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Why Greek?

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Why Greek?

Postby PastorJeff » Wed Jun 09, 2004 8:00 pm

I hope this is in the right forum...if not please feel free to move it to where it belongs (other than the trash can :) )

Why study Greek? For me, that is...

I am going to be starting my MDiv in about a year and the Sr. Pastor wants me (very strongly wants me) to take the MDiv route rather than Biblical Studies as he wants me to have both Greek and Hebrew, with his main concern being Greek.

So why would this be so important? I understand that if you know the original language...you will better know the text as it was written, which will help with the exegesis (pulling truth from the text) of the text.

But if I am correct, the Greek that we study for NT is NOT a spoken language. And from what I have seen, there are all kinds of people that try and translate Greek to English that get it all messed up.

Take John 1:1 - this has created quite a problem with different people ("and the Word was God" compared to "and the Word was a God" compared to "and the Word was with God") Some beliefs hinge on this very verse and it's translation. :(

So what is the benefit of a 35 year old Youth Pastor learning Greek? Is it necissary? It is not a "you have to do this" but it is a "I really feel that you need Greek" kind of thing. Why study it when I can just look it up?

I really am interested in your opinions. It does not matter if you consider yourself a "religious" person or not. Either way, I welcome your input.

{{On a personal note...I love to study this type of thing, so I would not mind studying this. But for MDiv. (Masters of Divinity) it would end up being two years of this which would take up alot of time. Studying for fun, compared to studying for grades is two different things}}

Sorry this is so long...

Jeffrey
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Postby Emma_85 » Wed Jun 09, 2004 8:33 pm

Hi!
Well first thing, I’m not a religious person, just thought you might want to know.
I really think you should take the chance and learn ancient Greek and Hebrew, I think it will help you a lot, but it does depend what your beliefs are too. If you do think that your faith hangs on the meaning of a few words, then certainly, it’s essential that you learn these languages. If you believe in the Bible then you should try everything to find out for yourself what you believe is correct and what isn’t. I’d still read what other people have to say on the subject though and then when you have the knowledge you can decide what you think is right and what isn’t. It’s a bit hard to say someone’s incorrectly translated a passage, when you don’t know how to translate it yourself.
The other really big plus is that you’ll not only be reading the Bible, you’ll be analyzing each sentence. It’ll take you longer to translate than to read a passage, but at the same time you’ll be able to think about its meaning and you’ll spend more thoughts on a passage you translate than on one you ‘just’ read.
When you’re at it I wouldn’t just limit myself to NT Greek though. The real treat I’d think is to find out where all these ideas come from, which other religions and cultures had similar ideas, where did all these ideas in the Bible come from and why were they so successful in Rome of all places? If you learn classical Greek too you’ll be able to read many more texts, with Hebrew even more relevant ones of course. Latin isn’t a bad idea if you’re interested in the history of the church, but otherwise classical Greek is pretty important too. Many of the ancient philosophers paved the way for Christianity, with out their thoughts it probably would never have take root in Rome. Had they not questioned and made fun of their own religion then there wouldn’t have been a belief vacuum in Rome, and much more resistance to a new religion, people wouldn’t have accepted it that easily.
So basically I think you should learn to read the texts in the original, and it sounds like the degree you’ll be doing is a great opportunity. Here in Germany classical ancient Greek (the Graecum is what they call the qualification) is required for any theological study, but if they haven’t learned Greek at school, then they just go on a ‘quick’ half year intensive course to get what it normally takes 4 or 5 years to get at school. So of course they end up being able to translate a bit of Plato for their Graecum exam, but they hardly know enough to really use it well, and from what I’ve heard they don’t actually use it much in their studies. The ones that do end up translating passages of the Bible in Greek do so in their own time and for pleasure, nothing really to do with their theology studies, which I think is a great shame.
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Postby PastorJeff » Wed Jun 09, 2004 8:55 pm

Emma...thanks so much for your response. You have really answered the question well and given me much to think about!

Emma_85 wrote:Hi!
Well first thing, I’m not a religious person, just thought you might want to know.

That is good! Cause neither am I. I am very strong in what I beleive, but "religious" people really irritate me and make my job very difficult!

I really think you should take the chance and learn ancient Greek and Hebrew, I think it will help you a lot, but it does depend what your beliefs are too. If you do think that your faith hangs on the meaning of a few words, then certainly, it’s essential that you learn these languages. If you believe in the Bible then you should try everything to find out for yourself what you believe is correct and what isn’t.

I like your statement here...there is alot of truth in that. But let me ask you a question to your comment. While I understand your point, I wonder this...if we take the scripture to be the inerrant Word of God, then we need to put much empahsis on what is in the Bible rather than just blowing it off as a book of myths. When studying greek, is it a set of defined rules to follow to get the proper translation? Or is it such that every time someone translates a verse that it can be open to discussion as to the real meaning of the text? (I honestly hope that makes sense...)

