[B-Greek] Marketing Biblical Greek

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Wed Sep 12 06:45:10 EDT 2007

On Sep 11, 2007, at 10:44 PM, Jeffrey T. Requadt wrote:

> 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  
> 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
> word.
> 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  
> 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://blog.logos.com/archives/2007/09/boutique_specialty.html
> = 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

Jeffrey,  I very much appreciate this well-meditated, knowledgeable,  
and thoughtful response. It raises in stark contrast the two  
alternative approaches to serious study of Biblical Greek that have  
long been under discussion on this list and in practice in  
undergraduate schools and seminaries.

(1) On the one hand there's the brief and perhaps intense exposure to  
the elements of Biblical Greek grammar coupled with a bit of practice  
in reading and Englishing Biblical Greek texts, most of which one  
probably recognizes from memory of standard versions.

(2) On the other hand there's the methodical and industrious long- 
term appropriation of instantaneous recognition of forms and  
anticipatory discernment of emerging syntactic patterns that is  
essential to reading a hitherto unseen Greek text with understanding.  
I think that this could be accelerated and made much more efficacious  
through Randall Buth's method of intense classroom oral  
application,including use of Biblical Greek for grammatical  

I won't say that (1) is useless or altogether unworthy of the  
endeavor; I will only say that what is gained from it is rarely the  
understanding of the Biblical text that schools and students really  
want their students to acquire.

Is it an either/or choice? I've pondered that question many times and  
experiences in the early years of my teaching career and at the end  
of it have profoundly impacted my thinking about this choice:

(a) Back in the 1960's, when I was young and had just completed my  
doctorate,  the Arts and Sciences faculty at Washington University  
voted to alter the foreign language requirement for the B.A. from  
"proficiency" to completion of two years of study of a  language. I  
voted against the change, preferring rather to drop the foreign  
language requirement altogether and thereby to endeavor to lure those  
students who really wanted to learn Greek or Latin. The chair of my  
department was furious with me for voting as I did. I think the idea  
was that a quarter-loaf is better than none, that exposure to an  
alien culture is a healthy thing for undergraduates, and -- probably  
most important -- that survival of our department, whether we liked  
it or not, depended upon a captive classroom.

(b) In January of 2001, when I was on the verge of retirement, I  
taught a one-month intensive course in Biblical Greek at Eden  
Seminary, a course that students were required to complete before  
doing NT Exegesis: the class met five days a week for three hours a  
day for four weeks. It was a class of about fifteen. We plowed  
through a textbook (I realized very soon that it had been a poor  
choice, but I felt the alternatives were not much better). I think  
that three of that class were bright enough and threw their hearts  
and souls into learning Biblical Greek and really did acquire  
sufficient competence to meet the needs of the kind of exegesis done  
at that seminary. I question seriously whether the rest of the class  
acquired enough from that class for any useful purpose.

(c) Some of the better students that I had over a 40-year teaching  
career were M.Div. students at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis who  
were concurrently taking an M.A. in Classics with our department at  
Washington University. They had done four years of Greek in colleges  
and loved the language and literature and were eager to do the extra  
work to pursue the M.A. (some of them even taking time to complete a  
Ph.D. with us) simultaneously with their seminary work. If they had  
begun the language with no more than a desire to read the Greek  
Bible, they had acquired in the course of the time something of an  
intimate passion for the Greek language and the literary classics  
composed in it.

It may seem that the question is whether students of Biblical Greek  
need, for the purposes of understanding the Biblical Greek text, a  
minimal grasp of essentials that is grounded in glossaries, basic  
reference grammars and proof-of-pudding English translations of  
familiar Biblical Greek texts, or whether they need, for the purposes  
of understanding the Biblical Greek text, the competence to read  
Greek texts that are not familiar to them but that are comparable and  
at least coeval with the Biblical Greek text. Is there something  
between "minimal" and 'real" competence? My view is that a student  
who really wants to understand the Biblical Greek text should never  
be satisfied with "minimal" competence but should strive toward  
"real" competence. I'm still striving.

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

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