Why Must I Learn Greek???

Discussion in 'Exegetical Forum' started by alwaysreforming, Feb 19, 2004.

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  1. alwaysreforming

    alwaysreforming Puritan Board Sophomore

    I posted this question before but got no responses to it, so I'd like to try again and hopefully get some valuable input.

    The original question read:

    I have a friend who is becoming a "pastor" through some "apprenticeship" not-quite-seminary path, I can't remember the program's name, but anyway...
    I was asking him about learning Greek and how it was going, and he said, and I paraphrase, "Well, we're not really learning any Greek. You really don't need it. There are so many books out there that have already done the Greek learning, and all you need to do is consult those when you are studying a passage to exegete. Besides, with all the commentaries and other study helps, who am I to come up with some different interpretation of the text than is already done for us by the greats like Calvin, etc.?"

    I can see how this might be flawed in thinking, although I can kind of see a point, that all that time used to learn those languages could be spent reading good commentaries, etc.
    How should I be thinking about this subject, as I hope to possibly go to seminary one day?
    Also, what is the best "starter" book for learning Greek as a "pre-seminary" reader?
    Thanks for your thoughts.
     
  2. jfschultz

    jfschultz Puritan Board Junior

    [quote:33f9135eb5][i:33f9135eb5]Originally posted by alwaysreforming[/i:33f9135eb5]
    I posted this question before but got no responses to it, so I'd like to try again and hopefully get some valuable input.

    The original question read:

    I have a friend who is becoming a "pastor" through some "apprenticeship" not-quite-seminary path, I can't remember the program's name, but anyway...
    I was asking him about learning Greek and how it was going, and he said, and I paraphrase, "Well, we're not really learning any Greek. You really don't need it. There are so many books out there that have already done the Greek learning, and all you need to do is consult those when you are studying a passage to exegete. Besides, with all the commentaries and other study helps, who am I to come up with some different interpretation of the text than is already done for us by the greats like Calvin, etc.?"

    I can see how this might be flawed in thinking, although I can kind of see a point, that all that time used to learn those languages could be spent reading good commentaries, etc.
    How should I be thinking about this subject, as I hope to possibly go to seminary one day?
    Also, what is the best "starter" book for learning Greek as a "pre-seminary" reader?
    Thanks for your thoughts. [/quote:33f9135eb5]

    This is not a direct answer... Years ago a minister friend told me that I should seriously consider going to seminary. I mentioned my lack of ability with languages (I was born and lived 7 years in Peru and learned very little Spanish).

    His response was to recommend Union where Greek and Hebrew are not required. Even as a relatively new Christian at the time, I realized that a seminary that did not require any level of competence in the original languages was not worth considering.

    If I were a minister and expected to expound on the scriptures to my flock. I'm not sure that I would want to just depend on what someone else said about how a word should be translated where there is a question.
     
  3. Greek:

    [quote:76d77e6345]
    You really don't need it.
    [/quote:76d77e6345]

    Tell that man he should get out of the puplit before he gets into it!

    Let me say this - the Reformation, the actual internal pressures that caused the surgence of the reformation (providentially speaking) was the need to go back to the sources - [i:76d77e6345]ad fontes[/i:76d77e6345].

    Every scholar of the day wanted to do this as a good academian. Calvin, caught smack dab in the midst of all this while at Paris was forced to deal with the original languages of the text, as did Luther before him. Zwingli was a great linguist.

    The reformation was BUILT ON the original languages and the need to understand how to do exegetical work on them.

    If pastors think they can bypass the necessary work that needs to be done in translation and exegesis, and think someone else has done the work for them, then they need to rethink WHY they are getting into the pulpit. The reformation was about solid exegetical work preached in the pulpit.

    The question, then about languages is critical to the preacher. The naswer is that not everyone is a linguist (that's not what I am saying) - but every pastor should be able to wrestle with THE TEXT in its original languages.

