THREE GOOD REASONS TO LEARN NEW TESTAMENT GREEK

THREE GOOD REASONS TO LEARN NEW TESTAMENT GREEK

© 2020, by Sonya Tors. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

There are many different translations of the Bible into English, some of which are very good (e.g. the KJV, NKJV, and EMTV).[1]  What is better even than the best translation is the text in the original language.[2]  You can, of course, gain an excellent understanding of the Bible by reading an English translation, but learning New Testament Greek does provide certain advantages.

#1: You do not have to be dependent on the translator’s choice

Greek words have a range of meanings.  When a word has more than one meaning, the translator has to pick the one that he thinks is most appropriate.  Those who know Greek can see the entire range of meanings, instead of being limited to the choice made in the English translation.  Consider Acts 12:12-15 (this is after Peter has been freed from prison):

12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.
13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer.
14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate.
15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.” (NKJV)

Greek uses the same word, ἀγγελος, for both “angel” and “messenger”.  So did the people think that it was Peter’s angel at the door, or just Peter’s human messenger?

As another example, consider 1 Timothy 2:12:

And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. (NKJV)

The word translated as “woman” is γυνη, which can also mean “wife”.  The word translated as “man” is ἀνηρ, which can also mean “husband”.  So is the verse prohibiting a woman from having authority over a man, or just a wife from having authority over the husband?[3]

Furthermore, the English translation of this verse can give the impression that women not only are forbidden from teaching men in church, but that they cannot even speak while in church.  However, the Greek word translated as “silence”, ἡσυχια, can mean either “state of quietness without disturbance, quietness, rest” or “state of saying nothing or very little, silence”.[4]  An application of the first definition would mean that women should learn in quietness and not be disruptive, but not that they can never speak at all.

It is not only with respect to single words that you would sometimes be dependent on the translator’s choice if you do not know Greek.  Sometimes there is more than one way to translate something based on the structure of the whole sentence.  An example is 1 Peter 3:15, which the NIV translates as

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

The Greek says,

κύριον δὲ τὸν θεὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν ἕτοιμοι δ ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου

Let’s examine this sentence in sections:

κύριον δὲ τὸν θεὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν ἕτοιμοι δ ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου

κύριον δὲ τὸν θεὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν = “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”

ἕτοιμοι δ ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν = “and ready always for a defense”

παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον = “to everyone asking you a reason”

περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος = “for the hope in you”

μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου = “with meekness and fear”

So, the words “with meekness and fear” (which correspond to “with gentleness and respect” in the NIV) appear at the end of the sentence:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and ready always for a defense to everyone asking you a reason for the hope in you with meekness and fear.

Does the phrase “with meekness and fear” describe the manner in which you give the defense, or does it describe the manner in which the person asks you a reason?  The NIV chooses the latter for you.  But the Greek word order indicates that it is more likely the former.  The NKJV, which translates the verse as, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” reflects the Greek sentence structure much better than the NIV does.

#2: Knowledge of Greek can solve apparent problems

In Mark 4:31, it appears that Jesus makes a scientific error by saying that the mustard seed is the smallest seed when it is not:

It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; (NKJV)

Somebody who knows Greek will be able to see that Jesus did not, in fact, make an error.  The word translated as “earth” is γης (genitive of γη), which can also mean “of ground for agricultural use, soil, earth, receiving seed”[5] rather than “earth” as in the whole world.  In Mark 4:31, Jesus was not saying that the mustard seed is the smallest of all the seeds on the planet Earth, but the smallest of all seeds sown in an area of ground for agricultural use, which is true.[6]

#3 Knowledge of Greek can refute attacks by false religions

Roman Catholics use James 2:24 to claim that works are necessary for salvation:

You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (NKJV)

Again, knowledge of Greek solves the conundrum. Greek uses the same word πιστις to refer to either actual faith or mere intellectual belief.  Faith is more than mere intellectual belief.  A person can have an intellectual belief that the earth is round, but this belief is not going to affect the way he lives his life.  On the other hand, faith will cause a person act, out of commitment to that belief, in ways he otherwise would not, such as Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son because God told him to.  So James 2:24 would be better translated as, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by intellectual belief only”, the works referring to such acts of commitment.  In other words, James is saying that faith (intellectual belief + act of commitment) is required for salvation, not just intellectual belief.[7]

Jehovah’s Witnesses mistranslate John 1:1 to reflect their denial of the Trinity.  John 1:1 says,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (NKJV)

What the NKJV translates as “the Word was God” Jehovah’s Witnesses translate as “the Word was a god”.  They argue that it should be translated this way because when the word θεος means “God” as opposed to “god”, Greek places a definite article (i.e. “the”) before it, and in John 1:1 there is no definite article there.

Someone who knows Greek will know that when a form of the verb “to be” joins two nouns together, only the word that is the subject can have the definite article.  If “Word” and “God” both had a definite article, then the clause would equally be “the Word was God” and “God was the Word”.  To show that “the Word was God” is meant, only “Word” can have the definite article and “God” cannot, even if “God” would usually have a definite article otherwise.

So, in this clause, since θεος has no definite article, we have to look at context and what is said in other parts of Scripture to determine whether it should be translated as “the Word was God” or “the Word was a god”.  Other parts of the Bible make it clear that there is only one God and that Jesus and the Father are one, so it is obvious that the translation “the Word was God” is the correct one.

Furthermore, if you know Greek you will be able to expose the dishonesty of the Jehovah’s Witness translators by pointing out other verses in John chapter 1 where θεος has no definite article (such as 1:6, 1:12, 1:13, and 1:18), yet their New World Translation translates it as “God”!  Only in John 1:1 do they render it as “a god”.

Final Words

Knowledge of New Testament Greek can enhance your Bible study.  It is beneficial to learn for ordinary Christians, not only pastors and scholars.  If you are willing to put in a consistent effort to learn, it is possible to learn enough to start reading the New Testament in Greek, with the help of a lexicon and grammar book, in a year or two.


Footnotes

[1] See our article “A Brief Overview on Bible Translation” at https://truthinmydays.com/a-brief-overview-on-bible-translation/#A_Word_about_the_EMTV.

[2] Provided that a good Greek text is used; see our article “A Brief Overview on Bible Translation” at https://truthinmydays.com/a-brief-overview-on-bible-translation/.

[3] In our article “Women and Church Leadership: An Inquiry and a Response to Pastor Keith A. Smith’s “Can Christian Women be Pastors and Preachers?” posted at https://truthinmydays.com/women-and-church-leadership-an-inquiry-and-a-response-to-pastor-keith-a-smiths-can-christian-women-be-pastors-and-preachers/, we argue that “woman” and “man” are indeed the correct choice, since there this passage contains no possessive indicator, which is generally present if a wife/husband relationship is meant.

[4] Danker, Frederick W., Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 440

[5] Ibid., p. 196

[6] See our article “Did Jesus Err about the Size of Mustard Seeds? A Case Study in How to Do Serious Evangelical Apologetics” for a detailed discussion at https://truthinmydays.com/did-jesus-err-about-the-size-of-mustard-seeds-a-case-study-in-how-to-do-serious-evangelical-apologetics/.

[7] For a detailed explanation, see our article “Salvation by Grace Alone through Faith Alone: What about James 2:24?” at https://truthinmydays.com/salvation-by-grace-alone-through-faith-alone-what-about-james-224/.

No Comments

Add your comment