Reading Greek and Hebrew as Greek and Hebrew

It is so refreshing to read the following from John Walton:

“When people want to study the Bible seriously, one of the steps they take is to learn the language. As I teach language students, I am still always faced with the challenge of persuading them that they will not succeed simply by learning enough of the language to engage in translation. Truly learning the language requires leaving English behind, entering the world of the text and understanding the language in its Hebrew context without creating English words in their minds. They must understand the Hebrew as Hebrew text” (Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 9).

One of my contentions in modern study of the ancient languages is that this desire to teach and learn the languages for the purpose of only being able to translate has led to some major problems in the understanding of the biblical text amongst scholars and preachers. Being able to translate a text is not the same as being able to understand the text. And the best translators will be the ones who really understand the languages.

Will You Teach Your Kids the Languages?

We all have hopes and dreams for our children, do we not? Even if we are yet to be parents we sometimes think about what we would desire for our children.

I find myself right now searching online for classical/Hellenistic Greek and classical Hebrew resources for kids. I have a 2 year old and back before he could speak a word of English I thought it would be fun if his first word was Greek. Since some of his first sounds were “k,” “a,” and something resembling “oo” I tried, foolishly, to get him to say “ἀκούω,”  (akouo) the Hellenistic Greek for “I am listening.” But he didn’t get it. Why didn’t I try something easier like, “μεθερμηνευόμενον” (methermeneuomenon)? Oh wait, something easier like, “καί” (kai)? 3 syllables was too many! Well, hindsight is 20/20. I decided to let it be after that but only to be picked up at a later date.

When I think about the desires I have for my son, they are plenty. Primary among them is for him to desire to and, in fact, love Jesus. If only this happened I would be a happy man. Following from this I have many desires with respect to his character and education. Not only do I believe having desires for our children is good, I think it is inevitable that we will have them. Some may care more than others, but we have desires and we do have a responsibility with our children. We decide, at least in their younger ages, what they watch, what they learn, etc. I don’t want to be naive and think my wife and I have the only influence in his life (nor should we) but we are strong influencers with great responsibility nonetheless.

Of course this can be mishandled. Just as the failed wannabe NHL superstar can foist upon their son their own dreams of NHL stardom and work the kid ruthlessly through rep hockey, so I can foist upon my son the education I never had with wrong motives (My education wasn’t a poor one, it just didn’t include classical languages and the study of the Bible). And while this is a danger to avoid, we as parents do have control over many of the influences our children will encounter and the education he or she will receive. What are we going to do with that influence and responsibility?

If we care about the Bible as God’s Word to us, then chief among our children’s education should be a grounding in the Word; English, German, Spanish, whatever. And this next part isn’t for everyone, but maybe some of us will begin to teach our children the original languages of the Bible from a young age: Greek and Hebrew. I’m sure that sounds daunting for someone who doesn’t themselves know the languages, but for those of us who do (and maybe we can create resources and training for other kids) is it a worthy endeavor?

It seems to require wisdom based on the personality of the child, but how is teaching them Greek any different from teaching them math? I’m not sure yet if two years old is too young without immersion in a native context (which unfortunately doesn’t exist), but some exposure surely can’t hurt and I want to show my son that I love Jesus, love his Word, and love the study of it in the original. Something might rub off as I begin to teach him.

Give a child a modern language and they can read in their time. Give a child a classical language and they can read beyond their time. Hmm, doesn’t have the same ring as the “fish proverb” but I think it makes a point. Learning Greek and Hebrew wouldn’t be helpful only for biblical study but also to be able to read widely in classical literature and gain all that comes from being multilingual.

Have you considered this or in fact started this endeavor with your kids? I’d love to know how you’ve approached it. And if you have any resources to recommend, please share!

Two resources I have quickly found that look like they could be good (though I haven’t spent a good deal of time investigating them yet) are:

Greek for Children from Classical Academic Press; and

these Hebrew books from EKS Publishing Co.

General Update – State of the Blog

A little “state of the blog” seems to be in order right now.

