The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Anything related to Biblical Greek that doesn't fit into the other forums.

Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Shirley Rollinson » March 6th, 2014, 1:55 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:The fact of the matter is that a lot of people find learning languages really difficult, like learning math. For me, it's highly enjoyable, but for many, language learning is a chore.

As someone who taught Chemistry, Physics, Molecular Biology (and some Math) for many years longer than I've taught Greek (and a bit of Hebrew) - what makes learning these subjects "difficult" is having teachers who tell the students that they are difficult. Probably because the teachers themselves thought that they were difficult, or had some sort of gnostic complex. If the teacher only knew the subject thoroughly, and enjoyed the subject, and also enjoyed teaching beginners (yes, that too) - then there would be no difficulty. Yes - to learn anything worthwhile needs concentration, practice, and a bit of work - but these subjects are NOT difficult per se - only "made" difficult by incompetent teachers. :evil: :evil: :evil:
I've tutored students who were "failing" Math - because it was Soooo difficult and their teacher couldn't explain - and within a few weeks Math was no longer scary, but comprehensible, logical, and even fun.
So get over the "it's soo difficult" - get another teacher. (And Seminaries and Colleges - get competent teachers who love the subject.)
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby David Lim » March 7th, 2014, 3:11 am

Shirley Rollinson wrote:As someone who taught Chemistry, Physics, Molecular Biology (and some Math) for many years longer than I've taught Greek (and a bit of Hebrew) - what makes learning these subjects "difficult" is having teachers who tell the students that they are difficult. Probably because the teachers themselves thought that they were difficult, or had some sort of gnostic complex. If the teacher only knew the subject thoroughly, and enjoyed the subject, and also enjoyed teaching beginners (yes, that too) - then there would be no difficulty. Yes - to learn anything worthwhile needs concentration, practice, and a bit of work - but these subjects are NOT difficult per se - only "made" difficult by incompetent teachers. :evil: :evil: :evil:

I agree perfectly! But it's not all the fault of the teachers sometimes. A bit of the problem arises if there is a fixed syllabus that must be covered; that just stifles exploration.
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Shirley Rollinson » March 7th, 2014, 5:02 pm

David Lim wrote:
Shirley Rollinson wrote:As someone who taught Chemistry, Physics, Molecular Biology (and some Math) for many years longer than I've taught Greek (and a bit of Hebrew) - what makes learning these subjects "difficult" is having teachers who tell the students that they are difficult. Probably because the teachers themselves thought that they were difficult, or had some sort of gnostic complex. If the teacher only knew the subject thoroughly, and enjoyed the subject, and also enjoyed teaching beginners (yes, that too) - then there would be no difficulty. Yes - to learn anything worthwhile needs concentration, practice, and a bit of work - but these subjects are NOT difficult per se - only "made" difficult by incompetent teachers. :evil: :evil: :evil:

I agree perfectly! But it's not all the fault of the teachers sometimes. A bit of the problem arises if there is a fixed syllabus that must be covered; that just stifles exploration.

So I get creative with the syllabus - or at times work to get it changed. It may say "cover the Aorist Indicative Active and Passive" - but it doesn't specify "how"
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Jesse Goulet » March 8th, 2014, 7:12 pm

My struggle with my Greek courses was that there was too much to cover in 3 hour per week courses, with about 10 translation sentences (didn't help that the answer booklet that goes with our textbook was not proofread before being published), and a handout sheet with a few basic questions drawn up by the professor. It was fine at first when you're just learning 10-15 vocab words per week, and a couple noun declension patterns and a couple verb conjugations, but after that it became overwhelming. I thought I had the 1st and 2nd declension endings and present/active.indicative and future and imperfect endings down solid, but as we went on with the course I started to get many of those endings confused with the new endings.

I believe that one of the reasons was that the beginning of each class only reviewed what was covered in the previous lesson. Language is learned by constant practice and repetition of the same forms and patterns until it becomes second nature or habit to recognize them, and when you only spend one week studying one element of a language and briefly reviewing it one week later and then not again until the midterm and final exams, how does that reinforce what needs to be reinforced constantly?

