Lecture 1: Introduction to Greek Tools
Course: Greek Tools for Bible Study
Lecture: Introduction to Greek Tools
Welcome! We have some introductory material in this session, some things to try to give you a feel for what the course is going to be like. Then we are going to learn the Greek alphabet and talk about translations. Let’s start with prayer.
Our Father, we thank you for the opportunity to sit down with our brothers and sisters and look at issues related to studying Your word. Father, we pray that You will use the material presented and the material learned in our own Bible studies and our own lives to help us go a little deeper, to be a little more sure of what we believe. We thank You for the chance to get together and do this. In Jesus' name, amen.
My name is Bill Mounce, I am the preaching pastor at a church on the north end of town. I was, for four years before that, a professor at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, back north of Boston. Before that I was on staff in town and before that, for ten years, I taught at a Christian university in southern California. So, I guess I can’t keep a job but I will see if I can keep this one for a while. My background is mostly in academics and it was all I ever wanted to do when I started in school. When I fell in love with Greek, it just confirmed that academics was what I was going to do the rest of my life. Then a big mistake happened. I became involved in pastoral ministry and realized that I had been wrong, that God had really created me for the pulpit and those kinds of ministries. Part of the process in all of that was my four years at Gordon Conwell. I am telling you this as background to the book.
I have written a regular text book on Greek and one of my concerns is, I wonder how many people are going to forget everything it says, which is often what happens in seminary. You go through the Greek classes, you memorize vocabulary, you memorize the paradigms, and then you get into ministry. Marriages are falling apart and life happens, and you don’t have time to memorize Greek any longer. Most people, a lot of people I should say, tend to forget it, and it bothered me that I worked so hard on Greek and yet so many people were not using it. So I said, “What can I do? Is there something that you all can learn about Greek to help you study your Bible better that does not include all the memory work?” That is what was going around in my head when I Gordon Conwell asked me to run their Greek language program. One of the carrots they held out was that they had a class called ''Tools'', which was for non-Greek students to learn how to use the Greek tools to do Bible study better. I thought, is what I want to do, and so for that and several other reasons we went there.
So, what you are actually going to get in the next six or seven weeks is a seminary level class. Now, it does not mean that you have to know anything, alright? It starts at ground zero. I hope you know your English, although I will teach you some English if you do not. Do not get scared because I taught this at seminary. It is going to start at ground zero and its whole purpose is to teach you, I guess I should say, a little bit about English grammar and then enough about Greek so that you can use the tools intelligently. That is the purpose of the class. We will learn some Greek words, we have to learn the alphabet, some stuff like that, but not these long lists of paradigms and what not.
I have a couple of basic convictions that, as I have taught the class and worked on the book, I wanted to share these things as more of an introduction. First of all, translations are good. This is not a class designed to thumb its nose at English translations. I have been actually quite surprised, in the comparing of translations, at how good our translations are. They are considerably different, they have different philosophies behind them, but they are quite good. When I was younger, and I was more into academics and Greek, it was kind of, “Well, if you’ve read the English you’ve never read the Bible.” And that is not the case. The translations are pretty good. I say that because I am going to say a lot of negative things about different translations, or different verses in different translations. I have tried to spread out where I think translations made a mistake and I have tried to complement them as well, but my use of different translations are not meant to infer that they are not good. I need to say that up front, but all translations do have their limitations, every one of them has to be interpreted, every one looks at the Greek and Hebrew and has to make decisions. Sometimes there is only one way to translate it, but usually there are two ways, three ways, or four ways, and so all decent translations, while they are good, are making choices. That is where Bible study starts getting interesting.
There are three things that you should be able to do better when you leave this class right now. The number one goal is to know why translations are different. It is one of those things that is tremendously important to me. You know these proverbial Sunday school classes where you get into them and somebody reads a verse? And someone says, “Well my Bible says this”, and they go over here to the left. And then someone else says, “Well my Bible says this”, and then they go over to the right. And they are mutually exclusive and someone will say, in the Sunday school, “Oh, it must mean both.” Have you been in those situations? Okay, that is never the case. The Bible cannot mean mutually exclusive things in the same passage. No matter how pious and how sincere the comment may be. But what I want to do is to start showing why translations are different so that you can bring them together when you see differences. That is the whole point of the discussion of translations.