I have added a video to the ‘about’ page. I’m hoping I can start something video related but we’ll see how things go. Here is the video:

Regarding my health, for those interested, I met with doctors in Toronto this week and I won’t be proceeding with a stem-cell transplant for my Leukemia at this time. The risks greatly outweigh the benefits right now. The chance of death would be 1 in 3 to 1 in 2. And if I did survive I could end up with another disease anyway. Not doing the transplant now is great since the procedure is awful. It’s like bringing you to the point of death and then relying on a donor’s stem-cells to bring you back to life with no guarantee that it will work. Keep in mind many have had successful transplants, but this is my scenario based on my cytogenetics and the donor match that was found. A transplant could still happen if I relapse.

Am I going to continue my John studies on here? Yes. I’ve been tired recovering from chemo but I hope to pick things up soon!

Has the Gospel Already Gone to the Ends of the Earth?

Last night I led my test subjects, I mean bible study group, through Mark 13. It certainly does seem (at least to me) to be one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. The biggest issue is sorting out whether what is being referred to is the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (the one that occurred in 70 A.D.) or the eschaton (the last days when Jesus returns), or perhaps to both. I enjoyed walking through the text for a couple hours with my group and withholding my own opinions as much as possible. Toward the end I did give them my current opinion before trying to sum everything up with what is a little more clear: the point of the text is to wait and watch out in order to persevere. It’s not meant, in the first place, to guide us through our quibbles about end times theology.

Nonetheless, discussing the more difficult question of the time references is an important part of coming to grips with the passage. And it appears to me that many today assume much of it to be referring to the eschaton without giving much thought to the fulfillment in the Jewish War and destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. But this is very clearly involved in the question from the disciples that leads to all of this discourse. So, I tried to get my group to start considering whether some or all of it could have been fulfilled in 70.

One of the most interesting discussions occurred around 13:10 where it says, “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations” (NIV). Since the common assumption is that this can ONLY be future to us, I had some fun trying to get them to see if it could mean anything else.

The reason I wanted to seriously consider that Mark’s text may be saying the gospel will first go out to all nations and be fulfilled by 70 A.D. is its immediate co-text. Verse 9 says, “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them” (NIV). Given that this is Jesus addressing his disciples in either 30 or 33 A.D. and Christianity proper has not gotten under way and there is no split with the synagogue here, this text should have made sense to the disciples as occurring pre 70 A.D. It doesn’t make so much sense today though. But if v. 9 is referring to something pre-70 A.D., why does it ping pong to the eschaton in verse 10 when it talks about the gospel going out to all nations first? And then v. 11 still makes sense with what has preceded it as pre-70 A.D.

So, the question becomes, does verse 10 HAVE to be understood as only referring to the end times? Is it possible at all to understand it as to be fulfilled by 70 A.D.? I think it’s at least possible.

What 1st c. document details the rise of the early church? Correct, the “Acts of the Apostles” written by Luke. How does it begin in relation to this issue? Acts 1:8: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Now, it is possible to take that literally from today’s standpoint and include every single nation upon the earth, however we define “nation.” And this is what I commonly see done. But, how does the book of Acts proceed and finish? It proceeds by showing the progress of the gospel moving from Jerusalem outward. It finishes with Paul preaching the gospel in Rome, a metropolitan capital of the empire far away from Jerusalem, potentially thought of as the ends of the earth from a 1st c. middle east perspective.

So, when Mark 13:10 says that the gospel will go out to all nations could it be that it indeed is talking about its progress prior to the destruction of the temple?

I think it could. And if it doesn’t, does that make the text schizophrenic to be ping-ponging back and forth between the temple’s destruction and the future eschaton without any warning whatsoever? That would seem really odd linguistically.

If you’ve read this far with me and are upset at the possibility that this can no longer act as a proof text for the missionary idea that all nations of the earth must first hear the gospel and then the end will come, keep in mind that this is not the only text in the NT that talks about nations and others hearing the gospel/worshiping God. So there is more to the story.

But with respect to Mark 13, I’m still processing this. And I’ve only addressed one issue here. I haven’t talked about other parts of the text that may be future referring (from our modern vantage point).

What do you think?