I’d still read what other people have to say on the subject though and then when you have the knowledge you can decide what you think is right and what isn’t. It’s a bit hard to say someone’s incorrectly translated a passage, when you don’t know how to translate it yourself.
The other really big plus is that you’ll not only be reading the Bible, you’ll be analyzing each sentence. It’ll take you longer to translate than to read a passage, but at the same time you’ll be able to think about its meaning and you’ll spend more thoughts on a passage you translate than on one you ‘just’ read.

Another good comment...the end result of study would seem to have more meaning in the end. Had not thought of that!

When you’re at it I wouldn’t just limit myself to NT Greek though. The real treat I’d think is to find out where all these ideas come from, which other religions and cultures had similar ideas, where did all these ideas in the Bible come from and why were they so successful in Rome of all places? If you learn classical Greek too you’ll be able to read many more texts, with Hebrew even more relevant ones of course. Latin isn’t a bad idea if you’re interested in the history of the church, but otherwise classical Greek is pretty important too. Many of the ancient philosophers paved the way for Christianity, with out their thoughts it probably would never have take root in Rome. Had they not questioned and made fun of their own religion then there wouldn’t have been a belief vacuum in Rome, and much more resistance to a new religion, people wouldn’t have accepted it that easily.
So basically I think you should learn to read the texts in the original, and it sounds like the degree you’ll be doing is a great opportunity. Here in Germany classical ancient Greek (the Graecum is what they call the qualification) is required for any theological study, but if they haven’t learned Greek at school, then they just go on a ‘quick’ half year intensive course to get what it normally takes 4 or 5 years to get at school. So of course they end up being able to translate a bit of Plato for their Graecum exam, but they hardly know enough to really use it well, and from what I’ve heard they don’t actually use it much in their studies. The ones that do end up translating passages of the Bible in Greek do so in their own time and for pleasure, nothing really to do with their theology studies, which I think is a great shame.


Forgive my ignorance, but how many types of Greek are there? You have made reference to quite a few different forms...written, classical ancient, I have also seen Koinaic (is that right)?

Thanks so much for your comments! Very nice!

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Postby Emma_85 » Wed Jun 09, 2004 9:22 pm

PastorJeff wrote:I like your statement here...there is alot of truth in that. But let me ask you a question to your comment. While I understand your point, I wonder this...if we take the scripture to be the inerrant Word of God, then we need to put much empahsis on what is in the Bible rather than just blowing it off as a book of myths. When studying greek, is it a set of defined rules to follow to get the proper translation? Or is it such that every time someone translates a verse that it can be open to discussion as to the real meaning of the text? (I honestly hope that makes sense...)


Well, some verses are pretty simple to translate and there you can only end up with one correct translation, but often you have the problem that to really translate Greek well, you must be a master of English. If you’re just translating it for yourself that’s not necessary of course, but if you are translating it for others it really is. Just as words in English sometimes have a few meanings like for example wood, which can mean a forest or a uh ... bit of wood, you get words like that in Greek too, but also ones where the meanings are totally different e.g. change, which means a) some coins, b) turn or revolution and such. So Greek has that too, but what’s more interesting is when you have words like in English sob or cry. It’s a difference whether someone is crying (they could be angry or sad, who knows?) or they are sobbing (they are heart broken). Words have many meaning attached to them, and often in different languages it’ll be hard to properly translate a text one to one. German doesn’t have a word for ‘mind’, only words with similar meanings, but none that expresses the concept of mind as the English word does. It’ll take some time to work out those subtleties, and it’s often impossible, we just won’t be able to read a text like a native speaker would have, but you still learn much about how some important words were used and what mental pictures were attached to them. So in some cases it is just a question of what you think fits better in the whole context of the text, other sentences were meant to be ambiguous, which you can’t translate of course. Then again there are just those passages which are ambiguous in any language because of the ideas and not because of the language in them. Those are ones you’ll be having the real discussions on I suppose.

Forgive my ignorance, but how many types of Greek are there? You have made reference to quite a few different forms...written, classical ancient, I have also seen Koinaic (is that right)?


Well there is Koine Greek, which is NT Greek, then there’s Classical (Plato for example), Homeric/Epic Greek (uhh... yes, Homer) and there are many other dialects, but you won’t be needing those really. If you’ve learned Classical Greek you shouldn’t have too many problems learning Koine afterwards, it’s a bit harder the other way round, as Koine is simpler.
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Postby annis » Wed Jun 09, 2004 9:44 pm

Hello, Jeff, and welcome! Glad to see you're finding Textkit useful so quickly.

Emma has covered a lot of this, but I thought I'd elaborate on this just a bit:

PastorJeff wrote:While I understand your point, I wonder this...if we take the scripture to be the inerrant Word of God, then we need to put much empahsis on what is in the Bible rather than just blowing it off as a book of myths. When studying greek, is it a set of defined rules to follow to get the proper translation?


