[B-Greek] RE: Why learn Greek?

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Thu Feb 20 12:44:44 EST 2003

Quite frankly, I think that several worthwhile points have emerged in this
thread, and I think it's worth the effort to underscore what (in my
opinion, at least--others may certainly differ from my opinion) has been
rightly said nd to clarify what may have been misleading.

At 5:54 AM -0800 2/20/03, Glendon Gross wrote:
>Would it be fair to observe that the detail and amount of information
>contained in BDAG can be somewhat intimidating to the uninitiated?
>If so, then perhaps this is one of the reasons such posts from BDAG have
>an air of finality about them, causing one to think twice before
>challenging such well documented conclusions.

This is unquestionably true. I don't think that BDAG is, in fact, a
resource to be consulted by the uninitiated (although one may reasonably
ask how one will ever get one's feet wet without diving in); probably this
is something that is, certainly should be, taught in the first exegesis
course taken in a seminary. I never went to a seminary, but I first started
using and studying (not just consulting to read) unabridged lexica like LSJ
for Greek and Lewis & Short for Latin when doing courses in Greek and Latin
composition in graduate school, for which it is imperative to differentiate
between synonyms and near-synonyms and to grasp which contexts are
appropriate to the use of which words.

In short (and I have more to say about this in response to Glendon's next
paragraph), although I have 'bad-mouthed' it, it may well be that Barclay
Newman's little glossary is a useful enough tool for one endeavoring to
work through a GNT text for the first time or one that is "relatively"
unfamiliar. On the other hand, BDAG (or the earlier BGAD) and L&N are, I
think, the first resources to consult when one is trying to understand
fully what is being said in any GNT passage where there is any serious
question about what is really meant. These resources are NOT, let it be
repeated, the final word, but they are also not negligible. I'm a bit
disturbed when I'm asked what a word means in a GNT text--as if I have some
sort of authority when I have only an experienced student's opinion--and
the questioner hasn't really done his/her homework and read carefully
through the chief available resource references. I've tended to cite L&N or
BDAG in list-responses NOT because I think that's the final word on a
lexical question but because I have the impression that the questioner
hasn't even bothered to consult them--and they OUGHT to be consulted before
asking further questions.

>While Mark's terminology may have been misleading, I suspect that it
>represents an ideal that many of us are striving for:  to arrive at that
>state where we are able to read the greek text and feel that we have
>understood nearly 100 percent of what it means.  I have known that
>feeling on a number of occasions, when I get lost in the text and forget
>that I am reading a foreign language.  I do believe that when we
>are in that state of mind, we are able to receive more from the text than
>when we are forced to consult a lexicon after reading each word.
>Personally I would rather cultivate this feeling that comes from immersion
>in the text than be forced to feel tied down to lexica and other secondary
>aids.  I'm not under the illusion that I will outgrow the need for lexica,
>but I love that feeling of being
>immersed in the text and feeling that the text itself is sufficient to
>bring understanding, however illusory it may be.  Deep down inside I
>confess I have the hope
>that the insights
>that come when one is immersed in the greek text are not mere illusions,
>but rather genuine insights that result from a closer interaction with the
>of the original author.  Yet I would agree that after having such
>insights, it is necessary to temper them by testing them against the fruit
>of Walter Bauer's excellent scholarship.

You sign yourself off as "Amateur Greek Student," but I have to say you're
the kind of student I've wanted most to have in a class--the kind that I
can myself learn a lot from while teaching.

YES: we DO all strive for that "feeling of being immersed in the text and
feeling that the text itself is sufficient to bring understanding, however
illusory it may be." The analogy I've used for this previously is learning
to ride a bicycle while being held up by a friend or parent who makes one
feel safe for falling--and suddenly, without being fully aware of what's
happening, gaining some momentum along with a sure sense of balance and
leaving one's supporting partner far behind, cruising! There's that
exhilarating feeling that comes with reading Greek for a sentence or
two--or a paragraph or two--or a page or two--without having to look up a
word or a grammatical usage, leaving those dictionaries and grammars far
behind, cruising!

That's the kind of reading experience any serious student of Greek (or any
other written language) must strive for. It is indeed exhilarating and does
something for one's morale as a language-learner that can be achieved (I'm
convinced) in no other way--and that's why I've said that "immersion" is an
imperative practice for learning Greek.

And it's also true that reading Greek that way is not the same as careful
study of a passage for deeper understanding or doing exegesis. For that
sort of endeavor one really cannot proceed without having access to and
making careful use of the major resource reference works.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad at mcsinternet.net
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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