do we really know the bible languages

by way of Rod Decker on this post, I came across this blog.  He has an interesting take on learning and knowing the Greek and in part made this assertion about seminary (or even Bible college) Greek classes and learning/reading Koine (NT) Greek:

Greek classes in seminary tend to reinforce dependency on English translations. Virtually every translation assignment Greek students receive comes from the New Testament, a text that most of the students have almost memorized already. Rather than teaching a true literacy of Greek, seminary Greek classes tend to create a hybrid literacy that relies upon established translations for meaning then supplements that knowledge with enough Greek proficiency so that students won’t miss anything important. However, an unintentional side effect of this hybrid literacy seems to be that students catch and emphasize details that the text does not.

At first my own response (or reaction?) is to say, it is true, there is one Grammar I know of that one major complaint is it uses Bible verses for the translations sentences straight away!  The philosophy is so that people can start reading the Bible in the Greek soon as possible (to maintain interest?)!  In many ways this is completely understandable, but I wonder if it ends up defeating the overall purpose of learning Koine?  I wonder this as He goes on to say:

Think about it. I just used an imperative. I wonder if the NT writers were really jumping up and down, waving their arms, and shouting “get this” every time they used an imperative. I wonder if obscure lexical connections sprung to the original recipients’ minds as they read Paul’s letters. I wonder if we really know Greek as well as we would like others to think.

I know one thing I really appreciated about learning Greek from Machen’s Grammar (this is more looking back now, but I think I caught on while going through it), was that I don’t think there was even a single Bible verse in any of the translation exercises (I don’t have the grammar anymore so I can’t check).  But I think it helped as it forced us to work the grammar for ourselves instead of as this blog poster talks about (he is unnamed because he is a missionary in a restricted country) – our knowledge of the Bible helps us fill in the gaps as we read the text.  Maybe the less we know of what we are reading the more we focus on what the text is saying, at least in our first year of learning the language?

What do you all think about this?


2 responses to “do we really know the bible languages

  1. I haven’t taken Greek yet (I start Biblical Greek 1A this fall), but I do speak Spanish. I didn’t learn Spanish by using phrases from Don Quixote, or even the RVR 1960 Spanish Bible. I learned Spanish grammar and vocabulary with everyday phrases, which then served me well when I started reading the Bible and textbooks in Spanish (I taught 4 Berean classes in Spanish at a local Latino church’s in-church Bible institute). Knowing the language allowed me to read the texts — knowing the Bible text or subject matter in English allowed me to figure out Spanish words I did not yet know.

    I know Daniel Street ( is an advocate of learning Koine grammar using everyday phrases and examples, the way living languages are taught.

  2. The present trend in presenting NT sentences in the textbooks for exercises is in part an (over)reaction to the artificial sentences in Machen. The problem that many people had with Machen’s sentences is that their Greek seemed to them to be fairly poor and unrepresentative of native Greek users of the language.

    My view is that textbooks should present good idiomatic Greek sentences whose content is somewhat surprising (and interesting) to students. This necessarily excludes a total reliance on the NT for the source of the sentences (though you’d be surprised how little some seminary students know the NT). If a textbook author cannot produce good idiomatic Greek sentences, then he’s got no business writing a textbook.

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