Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Biblical Greek Adventures - Part 2

Why study biblical Greek? We discussed this a little bit last week, but I want to hit on it more fully here.

The great reformer Martin Luther in his "To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany, that They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools" put it this way:

    "To what is it owing that  religion is now so generally scandalized? To the fact alone, that we are ignorant of the languages — and there is no help for it but to learn them." 
    and he goes on to say
    "In the Christian Church all teaching must be judged. For this a knowledge of the language is needed above all else. The preacher(s) or teacher(s) can expound the Bible from beginning to end as [they] please, accurately or inaccurately, if there is no one there to judge whether [they are] doing it right or wrong. But in order to judge, one must have a knowledge of the languages; it cannot be done in any other way. Therefore, although faith and the gospel may indeed be proclaimed by simple preachers without a knowledge of the languages, such preaching is flat and tame; people finally become weary and bored with it, and it falls to the ground. But where the preacher is versed in the languages, there is a freshness and vigor in preaching, Scripture is treated in its entirety, and faith finds itself constantly renewed by a continual variety of words and illustrations."

If you are not already convinced, here are some reasons to study it:

1. You will have the skills necessary to determine for yourself what the Bible says regarding doctrine and theology. You will not need to rely on others "interpretations" for your understanding of a text. You will not have to rely on others to tell you if particular passages from the original languages can be used to support one particular thought or another. This is especially helpful for various ethical issue in our day that are not directly addressed in the text. This also means that you will be be duped into believing what some respected person thinks about a particular issue. You can check it out yourself. This perhaps is the most compelling reason to study the biblical languages. Since you are responsible for yourself, at least, you need to be able to make decisions about such important topics as these.

2. There are so many good English translations. This sounds like a funny reason to study Greek. Since normally this would be given as a reason to NOT study Greek. However, how will you decide which reading is more preferable from the original text if you don't know what the original text is saying? If you want to speak intelligently about the biblical text you need to have some level of understanding about the language it was originally written in. In the case of your worship and preaching service, how can you help those around you determine which English translation should be chosen. If you are a pastor or church leader your congregation will expect you to have knowledge of the languages the bible was written in. That way you can help them through your exegesis.
(As a side note, I have come to realize more and more these days that the majority of congregants in most churches truly do expect this of their leaders. Most people who sit in the pews week after week rely on what the pastor says as being COMPLETELY accurate. They do not check things for themselves at home. They do not look up related subjects. For all intents and purposes they say to themselves, "He has a Master's degree (or more) and has studied this passage all week. What he is telling us must be the truth. There is no need for me to question anything he says. I pay him to study it so I don't have to." This has been a major source of frustration having observed it personally.)
Many times English translations can over or under interpret the original text. Think of the whole formal vs. dynamic equivalence debate. Greek gramar can be hard to convey in English and particular nuances of the language can easily be missed. Knowing the Greek can take a lot of the guess work out of the differences that arrise between the English translations. A thorough knowledge of the original language will allow you to spend more time mining the text instead of importing into the text (exegesis vs. eisegesis).

3. You open up access to a number of other tools that would not be useful otherwise. A number of fine commentaries and dictionaries use words from the Greek language. You can use a Greek concordance to find occurrences of particular words. These tools will now be beneficial to you! Plus, there are much better tools available at the current time than in the past. 

4. You will gain a much deeper intimate relationship with the biblical text than you had before! What more needs to be said about this point? If you are a Christ follower then knowing what he has said to you through the Bible will be one of the most important things in your life. 

5. You will be actively involved in carrying out the commands given in Scripture (e.g. Romans 12:2 and in Matthew 22:37). Learning Greek will help to renew your mind and allow you to meditate on the text more faithfully. Think of learning Greek to love God more fully by using your mind! 

With all these benefits you probably want to hit the grammar books right away. Let me share with you part of my journey with the Greek language. You will find some good links here and hopefully some helpful tips. I plan to include a section of links to different web resources on the links page in the future.

I have possessed The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible for quite some time and used it to find the occasional Greek word from time to time before being introduced to any formal Greek education. I also had a copy of Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon as well as Vine'sWhile these resources have been quite useful at finding an English word and its Greek counterpart and meaning they do not offer anything in the way of Grammar and actually learning the Greek language. I eventually came to possess an interlinear. How amazing it was to see the Greek on one side and the English on the other. Gave me such a sense of awe and of curiosity. At this time I was only in High School and was occupied with other studies and didn't give much thought to actually learning Greek. Plus I didn't see much point to it frankly. What a perspective I had back then. I have sense come to an appreciation of all areas of knowledge. Still glad High School is over though! 

Once in college I took my first Greek class which was very introductory. We focused on a number of basics and interesting translational tidbits. I thought this was typical of what most pastors actually knew which is understandable given the representation most all pastors I have sat under gave Greek. I didn't do much individual investigation of Greek at this point. Just passed my class and went on. 

When I was finally able to take a formal Greek class I discovered so much more about Greek and original languages. We used the standard grammar. Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek a staple in most Greek classes. I have since learned that Dr. Mounce offers some of his classes online through and his own website with the former being free. These are mostly audio classes; you can purchase the videos if you desire. Around this same time I discovered the Ezra Project.  I wasn't sure how reputable this organization was but I ordered their Greek Behind the Prof's Back. Hoping what it said about the product was true. Indeed, I found this self led Greek to be quite helpful. Great for beginners! It takes a lot of what you learn in a formal setting and cuts the depth out of it. What I mean is, it allows you to acquire the skills needed at the beginning and slowly build on top of those skills eventually getting deeper. It removes the information overload that is so common among most grammars. This way you are usually given basic information right away allowing you to slowly immerse yourself in the language. I found it very natural in its approach. I would highly recommend this text. You can literally teach yourself Greek with this resource. 

