Friday, January 12, 2007

It's Greek to Me and That's Ok

When something is unintelligible we say that it's "Greek to me." Somehow Greek has become the symbol of all that is confusing and beyond understanding. That's unfortunate. Now I'll be the first to admit that studying Greek in college was one of the greatest challenges of my academic career. And even today as I gather weekly with two other area pastors to translate upcoming pericopes, I am reminded that working with this language can be a mind-twisting experience. Still, Greek has to be one of the most precise and crisp languages used to communicate human thought throughout history. Unlike English with its myriad exceptions and borrowed words, ancient Greek is far more predictable.

Traditionally pastors were required to study Greek as part of their preparation for the ministry. Not so long ago I heard that this requirement doesn't hold for those in the DELTO (Distance Education Leading to Ordination) program. I was quite surprised - and disappointed. True, learning Greek isn't every one's cup of tea. Some pick this up at ease, others flounder in a sea of syntax. Nevertheless, I believe that it is still indispensable for the overall education of one who would preach the Word of God.

One reason is that a pastor without some mastery of Greek is always dependant on a translation. Some of the translations out there are fairly good and faithful in conveying the intent of the text. Yet no matter how good they are, they are still, technically, only an interpretation of the original inspired text. A look at the plethora of translations today is proof enough of this point. To go from one language to another is a cross-cultural experience, not merely the definition of a foreign word into the language of the reader.

Another point in defense of the learning of Greek is that it opens areas of the text that would have been closed without access to the original. When we formed our Greek Study Group a year ago I was quite amazed how the text began to open up for me and how my preaching was refreshed as I took the time to explore it in more depth. Some pastors undoubtedly feel as if the "well runs dry" in their preaching. They can't figure out anything new to offer their people. Yet the well of the original always offers fresh material. The nuances of a verb, the order of the sentence, the uniqueness of a word's definition, the variety of areas to explore is unending.

It used to be that to learn Greek you had to go to college or find a private tutor. However, the resources available today on the web and the book store are so great that I believe anyone could learn this blessed language. And the tools available to the student are also so plentiful that one is never lacking in places to find answers. While my professors would have frowned on such tools as interlinear Bibles, I would not. It is a tool to bridge the gap and assist those who translate. True, it should not be an end in itself. But it is a tool.

I believe that the church more than ever needs pastors trained in the original languages. The theological erosion by the left, the mushy middle of the moderate, and the onslaught of biblistic cults make such mastery indispensable to today's shepherd. Luther said that "The languages are the sheath in which the sword of the Spirit is contained." He better than most knew their value, especially as he worked to put the voice of the Lord into the language of the Germans.

I am fearful that the church is losing sight of the value of this tool. I hope that they don't lose sight of it entirely.

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