Assumption #4 for this blog states:
The Bible should be translated into modern languages so modern people can know it. Many English translations faithfully capture the meaning of the original text.
I don’t want to get into the details of linguistics and translation, but I want to address a common misconception about Bible study. The misconception is this: to really get deep, you need to know Greek and Hebrew. Or, at the very least, you should be able to refer to it.
What do I mean by referring to it?
I’m talking about that tendency to refer to the “real” meaning of a word or phrase by making use of the Greek or Hebrew word or phrase behind it. Perhaps you’ve heard or made statements like this.
The “love” in this verse is agape love. It’s not the usual sort of philia love. It’s the selfless, sacrificial agape love.
The word behind the word “greetings” in this passage is shalom. It’s the traditional Jewish greeting, but shalom involves much more peace and wholeness than simple greetings.
I don’t really know what the author is talking about here, since I don’t know the Greek.
We can’t get to the bottom of our question because so much gets lost in translation…
These statements are simply not true. There is rarely much to be found in Greek or Hebrew that can’t be found in a careful English translation.
Now, I’m not suggesting that knowing Greek or Hebrew is worthless. I love the ancient languages, and they have enriched my understanding and love for the Scripture. I think ministers of the word should learn the original languages so they can understand how language and translation work and so better shepherd their people with the word.
But if you don’t know Greek or Hebrew, and you don’t have the opportunity to learn them, you’ll do just fine. Your Bible study would be better served by practicing good observation, interpretation, and application of the English Bible, than by spending lots of time looking up Greek and Hebrew words in lexicons.
Let me give an example.
I have on my desk the latest issue of Bible Study Magazine (Vol. 5 No. 5). The magazine is fantastic. If you still read physical magazines, you should subscribe to this one. It’s only $20/year. And I won’t get a commission if you subscribe. I really mean it – I like this magazine!
But they have a column entitled “Greek Word Study Without Greek.” It’s meant to help non-scholars do a Greek study without knowing Greek. In this article, E. Tod Twist examines Paul’s use of the word “tradition,” and he compares it with Jesus’ use of the same word. Jesus appears to disparage tradition in the Gospels (Matt 15:3, Mark 7:8), but Paul encourages it in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6.
So, for those who don’t know Greek, Twist lists 5 steps to show how to study the Greek word.
- Make the switch to Greek and establish a working definition
- Look up the Greek word in a lexicon
- Survey the usage of the word in the New Testament
- Account for the different perspectives by examining context
- Application–the “So What?”
In this case, the “switch” of step 1 involves getting an interlinear Bible and identifying the Greek word for “tradition” in 2 Thessalonians. Then a lexicon will define the Greek word for you (step 2). In step 3, the student uses a concordance or search engine to find all the verses that use the word.
Once the student hits step 4, he studies each passage to see how the word is used in context. At this point, Twist’s article actually hits pay dirt. His application (step 5) drives his point home:
As we study Scripture, we see that the proper response to tradition is not unthinking acceptance or rejection–it is discernment. For both Jesus and Paul, good paradosis [the Greek word for “tradition”] originates with God and leads us toward Him. Any tradition that does otherwise must be rejected.
Yes! Wonderful conclusion.
Here’s my contention: Twist didn’t need to go to the Greek to reach that conclusion. He could have skipped steps 1-2 entirely. He could have done step 3 with an English concordance or search engine. And he did steps 4 & 5 all in English anyway.
So why do we feel the need to “make the switch to Greek” in order to dig into the Scripture?
Don’t fall into the trap. The Lord provided intelligent translators to write excellent translations of the Bible in modern languages. Through those translations, you can know Jesus and have life. And the Greek word for “know” is ginosko, which means…”to know.”
But the Hebrew word for “life” is hayyim. Hang on a second while I look that one up again.
It means “life.” Glad we got that straightened out.