Not really. Languages aren't codes, and generally the match between some language A and some other language B is imperfect. Characteristic modes of expression may be quite different, and sometimes the literal translation of an idiom results in gibberish, or something silly. For example, Greek has several ways of expressing the past tense (English does, too, but we split things up differently).

Or is it such that every time someone translates a verse that it can be open to discussion as to the real meaning of the text?


I'd say the answer to this is "yes", but in detail not in the large. I am not free, for example, to translate [face=spionic]gunh/[/face] (woman) as "squirrel" nor am I really allowed to translate [face=spionic]e)/labej[/face] in the future tense. The discussion will be in subtleties, of word meaning, of grammar, sometimes of transmission of the text, and so on.
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Re: Why Greek?

Postby Democritus » Wed Jun 09, 2004 9:48 pm

PastorJeff wrote:So what is the benefit of a 35 year old Youth Pastor learning Greek? Is it necissary? It is not a "you have to do this" but it is a "I really feel that you need Greek" kind of thing. Why study it when I can just look it up?

I really am interested in your opinions. It does not matter if you consider yourself a "religious" person or not. Either way, I welcome your input.


I spent years learning Greek, so I feel qualified to weigh in on this topic.

The short answer to your question is "no." It is not necessary. Your instinct is correct: Often a person is in much better hands when they rely on the work of dedicated translators than when they rely on their own translation skills. It's a tradeoff: much is lost in translation, but much is gained in the sheer quantity of material that can be read in translation. And some of the things lost in translation weren't that important to begin with.

The question is not (A) "Is it good to know Greek," but rather, (B) "Can I afford to spend time learning Greek, or is my time better spent doing something else?" Question A is a no-brainer, the answer is yes. Question B is a lot less clear. Each person will have a different answer. For you, the answer might be no. It matters a great deal what your own inclinations are. All knowledge is valuable, but you can't study everything.

On the other hand, your Sr. Pastor has an opinion on this, and I would consider his advice carefully. Teachers, counselors etc. steer us in directions we wouldn't be inclined to take on our own. Sometimes they may have insights that are hard to convey and don't sound convincing, but turn out to be the right advice at the right time. So, allow him to inform you, even if you don't agree with him.

Perhaps in your denomination no one will take you seriously unless you know some Greek. You have to earn your wings, so to speak. You and I can sit and decide that that's silly, but other people's opinions do matter. Sometimes you have to prove yourself in ways that you don't care about, but other people do. Years of unpleasant study may pay off in unexpected ways.

There are a lot of pros and cons here, and I'm sure other folks on this board can do an excellent job of pointing out all the pros of learning Greek. Here is a well-written essay on just this topic: http://www.helleniccomserve.com/sherrlecture.html.

For myself, I just really liked Greek, and I still do. Perhaps you will like it, too, to your surprise. Perhaps you have a real talent for this, and you don't know it yet. You might as well give it a try.

Knowing Greek gives you a certain advantage: Even if you are not creating new bible translations, you still may end up with a reliable bulls*** detector, which will come in handy when people try to use Greek to justify religious interpretations that you don't agree with. You won't be one of the ones whose eyes glaze over when someone starts tossing off Greek words from the New Testament.

But then again, it's unlikely there will ever be an end to senseless bickering over scriptures. Having a working b.s. detector won't guarantee you'll win arguments, but it will make you detect more b.s., which perhaps is not a good thing. Maybe ignorance is bliss. ;) You take your pick!!

Ask yourself this: If you don't learn Greek, what will you do with your time, and your mental energy? Do you have some alternative plan?

I'm learning Greek right now, on my own. But that doesn't mean that you have to. :)
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Postby PastorJeff » Wed Jun 09, 2004 10:37 pm

annis wrote: Hello, Jeff, and welcome! Glad to see you're finding Textkit useful so quickly.

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction! I had been battling the whole Greek/Hebrew issue for a few months now. Imagine my suprise when you stated that you enjoy learning Greek and knew of this website! It is wonderful here. I am not used to a website that has initelligent conversation that does not center around insulting my mother :wink:

Everyone has been so welcoming. Interesting that I am not sensing any of the "Hey you are a newbie...therefore and idiot". While it may be true, nobody has said so. :)

annis wrote:I'd say the answer to this is "yes", but in detail not in the large. I am not free, for example, to translate [face=spionic]gunh/[/face] (woman) as "squirrel" nor am I really allowed to translate [face=spionic]e)/labej[/face] in the future tense. The discussion will be in subtleties, of word meaning, of grammar, sometimes of transmission of the text, and so on.

I understand what you are saying...thanks for the explanation!

