Michael Kruger on Whether It Is a Waste of Time to Learn Biblical Languages . . .

A few weeks ago, a new crop of seminary students began the grueling month-long experience of Summer Greek. And, like all seminary students before them, they will begin to ask the question of why studying these ancient languages even matters. After all, a few years after graduation all will be forgotten. In the midst of a busy pastoral life, who could possibly maintain proficiency in the languages? READ MORE...

I would like to add something to this topic. I am frequently asked which beginning Greek grammar should I begin with. I actually first recommend a primer on modern linguistics before they take biblical languages. Morphology and syntax are needed of course to learn Hebrew and Greek, but I would rather have a pastor or seminary student read this one book first before they study a written language such as Koine Greek:

God, Language, and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics. by Moises Silva.

This book is an antidote for the most common interpretive biblical fallacy: maximalism. Silva’s book will reinforce that you should not interpret a morpheme, word, phrase, clause, sentence, or even a paragraph in isolation. Rather, one should interpret in light of a discourse. Most people know this, but most people do not do this. Fundamental modern linguistic principles is what every student and pastor needs to grasp in order to avoid omnipresent fallacies and thus capture God’s message in a deeper accurate way.

In a forthcoming volume, I contributed a chapter responding to the fallacy of linguistic maximalism entitled: “James Barr on the ‘Illegitimate Totality Transfer’ Word-Concept Fallacy.” I wrote:

Moisés Silva makes this point from his own experience:

“In my own preaching during the past twenty-five years, explicit references to Greek and Hebrew have become less and less frequent. But that hardly means I have paid less attention to the languages or that they have become less significant in my work of interpretation. Quite the contrary. It’s just that coming up with those rich ‘exegetical nuggets’ is not necessarily where the real, substantial payoff lies.”[1]

Here is a lesson for pastors, that seasoned language reflection is typically behind the scene in sermon prep, supporting the message. Scattered “golden nuggets” may preach well, but are not well preached.

[1] Silva, God, Language, and Scripture, 144.

The beginning Greek grammars I recommend are those that are not stuck in 19th century German philology (and they are still out there!); rather, I recommend those that have incorporated modern linguist theory into Koine Greek grammar.

 

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