I need encouragement with Greek

What I need encouragement for is how useful learning beginning Greek will be.

I’ve gotten to like learning it somehow and I’ve even gotten interested in how the language works, which is highly unusual for me. I hated learning Spanish. I’m not a nerd like many of you. I do have a feeling that God is leading me along this path and that it will be ‘profitable’ but I still have doubts.

But when I read posts like this I think about how paltry my learning will be and how much I’ll be able to read, understand and benefit from after going through Black’s beginning book (which I’m a little more than half-way through) plus a very basic linguistics book (probably also by Black) and maybe just a little of something else. I really don’t want to spend much more time than that on the language. There is so much other stuff I want to read and learn.

I’m normally somebody who goes all out with whatever I do. I can’t just do something as a light ‘hobby’ or it isn’t as much fun. I know I’m free to learn as much as I want. But like I said, I just don’t want to spend that much time on it.

Any words of encouragement for me and anyone else in the same situation?

14 Responses to “I need encouragement with Greek”

  1. 1 Daniel O. McClellan

    I never intended to be a pastor, but I had some of the same questions when I began Greek. I knew my emphasis would always be on Hebrew, and that my Greek would never be as good as my Hebrew. I decided it was a skill I wanted, and I’m glad I stuck with it. I read the article to which you linked and some things jumped out at me. First, comparing modern translations will never get you as close to the original sense as knowing the Greek will (even if you just know how to parse and use a lexicon). Second, Greek skills with pastors are, in my limited experience, impeded because of what they do with them rather than their quality. Those who get the Greek so they can validate preconceptions about what the text says, or just to sound cool to their congregation, will never learn more than they knew when they finished their course. Those who want to let the text speak for itself and want to learn from the best will rise above the level of their education. It’s a long road and it’s not the easier one, but it can be very rewarding.

  2. 2 Mark Stevens

    Jeff, for what is worth I too read the post on BB and as a minister I agree and disagree. I wouldn’t expect a Minister to be on a translation committee but an ability to translate a text as a minister is imperative. Not for knowledge sake but it aids in the formation of the minister and helps me to ‘hear’ the text. It slows me down enough to spend time with the words of each verse!

    I rarely share the Greek with the congregation but they have told me they like the fact I have studied Greek and Hebrew and use it in sermon prep.

  3. 3 Scripture Zealot

    Thanks for the comments. But I’m still wondering what I’ll be able to do with it and how much it will benefit me as far as reading Greek.

    I’m definitely not doing it to show off or anything. In fact I haven’t told any offline people I’m learning it except my wife, a friend and my mom found out. I haven’t told people in our small group although a couple may have seen it here in the blog. If I learn something about a Greek word that would benefit the group, I’d probably do it like a pastor would as Mark mentioned and talk about it without talking about it but I’m not a group leader. As far as what Daniel said, I probably wouldn’t be proficient enough to validate any preconceptions anyway not that I would use it for that.

  4. 4 Rich Rhodes

    At some level I knew I risked scaring some people. But the argument is still valid to the committees who oversee translation.

    We shouldn’t be putting our pastors on the hot seat.

    If we did the right kind of job translating, the average pastor and the average Joe in the pew wouldn’t worry anymore about studying English Scripture than a professional philosopher worries about having only read Aristotle or Descartes or Kant in English translation.

    I disagree with Daniel above. We (as a Church) can know a whole lot more about the what the Greek text means than we do. We’re in a time like the time when textual criticism was developed and our understanding of how the original documents read took a huge leap forward. We know how to find out what the Greek text means both referentially and in terms of framing and speech level. (My colleagues in Classics do it all the time with Ancient Greek.) There’s no reason we can’t do it with Koine. The corpus is large, including a lot of Roman era papyri from the same general area.

    We’ve been sold a bill of goods about not really being able to know what Scripture means. Think about it. Would a loving God who wants to reveal Himself to men through His Word make it so we can’t really be sure of what His Word means? The problem is more that we are scared to trust the new tools.

    We simply assume we can’t know about what Scripture means because we’re so used to controversy about it. We mistakenly think Scripture is hard to understand, rather than blaming bad translation which is really at fault.

    I’ll repeat my old saw: Scripture isn’t hard to understand, it’s hard to accept.