Democritus - Very good words! I am more excited about diving into Greek now that I have found this place and can start to study myself for a year before heading into my MDiv. Again, good stuff!

Thanks everyone!

Jeffrey
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Postby Bert » Thu Jun 10, 2004 12:28 am

Hi Jeffrey.
That was an interesting discussion with much good advice.
I would like to add my two cents worth.
I don't know what your duties are as a youth pastor.
If it involves leading Bible discussion groups, than you will have a lot of opportunity to keep up and sharpen what ever Greek you learned.
I don't think learning Greek is going to do you much good if you are not planning to continue your studies after your formal study is over.

Just one more point about your question if translation follows a set of defined rules.
You have received answers to this question already but I would like to tell you something from my experience.
I am a raw beginner at Greek. I enjoy it a lot but I am not able to make a whole lot of use of it yet.
When I do some Greek to English translation exercises, I quite often think that I have made a fairly accurate translation.
One time some one asked me to translate an article from Dutch (my first language) into English (my language since 1980).
I seemed to be harder than translating Greek to English.
My conclusion is that my Greek to English is probably not nearly as accurate as I imagined.
I just don't know Greek well enough to sense any subtle nuances.
When I translated from Dutch I was forever changing things because it never felt quite right.
The moral? Unless you plan to keep up your Greek after your schooling, you probably will become like I am now; Some one who does not quite know enough Greek to use it (but you will probably have enjoyed the 'ride' just the same.)
Best wishes.
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Postby klewlis » Thu Jun 10, 2004 2:09 pm

Everyone here has given great advice and ideas.

My two cents:

Learning Greek will completely transform the way you read the Bible. It may not change much for you theologically, but it will change your perception of the Bible, the authors, the words and phrases used, structures, logic, etc. It will deepen your understanding and make exegesis more fruitful.

However, I only recommend it IF you have the time and motivation to do more than one year--that is, to get beyond the basic grammar and into syntax, word studies, exegesis, a bit of textual criticism, etc. They say that "a little Greek is a dangerous thing" and it's very true. Many people take one or two semesters of Greek and then start throwing words around, "well the GREEK says..." without really knowing what they're talking about. It's really important to learn good scholarship in relation to greek, not just how to look up words in the lexicon and read simple sentences. :)
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Postby PeterD » Thu Jun 10, 2004 2:48 pm

Hi Pastor,

Why Greek?

Only for the following reason...

It will make you smart (in your case smarter).

Textkit's current online library has many excellent Greek grammars to choose from. Start from there -- it's that simple.

[face=SPIonic]a)rxh\ h(/misu panto/j[/face]
(a good beginning is half of the whole.)

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Fanatical ranting is not just fine because it's eloquent. What if I ranted for the extermination of a people in an eloquent manner, would that make it fine? Rather, ranting, be it fanatical or otherwise, is fine if what is said is true and just. ---PeterD, in reply to IreneY and Annis
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Postby PastorJeff » Thu Jun 10, 2004 6:25 pm

klewlis wrote:...get beyond the basic grammar and into syntax, word studies, exegesis, a bit of textual criticism, etc. They say that "a little Greek is a dangerous thing" and it's very true. Many people take one or two semesters of Greek and then start throwing words around, "well the GREEK says..." without really knowing what they're talking about.

This is good to know! People that start spouting Greek that don't have the knowledge really can be very damaging! I have seen it first hand.

I know that I will have to take two years of Greek for my MDiv, and that does not include the Greek that I will have to take in order to be eligible to get into those classes. I have to complete an intro to Greek prior to starting my MDiv.

So total it will end up being three years...so it should be interesting!

Thanks for the help!

Jeffrey
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Postby Bert » Fri Jun 11, 2004 1:32 am

PastorJeff wrote: I am very strong in what I beleive, but "religious" people really irritate me and make my job very difficult.


I think we probably are dealing with different definitions of the word religious.
If not, I'll do my best not to irritate you.
(We probably will get along just fine.)
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Postby PastorJeff » Fri Jun 11, 2004 1:55 am

I think we probably are dealing with different definitions of the word religious.
If not, I'll do my best not to irritate you.
(We probably will get along just fine.)

That is o.k. with me...but remember...I am a youth pastor so I can hang with the attitudes of hormone charged, snotty, eye rolling teenagers. :wink:

It takes alot to irritate me. I strongly believe what I believe, but you will never catch me shoving it down someones throat. I try to live by example, not by words.

I think we are going to have fun!

Jeffrey

P.S.

I am a Pastor for an Evangelical Free Church. If you are wondering what we believe...it is like Baptist, but we are not as stiff-lined regarding baptism.
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Postby Bert » Fri Jun 11, 2004 11:30 pm

PastorJeff wrote: It takes alot to irritate me. I strongly believe what I believe, but you will never catch me shoving it down someones throat. I try to live by example, not by words.


I'm with ye.
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