Thomas Dolhanty wrote:
I mean, we are speaking of quite a mishmash of people here, and quite a broad scope of motives and applications. You can't really speak as if it was one homogenous group. No doubt there will always be lots of folks using interlinears of whom it may be said:
They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?
Then there are those who know little or no Greek, but who use interlinears and other such tools to create an impression from the pulpit or in the classroom etc. that they are giving important insights into the original language. I have been told recently by one who ought to know that interlinears and like tools are replacing real familiarity with the language for many preachers and teachers.
Interlinear use ≠ ignorance of Greek. Now, as a reader of Greek with an awareness of my knowledge and ignorance, an interlinear serves as a reader's lexicon. I only know somewhere roughly in the vicinity of 4,000 words of the New Testament's fifty-seven hundred odd word vocabulary. That means I need to either guess or look up approximately 1 word in 40. Or perhaps I don't actually have to look up that many, because when we say "know" it has a flexible meaning sometimes.
There is sometimes a fudge-factor double-speak redefinition of "learn", when we say "learn in context". There are many words that I "know in context", but out of context, I don't "know" them (or even recognise them), so in fact, so... I didn't actually "learn them" in context, but rather "learnt them in context". Within the New Testament context that is okay for some words, like βρυγμός, which only ever occurs in the phrase ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς
τῶν ὀδόντων. But is it actually learning, or just acquiring the ability to recognise in familiar contexts? If that is enough for someone's Greek usage needs, all good and well, let the matter rest in peace, but otherwise, what could we do?
If we were to change ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων from a fixed phrase to something like βρύχειν τοὺς ὀδόντας, we would look at it from the perspective of what those people were doing, rather than the action itself in abstract. That grammatical flexibility is one step towards "learning". There is still, however, then the question of whether we "know" the meaning of βρυγμὸς. Does knowing a gloss, "gnash", or "grind" mean we "know" βρυγμὸς? Well, it means something like the teeth come together with the jaw moving either sideways or up and down but with no food, or
with the teeth coming together rapidly to eat quickly or to shiver (i.e. it may or may not be involved with ἐσθίειν "to eat"). It is a word with a different meaning to δάκνειν "to bite" (take into the mouth) or τρώγειν "to eat", "to chew" (prepare in the mouth then take into the body, though βρύχειν too is used to describe (part of) the preparation process "chew"). It is also different to μασάομαι. [BTW: Don't be confused by the LXX reference you will find in LSJ
, which is related to the verb βρυχᾶσθαι "to roar", "to bellow", not directly to this βρύχειν here]. But who does that sort of grammatical change or those comparisons by / while "learning in context" or even "learning" in context? To do it on the fly, from the point of view of ignorance would produce fanciful (or at best analogous) results.
What most often happens then is that we settle for single word glosses. That is where an interlinear can help a reader who knows Greek. Think about one of the aspects of reading...
If somebody knows basic Greek, i.e. mastered the basic grammatical words and the frequently occurring forms, they will be looking up 1 word in 4 or 5 in the dictionary, and needing help with parsing of 1 of them. The progress to that point is easier, and by the time we come to moving from 1 word in 20, to 1 word in 40 it requires more than double the vocabulary learning. Learning vocabulary for translation and word-by-word understanding really gets bogged down in the law of diminishing return at that point. I mean "bite" is a familiar word to us, basically because it is familiar in the contexts of our life - it is something we do often as children, and presumably δάκνειν "to bite", (and κτενίζεσθαι τὰς κόμας "to comb your hair" to boot) would be familiar and common to someone who uses Greek for their daily life too, only like but not in our literature.
While I think there is some value in keeping to only the New Testament and perhaps other early Christian writings, to keep one's understanding in a basically "Christian" sense, it does produce a slightly skewed or unreal understanding of the language. Of course if you would only read the Bible in English, as some of my friends I've had over the years have done, then of course reading widely in Greek is not up for discussion. They can benefit greatly from the scholarship and wide reading of others without needing to do it themselves. Let me say though, that effective rote learning of New Testament vocabulary reaches its limits of efficiency at about 2,000 or 2,500 words. Beyond that you need to go broader. I think that if you want to learn 4,000 words then you need to be aiming for an overall Greek vocabulary of about 8,000 words and to effectively master all 5,624 words, you need to be looking at taking Randall's suggestion of 10,000 to 15,000. That sounds weird, but actually the value you can get from the lesser learnt words is needs some degree of freedom to be effective - seeing them in different contexts and in different grammatical and syntactic structures brings them to life of the pages of the word list.
In some cases for some readers, an interlinear could serve as a source of single word glosses for readers of intermediate competency who were not distracted into following the pseudo-English and who didn't want the distraction of referring to a reader's lexicon. That would be using an interlinear as a running vocabulary list. Personally I find even versification distracting, but I'm not everyone.
Thomas Dolhanty wrote:And then there are those who are struggling and striving to learn more about the original language(s) of Scripture. These groups are all quite different and different things must be said about (and to) each group. If in your time off from your day job you want to use an interlinear to prove that a certain 17th century English translation is supreme over all, so be it. But if you are misleading a whole flock of people from a pulpit by dishonestly claiming to have insights into a language which you really don't understand, then some'un oughta say someth'un!
Keeping one's peace till one is called to do better is also a good strategy. Everyone has imperfections, for preachers, it is in their (approach to) preaching. The prophetic ministry dressed up in the flash and pizazz showmanship of Greek apparel is still effective. Using one's knowledge of Greek to challenge others knowledge or understanding of a verse or two, can be a distraction from listening to the content of a sermon with the attitude of heartfelt reflection that we should listen to the word with. There will always be people who know less than you in some areas. One aspect of acquiring knowledge is learning to deal with your own reactions to that. The young will always be what you would expect them to be. Beginners will always make ungrounded claims that seem just perfect to their own thinking. Most of those things will sort themselves out over time.
Personally, I'm on my way to understanding the Greek as well as any, and I don't think I have insights by reading in Greek, it's just that the text and meaning seems to flow better and be less ambiguous when read in Greek rather than in English - has different ambiguities at least.