Why Learn Biblical Greekby
There is one obvious and primary reason that people that people begin the journey of learning Biblical Greek. The answer is clear, a genuine and strongly felt desire and passion to deepen our knowledge of the bible, which is driven and motivated by a desire to deepen our knowledge of God, and the spiritual wisdom that is found through a deeper understanding of God’s revelation to us.
However, as we embark on this adventure to build our understanding of the biblical languages. Most of us realise that this is no small task. It requires a certain amount of dedication and commitment to see the journey through to its end goal. Especially considering we have so many readily available high quality English translations available to us. It would be easy to write an entire book on this topic, but that is not my goal here. Here we will simply introduce the main issues for you to be aware of as you consider this question.
Lost in translation
It is not possible to accurately create a one for one translation between one language an another. There are often places where interpretive decisions must be made. Although in most cases these interpretive decisions are subtle and not overly consequential. In some cases they do have a subtle impact on our theology. I simply do not want to be reading the text in translation when that translation can potentially colour our understanding of what the biblical author is trying to communicate to us.
Poetry and Rhetoric
There are words, phrases, and poetic devices in the original biblical text that genuinely cannot be communicated through translation.
Words do not have a one-to-one translation between one language and another language. Words have a “cloud” or “range” of meanings. The meaning of a word is sometimes difficult to precisely communicate with a single word.
Phrases and paragraphs are sometimes organised in a way that is simply poetic and beautiful to read. This poetry is almost always lost in translation. When you read in English alone, it can be easy to accidentally fall into a trap of building our theology based on a certain word, which may either have a fuller meaning in the orignal language, or a word may have been chosen for poetical rather than theological reasons.
Biblical Greek is flexible in word order, English has a fixed word order. This means that translators are forced to adjust the word order as we translate into English—because we don’t want English bibles that sound like they were translated by Yoda, although that might be fun. This means, when word order is adjusted for emphasis, that emphasis is often lost in the English. Consider the following example English sentences, that have a subtle, but important difference in meaning:
- Mary ate the bread.
- Mary ate the bread.
In spoken English we can adjust the sound of our voice to focus the listener onto “Who?” ate the bread or to focus onto “What?” was being eaten.
It answers the question “Which bible translation is best?”
There is an endless debate among Christians over which translation is best. People launch entire websites and YouTube channels for the sole purpose of asserting that their favourite bible translation is the best one, others launch campaigns against a particular bible translation. Anyone who is arguing that one single bible translation is the best, or another translation is the worst, is probably over simplifying the issue.
Objectively speaking, there really are some translations that are better, and some translations that are worse. I would argue that there is no single best or ideal translation. Having become much more comfortable reading my bible in the original languages, I accidentally discovered that I have lifted myself out of that awkward internal debate about not having a “best” or “favourite” translation. Now I find myself thinking. “I’ll leave others to argue which translation is best, I’ll stick with the original text”.
I could have written a much longer, much more logical and detailed article on this topic, but ultimately I don’t believe people study biblical languages because of logical well formed arguments. I believe there are two keys to success in studying the biblical languages, and if we can grasp these two key concepts, the underlying motivation to challenge why we should learn biblical languages is undermined and eliminated.
Firstly, the student who succeeds in their biblical language is the student that has learnt to put systems and structures in place to achieve their goals. It is one thing to simply have a desire to move from “a” to “b”, it is a whole other matter to actually put in place the structure that will enable it. One student wakes up in the morning thinking “I should study my Biblical Greek today”, another student wakes up and doesn’t think about when to study, but knows “Today after breakfast I’ll be getting in my 15 minutes of language study” because they have put in place a schedule and structure that automates the study process.
Secondly, we need to learn to enjoy and love the process. The student who is successful in learning the biblical languages will usual be the student who has managed to grow a love for the actual studying process itself. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it can be tedious at times to sit there and work through our flashcards, but there is certainly a strong sense of satisfaction and enjoyment of setting aside that long term pain for the long term satisfaction of the results of this task.
Finally, it is our goal that we can make the journey enjoyable and fun. We believe, by using modern language teaching methods, we can also speed up this endeavor. Who knows, maybe one day we will live in a world where all Christians have easy access to learn to read the biblical languages rapidly and easily?