As for Greek being used in sermons, I can't say that the Greek I've seen in sermons was used to show off one's linguistic knowledge, I haven't been given that impression. I've only seen preachers give the definition of a Greek word to expand and give a fuller meaning than what the word is translated as in our English translations, and I think that's one reason that knowing and studying Greek is useful for.

But I wish preachers could go into more detail to highlight the nuances that no one English translation can often grasp or portray. And preached in such a way that draws the imagination of the congregation into the text, to "bring it to life," or add clarity to our English translations.
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Junior and incompetent teachers and the secret knowledge

Postby Stephen Hughes » March 8th, 2014, 8:53 pm

Shirley Rollinson wrote:If the teacher only knew the subject thoroughly, and enjoyed the subject, and also enjoyed teaching beginners (yes, that too) - then there would be no difficulty. ... these subjects are NOT difficult per se - only "made" difficult by incompetent teachers.

I think all teachers are "incompetent" (not yet competent) at first. Competency comes from seeing the end of the learning process. The teacher's experience of teaching a course the first time is different from teaching it the second time, and after a few times there is a lot more comparision and reflection. It is similar to the so-called "grandparent" experience of raising children - having a new baby to care for after you have seen a baby reach teenager years and left childhood. That same way natural way of reacting to the experience of helping others through "stages" in their life.

Of course that is assuming that the teacher knows enough of the subject to teach it. A parent teaches life-skills that they themselves practice everyday and have done so for a long time.

Barry Hofstetter wrote:There is also the problem of schools for whom the original languages are taught for apologetical purposes, to reinforce the particular theological outlook of the school and reproduce it in the lives of the students ("if you knew what the Greek really said you'd certainly be a Slaboofian like me...").
Shirley Rollinson wrote:had some sort of gnostic complex.

The "secret" knowledge (γνῶσις) that only the initiate can seemingly draw from the Greek text is part of the power structure that Greek is used for. To the learner, it seems that Greek is supplying answers to uncertainties about the Faith that are not clear to in the English, but the more Greek that is learnt, the more that uncertainties multiply. The outcome of using Greek in this secret knowledge / definite answers to uncertainites way is a motivation to learn at the beginning, but as time goes on and further knowledge leads to alternatives further study can become a demotivationaliser.

It is a natural process in language learnering that things seem at the same time both more sure and more expressive than our own language at a the beginning of the study, but later - as the study process goes on - there is a point when everything is at a sea and the learner is unable to express anything with certainty. (It is that same point in the human reaction to newness of situation when you get lost and possibly cry - like when you are used to following the same route or using a map, but you take a few steps off the beaten track and the world starts revolving and you are disorientated). That is a normal part of the process of learning (anything) - where the learner changes from watching and copying the teacher to trying for themselves. If the typical characteristics of that earlier stage have been used as a reason to promote learning, the motivation for learning will evaporate too. IF that is used, then there needs to be a parallel introduction of the benefit of uncertainty and enquiry - at the beginning of the course one motivation that matches the students' experience and feelings moving to the ultimate motivation of more enquiry and less certainty as the motivation for continuing. The "slow down and look at the text more closely" reason is good till you reach a natural reading speed (let's say 5th grader - 10 year old / 110 words per minute in a graded text level) and then that motivation suddenly becomes irrelevent as the learner naturally moves on from it.

To draw a parallel with relationships and the human response to learning, it is like in the first stages of relationship when the other party is unknown enough that you can read all your dreams, hopes and ideas onto the other person without actually knowing them. There is little interpersonal interaction and a great deal of goodwill and hope. Most relationships have difficulty moving on to the realisation that the other person is really not what they first appeared to be (actually no longer fit the overlay that has been read onto them). That is like when certain doctrinal views are read onto the Greek, and at some point they no longer "fit". For some people that can put a stop to further learning of Greek (or from going on with the relationship) because Greek no longer serves the purpose that it has designed for. It seems to me that the various decrying of the "grammar translation" method of teaching is actually directed at the way that this natural transition to questioning is inhibited or effectively blocked (cf the axolotl - a salamader that remains at the newt stage of development). I think that grammar / translation is a valid way to learn a language in the early stages, but like the cocoon that is left behind when the insect leaves behind to begin the flight stage of its development needs to be given up at some point.