    I took languages in college, which was a help to me because I spent 4 years studying biblical languages early on. honestly, I hate languages - parsing, syntax, rules, grammar, exceptions to rules, and hey, who likes to read from right to left anyway. So, I am not cut out to be a linguist (or a mathematician either), but I have to be able to deal with the text. I have to be able to translate the text. I have to be able to parse verbs and conjugate nouns, etc. I need to understand grammatical relationships - why? God is speaking. We need to get it right. In a school of 1200 in college, about 900 of those men desired to be pastors (it was a bible college). In the 4 years I attended, and in the 4 years I was in Hebrew or Greek class, there were a total of 12 that took languages. Now THAT IS SAD.

    "Yes, I want to be a preacher - sign me up! I can talk in front of people. I can read a few books. I can even quote some good one every now and again, but please, oh please, don't make me do all the work I need to...I'm just not cut out for languages."

    OK - then don't think about being a minister of the WORD (W-O-R-D as in text!)

    Best starter book for Greek is Machen's NT Greek for Beginners. I like to go through that every now an again to keep fresh. Also, for grammar instruction - Dana and Mantley's "A Manuel Grammar of the Greek NT" is most excellent.

    If you can start memorizing now (Greek conjugations) that would be a good start. If you go into the game reading the alphabet and having some of the chants down (os oo ow on oi on ois ous, etc.) that would be of help.
     
  4. dkicklig

    dkicklig Puritan Board Freshman

    Any suggestions for material to start with?
     
  5. alwaysreforming

    alwaysreforming Puritan Board Sophomore

    Follow up question on learning Greek

    Dear Webmaster Matthew:
    Thanks for such a long and thoughtful reply. I wanted to ask just one follow-up:

    What about the objection:
    "Look, why am I to think that after taking a few years of Biblical languages, that MY interpretation/translation of the original text is going to so much more accurate than what I can already rely on in the translations now extant? The ones who have put together all the modern translations, being complete experts in the languages, have now given us several different ways to interpret given texts and words. Am I to believe that they're not accurate enough to trust? And how am I, as one who is just "competent" and not "expert" going to disagree with what's already given? Also, what about all the exegetical aids and word studies, etc. that give complete meanings to all the words? Shouldn't that suffice to make sure one is dealing accurately with the text? Just how far off is one going to be when preaching on a text just because he or she (ha ha, just kidding!) doesn't know the original languages?"

    Well, that's my follow up question. If you would be gracious enough to deal with this it would be a great help to me. Thanks so much!
     
  6. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member

    [quote:abcd43eee9][i:abcd43eee9]Originally posted by alwaysreforming[/i:abcd43eee9]
    Dear Webmaster Matthew:
    Thanks for such a long and thoughtful reply. I wanted to ask just one follow-up:

    What about the objection:
    "Look, why am I to think that after taking a few years of Biblical languages, that MY interpretation/translation of the original text is going to so much more accurate than what I can already rely on in the translations now extant? The ones who have put together all the modern translations, being complete experts in the languages, have now given us several different ways to interpret given texts and words. Am I to believe that they're not accurate enough to trust? And how am I, as one who is just "competent" and not "expert" going to disagree with what's already given? Also, what about all the exegetical aids and word studies, etc. that give complete meanings to all the words? Shouldn't that suffice to make sure one is dealing accurately with the text? Just how far off is one going to be when preaching on a text just because he or she (ha ha, just kidding!) doesn't know the original languages?"

    Well, that's my follow up question. If you would be gracious enough to deal with this it would be a great help to me. Thanks so much! [/quote:abcd43eee9]

    Christopher,

    The issue is not to be able to translate better, or to find "hidden gems" in the text that translators missed. Its about being able to do accurate words studies, to understand the way the writer thought (Hebrews thought different than Greeks who thought different from Romans and that is reflected in the languages) , to bring out the richness of the text.

    There is also something to be said for being SLOWED down to read the text. We read our Bibles far too cursorally and lose much there. Any man who takes the original languages so he can get in the pulpit and say, "the translation here is bad, a better one would be..." should not be in the pulpit. He has a problem with arrogance.
     
  7. Guest

    Guest Guest

    The main reason to learn greek is to bathe yourself in the eloquence and pulchritude of Homeric verse.
     
