Sunday, October 2, 2016

Remember That Greek Is Not More Expressive Than English

While I'm thinking about the Cripplegate blog, I figured I would throw out just one more thought, this time in response to a comment by one of its visitors. This one deals the expressiveness of Greek. The person who posted the comment (found here, just scroll down) thanked the author of the blog post, especially his attention to Greek, and then said something about how Greek has more meaning than modern languages. Here's what the person said:
"[Thank you] for your extreme detailed research in biblical Greek which has much more meanings than our language/s today (problem of decline instead of evolution in all spheres of life)."
There's a problem here. We should ask the question, "Does Greek really have more meaning than modern languages?" Well, first of all, Greek is still spoken today. It's true. Just ask the people of Greece what language they speak. The person who made the comment is probably referring to what's called Koine Greek. I'm sure, though, the people of Greece would be grossly offended to hear that their language has somehow been dumbed down and devolved over two millennia. It's simply not true. A modern Greek New Testament has all the capacity today to communicate what the authors of New Testament texts intended in the first century. And the same is true of English. The same is true of Spanish. The same is true of all modern languages that I can think of, though I don't claim to be an expert in any of them (not even my own).

If you're curious to read a little more about the expressiveness of Greek in relationship to modern languages, in particular English, I've got a handout titled "Is Greek Really More Expressive Than English?" You can read it here.

There still lingers a remnant of that old way of thinking about the biblical languages. Somehow they must be more capable than other languages to communicate the intricacies of what God intended for his people to know, right? –Nah. God used Greek in the first century simply because it was the language of the world. Had Jesus come in the 20th or 21st centuries, the authors of the New Testament would have written their texts in English without question. And if that happened, then for the next umpteen centuries everyone would be talking about how English has so much more "meaning" than all the other languages of the world.

Do languages really devolve or decline? Certainly there are perceived devolutions of language. I'm sure people would say that about parts of the South when it comes to English. The Brits definitely thought we had butchered their lovely tongue. But is this really a devolution in capacity to communicate? Not at all. There are differences, but all languages can communicate the ideas and intricacies of another language. The burden of communication in translation lies on the translator, not the language.

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