Five Reasons You Should Study Greek

There’s a Greek alphabet tucked into my cookbook shelf, and every so often I bump into it in my search for a recipe.  It’s an apt metaphor for the place and prominence that deep study plays in my every day life — tucked somewhere between the soup and the muffins.  The reappearance of that chart never fails to stir up a tiny pang of regret.  Why didn’t I study Greek back in my college days when I had the opportunity — and the time?

Once outside academic life, it’s nearly impossible to invest the years of study that are required for mastery of a language, so naturally I could not resist reading Dr. A. Chadwick Thornhill’s Greek for Everyone, which promises to focus on a working knowledge of biblical Greek with an emphasis on facilitating in-depth study of the New Testament.  My “what have I gotten myself into?” response at the beginning of chapter one has mellowed to a quiet realization that this is a discipline that will enhance my study.   So with whatever small time I am able to invest, I’m back to the beginning again with the daunting task of learning a new alphabet and phonetic system, but I’m convinced that it will be worth the effort for five reasons:

  1.  A better understanding of New Testament (Koine or common) Greek reveals the reason for many of the differences that appear in our English translations.  Word order in Greek is much more fluid than in English.  Furthermore, Greek prepositions can take on a range of meanings that are narrowed down by paying attention to their objects.  Therefore, differences among translations function as a flare, drawing attention to interpretive issues that deserve special care in our reading and studying.
  2. Words by themselves can easily lead us astray.  The big picture is critical for effective meaning-making, and the Greek language’s tendency to hang multiple supporting clauses off one main clause makes it challenging to identify the main idea of a sentence.  Take Ephesians 1:3-14 for example.  The grammatical structure of this one sentence (yes, one sentence!) in the Greek is completely lost in the English translations, which break it into shorter, more readable sentences, BUT which do not carry forward the flow of thought from the original.  No matter how much time I spend on my alphabet and phonics chart, I’ll never straighten this out on my own.  However, this heightened awareness will make me a more careful reader.
  3. On-line resources for Bible study abound.  Interlinear Bibles, lexicons, parsing aids, and concordances make it possible to study the New Testament with minimal knowledge of Greek, but they also open the door to a fragmented scatter-shot approach to study that results in “dynamite” force blasting forth from every reference to power in the New Testament and leaves well-intentioned preachers loading down words with every possible range of meaning, regardless of context.  Dr. Thornhill offers helpful questions to bear in mind when studying individual words:  What concept is the word intending to invoke here?  What is the significance of using one synonym instead of another?  Am I examining a word that carries “theological weight” in the passage?  What is the possible range of meanings for this word, and are there other terms with similar meaning?
  4. Language is a key factor to understanding the context of the New Testament.  Being a mono-linguistic North American is only one of the biases that I bring to my reading of the Bible.  Dr. Thornhill urges his students to “stand under” a text rather than “standing over it.”  I can’t say this any better than he did:  “We must . . .  allow the text to read us, to reshape our presuppositions and to reform our mind as we read it.”  Amen.
  5. Borrowing a term from Grant Osborn, Dr. Thornhill describes the interpretive process as a “hermeneutic spiral” — a journey more than a destination that is “consistently applied and reapplied as we dive into the deep water of the New Testament.”  An attitude of “epistemic humility (recognizing that we are not omniscient)” explores the background of a text, reads it in context (and even out loud, if possible), compares translations, and then examines lexical, grammatical and syntactical issues in order to develop a tentative description of the passage’s meaning.  Only then are commentaries, books, sermons, and articles consulted to confirm the reader’s conclusions.

A high view of Scripture includes an understanding that “texts do not just have something to say, but they they also have something to do.”  This is the reason we read and study Scripture, and whatever tools we have in our hands, God will use them as they are offered to Him.  For now, in these days of “seeing through a glass darkly,” my knowledge of God will be veiled no matter how much Greek I learn, but it’s nice to know that by pressing into a fuller knowledge of the Bible I can bring those bookends of “already” and “not-yet” a tiny bit closer together, adding to that fuller knowledge with a more faithful doing of the will of God.

//

This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michele Morin

I am a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. I have been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 27 years, and our four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, two teens still remain at home, and along with an incorrigible St. Bernard, we laugh, make messes, clean them up, and then start all over again. I love hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop me in my tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. I lament biblical illiteracy and advocate for the prudent use of "little minutes." I blog at Living Our Days because "the way I live my days will be, after all, the way I live my life." You can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

40 thoughts on “Five Reasons You Should Study Greek”

  1. I have considered studying Greek, especially since the materials to do so come so readily available in the homeschool arena. I follow the pattern you laid out in number 5, as well as paying attention to context. I’ve only started this more thorough practice in the last 4-5 years, though. It seems in the last few years, God has been showing those that would study His Word to look at a verse or passage in context. At least I have been seeing that more and more. I don’t like to discount one more thought in the process, and that is the fact that the Holy Spirit is our Teacher. He will bring revelation to us as we study. I applaud you for taking on the job of learning Greek, Michele! I’m sure it’s no easy task.

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    1. Don’t applaud too vigorously, Kelly — it’s a hit or miss process here, and mostly fueled by the thoughts you’ve been having in your own studying. So often the questions I have go back to words and their meaning and it would be so satisfying to be a better student and better able to use the tools that are out there.

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  2. Yay for you Michele! My son who has a Masters in Biblical studies would agree that learning Greek is well worth the time and effort. In fact, he gave his wife a book to begin the process for herself. I’ll have to find out which book he gave her. I am not opposed to learning Greek either but need a little breathing room before I would begin to think about beginning.

    Out of curiosity, is there a certain online resource to look up Greek meanings of words and passages that you have found to be most helpful and easy to use. I have dived into this just a little but found it a little laborious. Thanks for the review!