  8. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Moderator

    [quote:ce65aa1431][i:ce65aa1431]Originally posted by webmaster[/i:ce65aa1431]
    If you go into the game reading the alphabet and having some of the chants down (os oo ow on oi on ois ous, etc.) that would be of help. [/quote:ce65aa1431]

    By chants do you mean the word endings for the paradigms? Is it easier to remember that way?
     
  9. For me, yes, the chants worked well. I even still remember chants from Spanish class in 5th grade as a result.

    Fred answered you other question well Alwasyreforming.

    Persoanlly, I hate it when people in the pulpit quote a Greek verse (who is ever going to remember that???) It is one thing to bring out a partciualr point about a word, but to begin explain rules and syntax of Greek grammar is again to MISS the point of preaching a sermon, not a Sunday School Lesson.

    [Edited on 2-20-2004 by webmaster]
     
  10. blhowes

    blhowes Puritan Board Professor

    I look at an understanding of the original languages as "tools of the trade" for a pastor.

    I have a background in electrical engineering and work now as a technical writer. Being able to read schematics and understanding what each symbol does to the electricity definitely helped me when I was troubleshooting problems and makes life so much easier when I now have to describe a piece of hardware and how it works. Understanding schematics was one of my tools of the trade. Most times I suppose you could get by without them by using block diagrams, but not always? (try troubleshooting a VCR problem down to a faulty microprocessor without some knowledge of schematics).

    In the same way that being able to read schematics makes a person a better electrical engineer or technical writer, so too understanding the original languages couldn't help but make a pastor a better pastor/preacher. Being a pastor/preacher without an understanding of the original languages to me is like an electrical engineer who can understand block diagrams (derived from the schematics) but can't understand the schematics. Quite often that might be enough, but then there are times when the extra knowledge is necessary.

    Budee, Budee, that's all folks!

    Bob
     
  11. kceaster

    kceaster Puritan Board Junior

    Bob....

    Good point.

    I tell my boys as we are learning Latin, that it is a "grammar" that will help them with so many other things.

    To a large extent, possibly the largest, Hebrew and Greek (and I would argue ecclesiastical Latin as well) is the basic grammar for a theologian. It must be considered as a "times table" or the alphabet. Super nostram scientiam non aedificamus ad nostram litteraturam vincamus. How did I do, Fred?

    In Christ,

    KC
     
  12. blhowes

    blhowes Puritan Board Professor

    Just curious.

    We use to have a French exchange student who said that he, after years of study, now can think in Engish or French, depending on which language he's using at the time. No need to translate his english to his native French tongue.

    Those of you who know Latin, Greek, Hebrew, etc., can you actually think in those languages, or is it necessary to translate it into english to understand it? Is that even possible with something like Hebrew, for example (looks like Chinese would be easier to understand).

    Bob

    [Edited on 2-20-2004 by blhowes]
     
  13. Bryan

    Bryan Puritan Board Freshman

    Correct me if I am wrong but Augustine didn't know Greek or Hebrew.

    It is definitly important, I plan on learning it, infact I had begun a little bit with some freinds but I've put it down for a time until I get out of school, but you can arruive at all the correct herminical answers with only knowing English and having concordances and looking at what other Greek/Hebrews scholars have said. So shuld a pastor have a knowledge of it? I think so. Can you still understand God's word without it and be successful? Yes

    Bryan
    SDG
     
  14. Wannabee

    Wannabee Obi Wan Kenobi

    Would you like to kiss your bride through the vale?

    Didn't think so.

    Well, that's what reading the Scriptures in a translation is akin to.

    Guys, I can't believe how much I've learned in less than a year through my studies of Greek and Hebrew. And I hardly know a thing. I studied Greek on my own for just a few months last year, and now I only have a few months of Hebrew under my belt. The Scriptures just got a whole lot deeper for me. It's truly awesome. Some of what comes alive in the original is amazingly absent in the English.

    I would submit that any seminary that doesn't stress the need for a decent understanding of Greek and Hebrew isn't worth your efforts (10 hours of Hebrew and 16 hours of Greek required here).

