It’s Greek To Me

I may not know you, but I can pretty safely say that you do not speak ancient Greek. Maybe you’ve studied it, I’m sure you can define a noun, parse a verb, or analyze the grammar. You might even be clever enough to make a witty joke in the biblical language. But you don’t speak ancient Greek.

Don’t tell me that in no uncertain terms, you know what the original text means, because you don’t. Your understanding comes from popular interpretation (Or your Greek teacher, or a lexicon, or some fancy computer software.) Please stop using “panta ta ethne” as your basis for missions strategy. Please stop trying to trump everyone else’s argument by saying that you know foe certain that biblical “oinos” was weaker than modern wine.

Greek scholarship is important. Without it, we would have poor translations of the Scriptures, and we’d have little to go in in terms of the original context and cultural implications of the text. But you are not a scholar, you are a preacher. You are a blogger who took the same Intro to Greek course I took (and my professor was probably better than yours.) You are a seminary professor who thinks that no one should be allowed to question you if you quote the Greek. Stop it, please.

You treat Koine Greek like it’s some secret knowledge that gives you greater enlightenment and brings you closer to God. You act as though you are the keeper of all truth and wisdom because your theologies are built on God’s own language. But God doesn’t only speak Greek (Or Hebrew, or Aramaic).

So stop looking down your nose at me because you think that my understanding is founded in some misunderstanding of the original language. I’ve got the same interlinear Bible you’ve got.

Did I mention that you don’t speak ancient Greek? The language is no longer tied to a surviving culture. If learning a second language has taught me anything, it’s that all living languages are dynamic. A phrase has a literal meaning, a commonly used one, and a colloquial one, and all are “correct.” Meanings can differ from town to town, nevermind region to region. When you add to that Greek was imposed in multiple cultures who lived together, you’ve got layers and layers of meaning; layers that you weren’t around to observe.

So how about qualifying all of your pompous predications with “Many scholars agree…” Can we replace “The actual meaning of the original Greek is…” with “A possible meaning might be…”? Sure there is a right understanding and interpretation of Biblical text. But if that understanding doesn’t come from illumination of the Holy Spirit, we’re not going to get it from a dead language.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.