Let me give you a couple of examples. These are the kind of things you will be able to do when you get out of here. 1 Timothy 2:9, “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” If you have a Nazarene background this is one of these verses perhaps you’ve struggled with. That’s the ESV’s translation. See what the NRSV does, the New Revised Standard Version. It translates: “Also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently, in suitable clothing not with braided hair or with gold, pearls or expensive clothes.” Now, there’s one, little word that makes a significant difference as to whether you ladies can wear gold rings or not. Do you see what it is? What one little word? ''And.'' Can you see the difference? What Paul is telling Timothy is that the women are not to braid their hair, and in that culture it was braided up on top, kind of like a Marie Antoinette thing, and they would put into their hair gold or pearls. In other words, the golden pearls aren’t separate from the hair. It’s braided hair and gold or braided hair and pearls. Now when you read what the NRSV does, it completely separates them with the “or.” Any of you not baptized? I am not saying this because I am a pastor at a Baptist church. I am just asking. Any of you not baptized? Not going to go to heaven are you? Well, the Bible says, Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Anyone here want to get baptized real quickly? Does this verse apply to you?
Let’s see how well you know the ending of Mark. If you look in your Bibles, Mark 16:8 says, “The women fled from the tomb and they were afraid.” And all modern speech translations stop at verse eight. Then they will sometimes have a line and say, “other manuscripts add.” And this is one of the verses that was added. In other words, it’s not supposed to be in your Bible. It was added later. That is why it does not apply to you. There are some differences like this that we will be looking at in this class. Actually there are differences in the Greek manuscripts. Some Bibles follow some set of Greek manuscripts, other Bibles follow others. Anyway, this illustrates the kinds of differences we will be looking at. Let me emphasize that the reson we are doing this is to pull them together, not keep them separate. That’s really important that you see that.
Here’s a neat passage, 2 Timothy 1:12, “I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day”, New American Standard. ESV, “I am convinced that He is able to guard, until that day, what has been entrusted to me.” Which one is it? They’re two radically different things aren’t they? "I am persuaded the He is able, the entrusted of me, to guard." That is what the Greek says. So is it what Paul has entrusted with God or is it what God has entrusted to Paul? Or is there some way that it could be both? Again, the idea is to look at these two verses, two different translations, and not assume that they are talking about the same verse in the opposite direction, but to ask how we can pull these two translations together. The translators are both trying to get at the same thing from the same text. So we want to see why it’s different and then pull the translations together. Okay?
Word Studies Introduction
The first thing we will do is lear why translations are different. Second of all, we want to spend a little time doing Greek word studies. I have had a lot of people, when they find out that I teach Greek, say, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to learn Greek” and I say, “Why?” To this day I have not heard anyone say, “Because I want to know Greek.” 98 percent of the time it is because they want to know what the words really mean. Of all the things we are going to accomplish in this next six or seven weeks, being able to do word studies based on the Greek, and not on the English, is the easiest. You will learn how to use the tools and be quite assured of yourself that you got the right definition.
Just a couple of examples: 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul says that he wants Timothy to stay away from “profane and silly myths”, one of the translations. Other people have really different translations of "silly myths." What does yours say? Old wives’ fables, The New King James. Godless myths, NIV. I mean, those are some radically different interpretations of one word, aren’t they? Well, the word means "the stereotypical stories told by elderly ladies who sit around with nothing better to do than talk." That is what the word means. Now, in this day and age, are you going to translate that "silly old wives’ tales" and expect to be able to go home to your wife? No, you can’t do that. Everyone knows what the word means, there’s no question what the word means, but they are desperately trying to find some way to say it that won’t get them shot, that their Bible will still sell. There is a lot of consideration in this. It’s actually an extremely difficult word to translate. We are going to be able to look up the Greek word and figure out ourselves what it means and then explain it to our Sunday school class when we see those differences.
Here’s another example: 1 Corinthians 10:7, RSV translates, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to dance.” “People sat down and rose up to play”, NKJ. “They got up to indulge in pagan revelry”, NIV. Actually, the NIV got it exactly right. And I suspect, back when the King James and the RSV was written, that dance had that kind of connotation, pagan ritual dances. If you want to have some fun, just put the RSV and the NRSV side-by-side. All the NRSV is doing is correcting and updating the RSV, and it is fascinating to see the kinds of changes they made. You can see the NRSV translators say, “We can’t say dance, it doesn’t mean anymore what it meant then.” And they came up with "play". NIV, which is more paraphrastic than the NRSV, says, “Well, let’s just say what it really means, to indulge in pagan revelries.” But that is what the word means. You can see the problem. One of the theories in translation is that shorter translations are better than longer. They have more impact from an English standpoint, and so translators rarely like to do this kind of thing. They want one word, but there is no one word for this particular Greek word.