    A great beginners Greek book is "Basic Greek in 30 Minutes a Day" by Founds. He does a great job of making it understandable and making it sink in at the same time. I only studied it for a couple of months or so last Spring, but without studying since I can still sound out the words, remember quite a few and recognize some of the declensions. It's really easy to use too.

    Also, for vocabulary, Jonathan Pennington has a CD full of vocabulary words and definitions that might help out.


    Have fun.:thumbup:
     
  15. Correct, Augustine did not know Hebrew and was poor in Greek. And correct again, not everyone is called to be a linguist, though pastors are....

    Bob-

    I cannot think in Hebrew, but I have memorized Greek passages. When you begin to do that, it helps to saturate your mind that way. You really have to spend time (lots of it) to think through something in a language. When you can do that you have mastered it (I think).
     
  16. exscentric

    exscentric Puritan Board Freshman

    Not unlike the old Catholic doctrine that the lay person can't really understand the Bible so we should take it from them :lol:

    I'm all for learning the languages, but beware how far you take the thought :bouncy:
     
  17. Fernando

    Fernando Puritan Board Freshman

    the original languages

    alwaysreforming,

    If I were your friend's teacher, I would challenge him to consider whether his humble pose was a mask for laziness. Calvin was not inerrant, and the best way to follow his example is to study the Bible in the original languages, as he did. This will make us better able to discern the good and bad in the scholarship of others.
     
  18. Bryan

    Bryan Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm glad I'm not called to be a pastor then Webmaster :tumble:

    Bryan
    SDG
     
  19. rembrandt

    rembrandt Puritan Board Sophomore

    [quote:8ea38887f0][i:8ea38887f0]originally posted by webmaster[/i:8ea38887f0]
    Best starter book for Greek is Machen's NT Greek for Beginners. I like to go through that every now an again to keep fresh. Also, for grammar instruction - Dana and Mantley's "A Manuel Grammar of the Greek NT" is most excellent.[/quote:8ea38887f0]

    Anybody know how "Basics of Biblical Greek" by William D. Mounce is in comparison to Machen's book?
     
  20. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator Staff Member

    I used Machen in college many years ago. Machen is solid and a wonderful tool, but has not kept up with the ways we go about learning languages. Machen is deductive, in that it is a lot of learning of charts and endings and memorization, then a bit later you try to do some translating.

    Mounce is based on some of the more recent findings in language learning techniques. It uses both deductive and inductive methods, in other words you begin right away to translate before you know completely the conjugation of a certain verb, etc.

    Obviously, in both there is a great deal of rote memory work. I am using Mounce at present to teach Greek to a young man with some brain damage received in a car crash. I like the fact that it comes with very helpful software and slideshows with Mounce actually lecturing. Vocabulary words can be viewed by chapter.

    I would never criticize Machen, it is the standard but it is a bit dated in my opinion.

    Bob

    [Edited on 2-24-2004 by maxdetail]
     
  21. daveb

    daveb Puritan Board Sophomore

    I find that it is dangerous to rely on the Greek explanations offered in commentaries, etc.

    Once you know Greek, and talk to those who do, you'd be surprised how many errors there are in commentaries and other works. I find one of the biggest uses of Greek is in being able to discern whether people are arguing from the Greek text accurately. If you don't know Greek you can end up believing all sorts of exegetical fallacies that others present.
     
  22. rembrandt

    rembrandt Puritan Board Sophomore

    Thanks maxdetail, your post was maxdetail! :tumble:
     
  23. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator Staff Member

    learning greek

    The pastor at the church I'm going to just began teaching lay people who have a desire to learn Greek. Many assume that the languages are just for pastors just as they assume that theologians are those who go to seminary.

    I am so excited to see lay people learning greek and I highly recommend it for two reasons:

    1. as has been pointed out already, it facilitates a better understanding of Scripture; and

    2. we get so familiar with the Word that we forget how to "wrestle" with it. The Word ought to be wrestled with as Jacob wrestled with the angel. Having to struggle with scripture a word at a time, with every ending, with every mark of breathing, brings us into a very healthy struggle with it. The Word will reveal new applications and the wrestling will leave us changed - sometimes limping, sometimes leaping and dancing in joy.
     
