[B-Greek] Marketing Biblical Greek

Jeffrey T. Requadt jeffreyrequadt_list at hotmail.com
Tue Sep 11 22:44:56 EDT 2007

I remember reading the same blog to which Carl refers (I subscribe to it as
a user of its product), and thinking that it was exactly what we (or, more
accurately, usually people who know a lot more than I) have talked about
many times on this list: (a) what is the point of learning Greek, New
Testament in particular; and (b) what is the best of way doing so? The
longer I listen to this conversation, and think about the various arguments,
as well as my own experience in life with people in ministry, the more I
think that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea if seminaries DIDN'T teach
Greek (or maybe Hebrew, since I don't know anything about that, but I expect
that the same educational/academic philosophies govern both departments at
the seminary level).
The reason for this is precisely the examples given both in the blog and
what I see in churches today. Not that I think it's a bad idea for ministers
of all kinds to learn Greek; rather, I obviously think that if you want to
truly understand the New Testament, and consequently the doctrinal teachings
of the New Testament, you must have a deep understanding of the language and
culture of the people who wrote the New Testament. So if seminaries wanted
to teach Greek as it should be taught--perhaps the way classics used to be
taught--where a student was expected to be able to translate things BOTH
ways, to read fluently and to comprehend what they read, etc. I think that
so many times when I've heard people say "the Greek says/means," it's
usually citing their sources because they don't actually know. I can't think
of how often in Bible college fellow students and I would debate what the
different phrases meant without having any real understanding of how those
phrases were used in lots of different literature. Yes, knowing a little
Greek can help you read commentaries, but I can't say that knowing a little
Greek has really helped me to evaluate the actual arguments of the
commentaries on what the Greek means! I will say that knowing a little Greek
has given me a much greater appreciation for the style and humanity of the
literature within the NT (and occasionally, when I have the occasion, the
LXX or a church father), but that has to do with my appreciation of
literature, not my comprehension of, and fluency with, the Greek language.
So all I'm saying is that if you want to know how to English the Greek New
Testament, get a good translation, or a multitude of English translations,
just like many others on this list have said.
I'm really not elitist, because I come from a rich Baptist heritage that
values the common person. I teach third grade in a public school. I believe
that every person is intelligent in some area. And most of all, I strongly
and firmly believe that every single person is capable of reading the
English New Testament and understanding it if they take the time to read it
in context, using common sense, just the way they would read any other piece
of literature. Taking one year of Greek (or even two) does not enable anyone
to truly contribute to their own understanding of the New Testament, or to
anyone else's understanding, unless that time is spent in truly becoming
proficient in Greek, not just Englishing the Greek. In fact, I think the
elitism comes from thinking that only people who have studied Greek (or
Hebrew) have a "true" understanding of the Bible.
Just like this list isn't really for studying the Bible, but for studying
Biblical Greek, I think that if people really want to study the Bible, they
should start to read it for all its worth in their native language. If they
truly want to go beyond that and study it for all it's worth, they should
learn Greek to the best of their ability, not haphazardly, not for one or
two years, not part-time, and not just to retranslate into English what has
already been done superbly (and not-so-superbly) many times over. To get
back to my original questions: (a) what is the point of learning Greek? If
your reason is to truly understand the New Testament without going through
someone else's interpretation (i.e., a translation), then the answer to (b)
[what is the best way of doing so] can only be something like "get to be as
fluent as you can in Greek. If your reason is to know "what the Greek REALLY
means," as if somehow all the other English translations have got it wrong,
then you don't really want to learn Greek: You really want to learn a very
limited body of knowledge separately from its entire field.
If I can put that in an analogy, that's like learning the multiplication
table without truly understanding what multiplication is. When I am teaching
my students to read, I don't want them to not just decode (i.e., figure out
what the words say), but also to comprehend--and not just comprehend what
the words "mean," but also to connect what they're reading to other things
that they have read, to their own experience, and to what they know about
the world. In other words, I am trying to teach CHILDREN, not CONTENT.
Getting back to Greek, I would want my students to learn Greek, not just to
know what specific words mean in specific circumstances in specific cases or
tenses, etc. I think a great deal of harm has been done to understanding the
Greek of the Bible by years and years (and probably decades) of behaviorist
education that wants people to exhibit certain behavior (i.e. automatic
translation, or reproducing the paradigms) without truly connecting the
words and the phrases to the meanings and culture behind them. And I think a
great deal of harm has been done to the church by people who believe that
finding all the occurrences of a certain word in the New Testament, and
doing a word study based on that, is truly learning the meaning(s) of that
Again, I am a user of Logos; I have used it a great deal in the past to do
research and to understand the Bible. I think it's a great product. But when
I hear things like "this can be accomplished using automated tools," I think
that these people want language learning to be "easy." I don't know that
it's really possible to learn a language "easily." I know you can spend your
time effectively, and maybe learn it without lots of distraction, but I
don't think that's necessarily "easier." I think this really stems from a
much deeper problem that we want things to be easy in our life. We don't
like to struggle! If you want biblical literacy to rise, as the author of
the blog states, then maybe we should have more people ACTUALLY READING THE
BIBLE, not studying little words in a language they don't really know. If
you want Greek literacy to rise, maybe you should have people ACTUALLY
READING GREEK. What a concept!
And now I'll get off my self-righteous, long-winded soapbox! I'm sorry if I
offended anyone; I certainly didn't mean to. But I am continually concerned
by what I see as lazier and lazier attitudes towards studying and becoming
proficient at something.
Have a good day, everyone.

-----Original Message-----
From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Carl W. Conrad
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2007 4:18 AM
To: B-Greek
Subject: [B-Greek] Marketing Biblical Greek

I have found in this morning's perusal of the "Biblioblogs" another
item on Biblical Greek (and Hebrew) pedagogy. Posted yesterday on the
Logos Bible Software Blog, it is entitled "Original Language Study: A
Boutique Specialty." You can find it at:

= http://tinyurl.com/2xormj

Judging from the tenor of the numerous comments appended to it, I
suspect that many will applaud what's set forth in this essay. I have
my own doubts whether it is understanding the Biblical text or
acquisition of competence in reading  Biblical Greek or something
else that is being marketed here. It is the "reverse interlinear"
that is being promoted here: you start with an English translation
and somehow you work back toward an understanding of the Greek text
and thereby you learn Greek.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Ret)

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