It is important the aims for learning are dynamic and evolving with the learners progress, and not tied to the experience of an early stage of learning.
Stephen Hughes
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Re: Junior and incompetent teachers and the secret knowledge

Postby Barry Hofstetter » March 9th, 2014, 7:06 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:To draw a parallel with relationships and the human response to learning, it is like in the first stages of relationship when the other party is unknown enough that you can read all your dreams, hopes and ideas onto the other person without actually knowing them. There is little interpersonal interaction and a great deal of goodwill and hope. Most relationships have difficulty moving on to the realisation that the other person is really not what they first appeared to be (actually no longer fit the overlay that has been read onto them). That is like when certain doctrinal views are read onto the Greek, and at some point they no longer "fit". For some people that can put a stop to further learning of Greek (or from going on with the relationship) because Greek no longer serves the purpose that it has designed for. It seems to me that the various decrying of the "grammar translation" method of teaching is actually directed at the way that this natural transition to questioning is inhibited or effectively blocked (cf the axolotl - a salamader that remains at the newt stage of development). I think that grammar / translation is a valid way to learn a language in the early stages, but like the cocoon that is left behind when the insect leaves behind to begin the flight stage of its development needs to be given up at some point.

It is important the aims for learning are dynamic and evolving with the learners progress, and not tied to the experience of an early stage of learning.


Some very important insights, Stephen. The problem I see is that people rarely seem to get beyond the early stages. This is especially true at the seminary level, and even many Bible schools which offer 4 year degrees in biblical languages don't seem to have the focus of producing people competent in the languages, but rather experts in decoding the languages for use in ministry. I'd say it's a cart before the horse sort of thing, but it's more like we have a goat and a milking stool instead.
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Barry Hofstetter » March 9th, 2014, 7:43 am

Jesse Goulet wrote:My struggle with my Greek courses was that there was too much to cover in 3 hour per week courses, with about 10 translation sentences (didn't help that the answer booklet that goes with our textbook was not proofread before being published), and a handout sheet with a few basic questions drawn up by the professor. It was fine at first when you're just learning 10-15 vocab words per week, and a couple noun declension patterns and a couple verb conjugations, but after that it became overwhelming. I thought I had the 1st and 2nd declension endings and present/active.indicative and future and imperfect endings down solid, but as we went on with the course I started to get many of those endings confused with the new endings.

I believe that one of the reasons was that the beginning of each class only reviewed what was covered in the previous lesson. Language is learned by constant practice and repetition of the same forms and patterns until it becomes second nature or habit to recognize them, and when you only spend one week studying one element of a language and briefly reviewing it one week later and then not again until the midterm and final exams, how does that reinforce what needs to be reinforced constantly?

As for Greek being used in sermons, I can't say that the Greek I've seen in sermons was used to show off one's linguistic knowledge, I haven't been given that impression. I've only seen preachers give the definition of a Greek word to expand and give a fuller meaning than what the word is translated as in our English translations, and I think that's one reason that knowing and studying Greek is useful for.

But I wish preachers could go into more detail to highlight the nuances that no one English translation can often grasp or portray. And preached in such a way that draws the imagination of the congregation into the text, to "bring it to life," or add clarity to our English translations.


What this says to me is that you simply didn't get enough practice in the language in the early stages of the language. Chances also are that the instructor thought you and your fellow students knew enough to set up your own review cycle. In teaching younger students, I actually make a lesson out of this.

We're now on chapter 10, which means chapter 1 stuff might be getting fuzzy. Here's what you do: when you start each chapter's homework, spend 5 minutes reviewing a previous chapter, vocabulary and paradigms only. Start at chapter one, and review a different chapter each day until you catch up, and then start over again. You'll be surprised how much it helps...


And students usually are. Secondly, I have to ask what nuances might be in the Greek that aren't captured in the English translation? I'm not saying that there are none, but so often I have found that the preacher is really engaging in the lexical fallacy, that he is focusing on part of the semantic range which really isn't valid from context, but helps him make his theological point.
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What are the effects of the professionalisation of Greek?

