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.
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:
You’ll have to take out your pens and correct your English Bibles and gospel tracts with this one! The latest issue of The Expository Times contains an essay by Wally Cirafesi of McMaster Divinity College challenging the translation equivalent, “to fall/come short,” for ὑστεροῦνται in Romans 3:23. He shows the over-reliance on the King James rendering (1611) and shows that ‘to lack’ would be the better translation equivalent. So, “All have sinned and lack the glory of God.”
I was encouraged by reading Jim Hamilton’s post on how he prepares to preach through Jeremiah. What helps him most is… get ready for it… God’s word as given in the Hebrew text. It’s a good post and helpful in a day where seminaries seem to be dropping the languages rather than ramping them up.
Also on his site is a post about the proper purpose of seminary that is worth reading. It also focuses on issues related to the languages. I found this quotation especially juicy since I’ve never heard anyone say this so boldly:
Seminary students who want to learn the Bible in the original languages should take the languages early and often. Why let a semester pass in which you’re not in a Greek or Hebrew class? No one expects to be fluent in Spanish after two semesters. We’re unwise to think that after two semesters we’ll “know Greek.” You’re at school to begin to learn Greek and Hebrew so you can spend the rest of your life studying the Bible in the original. Why not give all your electives to Greek and Hebrew exegesis classes? There are lots of conference opportunities where you can learn everything from counseling to preaching to evangelism and missions. There will never be a conference for pastors on Hebrew syntax. There will never be a Greek exegesis of 1 Peter conference where you are taught to diagram the Greek text and trace its argument. Get from the seminary what you can only get from the seminary, what the seminary exists to give you. You can get the rest in a good church, in a pastoral internship, or at a conference.
Exciting times at McMaster Divinity College as it has released a new online and print journal, Biblical and Ancient Greek Linguistics. The first two articles are by excellent scholars, Wally Cirafesi and Greg Fewster.
The about section of the website gives the following information:
Biblical and Ancient Greek Linguistics (BAGL), in conjunction with the Centre for Biblical Linguistics, Translation, and Exegesis at McMaster Divinity College and the OpenText.org project (www.opentext.org) is a fully refereed on-line and print journal specializing in widely disseminating the latest advances in linguistic study of ancient and biblical Greek. Under the senior editorship of Professor Dr. Stanley E. Porter and Dr. Matthew Brook O’Donnell, along with its assistant editors and editorial board, BAGL looks to publish significant work that advances knowledge of ancient Greek through the utilization of modern linguistic methods. Accepted pieces are in the first instance posted on-line in page-consistent pdf format, and then (except for reviews) are published in print form each volume year. This format ensures timely posting of the most recent work in Greek linguistics with consistently referencable articles then available in permanent print form.
A new Themelios journal has just been released. The issue contains an article by Jason DeRouchie entitled, “The Profit of Employing the Biblical Languages: Scriptural and Historical Reflections.”
He asks why the church needs some in it who can skillfully handle the biblical languages and gives 4 reasons:
- Using the biblical languages exalts Jesus by affirming God’s wisdom in giving us his Word in a book (God’s Word as foundation).
- Using the biblical languages gives us greater certainty that we have grasped the meaning of God’s Book (studying God’s Word).
- Using the biblical languages can assist in developing Christian maturity that validates our witness in the world (practicing God’s Word).
- Using the biblical languages enables a fresh and bold expression and defense of the truth in preaching and teaching (teaching God’s Word).
I’m glad to see people were interested in the keeping up your Greek post that included discussion of Greek verbal aspect. The question of resources arose, for which I’m thankful.
For a long time it has seemed that most of the work produced has been very technical and introductory grammars have been slow to incorporate current models of verbal aspect. This may be starting to change.
So, what resources are most helpful to introduce someone with a Greek background to the subject? I hadn’t looked at Andy Naselli’s article for a while, but upon review I would consider it the best brief introduction to the subject. He also gives his recommendation for resources in this article and orders them according to how he sees it would most benefit an uninitiated reader in the subject.
Next, you can check out Constantine Campbell’s blog series related to his introductory book on verbal aspect. I’m linking to Andy Naselli’s post since the five blog posts are neatly indexed there.
Last for online resources for now is Rodney J. Decker’s condensation and summary of Stanley Porter’s monograph.
You can also see how Stanley Porter (et.al.) incorporate verbal aspect in their recent introductory Greek grammar textbook, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek. Even if you have already studied Greek at the introductory level this is an excellent resource to have.
If you look through these and trace out the bibliographic material you should be well equipped to enter the discussion.
