Keeping Up Your Greek: 3 Ways and 3 Benefits

By Mike Maruska

I have several friends in pastoral ministry who took the biblical languages in seminary. Last year when I took Greek I asked some of them what tricks they used to maintain their Greek. To my dismay nearly all of them confessed that they had stopped studying and practicing.

I know the reality of ministry and the number of directions one gets pulled, but considering all of the time, energy, and money spent to learn Greek, I am determined to retain what I’ve learned. The challenge is that I don’t have a natural place in my week to devote solely to studying Greek. I don’t preach or do academic work on a regular basis. There are other things than Greek competing for my time and attention, and probably always will be.

With all of the other things tugging at me for attention, it has forced me to be creative. Here are three ways I have tried to fold my Greek practice into my weekly duties in school, work, and devotional time, and three benefits I’ve enjoyed from doing this.

Three Ways to Keep Up Your Greek

  1. Use It In Your Ministry Responsibilities
    One of my job responsibilities at my church is writing the weekly curriculum for our kids’ curriculum. We do our best to be faithful to the text and turn it into a compelling story each week. This has provided opportunities to use my Greek (what kid doesn’t want to know about genitives and participles?).Obviously Greek is not necessary to write a solid Bible story, sermon manuscript, or any other biblically based teaching, but it helps me to better understand the text and catch things I might gloss over in English. I don’t always translate the entire passage, but I do try to spend time working through some of the key verses or words and look for anything that stands out. I have noticed when I tell a story and I have studied the Greek that I have a more comfortable grasp on the story.
  1. Use It To Help Memorize Scripture
    Another facet of our children’s curriculum is memorizing scripture. As we memorize verses, I make up hand motions to help memorize. There have been several times when seeing the verse in the Greek has guided me to find better motions that more accurately and simply convey the meaning. Knowing words in both English and Greek has greatly benefited my personal memorization of Scripture as well. Even if I can’t memorize an entire passage in Greek, just knowing some of the Greek behind the English helps to cement the ideas from the text in my head.
  1. Use It In Your Ongoing Theological Education
    While not all of the seminary classes that I am taking require interaction with the Bible’s original languages, I have found that using Greek can serve to enhance my studies. For example, a theology class that I am taking requires that I complete Scripture meditation papers. These involve sitting in the text for an extended period of time and really thinking through a passage. Rather than simply meditating on the English translation, taking time to also meditate on the Greek enriches my understanding of a given passage, as well as helping to keep my Greek fresh.

 

Three Benefits of Keeping Up Your Greek

  1. Seeing God’s Design in Scripture
    The more I study and read Scripture the more amazed I become at its rich texture and structure. Each author has a unique style, vocabulary, and literary devices. This is another place where Greek is very helpful. Authors use acrostics, chiasms, wordplay and other devices that are difficult to reproduce in translation. Recently I studied John‘s account of Mary at the tomb (Jn. 20:11-18). The structure is basically found in several direct (vocative) addresses each person uses in the narrative, something much more clearly seen in the Greek text than in English. While someone could certainly arrive at the same structure in English, knowing Greek allowed me to recognize it more easily.These types of structures and patterns are all over Scripture and it speaks to the Bible’s uniqueness. What other book could be written over thousands of years with multiple authors with unique voices and yet still retain such incredible cohesion.
  1. Reading Slowly
    For anyone that has a moderate level of familiarity with Scripture, it’s very easy to read quickly and breeze through passages. Attempting to read scripture in the Greek forces me to slow down (not like I could go fast, even if I wanted to!). As I slow down, I find phrases and thoughts I hadn’t considered. Consider how tight Paul’s arguments can be and the value of going slowly is obvious.Understanding Greek grammar has also provided me with a better understanding of English grammar. Maybe it’s because English is my native tongue, but prior to Greek I rarely stopped to think about the subject, object, or verb in a sentence. Now I do it all the time with better understanding of the text.
  1. Greater Confidence in God’s word
    While I have been blessed with the opportunity to study Scripture in the original languages, very few people in our churches will have the same chance. One of the benefits of continuing to study Greek is that it has led to a greater appreciation on our English translations. Sure, there are better translations for particular uses and needs, but overall, we have really good tools available to us as English readers. This has allowed me to skip the debates about translations and simply encourage people to read whatever Bible they have and read it well. Ultimately, reading the Bible well and often is what Greek and Hebrew should help us do.

 

Mike Maruska is an M.A. (Biblical and Theological Studies) student at Western Seminary and the Director of Elementary at Imago Dei Community, Central City Campus.

Another great way to keep up on your Greek is to subscribe to Dr. Robert Plummer’s Daily Dose of Greek.

1 thought on “Keeping Up Your Greek: 3 Ways and 3 Benefits

  1. Another benefit for keeping up with your Greek is spotting questionable translations in English (or another language)–at least, passages that need additional study. Translators, as much as they try to be true to the text, necessarily work from their own theological bias. Although the danger is more often true of translations done by individuals, it is also true of those done by committees. In addition, translators are influenced by tradition that may go back hundreds of years that may or may not have adequate basis in the Greek.

    A case in point: Ephesians 5. It was studying the Greek that opened my eyes to how many editions in English violate Greek grammar by putting in not only a new sentence but also a new paragraph and new section division in the middle of a string of participles–some after v. 20, others after v. 21. Both choices affect the interpretation in English. Although the arguments are many for one choice or the other–or for neither–, the pastor/teacher/theologian needs to be aware of what the Greek actually says before throwing down the gauntlet on this hotly debatable passage.

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