-79.

  3. I took a year of Greek and a semester of Hebrew. I don't feel like I was especially good at either one, but I enjoyed studying them. The reason why I chose to take them (neither was required for my degree) is so that I would have a little less trouble when reading a commentary or other work that referred to the original languages. Even though I can't pick up a Greek New Testament or Hebrew Old Testament, I feel like I came away with enough to be able to use it on occasion without being too confused.