Learning Greek is a Spiritual Discipline

My passion for Greek was ignited in 1998 when I started graduate school at Wheaton College and took classes from Dr. Scott Hafemann. His teaching was a model for academic rigor that is not divorced from a life of faith lived in service for others. His challenge was that the study of Greek not simply be an academic exercise, but a spiritual discipline in which we love God with our minds (cf. Mark 12.30). This was a challenge I needed to hear.

So, this is how I seek to teach my intensive introductory New Testament Greek course to Papua New Guineans this month. One of the things we are doing as we learn Greek is to learn Greek scripture songs.

We started with the alphabet. In Revelation 1.8 we read that “Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was, and is, and is to come, the ruler over all things.” So Jesus used the Greek alphabet to explain his sovereignty. He is ruler of all. And that means he is ruler over this Greek course. An intensive NT Greek course that meets for 6 hours a day for 6 weeks is difficult! But Jesus is ruler of this course as well.

So the first song we learned goes like this:

Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon,
Zeta, eta, theta, iota,
Kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi, omicron,
Pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon,
Phi, chi, psi, omega,
Ἰησοῦς ἐστίν τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ
(Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega)

It sure is pretty powerful to hear a room full of Papua New Guineans belting this out full voice on the first day of class. Although it seems a little bit like 1st grade with the alphabet in big letters up on the wall across the length of the room, it’s not just an academic exercise. Even the foundational lesson on the alphabet is a spiritual discipline of singing praise to Jesus as Lord.

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Teaching New Testament Greek – Guiding Principles

Tomorrow I start teaching New Testament Greek to 19 national translators and pastors in Papua New Guinea. Here are the guiding principles that I included in the syllabus:

  1. The study of New Testament Greek is a spiritual discipline. We learn Greek in order to know and understand the New Testament scriptures better. We study the scriptures in order to know God more. Therefore, the study of Greek is one way that we love God with our mind.
  2. The study of New Testament Greek is a tool for ministry. We learn Greek not simply for our own good, but to love and serve others. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek. Koine means ‘common’ – it was the language of the common people. We learn Koine Greek not to raise ourselves up above others, but to become better equipped to communicate God’s message to all people.
  3. The study of New Testament Greek is foundational for independent exegesis of New Testament texts. We learn Greek not to strengthen our own biased interpretations of the text, but to better understand the range of possible and probable meanings that can be derived from the language used. Therefore, the study of the Greek language goes hand in hand with understanding general principles of interpretation.
  4. The study of New Testament Greek is inseparable from our knowledge of other languages. Knowledge of other languages aids the student in learning Greek by recognizing the similarities and differences between languages. Such cross-linguistic comparison also aids the student in communicating the meaning of Greek texts into other languages, whether that communication occurs in oral or written explanation or in translation.
  5. The study of New Testament Greek is necessary for understanding secondary literature about the New Testament. In order to follow the discussion in commentaries, theologies, and translation helps, one must be familiar with the patterns of Greek language and standard grammatical terminology. Even if a student is not able to master the Greek language, familiarity with the standard terminology will be helpful in using exegetical resources and translation helps.
  6. The study of New Testament Greek is a valuable discipline to pursue in a pattern of continued lifelong learning. In a 6 week course, one can only be introduced to the Greek language. However, skills and resources that will help the student to continue making progress in the study of Greek will be introduced. Self-discipline is key to the ongoing learning process.

Love God and Others: ΑΓΑΠΗΣΕΙΣ

The blog title ΑΓΑΠΗΣΕΙΣ is the Greek word for “you will love.” It’s the word used in the Greek New Testament (e.g. Mark 12.30) when referencing the Hebrew confession of faith—the Shema’—in Deuteronomy 6.4-5. I have chosen ΑΓΑΠΗΣΕΙΣ as the title of this blog because its double use in Mark 12.30-31 summarizes what this blog is about:

  • knowing God’s word
  • in order to love God
  • and love others

In Mark 12.29-31, Jesus anwers the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” He responds by quoting the Shema’ from Deuteronomy 6.4 that pious Jews would have confessed every morning and evening:

Hear, oh Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Jesus continues from Deuteronomy 6.5:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

While the Hebrew only has a tripartite division of the person, Jesus adds the ‘mind’ as a fourth aspect with which to love God. The meaning is the same: love God with all of who you are.

In Mark 12.31 Jesus continues with the second greatest commandment:

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

This blog is devoted to the interpretation of scripture in order to love God and love others. Some of my primary interests to be included in this blog are…

  • biblical exegesis
  • biblical theology
  • use of OT in the NT
  • Greek language
  • Hebrew language
  • Bible translation
  • linguistics
  • discourse analysis
  • cognitive semantics
  • the Letter of James
  • textual criticism
  • teaching
  • preaching

Many of my interests are quite academic in nature, yet I do not wish to live in my own little world of books and research. I want to pursue these interests in such a way that I love God with all of who I am and also love others more than myself. Thus, in this blog I wish to love God and others by sharing my everyday thoughts concerning the above disciplines.