It eventually became necessary to obtain an actual Greek New Testament (NT). I purchased the United Bible Society (UBS) 4th readers edition. I assumed this resource would help me read the Greek NT. It does, but only once you have much more familiarity with the grammar than what I possessed at the time. Thinking back it would have been better to obtain the straight UBS 4th ed.  or probably better still to get a Nestle Aland (NA) 27th ed. This is because the readers edition does not possess the critical apparatus! I would say it is necessary to have a good copy of the Greek NT that contains the critical apparatus first. Then other Greek NT resources after that. The critical apparatus give much information as to the textual variants and which manuscripts contain different readings. That is highly valuable information. So I obtained a Greek NT.

Surely there must be some good places to get the Greek text online for free. Indeed there are:

The new NET bible study environment has access to the Greek text as well as a number of great tools to allow you to do word searches and what not. Not only is the NET bible an amazing resource especially because of how it interacts with the original manuscripts, their online stuff is just as amazing now. The new study environment is a great step forward and is a tremendous resource.

Of course there is also E-Sword. This little FREE program also has much available to help with Greek studies.

The Greek Bible website is ok. It gives you access to the Greek NT and an interesting transliteration. This is not the best tool out there.

A great resource is the Greatest Treasures website. You do have to register, but it is free. There is almost nothing you could want that is not here. The different panes - beginner, intermediate, advanced - allow you to have access to so so many different helpful things. I think this is probably the best website for NT Greek if you have to do some translation and need to know definitions/function of words in sentences and the like. Plus they color code the Greek so you know if a word is a noun, verb, or conjunction!

The NT Gateway also has a page dedicated to the Greek NT text itself. You can find their links here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Studying the New Testament Koine Greek Biblical Language

I love the Bible. God's communication to mankind. Instructions on how to live, how to act, how to be saved, how to interact, how to know God, how to know righteousness, how to run a church etc. etc. so much is contained in the Bible it literally baffles my mind. The Bible says the scriptures are inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). The Greek word in that verse is theopneustos which literally means God breathed.

John 1:1-18
This brings up an interesting point. Knowing something about Greek can really help to bring light to specific passages. Studying the biblical languages can benefit all Christians. When I first took Greek a few years back I felt like I was breaking into a secret vault of information. I wondered why my church didn't really teach my any Greek. Especially if the New Testament was originally written in Greek. Now don't get me wrong, it is not necessary to know Greek in order to understand God's message. There is much benefit to be gained thereby however. We take for granted that have the Bible in English! We don't think about this much, but that was a huge accomplishment. Take some time to read about the first English translations and you will see that men literally gave their lives to allow us to read God's words in our own language. Along the line someone needed to know Greek before they could translate it into another language.

Today we have a number of manuscripts (see some images here!) that were not known to exist when the Bible was first being translated from the Greek. (You can actually see the entire Codex Sinaiticus online which was originally written sometime between 325 and 350 AD) We know the variants that exist in the different manuscripts and we have much more advanced text critical theories which allow us to assess and evaluate each manuscript. We can determine which is a more likely the reading of the autographs (that is, the originals as written by the biblical authors). All of this is only possible with a good understanding of Greek.

Recently I have been really interested in textual criticism in general. I have been reading nearly everything I can get my hands on. Which happens to be quite a lot since I have access to a full academic research library!! (I don't know what I will do when I don't have this easy of access to a research library of this calibre!) I find textual criticism so interesting that I have been considering lately actually pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament textual criticism (just what I need so soon after finishing my M.A.). I don't know if I will end up taking it that far; it is mostly wishful thinking at this point. Imagine pursuing two Ph.D.s at one time . . . yeah, I don't think so either. I am interested in any suggestions you all might have as to where a good place to pursue a distinctly evangelical degree in textual criticism might be. I am sure I would need to polish up my Greek skills quite a bit for that. I think my interest in textual criticism may also be the source of my interest in English translations and study bibles. My recent pursuits in textual criticism has sparked renewed interest in the Greek language though. This is what I want to focus on in this post.  

When one sets out to learn Greek a number of resources are at your fingertips. I spent a lot of time trying to find helpful resources online to learn the language and thought I would share some of my finds with you. The more resources you can get access to the more success you will have in your learning. While there are a number of helpful grammars out there a multitude of different perspectives and approaches will definitely benefit you. There is something to be said about too much too soon of course. I have received a great deal of help from many different resources but only found most of them after my first semester of Greek. You don't want to overwhelm yourself at the beginning. Focus on the basic aspects of the language which can probably be learned very well from a couple of grammars at first. There isn't much difference between how grammars usually approach Greek at the very beginning anyway.

So I set out to obtain as many resources and watch/listen to as many lectures as I could. I had to buy a few but eventually found some good ones online for free. In the next few posts I will walk you through how it went for me an hopefully offer some pointers along the way (as well as links to some good free resources). I will add links back to this page as they are written so you can access the whole series.

Biblical Greek Adventures - Part 1