as easy as alpha beta gamma

First, I knew the Greek alphabet at the early age of approximately eight. And I thought that was pretty amazing.

Next, I attended a Bible college and was pleased that my music major requirements did not include Greek classes. I could sing the Greek alphabet to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me.” That was enough for me.

Next, I dove into Scripture study in a new way and discovered that Greek is amazing, and, had I the extra time confounding my days, I would love to learn the original languages of the Bible.

Why? The Bible takes on new life. The reader takes on a new perspective. And I love challenges and fun, so why not?

So as not to be incredibly profound, I will point out a few things I’ve learned that have caused me to think, “Wow. Wish I knew Greek.”

Fair warning, this is coming from a mildly ignorant student of the Word.

Not into Greek? Me neither. Stick with me on this one, and I promise I’ll do my best not to turn you into a lover of Greek.

α To translate the New Testament from Greek to English, the translators had to make adjustments.

As I say, this is quite profound. I guess I’ve known this all along. But it never occurred to me that, to really truly understand what the Bible is saying or what the flow of thought is, it would help to know the original words and their meaning. In order for us to understand the Bible in the English language, a slight bit of the original flavor is necessarily lost.

So, while I’m deeply grateful for the ability to read the Scriptures in my own language and will spend most of my days doing so, I’m discovering more and more that the intended meaning is better understood when I get closer to the author, his context, and his language.

β There is no capitalization or punctuation in Greek.

At least not the way we understand them. Translators made decisions about sentence breaks and capitalization of names, titles, places, and such. Just as humans divided the Scriptures into chapters and verses, humans determined capitalization and punctuation. Not to be a fanatic about it, but that stuff’s not inspired.

So, as I study the Scriptures, I don’t want to let those factors play a major part in my interpretation of it.

γ An English word seen twice, even in the same verse, may not be the same Greek word. And two different English words may very well be the same Greek word.

A necessity of translation, I suppose, but this is the one that blows my mind.

Example from Ephesians (ESV). The numbers are from the Strongs Concordance (KJV), a.k.a. my easy access to Greek.

Eph 1:2: “Blessed [2128: eulogetos] be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed [2127: eulogeo] us in Christ with every spiritual blessing [2129: eulogia] in the heavenly places.”

Compare with vs. 6: “. . . to the praise of His glorious grace with which he has blessed [5487: charitoo] us in the beloved.”

The first three are simply different forms of the same word. “Blessed” in verse six, however, is entirely different and is perhaps better understood as “favor,” as in Luke 1:28. It is more closely connected to the word “grace” [charis] than the word “blessed.”

When the English words match up, we can’t assume their corresponding Greek words do.

Another example from Ephesians (ESV).

Eph 1:10: “. . . as a plan [3622: oikonomia] for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him . . .”

Eph 3:2: “. . . assuming you have heard of the stewardship [3622: oikonomia] of God’s grace that was given to me for you . . .”

These two English words express two different ideas, but a quick check of the parallel Greek words reveals that they are referring to the very same idea.

And so, I’m discovering that Greek often clears the fog a bit.

Now, there are more factors to note, and checking the Greek doesn’t always clear things up so easily. At least not for a rookie like me. But at least it gets me back to the original texts to discover the issues.

δ Today’s definition of any given English word may not be the definition of the Greek word from which it is translated.

There is much more to be said about this, and so I intend to write a full post on this topic.

Briefly . . . words change over time. To understand the Bible, we must understand the words the author used, what he meant by the words he used, the context in which he used them, how they applied to his audience, and finally, how they apply to us.

Take the word “treasure,” for example.

Merriam-Webster’s definition:

1. Wealth (as money, jewels, or precious metals) stored up or hoarded.
2. Wealth of any kind or in any form.
3. A store of money in reserve.
4. Something of great worth or value.
5. A person esteemed as rare or precious.
6. A collection of precious things.

And yet, how does Jesus use the word “treasure”? When he says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matt 6:19), which of the above definitions is he referring to? Or do any of them qualify?

And so, understanding the meaning and usage of the words in their original language helps to define and clarify the English translations that we might tend to misapply otherwise.

There is so much more to be said. Further clarifications, tips, and tools are forthcoming.

And yes, Greek scholars would probably laugh at these observations and wish to make lots of corrections.

At any rate, this is just me saying, “No wonder people study Greek . . .”

Hebrew? Now that’s another story. First, I gotta learn the Hebrew alphabet.


Interested in learning Greek? Join me in attempting to start the habit of spending two minutes a day on Greek via dailydoseofgreek.com.


3 thoughts on “as easy as alpha beta gamma

  1. One of my favorite things about working with the Greek is that it forces me to slow down. Sometimes I just read too fast and don’t take time to breathe or take it in. Greek forces a more meditative pace.

    Like

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