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Why Study NTGreek?

Why should time and effort be expended learning New Testament Greek? There are dozens of widely accepted English translations and plethora of commentaries on every part of Scripture. So, why learn Greek? The numerous translations actually reveal the inherit dilemma.

So many translations exist because the English language cannot render an exact translation from the Greek New Testament. First and foremost, the Greek language is highly inflected. Inflection allows an author to encode meaning--something that is lost in EVERY English translation. Furthermore, every Greek word and idiom has a semantic range of meaning, and that range in Greek can only be approximately represented in English.

Learning New Testament Greek affords an opportunity never realized in any translation. Erasmus wrote in the Preface to his Greek Testament, "These holy pages will summon up the living image of His mind. They will give you Christ Himself, talking, healing, dying, rising, the whole Christ in a Word. They will give Him to you in an intimacy so close that He would be less visible to you if He stood before your eyes."

Any translation's stance on verbal inspiration is mirrored in the manner in which they translate. If a translation substitutes a noun for the original author’s verb, an “a” for “the”, replaces a subjunctive with an indicative, a past tense for a present, and so forth, then at best, the work has been seriously compromised, and at worst, the importance of verbal inspiration has been denied to the reader.

Verbal inspiration extends only to the original wording and sentence order of Scripture. There is not a translation in existence that can replicate the original, no matter how widely accepted, revered, or good it appears to be.

Instead of translating, many translations “interpret” the author’s "real" intent, as if they know better what should, ought, might have been written, rather than what they actually wrote. They legitimize their alteration of the original word(s) on the premise that the reader is actually aided by such help! When a translation succumbs to this subjective approach, no matter how slight, verbal inspiration diminishes proportionally, and it is as much disregarded as if it had no value.

A. T. Robertson, a distinguished Greek scholar, wrote in his Preface to the third edition of A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, “The Greek New Testament is the New Testament. All else is translation. Jesus speaks to us out of every page of the Greek. To get these words of Jesus it is worthwhile to plow through any grammar and to keep on to the end.”

The study of the original languages may be viewed as the proper understanding of the biblical doctrine of inspiration. If we do indeed believe that every word in the original autograph was inspired by God the Holy Spirit, then should we not be diligently studying His message to us in its original form?

Those who do not know Greek will come short of grappling with the original form of God's revelation. His revelation came in and through the Greek (also Hebrew and Aramaic) language. It is our responsibility to receive that revelation, to understand it, and effectively communicate it to others. If we have no knowledge of the original languages, then we are halted from exploring the fullness of God's revelation and unable to plumb its depths.

Consider for a moment the alternative. Those who do not know Greek are forced to borrow their ideas from others. They are slaves to the commentators and Bible teachers (who probably are not proficient in Greek), and have no means to check their accuracy. Worst of all, without thorough training in biblical Greek, they will never realize they may be passing on their own ignorance, based upon an erroneous translation.

It has been said more than once, "It is not important to know biblical Greek to interpret correctly God's Word." Of course, this possibly could carry weight if it was true and stated by someone who actually knows the language, rather than from a posture of ignorance. Martin Luther, however, in the year of 1524 wrote,

"In the measure that we love the Gospel, let us place a strong emphasis on the languages. For it was not without reason that God wrote the Scriptures in two [primary] languages, the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. Those languages which God did not despise, but rather chose above all others for His Word, are the languages which we also should honor above all others. It is a sin and a shame that we do not learn the languages of our Book."

And again,

"The languages are the sheath in which the sword of the Spirit is contained."

If we are able to extract truth from God's Word that was previously indiscernible from a translation by learning Greek, then we shall succeed in our goal; not because of what has been translated, but because of what has been revealed from God! Furthermore, since the Greek New Testament is the Word of God, and the doctrine of biblical inspiration is what it is, then a thorough knowledge of biblical Greek is not a luxury, but indispensable.

Whatever knowledge of Greek one obtains will be of value. However, to complete this course, if it is to be more than superficial, entails three things: study, study and more study.  There is no other way. The study of the language will take time and great effort--anything else is a delusion. It is my recommendation that you spend an hour a day, five days a week. Before long you will be able to read the Greek text for yourself, without the running interference of a translation.

Over forty-three years ago, I responded to the question why it is important to study New Testament Greek. Thus, it is my sincere prayer that you begin learning New Testament Greek. Greek is within the reach of anyone who desires to learn. The goal of this course is to glorify the One true God and to help those who desire to be effective communicators of His Word to His people.

William Ramey
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