Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Studying Greek Is Lifelong Stewardship And Lifelong Learning

Before getting to some stuff about Greek, I have to let you know that David Croteau is working on a new book called Urban Legends of the New Testament. You can read a little about it on the B and H Academic blog here. Rest assured I'll be grabbing a copy of it when it is released. It's already piqued my interest. If you haven't read his books on tithing, you're missing out. Can I recommend Tithing after the Cross published by Energion? You can't beat the price!

As I was reading about the book I found something that David wrote that got me thinking about the biblical languages. David says something about Greek that I want to expand on a little bit. He writes:
"There is a danger in studying Greek just a little, like taking one or two semesters in seminary. Some pastors have a vague knowledge of the language, but they do not know how to use it effectively and correctly in exegesis. Others have no knowledge of Greek and simply ignore it altogether."
I agree that there is a danger in studying Greek just a little. I also agree that just taking Greek for one or two semesters in seminary is dangerous. Students, let me just share a little about what I think about biblical languages and theological education.

(1) I don't think the danger lies in how many or how few courses are required of languages. I don't think the danger is remedied by more classes in seminary per se. When it comes to seminary studies, too much Greek can be as dangerous as too little. One reason seminaries exist is because churches don't do what they are tasked to do, which means that seminaries are tasked with entrusting, developing, and cultivating much more than a rote knowledge of the Word of God. Lots of pastors and other Christian leaders are struggling in the ministries where they serve, but it's not because they can't recall λύω, λύεις, λύει, λύομεν, λύετε, λύουσιν, λύσω, λύσεις, λύσει, λύσομεν, λύσετε, λύσουσιν. The more language courses you require means there is less of something else in the curriculum. I'm of the opinion we need things like biblical counseling and leadership courses in seminary curriculum. I think we need  courses on teaching (not preaching courses).

(2) Seminary studies are not exhaustive. They are not designed to be "all you need" for life and godliness. When you are in seminary, you're being given a foundation. Good stewardship requires your commitment to do much with what has been entrusted and to build upon what's been laid for the rest of your life. I remember building houses during high school and college. If building contractors went around doing what a lot of people do with their seminary education, guess what? --There would be a lot of concrete slabs laid across the dirt all over the United States. And everyone would say, "Why do they just lay foundations everywhere? What's the point? Why not build a house on top of that slab, or an office, or a skyscraper?" We can't have the "I'm supposed to get it all in seminary" mentality.

(3) Using Greek effectively and knowing bookoos of grammar are not the same thing. I think this is why so many of my friends set aside their Greek after their first or second course in seminary. If we can't show someone how to get some immediate transfer into the ministries where they serve, beyond just a five-minute devotional, we're not going to succeed as instructors in getting our students to go past the one or two semester mark. I want my students to be life-long Greek students and life-long beneficiaries of using Greek in ministry. Every Greek prof wants that. I just think the life-changing factor is showing students sooner rather than later how to use the language in meaningful ways. When I walked into David Alan Black's Greek course for the first time, my life was really changed. Everyone who reads this blog knows I love Dave. I'm not saying this because I need Dave to know how much I respect him and love him. He already does. But just like the apostle Paul wrote, "I am telling you the truth, I'm not lying." When I walked into his classes I was blown away by talking about passages in the New Testament and thinking about how the Greek impacts the way we understand them. I was blown away by doing structural analyses and then figuring out how easy it was to turn them into teaching outlines. I'm using Greek today because I walked into that type of Greek class.

Students, if you are studying Greek, let me remind you that you are not going to get it all in one or two semesters. It doesn't matter if you're taking Greek with a professor whose pedagogical preference is the living-language approach, mastery approach, or conceptual and tools-based approach. You're not going to learn it all in less than 52 weeks. You have to ask yourself, will you be resolved to build on what you learn for the rest of your life? Or will your seminary education--not just Greek--look like a bunch of undeveloped slabs of concrete in a neighborhood that started out being built but something brought everything to a halt? I remember working on a famous former NC State basketball player's house in Raleigh, North Carolina. For some reason, maybe permit issues, the only thing that got built was the foundation. I used to drive by that house occasionally to see if they ever finished building it. It was like ten years later, but they finally built on that foundation. Now it's a beautiful, a really beautiful, house in Old Raleigh's district. When someone drives by and just sees a foundation, he or she always thinks, "Why'd they stop building?"

I'm really thankful for the emails I receive during the week from people who aren't in seminary talking to me about learning Greek. Some of them were once in Bible college or seminary, but they haven't been building on that knowledge in a while. They've written me to let me know that they are cutting away the overgrown weeds that had overtaken the foundation and they are committed to building upwards. Bob Brunette sent me this note back in May:
"I wanted to thank you for your teachings.. I studied NT Greek back in my Bible College Days... recently deciding to refresh my working knowledge of NT Greek as well as teaching my teenagers at least a basic working knowledge of the Original Manuscripts in their Originally Inspired context... Thanks again, be encouraged your contributions are not in vain dear friend.. Bob Brunette"
Bob is using our YouTube videos. Listen, he's got the sort of resolve now that I wish all of us would come to our Greek courses with, not to mention graduate with.

Studying Greek is lifelong stewardship and it is lifelong learning. To whom much is given, much is required. And you will not learn New Testament Greek in 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 15 weeks, 30, or 52. Lay the foundation, and start using your Greek immediately. Will you make some mistakes along the way? I guarantee it. I did. I bet Dave Black did too. I bet Dan Wallace did. And I bet Bill Mounce did. We all do. But start using it the best you know how and make a concerted effort to learn more and grow as you are studying for the rest of your life.


  1. Great read, brother Thomas. I both agree with you and am persuaded to double down on my efforts to use Greek and Hebrew.

    1. Benjamen, thanks for the comment. I'm glad you are doing well. Looking forward to hearing from you soon. Shoot me an email and let me know what's going on in your life. Blessings, TWH