  24. rembrandt

    rembrandt Puritan Board Sophomore

    Is "classical Greek" as taught at secular universities the same as "Biblical Greek?" I understand that alot of "Biblical Greek" was made up (the pronunciations and what not) by Erasmus and his contemporaries. But is this supposed to be the same ancient remake of the language, or would this be referring to the "high class" popular Greek spoken by all the famous people?

    I would assume that it would be much different than Biblical Greek, as it would be aimed at interpreting the classics.

    thanks,
    Rembrandt
     
  25. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator Staff Member

    The greek learned in secular universities would be Classical Greek, also known as Ionic or Attic greek. This would be the language of the Illiad and the Odyssey. These are attributed to Homer an Ionian poet. The classical period lasted from about 750BC to 330BC.

    Alexander would have been schooled in Classical greek but as his conquests spread they picked up some of the area dialects and eventually morphed into Koine greek, the common "lingua franca". Koine was around from 330BC to the building of Byzantium in 330AD by Constantin. The Septuagint and the NT were written during this time. :wr50:
     
  26. D. Paul

    D. Paul Puritan Board Sophomore

    Learning Greek

    Is it the majority opinion then, that all who desire to accurately and intimately know scripture must then undertake the study of GreekHebrew? Or are we saying that for those who are intending to enter the ministry do themselves and their congregation a disservice by neglecting it? I see the benefits of the individual study regardless of calling but is it not acceptable for the "common man" to look to those who have made it their study and are capable and trustworthy? Personally, I could get extremely discouraged thinking I will always be the lesser for not having learned it while relying on sound exegetes to form my theology.

    So do I misunderstand the point or can I take heart and glean as much as possible from the masters with a sigh of relief?
     
  27. exscentric

    exscentric Puritan Board Freshman

    Let me give a note on the other side just for interest.

    To begin - if you have opportunity, take languages - it will save you time and you will use it lots.

    However, I sat in on a graduate level class way many years ago. The prof. assigned a passage and asked the class to determine the meaning.

    The next meeting of the class he allowed everyone to speak their mind, then began pitting one side against the other.

    The class discussed for three days and did not really come to a conclusion they could settle on - definitely two sides.

    I had not taken languages and was very interested in what was right. I went home and read the entire book as quickly as I could in the nasb to get the context fresh in my mind.

    It was obvious what the passage was about and it wasn't about either of the sides in the class.

    I went to the prof. and asked if I was right - he wouldn't say that day, but presented what I had found the next day in class.

    At the time, I figured if those fellows with all their years of Hebrew and Greek couldn't settle on the truth and I could with a good English Bible why bother taking languages :roll:
     
  28. cupotea

    cupotea Puritan Board Junior

    Studying the languages is always desireable. However, many pastors do not keep their skills honed and forget (quickly) much of what they learned in seminary.

    There are some notable exceptions in that some pastors have done remarkably well without knowing either Greek or Hebrew. John Bunyan was one.

    An anlalytical mind (i.e., the ability to think clearly) is necessary -- indispensible -- to good exegesis even if one has fluency (which no pastor that I know of has) in the original languages.

    We often have difficulty understanding plain English. That difficulty is amplified in understanding an non-native tongue.
     
  29. D. Paul

    D. Paul Puritan Board Sophomore

    But again, while I see the value for all if they are able, the thrust of the thread here seems to be directed toward pastors, which I am not. So for someone like me, is it a suffiecient study to absorb the great works that are available? Have I any authority of my own if relying on them? Do you see my point?
     
  30. Guest

    Guest Guest

    [quote:b42c89dec5]
    But again, while I see the value for all if they are able, the thrust of the thread here seems to be directed toward pastors, which I am not. So for someone like me, is it a suffiecient study to absorb the great works that are available? Have I any authority of my own if relying on them? Do you see my point?
    [/quote:b42c89dec5]

    A noble Berean needs biblical languages to check to see if the Pastors are rightly interpreting the Word.
     
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