This might betray my nerdiness, but ever since eighth-grade bible class, I’ve wanted to read the New Testament in the original Greek. So, freshman fall – sort of on a whim – I signed up for Greek Aa. Now, after two full years in the Classics Department, I am at the point where I can (haltingly) make it through the New Testament in the original koinē. I am very glad that I acted on that whim, but what I have gotten out of my study of Greek so far is not exactly what I expected when I began.
Of course I never actually thought that being able to read Greek would magically supercharge my powers of biblical interpretation… Well, maybe I did, just a little. I had some expectation that examining with the text in the language of its authors would open up new dimensions of meaning and new avenues of interpretation. Certainly, those “eureka moments” have been there, if not with the frequency that I once imagined. Working through 1 Corinthians, for example, I was been struck by the literary beauty and linguistic subtlety of the triumph of Christ’s “foolishness.”
But most often, reading the Bible in Greek really isn’t that much different from reading it in English. Ultimately, there’s little difference between reading “love of God” in the ESV and “agapē tou theou” in the UBS Greek. (I am certainly no scholar of Hellenistic language; I’m sure much of the nuance is lost on me, even in the Greek.)
What reading Greek does is force me to read slowly, painfully so. And it is in this – so far at least – I have found that reading Greek has benefitted me the most. When it takes me 30 minutes to get through a chapter and when I am forced to look up every few words in a lexicon, I cannot help but pay attention every clause, every shift in tense, every lowly subordinating conjunction. Lack of fluency forces me to read and reread every passage three or four times before I can fully grasp its meaning.
This arduous experience has shown me that college has made me too much of a scanner. It is amazing how incredibly obvious things can escape me when I am reading something as fast as I possibly can. My experiences with Greek have shown me that I need to slow down and really soak in the meaning of Scripture. My (supposed) familiarity with God’s word tempts me to gloss over deep, God-given truths that my lazy mind has dismissed as commonplace. One should not be able to casually scan through Romans 8. I have become desensitized; reading Greek has reminded me of my constant need – passionately, humbly, and carefully – to explore the meaning of Scripture.
I’m planning on continuing with Greek, and hopefully one day I will be able to read Greek with as much facility as I do English. But even then I hope I do not forget to approach the Word with the reverence and care which it is due.