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    1. I’ve used Blue Letter Bible just a bit, and it’s very helpful, but I think my lack of basic knowledge of Greek makes me a little “dangerous” for reasons I outlined in the review. It’s so important to get this right. Honestly, for me, the biggest hurdle is the alphabet. I’m so tied to English phonics.
      Blessings to you as you share your book with the world in the upcoming days and weeks!

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      1. Oh, Michelle, we used a fun book in homeschooling that had an innovative way of learning the alphabet…. I’m scratching my head for its name. Will let you know when I unearth it!

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      2. Aha! It came to me tonight while I was hurriedly whipping up a batch of molasses crinkles—MacNair, Ian. Teach Yourself NT Greek https://www.amazon.com/Teach-Yourself-New-Testament-Greek/dp/0840711514
        What I thought was clever (and unconventional) was that to help learn the alphabet he wrote English words using Greek alphabet letters. It’s a lot of book to buy for just that but… it was a fun way for my kids to learn. For myself, I took Greek when I was younger, for a couple years in Bible College… I’m so impressed that you’re taking this on! Go for it and may God keep those neurons firing for His glory!

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    1. We tell that to our boys all the time — and I include in that any Scripture which we have memorized. Thanks for presenting the Word of God through your writing in such a way that your readers are motivated to commit it to memory and to make it part of our “tool belt.”

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  3. I have studied New Testament Greek for 45 years. I look at those years in three phases: BS (No pun intended) before seminary, S seminary and AS after seminary. It has been a journey of learning and love. I highly recommend it. I tell you all this to merely say that though I have studied Geek for many years and use it every week, I received some really good insights and a blessing from reading your book review. It encouraged me to go deeper in my understanding of NT Greek. Thank you!

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    1. You can’t begin to imagine what an encouragement your words are to me! I approached this book review with no small amount of trepidation because I am no scholar, but for the past few years I’ve really felt the lack of better skills and background for study. It’s never too late to learn, so now that my nest of four boys is down to two, I’m hoping to make good use of my increasing freedom of time and space. Thank you for sharing your story here.

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  4. We had a Greek scholar at our church for a season (he now has Alzheimer’s, sadly enough), and he taught New Testament Greek for a few semesters to us on Wednesday nights. It was totally fascinating to me and hooked me into wanting to learn more and more. I only know enough to be dangerous. 🙂 But I love that this brother gave me the tools to continue learning on my own. Thanks for sharing about Greek here, Michele!

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  5. Impressive, my friend! This looks like something that would be valuable to consider, but I might wait a bit as I am digging through Simeon Trust material on exegesis just now for a workshop at our daughter’s church next week. Thanks for the excellent review!

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  6. I’d love to see your breakdown of that particular Ephesians snippet or another related scripture sometime…specific examples and how the lay(woman) might go about digging in! What a great topic today. Thanks a bunch Michele.

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  7. mmm … it’s all Greek to me, Michele. These are the times when I realize how grateful I am for those men and women who study the Word deep deep deep. And have the giftedness to share God’s heart with us because they know the original Scriptural languages.

    Grace.

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    1. For me, right now, the key word is awareness. I certainly will have to study for a very long time before I’m tearing up sentences, but the knowledge that this is a huge block of thought that has been divided into smaller clauses gives me reason to look at several versions to see what different translators thought — and then to double check the areas where they disagreed.

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  8. I took one short course in Greek which taught me more about how to use the tools. I still remember the verse I chose to present in the class. Understanding the two words that made up our one English word expanded its application.

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  9. Thank you for this post! So timely! I was just telling my husband yesterday that I want to learn something about the original languages and not rely solely on English. This is so important if we are going to make critical decisions based on a careful study of Scripture. Your fourth point is my favorite. I love that quote!

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  10. Hi Michele, I’ve always wanted to learn how to study the meaning of words in the Bible, in order to truly understand their context and meaning. This book sounds like a great tool, and one that requires careful study and thought.

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  11. I love this, Michele. I wish I would have been required to take Greek while in college, like my brothers were. I just recently started digging a little deeper with the Greek using the Blue Letter Bible website and it has been helpful. Thanks for sharing this review with Thankful Thursdays.

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  12. Trying to learn a language seems harder when you speak English as everywhere we’ve lived people want to learn from us. I still kick myself for not learning Arabic in the Middle East and now we live in Greece I’m really trying but it is a hard language.
    After 3 years I can read it and understand basic conversations but still don’t have the vocabulary or confidence to use it much! It’s slightly easier if you’re completely immersed in the language and forced to learn it, but even here on this island most people speak English!
    Good luck with your study and thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. Yes, here in the good old USA, we have the “luxury” of not really needing another language, so I’ve never been really invested in the process. The question now is whether or not I value being able to study the Bible with more skill enough to put forth the effort to get a better handle on the original languages.

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  13. I’ve been debating on whether or not to try and study Greek. Unfortunately, it is not offered at my college – a small state school- so I will be on my own!! It certainly makes seminary look appealing though.

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  14. I get so frustrated when I learn I’ve been quite misled by certain translations of certain passages. I too am hoping to study the original languages! Thanks for setting an example for me to follow! Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday last week on Mommynificent.com!
    Tina

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve thought that I would love to take the time to learn Greek. I had a Bible teacher in high school who could translate Scripture from the original Greek, and I loved it when he would explain verses and give a better context than the English translation we were using gave.

    Thank you for linking up with LMM.

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  16. I think I’ve been dancing around reading this post, knowing when I did, I’d be convicted by the need to go deeper! LOL I was right! Thanks for sharing. It sounds like an important resource. Praying you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family! (so many exclamation points, oh well!) Blessings, Michele.

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