    Are there things that we don’t understand in Scripture? Sure. Almost all of them are prophecies, and most of those are easy to translate. The prophet reports seeing something of such and so description, and you translate “I saw something of such and so description.”

    We make Paul a lot harder to understand than he is, because we act like he was using technical terms. He wasn’t. He was groping for the right metaphors based on things familiar in his world. A lot of that is perfectly recognizable and interpretable in our terms.

    And Jesus — he talked in the most down to earth terms. He gave the theologians of his day fits. Again the things he said that are hard to interpret aren’t hard to translate.

    I’ve talked about the difference between first order, second order, and third order meanings. Almost all translation is in first order meaning — getting the referent and framing right. Occasionally you have to deal with some second order meaning, i.e., immediate implication, like whether the second order connection between chairs and authority in Biblical times needs to be spelled out as first order for a modern audience. Most of the problems of understanding are in third order meanings. That stuff just doesn’t play a role in translation.

    We think the problems are in the technical terms and miss that many of the problems are in the framing.

    We have the tools to fix that.

  5. 5 Scripture Zealot

    Rich, I should have said I didn’t mind your post and it didn’t really scare me as much as it raises the bar and lowers what my beginner level will be. I’d love to be able to get to the point where I can understand what you’re saying from the standpoint of Greek but with my limited energy level and time I want to spend it on a lot of other things too.

    I wanted to ask you regarding translations–is there hope? I think about the KJV and how astounding of a translation is was for its time. I have no hope whatsoever of a committee coming up with anything like that ever again much less the things you’re talking about. Maybe I should ask that there.

    Thank you for coming over and posting.

  6. 6 Daniel Doleys

    Some other NT or Greek guys might disagree with me on this, but if you are just planning on getting enough Greek to parse and know some vocab then the only advantage will be to better understand what the commentaries are saying. However, there is great benefit in learning the Greek language if you want to full out. Even if there was such a thing as a “perfect” translation, it would still not be “perfect” because of the lack of linguistic equality. So i guess I’m saying if you are going to do, do it all the way, if not then, it will only have limited benefits.

  7. 7 Gary Simmons

    Jeff, I’d agree with Daniel that what you’re aiming for will mostly just allow you to understand more technical commentaries. But, you know what? You could also aim to become familiar with just one or two books in Greek.

    If you learn to beginner level, go through first John. After Philippians, I’ll turn my audio attention there and I’d be more than happy to send that to you.

    I don’t think the level you’re going for will allow you more drastically understand the entire NT, but you can narrow your focus to a specific area of text.

  8. 8 Scripture Zealot

    Daniel and Gary, I am in fact starting to understand what they’re saying in the commentaries and when I’m through with this first book even more.

    I wonder if something like Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader by Jerry L. Sumney would be good at that point.

    I have the Greek/Latin audio recordings of 1 John on my computer and I slowed them down to two different levels using Audacity. But I learned pronunciation first thing with Esteban and I have that down better than any other aspect of Greek.

    I guess I’ll just have to see what happens when I get to that point. I’m not going to quit now that’s for sure.

  9. 9 Daniel O. McClellan


    I agree that the potential for great leaps in understanding is there, but I think many people learning Greek for ecclesiastical purposes aren’t making the jump to that level for precisely the reason you name: it’s hard to accept. If they are willing to let the text speak for itself rather than dictate what the text should say then things open up. Unfortunately, and again, in my limited experience, it seems that demographic is in the minority. I could be totally mistaken, though. That’s just my perspective.

  10. 10 Bjarthur the Baptist

    Knowing Greek is a big “plus” when reading advanced commentaries.

    And you are a nerd….just like the rest of us.

  11. 11 Scripture Zealot

    I guess wanting to learn Greek gives it away.

  12. 12 Gary Simmons

    Yay, Jeff! Keep it up!!!

  13. 13 Mitchell Powell

    Hey–hang in there.

    Learning the Scriptures is a journey and every little step counts. As someone who only knows a little bit of Greek and Hebrew, I can tell you that what little I do know has made a great difference in my ability not only to understand the Bible, but also in my ability to spot people who are just using the Hebrew and Greek to pretend they know more than they do. Like, for example, anyone who tells you that the book of Genesis begins with the Hebrew word “Baroshaut” …

  14. 14 Scripture Zealot

    Thanks Mitchell. I never thought of discernment as part of it.

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