My first several posts on this blog included references to learning Greek as a spiritual discipline of the mind. This was discussed in my July 30th posting Love God and Others: ΑΓΑΠΗΣΕΙΣ, in my July 31 posting Teaching New Testament Greek: Guiding Principles, in my August 1st postings Learning Greek is a Spiritual Discipline and Luther and Hafemann on Studying Greek, and in my August 2nd posting Researching God’s Word, My Sometimes Idol.
A friend viewed these posts and asked…
Can I still love God with my mind if I don’t know Greek?
This is a great question. One might wonder from all my ramblings about the topic if my answer might be ‘no’. But of course, there are lots of opportunities in which one can use the mind to love God. We use our minds to love God any time that we use critical thinking skills to weigh the input we’re receiving from the world around us and submit that process to what we know of God’s revelation to us.
But what about using the mind specifically in the process of understanding the scriptures? Can I still love God by using my mind to study his word if I don’t know Greek? Well, certainly you can. You can read God’s word, seek to understand his word, live of life of prayer informed by his word, and do his word, applying it critically and creatively in the world around you.
But what is God’s word and what is your responsibility for training others in how to read it? No matter what English version you’re reading, it’s still a translation from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts, and there is no such thing as a perfect translation. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the fact that Philip explained the scriptures to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35), and that people like John Wyclif, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, William Carey, and Cameron Townsend advanced the cause of Bible translation so that the common people can hear God’s word in a language they understand. And that’s why I’m an advisor for mother tongue translators.
But the fact remains that the scriptures were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Anything else is a translation. No translation can reflect the intricacies of the source text language, and attempts to thoroughly do so may easily lead to information overload or distort the focus of a passage.
Every translation is also an interpretation. Even if the translators seek to remain unbiased in translating the meaning of the text, it is impossible to translate without interpreting the source text. They may do it inadvertently, but they do it.
Without the use of the original language tools, one can compare translations and read commentaries. But if one is willing to do that time-consuming work on a regular basis, why not rather learn Greek and Hebrew and interact more meaningfully with those secondary sources?
Here’s what William Mounce says about this in his Basics of Biblical Greek grammar…
The main purpose of writing this book is to help you to understand better and to communicate more clearly the word of God…. Remember the goal: a clearer, more exact, and more persuasive presentation of God’s saving message. But is knowing Greek essential in reaching this goal?
Mounce uses an illustration of an engine overhaul to make his point…
What tools do you select? I would surmise that with a screw driver, hammer, a pair of pliers, and perhaps a crow bar, you could make some progress. But look at the chances you are taking. Without a socket wrench you could ruin many of the bolts. Without a torque wrench you cannot get the head seated properly. The point is, without the proper tools you run the risk of doing a minimal job, and perhaps actually hurting the engine.
This reminds me of a saying I have often heard my dad say. Whenever we’re working on a project and we struggle to get it right for a while before we find the proper tool for the job, my dad always says, “It’s easy… when you have the right tool.” When you finally have the right tool, you wish you hadn’t wasted all that time trying to do the job with the wrong tools. The right tool does the job right and it does it quickly. The same is true for the task of studying God’s word. Mounce continues…
The same is true with preaching, teaching, preparing personal Bible studies, and learning Greek. Without the proper tools you are limited in your ability to deal with the text….
But there is more. Almost all the best commentaries and biblical studies require a knowledge of Greek. Without it, you will not have access to the lifelong labors of scholars who should be heard.
So can we love God with our minds without Greek? Of course we can! But Greek is an invaluable tool for studying God’s word more precisely and meaningfully.