By the way, every once in a while I read something, especially on the internet, about the horrible, wicked people that translate Bibles and intentionally mislead. If you ever read that kind of garbage just block the site and don’t go back to it. I’ve been fortunate just because of where I’ve taught to know a lot of the translators. The NRSV translators are an older generation. I only know some of them, but I have been fortunate that I know most of the other translators working today, and they are good people. They are Godly people. They have a deep desire to make to Word of God known to people and none of them intentionally mistranslate. Not a single one of them. They just have different philosophies of translation and that’s why it’s different. Anyway, they are good people.
Read Better Commentaries Introduction
Okay, so we now know why translations are different, Greek word studies, and finally I want you to be able to read the better commentaries. There is a lot of really bad stuff out there and there is a lot of really good stuff out there. A lot of the good stuff requires at least some Greek, and if you start trying to read these commentaries it will talk about the imperfect tense. And you go, “What’s the imperfect?” and some may say, “What’s a tense?” I want to show you enough about Greek to help you read really good commentaries. In fact, one of the last times we are together, we will go through a list of my recommended commentaries.
I am going to do this two different ways. One is that I am going to talk about Greek, Greek grammar, but I am also going to do something called semantic diagramming, I call it phrasing. It is the way I study my Bible. It is the way I have studied my Bible for years and years and years, and in the process of teaching you what’s going on here what you’re going to be learning is A) perhaps a new way to study your Bible, but B) you’re going to be doing the kind of things that the commentators are doing. In other words, they are going to get into all kinds of discussions about what’s the main point. What are the subordinate ideas? What is the specific relationship of baptizing to make disciples? And this is what a lot of good exegetical commentary writing is all about. By learning phrasing, which is a lot of fun, you are going to be doing the kind of things that commentaries do so that it won't sound foreign when you actually read it.
Basically, what phrasing does is break everything into its phrases. It moves the main ones to the left and then it puts subordinate ideas under the word they modify. The Great Commission is an example of this. You may not know this yet, but the word “go” is not an imperative in Greek. There is only one imperative in the great commission and that is “make disciples.” "Go" is a participle, it’s kind of like “as you go” make disciples. How do you make disciples? You do two things, you baptize them and you teach them. You see how it’s laid out on the screen? That’s the kind of process that we’re going to go through and when you come out on the other side commentaries should not be frightening to you if they are now.
I’m going to be referring to a book, so I might as well show it to you right now. This is a book that I finished three or four years ago. I call it a reverse interlinear. You know interlinears, you have the English and the Greek. I did something different. Instead of keeping the Greek order I kept the English word order using the NIV. So, you can read along the NIV and then pop down whenever you want and get the Greek behind it, its parsing (you’ll know what that means in a little bit), and its Strong’s number.
If you ever look at the preface in the Reverse Interlinear, I talk about some of the things that scare me about this class. Basically, what this class will do is give you the ability to be very authoritatively wrong. You will be able to speak with so much authority that people who haven’t had the class, or haven’t learned Greek, aren’t going to be able to argue with you. That’s actually been my concern with this whole thing of teaching people some Greek. Actually, I believe that a little bit of arrogance is the dangerous thing, a little bit of Greek just helps. That is something between you and the Lord. I cannot take care of that for you. I just want you to be careful because there are limitations to this kind of approach. When you read commentaries you will be able to follow them, but you are probably not going to be able to argue with them.
You also need to be careful of not coming up with some interpretation all on your own that no commentary ever has. Well, this is a genitive case and so I think it’s a genitive of this. If no one else agrees with you, you are probably wrong. Let me encourage you to be careful to know the limits of the approach. No original interpretation. No getting into arguments with the commentaries. The class is designed to facilitate, or help you, use the tools to make sense of discussions and to get to know your Bible better.
The book is broken down into weeks and each week is broken into chapters. I am going to tend to spend most of the time on that last chapter of each week. I spend the first three or four chapters in each week explaining something about Greek, and then I take what you’ve learned and try to apply it. You’ll see how it works. So, in preparation for our classes, it is best to have read the next weeks discussion, but I am going to spend most of the time here on the last chapter in each week. By the way, I am not going to just repeat what is in the book during lectures; I figure what’s the point of that? So, the illustrations when I talk are different and how I’m going to teach the alphabet is going to be different. It will not be repetitive when you go back and reread the chapter.