Don’t Study Greek

For those who know me, this is a crazy statement, and you know something is up.

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I have studied biblical languages, Greek in particular, a lot. Actually, if my math is right, I’ve completed 32-hours of formal Greek instruction at Universities and Seminaries (and that doesn’t even count the classes I’ve taken more than once). That’s why it may seem shocking for me to say “don’t study Greek.”

Let me first say that there is probably nothing better for your understanding of what the New Testament is actually saying, the words themselves, than jumping into Greek and going all the way with it. In fact, you will gain great insight into the Old Testament, specifically the Old Testament which the New Testament quotes most often, called the Septuagint (LXX).

BUT, here are some reasons to not study Greek

  • if you think it will somehow make you a spiritual giant. Greek is just a language, it is not a “Holy Ghost” language, though it is the one God chose to write the NT in, and that’s is pretty special, but it was the common language of the day when the NT was written. Knowing Greek is helpful, but not innately spiritual.
  • if you think it will answer all your questions and leave you with fewer ones. While a solid knowledge of Greek has helped me understand and answer many questions, it has also unquestionably brought up far more that I would have never even known existed. What I’m trying to say is that if you’re looking to simplify your understanding of the Bible, stick with English.
  • if you want to be impressive to others. The reason to learn Greek is to better understand the Word of God, that is a humbling enterprise, not one that will (if done properly) lift you up.
  • if you want to win arguments with people. This is similar to the last one. You will become more frustrated in arguing with people the more Greek you begin to grasp. The arguments that become more and more persuasive to you will seem less and less relevant to the average church member. You may have a better time convincing yourself, but it will be lost on others.
  • if you think you can “learn Greek” in 4-8 semesters. Too many seminary graduates charge-forth into the field of battle with their weapon half-loaded and half-cocked. May I humbly submit that in the first few years of study, Greek is something you only even begin to grasp the foundational concepts of the skeleton upon which the meat of the language is hung. Honestly, you don’t even start to truly “read” the language until you’re actively “translating” it on a regular basis for about 5-years (and least, that has been what I’ve seen in myself and others). We, English speakers, just can’t see the patterns or even “think greekly” until we wade through enough of it and force ourselves to ask the tough grammatical questions time-after-time over a long period of time. Quite frankly, very few do this.

Reason to study Greek

  • Nothing will serve your understanding of God’s word better.

This is a life-long commitment. You cannot put in a couple of years and then you “know Greek” (unless you are one of “those people” who already knows 4-5 languages and you can pick them up in a couple of months anyway).

If you have a Greek requirement for school, but you are hoping to “pass” and then move on to more important stuff, I would encourage you to take the minimum you need and then sell your books and never look back.

If, on the other hand, you can see yourself reading from the Greek NT at least 2-3 days a week for the rest of your life, and thinking “greekly” and working through hard grammatical questions, then by all means use your time in seminary (or Bible College) to begin this journey.

You cannot merely play at this language and then think you have more insight. To be honest, if all you have is “seminary minimum” you’re probably more confused than the average church member, but the dangerous thing is, you probably also don’t know it!

But if you will fall in love with this language, the language in which God reveals to us His Son and His Gospel, it is so worth it. Don’t rush it either, you don’t have to “get it all in” while you’re in seminary. Do all you can then, but keep learning, keep digging, it’s worth it!


So what about you?

Are you thinking about taking Greek? Have you taken Greek? Have you “moved beyond” what you learned in seminary (it is a fallacy to think you can “keep-up” with your Greek, that assumes you can get to an acceptable level of competency in 3-4 years, and I just don’t think you can)?

About John Harris

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

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