Friday, December 23, 2016
The Importance of Learning Greek by A.T. Robertson 1919
THE MINISTER AND HIS GREEK TESTAMENT By Professor A. T. Robertson, D. D., LL. D., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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Some Knowledge Of Greek Possible To All
It ought to be taken for granted that the preacher has his Greek Testament. This statement will be challenged by many who excuse themselves from making any effort to know the Greek New Testament. I do not say that every preacher should become an expert in his knowledge of the New Testament Greek. That cannot be expected. I do not affirm that no preacher should be allowed to preach who does not possess some knowledge of the original New Testament. I am opposed to such a restriction. But a little is a big per cent, on nothing, as John A. Broadus used to say. This is pre-eminently true of the Greek New Testament.
There is no sphere of knowledge where one is repaid more quickly for all the toil expended. Indeed, the Englishman's Greek Concordance almost makes it possible for the man with no knowledge of Greek to know something about it, paradoxical as that may sound. That would be learning made easy, beyond a doubt, and might seem to encourage the charlatan and the quack. It is possible for an ignoramus to make a parade of a little lumber of learning to the disgust and confusion of his hearers. But the chief reason why preachers do not get and do not keep up a fair and needful knowledge of the Greek New Testament is nothing less than carelessness, and even laziness in many cases. They can get along somehow without it, and so let it pass or let it drop.
The Language Of The Common Man
The New Testament is written in the vernacular koine, which was the language of the common people as well as of the cultured in the first century A.d. The papyri which have been unearthed by many thousands in Egypt give us vivid pictures of the life of the age. We thus catch the people in their business and pleasures. We have love letters, receipts or bills, marriage contracts or divorce decrees, census rules and tax lists, anything and everything. The New Testament is shown beyond a doubt to be a monument of the same vernacular koine. The same words jump at us in the most unexpected places. The book that is in the vernacular of its times has an appeal to men of all times and need not be a sealed book because written in Greek.
If one will read Cobern's New Archaeological Discoveries he will be able to see how much the papyri have helped us in our knowledge of the New Testament. Then let him read Milligan's The New Testament Documents, and his interest will be deepened. If he will go on and read Deissmann's Bible Studies and his Light from the Ancient East, he will have a glowing zeal to push his Greek to some purpose.
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The Real New Testament
The real New Testament is the Greek New Testament. The English is simply a translation of the New Testament, not the actual New Testament. It is good that the New Testament has been translated into so many languages. The fact that it was written in the koine, the universal language of the time, rather than in one of the earlier Greek dialects, makes it easier to render into modern tongues. But there is much that cannot be translated. It is not possible to reproduce the delicate turns of thought, the nuances of language, in translation. The freshness of the strawberry cannot be preserved in any extract. This is inevitable. We have, no doubt, lost much by not having the original Aramaic sayings of Jesus, though He often spoke also in Greek.
But the New Testament itself was composed by its authors in Greek, unless Matthew wrote his Gospel first in Aramaic. Some progress has been made by Dalman (The Words of Jesus) and others in the effort to reproduce the original Aramaic employed by Jesus. In the main we have to rely upon the reports in the Greek New Testament which are wonderfully vivid and vigorous.
Translation Not Enough
The preacher cannot excuse himself for his neglect of Greek with the plea that the English is plain enough to teach one the way of life. That is true, and we are grateful that it is so. The Bible is in the vernacular and has entered into the very life of the modern man. It is impossible to overestimate the influence of the King James Version upon the language and life of the English-speaking world. But words are living things and, like all life, are constantly changing. Dictionaries run out of date quickly, not merely because of new ideas and new words, but because the old words change their meanings. The Psalmist said that he would "prevent" the morning, not stop the light from coming as one wishes he could do in the short summer nights, but get up before the morning. So "let" is even used in the Authorized Version for "hinder" instead of "allow."
It was for this reason among others that the revisers undertook to make a new translation of the English Bible. The American Revisers have revised that. Then we have Weymouth's Translation of the New Testament, The Twentieth Century New Testament, and Moffatt's brilliant New Translation of the New Testament. We shall have many more. They will all have special merit, and they will all fail to bring out all that is in the Greek. One needs to read these translations, the more the better. Each will supplement the others. But, when he has read them all, there will remain a large and rich untranslatable element that the preacher ought to know.
We excuse other men for not having a technical knowledge of the Bible. We do not expect all men to know the details of medicine, law, banking, railroading. But the preacher cannot be excused from an accurate apprehension of the New Testament. This is the book that he undertakes to expound. It is his specialty, and this he must know whatever else he does or does not know. Excuses for neglecting the New Testament are only excuses after all. Dwight L. Moody made himself at home in the English Bible, and he shook the world. Spurgeon made himself efficient in Greek and Hebrew in spite of insufficient schooling. John Knox studied Greek when over fifty. Alexander Maclaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture are the wonder of modern preachers because he steadily throughout a long life pursued his Hebrew and Greek studies. He had consummate genius and he added to it fulness of knowledge by means of laborious scholarship. One notes the same careful scholarship in the preaching of Dr. J. H. Jowett.