Saturday, May 19, 2012

How Greek Helps

I've been studying biblical Greek almost nonstop since January. That means I know just enough to be dangerous, and not enough to get me very far without a reliable English or Spanish translation at my side. Since no one becomes an expert on biblical Greek after a few semesters, you might wonder what benefit there is to studying the language if you have no desire to write commentaries or work on translation committees. Here are a few reasons I’ve come up with:
1) It makes you learn English. I never really realized how little I understand how my own language works until I started studying other languages. When we encounter different ways of arranging the elements of a sentence or different uses of words than we are used to, it forces us to learn how meaning is conveyed in the written word. Understanding how the various parts of a sentence come together will help with interpreting our English translations of the Bible even if we aren’t experts on the underlying Greek.
2) You better appreciate the translation process. Although each of us will likely prefer one translation above others for study or reading, it makes it a little harder to criticize some of the translation decisions made by the contributors to the ESV, NIV, HCSB, and other versions. If I want to translate “Tengo hambre” faithfully, should I write, “I have hunger,” “I hunger,” or “I am hungry?” It’s harder to criticize a more literal translation that gives me a glimpse into the underlying Greek, and it’s also harder to criticize a more dynamic equivalency translation for giving me a look at the meaning. (For what it’s worth, I still prefer the ESV).

3) It prepares you for deeper study. Many things we say and do in English are very simple. We use the word “you” to refer to one person or a group of people. Knowledge of Greek can prepare you for deeper study that can assist you in better understanding a given passage. Although personal study without looking at what more accomplished Greek experts have to say can lead to error, an elementary knowledge of the language can shed more light on a given passage.
4) It stretches your mind. Greek is not easy. It forces you to think about something as foundational as language in ways that you’ve never done before. There’s a lot of memorization, and if you don’t keep practicing, you’ll lose a lot of what you’ve gained. But it is some heavy weightlifting for your mind, which will prove beneficial in other areas where you’re required to think, like when reading the Bible, engaging a good book, or in everyday conversation.

1 comment:

Oloryn said...

#1 reminds me of an incident in one of my Greek classes, where the professor basically stopped and reviewed the class on English grammar. I don't remember seeing anything like this in the French classes I took (rather oddly for a Bible major, I got my language requirement in in French, then took a year of Greek).