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This page revised and Copyrighted: Theon Doxazo

14 December, 2023

 

A Greek Rationale

02.1.2

A Rationale for Studying the Scriptures in the Greek Language

Many followers of Christ struggle to make time to read the Scriptures.  Even when they make time to do so, developing an understanding of the text in their native languages (mine is English) can be daunting.  The Word of God contains deep truths, many hard to grasp.  No person can say that he has exhausted the Scriptures and learned all that they have to teach.  The task is simply too great.

Even those that labor long can run into numerous problems trying to understand what God has to say in the text of Scripture.  Clearly differences in culture and practice between the first century Church and one's current church can breed a host of problems.  While a concern, that particular issue isn't what we're here to deal with.

Surprisingly, the words we use can change their meanings from time to time and from one context to another.  This can breed a wealth of misunderstandings.  For example:  the word 'style' was once used to describe a stick used to write on wax tablets.  Currently this same word 'style' is used to describe an idiosyncratic mode of expression.  Again:  in the past the word 'junket' referred to flavored curds mixed with cream.  Now the term 'junket' is often used to describe a politician's trip.  Consider also:  in the past the word 'prove' used to mean to test something.  Now the word 'prove' describes the process of convincing someone of something.  Consider the proverb “the exception proves the rule.”  This is an old use of the word 'prove'.  Thus, the proverb should be read as “the exception tests the rule.”  Instead, because the meaning of the word has changed over time, currently we would interpret the proverb as saying “the exception convinces us of the rule's correctness.”  The modern use of 'prove' renders the old proverb confusing and blatantly incorrect.  Thus, it is important to be careful to seek to understand what the original author intended to say by choosing a specific word, instead of simply reading a translation in our native tongue.  Doing so can lead to a host of problems, even with an excellent translation!

A second reason for studying the text in the original languages is because words can often have multiple meanings at the same time.  Thus, a word can mean different things in different contexts.  For example:  the word 'dog.'  We all know what the word 'dog' refers to, don't we?  Well, don't be so fast.  The word 'dog' can refer to the four-legged animal we are so familiar with, but it can also be used to describe a piece of iron used to hold something on a workbench.  This same word can be used to describe the process of securing a hatch on a ship.  It can even be used to describe an ugly person.  This same word can have different meanings, depending on the context.

Consider also the word 'pig.'  Again, we know it is a four-legged animal, but it could also refer to unforged iron or a large metal tank filled with compressed natural gas.  Further, it can also be used to disparage an overweight person.  Finally, consider the word 'horse.'  Another four-legged creature, no?  Yes, but it can also be used to label a wooden frame used to support material.  It has also been used to describe cavalry.  It is important to understand what the original author of Scripture intended because sometimes words can be slippery and their meaning hard to grasp.

A third reason for studying the text of Scripture in the original languages is because, even though Scripture translations into English and other languages are usually very good, at times a single English word can be used to translate several different Greek terms.  Consider the word 'love.'  Even in English that word can be slippery.  Yet, the word 'love' in English is used to represent four different Greek words:  agape, phileo, storge, and eros.  Four different kinds of 'love' all referred to in English by a single word.  Reading the word in English runs the danger of missing the distinctions between the types of 'love' the Greek writers intended.  Also:  consider the English word 'knowledge'.  This single English word is often used to translate three different Greek words:  gnosis, epignosis, and sophia.  Again, the English reader runs the risk of unwittingly not seeing the distinctions present and clearly intended by the Scriptural author.

For example, consider John 21:15-19.  In this passage Jesus asks Peter “do you love me?” three times.  After the third time the text describes Peter as feeling hurt.  It seems not unreasonable to understand that asking the same question three times may imply that Jesus doubted Peter's love, leading him to feel hurt.  However, what most English readers aren't aware of is that the word used for 'love' in this text changes.  In the first two instances Jesus asks “do you agape me?'  Consistently in response to all three questions Peter responds by saying “Yes, I phileo you.”  The third time Jesus asks “do you phileo me?”  Now a depth of understanding begins to open up.  There is much more going on here than a simple repetition of a question.  There's a give and take in the use of language that can't be understood from a superficial reading of the English.  Consider how your wife would feel if she asked if you 'love' her and you responded that you 'liked' her.  You'll be sleeping on the couch tonight!  There is a difference in words!  If our goal is to draw forth (or exegete) from the Scriptures the meanings the authors intended, then we need to guard ourselves against these sorts of misunderstandings based on language.  We really need to consider the Scriptures in their original languages.  By the way, the passage in John 21 will be more extensively discussed later on when we consider the relationship between phileo and agape.