As I mentioned, the issue I brought up yesterday about pastors maintaining a certain acquaintance with scholarship in the biblical languages was predicated on the languages being important in the first place.
Andy Naselli has a post that highlights this issue, linking to Scott J. Hafemann’s thoughts (SBJT 3:2 (1999)), and quoting him at length on the best reason he has for pastors using the languages in preaching: tracing the flow of the argument of the text. The whole article (which includes other scholars) is worth reading but especially Hafemann’s thoughts on this issue.
The primary practical reason he gives to learn the languages is this:
[T]he confidence and humility it will bring to our ministries, while at the same time saving us countless hours of exertion and frustration. One hour with the text is worth ten in secondary literature. And at the more important theological level, learning the languages affirms the nature of biblical revelation, restores the proper authority of the pastor as teacher, and communicates to our people that the locus of meaning and authority of the Scriptures does not reside in us, but in the text, which we labor so hard to understand. We learn the languages because we are convinced of the inerrancy, sufficiency, and potency of the Word of God.
He said one other thing in there that lines up with one strand of my research that I will quote and leave for discussion another time: “…since every translation is the embodiment of thousands and thousands of interpretive decisions; a translation is a commentary on the Bible without footnotes.” I can see you salivating for more!
Let me preface this post with my saying that I am not currently a pastor. What I say here should therefore be taken with a grain of salt, but I hope more than that that it would be weighed carefully. As a result, I will couch this in the form of a question with reflections.
Is it possible for pastors to keep up with current Greek scholarship on at least a marginal enough level that they are aware of the discussions and especially take into account developments in the last 2+ decades on verbal aspect?
I notice in sermons that pastors and speakers frequently say something about the Greek that lies behind the English version they are using and make an exegetical pronouncement about the text based on the verb that is questionable. The idea that either absolute time or ‘kind of action’ is the central feature of the verbal tense-form is an antiquated idea (with some debate as to whether time functions at all in it). I hesitate to provide examples lest I single pastors out. These pronouncements do not always affect the main point of the sermon but if I were preaching ideas that have shown to be false, I would want to have those things corrected out of integrity.
So, is it possible for a pastor to keep up with current Greek scholarship? I have two thoughts on this.
1) Scholars may be to blame in the first place. Commentary writers and popularizers of academic material have themselves failed to keep up and provide pastors with material that keeps up to date with the current understandings of the Greek language, especially the Greek verb.
I recently got my hands on a commentary that was released in 2010 (I won’t mention who) that fails to cite any Greek grammatical work beyond 1963, with the exception of two revised lexicons (1996 and 2000) which themselves are not in line with modern linguistics and Greek grammatical study. As such, the writer refers to tense-form usage in terms of its time-values and ‘kind of action’ that fails to recognize what all the major players of Greek grammar currently do and have for at least 2 decades: aspect, and not time, is the major contribution of the verbal tense-forms. Sadly this commentary is not alone in relying on dated grammars that were once magisterial (and no doubt they should be consulted) but have now been surpassed and even contradicted. How can pastors be expected to stay up to date if they are reading commentaries like this?
On the other hand, there are small glimmers of hope that the tide is changing as pastoral commentaries such as Kruse’s The Letters of John (PNTC) and Carson’s forthcoming Johannine Epistles (NIGTC) take verbal aspect seriously in their discussion of the Greek verb. Let’s hope for higher percentages.
2) Whatever the time commitments of the pastor, most (I hope) would agree that the preaching and teaching of the Word is central to the pastor’s job (cf. e.g., Acts 6:4; letters to Timothy). If that is so, the same pastors would agree that the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word is required. After all, to knowingly say something false would not be helpful. I don’t want to say that the pastor needs to be a scholar (there are varying gifts anyway) but should not some contact be maintained with the disciplines from when the pastor first encountered them in their seminary training (Greek as well as church history, theology, etc.)? After all, seminary does not teach everything the pastor needs to know so that they don’t have to read another book in their life, but it exposes the pastor to the beginning of a lifetime of study (I first heard this idea expounded by D.A. Carson in an interview).
Of course, all this is predicated on the idea that the languages are important for the pastor in the first place, a topic for discussion another time (but as I’ve heard many say and I myself believe: you don’t find pastors who have learned Greek well ever complain that it has not been fundamental in their study and teaching).
So, is it possible to maintain contact and stay abreast of the current discussion? I don’t have the final answer and won’t say more than I’ve just said for now except that if a pastor doesn’t think the languages are worth their time, should they quote Greek or refer to grammatical issues in a sermon in the first place?
Interested in your thoughts.