Postby Stephen Hughes » March 9th, 2014, 9:39 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:...many Bible schools which offer 4 year degrees in biblical languages don't seem to have the focus of producing people competent in the languages, but rather experts in decoding the languages for use in ministry.

As we have both alluded to at various times, you and I both use our GNT for personal readings, but that is not the role that most users use Greek for, I suspect.

The wider question of the professionalisation of the clergy and the gap that that can create between personal devotion and ministerial performance is a large and not-really-to-do-with-Greek topic. But what are the effects of the professionalisation of Greek?

In regard to how that affects the approach to Greek, however, there is undoubtedly a difference between the way that you and I would approach a passage in Greek - which we would have read, perhaps a few times, in quietness without an overly analytical approach, with a minimum of output required - and that way that person who had been trained to analyse the Greek and produce something of benefit to the congregation.

In some ways that would be like a minister who no longer reads for himself, but reads just enough to keep the cogs of Sunday Church life turning.

An education system that professionalises the use of Greek ultimately works against its widespread usefulness, in my opinion at least.
Stephen Hughes
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Paul-Nitz » March 9th, 2014, 12:07 pm

I used to keep a file full of quotations about the value of studying Greek. It’s full of great quotations from Wesley, Luther, Goethe, David Allan Black, ktl. I don’t use it much anymore because I don’t need to.

In my experience, multi-lingual people understand the reason for learning biblical languages intuitively. Mono-lingual people typically have more trouble seeing the point. My students are multilingual. I simply tell a little analogy to my students and they all nod their heads.

    Imagine that your father wrote you a letter. Then, we hand that letter over to a committee of expert translators. They create the absolute best English translation that is possible. You read the letter in translation. Will you know fully what your father meant to say to you? We have a letter, a book, from our heavenly Father written in other languages. We will never know Greek like our mother tongue, but we can know it just we all know 2nd languages. That is our goal, to be able to understand the message. A translation can give us most of the meaning, but if we are to be shepherds in the church, we want to know more.
For me, that fully explains and justifies the value of learning biblical languages.

I think those who are looking for a bullet list showing the “return on investment” from learning biblical languages will always be disappointed.

Moises Silva wrote a justification of biblical languages study in the appendix of his book, “God, Language and Scripture: reading the Bible in the light of general linguistics.” The appendix is titled, “The Biblical Languages in Theological Education.” Though I enjoyed the book and his effective ‘demythologizing’ the value of Greek study, I found this appendix fell flat. He points out that a pastor may have to answer parishioner’s questions about why one translation differs from another. True enough, but I don’t find that to be a compelling reason. Silva points out that knowledge of the Greek may help a person avoid some misinterpretations. To me, this is a compelling reason to have some experts around, but not so convincing a reason to expect all preachers to learn the languages. Silva does write one line in his appendix that I very much agree with, “Quite possibly, however, the most significant benefit of acquiring knowledge of the biblical languages is intangible. “ pg. 141
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Shirley Rollinson » March 10th, 2014, 4:19 pm

Paul-Nitz wrote:I used to keep a file full of quotations about the value of studying Greek. It’s full of great quotations from Wesley, Luther, Goethe, David Allan Black, ktl. I don’t use it much anymore because I don’t need to.

In my experience, multi-lingual people understand the reason for learning biblical languages intuitively. Mono-lingual people typically have more trouble seeing the point. My students are multilingual. I simply tell a little analogy to my students and they all nod their heads.

    Imagine that your father wrote you a letter. Then, we hand that letter over to a committee of expert translators. They create the absolute best English translation that is possible. You read the letter in translation. Will you know fully what your father meant to say to you? We have a letter, a book, from our heavenly Father written in other languages. We will never know Greek like our mother tongue, but we can know it just we all know 2nd languages. That is our goal, to be able to understand the message. A translation can give us most of the meaning, but if we are to be shepherds in the church, we want to know more.
For me, that fully explains and justifies the value of learning biblical languages.

- - - snip snip - - -

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