Archives For Greek

As a Greek prof, I have fun “cold busting” my students reading contraband Bibles: namely, English translations. Some give me the old lame excuse: “But I was reading the Old Testament.” On cue, I launch into my lecture about how reading the Greek Old Testament is just as valuable because (1) it predates our current Hebrew text and (2) was the version that the NT authors chiefly quoted. I teach them Greek so that they can read both the Old and New Testaments. To drive this point home, I often begin class by having my students compare a Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) to our Hebrew text (MT). Here’s an example from my class this past week. Before you read my comments below, what differences do you see between the two versions?

 

Ps 85:6-8 (NIV based on the Hebrew text—MT) Ps 84:7-8 (My translation of the Greek OT—LXX)
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
and grant us your salvation.I will listen to what God the Lord says;
he promises peace to his people,
his faithful servants but let them not turn to folly.

 

God, after you turn to us, you will revive us,
and your people will rejoice in you.
Show us your mercy, Lord,
and grant us your salvation.I will listen to what the Lord God will say to me;
for he will speak peace to his people,
his faithful servants who are turning their heart to him.

After we translated the two versions, my students said they enjoyed how the LXX turned the rhetorical question from the MT into a confident pronouncement. That is, the MT asks God whether he will revive his people so that in return they would be able to rejoice in him. But in the LXX, it is not a matter of “if”: it’s a matter of time—“after God turns” he will give new life to his people and they will delight in him.

The students also liked how the Psalmist in the LXX makes the song more personal. In the LXX, God won’t just speak: he will speak “to me.” And finally, my students said they actually preferred the happier ending of verse 8 in the LXX to that of the MT. Rather than a prohibition to avoid turning to folly (MT), the LXX gives the positive promise to those who turn to the Lord.

A couple of my students expressed a bit of fear that I was trying to undermine their Old Testament translations. To allay their concerns, I contrasted the LXX with Siri on my iPhone. Just a few days before that class, I had decided to take a powernap. I grabbed my iPhone, pushed the button for Siri and said: “Wake me up in 25 minutes.” I am not sure what happened, but something went terribly wrong. Siri responded in her feminine robotic voice: “Okay, playing Keith Sweat songs for 25 minutes.” Wait…what? That wasn’t even close to what I said!

I told the students that unlike Siri in this instance, the LXX doesn’t totally miss what the MT was saying. Rather, it often nuances the MT and sometimes even enhances it. Some of our English translations and paraphrases do the same thing as they look for the best way to express a Hebrew word, phrase, or concept in English. To be clear, I am not arguing that we should read one over the other—just that there’s value in reading them both side by side.

(And for the record, I do not have 25 minutes worth of Keith Sweat music on my phone. Five maybe, but not 25.)

If you’d like to try it, you can read the English translation of the Greek OT here: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/ or here http://ecmarsh.com/lxx/.

I recommend starting with the popular Psalm 23 (which is Psalm 22 in the LXX).

As Mark blogged about previously, we’re excited to roll out an online Greek and Hebrew program at Eternity. Mark talked about the benefits of learning Greek and Hebrew, which I recommend you read. I’ll emphasize a point he made in passing.

Most people think that we should study the languages in order to be more accurate in our theology and translation. While that is a good reason, you shouldn’t expect after learning one year of Greek or Hebrew to be correcting your ESV or NASB!

Hebrew BibleWhy do we learn the languages then? Because we want to see the emphasis of the original author. By studying Greek and Hebrew we are better able to see what the author is emphasizing and where he is going in his argument. We’re better able to understand the point of his sentence, paragraph, and book. It’s not that it isn’t there in the English translations, but sometimes it’s much harder to see the intention of the author without the original languages.

I want to answer a different question, though: Why would I want to learn Greek and Hebrew at Eternity? What makes our program different than all the other ways out there to study Greek and Hebrew?

Mark began with the most obvious reason that sets our program apart, that these are go-at-your-own-pace classes. One of the biggest hindrances I’ve seen over the last eight years of teaching Greek and Hebrew is that students are not all at the same place. Some pick up language more naturally than others, while some are able to devote much more time than others. Yet in a traditional class, we have to go at one pace. We shoot for the middle and hope the slow students can catch up and the fast students don’t get too bored.

But another major benefit of how we are teaching the languages at Eternity has to do with pedagogy (our philosophy of how to teach the languages). Now, while we cannot claim that our pedagogy is completely unique and there are other language classes that teach the languages based upon modern linguistic theory, this is a benefit of learning the languages here. Without getting into the details, we teach the languages based upon understanding how the language works rather than rote memorization of all the possible forms of words. Now, of course this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to memorize when learning a language, but by using well established linguistic theory, we are able to cut down on unnecessary rote memorization and to teach the languages in a way that will stick with the student. We emphasize getting into the text quickly and learning the language through practice.

This gets into the part of the classes that I am personally most excited about. Having a background in Computer/Electrical Engineering, I have written a computer program that allows students to interactively look at the forms of Greek and Hebrew words. Scroll Tag Screen ShotThey can click on the various parts of the word, and the program will tell them what those various parts mean. There are also charts in the program that get marked up for each different part of the word. When you incorrectly identify a part of the word, the program is able to identify what part of the word you didn’t notice and will highlight that for you. We are excited that we will be giving the program away for free to all of our students who sign up for the languages! This allows students to practice identifying Greek and Hebrew words at home, which is what is needed. You can take a quick look at some screenshots at scrolltag.com/trainer.

Put that together with full length lectures online with many hours of instructional videos, access to the professor, and an affordable price, and we are praying that many will take the jump to studying and understanding God’s Word in greater depth!

First a qualification. For most people, learning Hebrew and Greek is not easy. But Eternity Bible College is now offering a unique approach to teaching these biblical languages that will make the learning process much easier—relatively speaking—for most people.

 

A Case for Learning the Languages

Let me be clear. I don’t believe that everyone ought to learn Hebrew and Greek. You can have confidence that when you are reading your English translation of the Bible, you are reading the words of God. You’re not a second rate Christian if your understanding of God isn’t based on your own acquaintance with Hebrew (though we should all acknowledge that we owe a great debt to those who have interacted with these languages).
Greek CartoonI should also add that we can get ourselves into trouble by learning just a little bit of the biblical languages. I’ve heard a lot of people misuse Greek or Hebrew, assuming that throwing out a word or phrase that’s unintelligible to their congregation gives their sermon more authority (or makes them sound smarter, more like). I’ve heard pastors say things like, “In the Greek, Paul is using the word agape, which means love. He is telling us to love one another. “ Awesome. Thanks for that gem. But my English Bible says “love,” so your explanation wasn’t helpful.

But having said all of that, the church needs people who can read Greek and Hebrew, and the more the better. While some misuse the languages, there are gems to be gleaned by studying the Scriptures as they were originally written. It helps us to be precise. It removes ambiguity. It gets us a little bit closer to the world(s) in which the Bible was written.

So the church needs people who can read the Bible as it was written. Some of these people will serve as Bible translators, whether into English or some foreign language. Others will serve as theologians who carefully examine the Scriptures to be sure our debates don’t get off track. Most of the people who know Hebrew and Greek will be teaching the Bible to other people, and the languages help them teach with greater insight and accuracy. And then there are those who have learned the languages and sit in pews (remember those?), getting a little more out of what is being taught, taking their study of Scriptures a step further, enabling themselves to interact more intelligently with commentaries and works of theology.

Whichever group you fall into, I encourage you to try out the languages. Not everyone can or should do this, but maybe you should. Consider it.

 

Greek BibleHow Eternity Can Help You Learn the Languages

Here’s how we can help you. We are offering Hebrew and Greek courses online. It is notoriously difficult to teach the languages, and this can be especially hard in an impersonal online setting. So we are offering these courses on a self-paced, pay-as-you-go, work-directly-with-your-professor basis.

Our online language classes are offered through a monthly subscription: $100 per month. During each month of your subscription, you will have access to all of the course material you need. You will also be in contact with a professor, who will have regular online “office hours” and will set up times to work with you when you need it. Once you feel confident with your knowledge of the material, you pay a $100 exam fee and take your final exam—it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the course for two weeks or a year. Once you have passed your exam, you will receive three or four units of college credit (depending on the course).

We also take a unique approach to teaching the languages. Our Hebrew and Greek professor, Josh Grauman, focuses less on memorizing paradigms and more on understanding the way these languages work. He has also developed a unique interactive parsing program (Scroll Tag) that shows how morphology and parsing relate, and this program integrates tightly into the curriculum. This program gives students something to work through on their own, and students enrolled in the course will be given free access to the program.

Students will also have access to recorded lectures which will help them grasp the content at their own pace.

This method allows students to study at their own pace, to focus on those concepts and lessons that they find most challenging, and to get as much out of the class as possible (as opposed to keeping up with the rest of the class and passing a test).

 

Click here to learn more or to sign up.