Westminster Shorter Catechism (in Greek)

For some composition practice, I’m putting the Westminster Shorter Catechism into Greek. This is a rough draft. Feedback welcome, especially on lexical choice and verbal aspect. Brevity is a priority, as is beginning each question with a question word. I’m worrying more about good idiomatic Greek than precise formal equivalence. (For comparison, here is a link to the English.)

Westminster Μικροτερος Κατηχησις

1. Επερωτημα: τί εστι το *αρχιτελος* ανθρωπου;

Αποκρισις: το αρχιτελος ανθρωπου εστι θεον δοξαζειν και ευδοκειν εις τον αιωνα.

2. Ε: τίνα κανονα του αυτον δοξαζειν και ευδοκειν ημιν Θεος δεδωκεν;

Α: Θεου ὁ λογος ὁ εν ταις της παλαιας και καινης διαθηκης γραφαις κατεχομενος εστιν ὁ μονος κανων του αυτον δοξαζειν και ευδοκειν.

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 2:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Silva on the Purpose of Greek

Moisés Silva writes on the purpose of learning Greek. I notice, with some self-satisfaction, that his main point and even his illustration closely match mine in my The Role of Greek in Theological Education. Silva’s statements are available on Rod Decker’s blog.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 8:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Role of Greek in Theological Education

“How to translate a Greek text into English is altogether secondary to reading a Greek text in order to understand it.” ~ Carl Conrad

Although Greek is fading from seminary curricula, evangelicals that strongly emphasize inerrancy or have ties to historic Protestantism usually require divinity students to have at least some proficiency in it. No consensus exists regarding the reason for this requirement, the goals of the courses, or the level of proficiency that should be required. For example, some schools aim merely to equip their students to glean “exegetical insights” (whatever that means) from electronic and print resources. Greek appears to be a tool, almost a technique, that allows students to crack difficult passages in Scripture. Armed with Strong’s Concordance and Vine’s Expository Dictionary, they hunt for “nuggets” to flavor their sermons.

Against this approach, I argue that learning Greek does nothing other than enable one to read—in Greek. Reading is reading, whatever the language. “Exegesis” is just a fancy term for attentive, analytical reading. Most Americans think they know how to read, and on one level, they do. But many do not know how to read on an analytic level. (That’s why there are books with paradoxical titles like How to Read a Book, a very useful help in this area.) Imagine that a bright 12-year-old girl, a sophomore English major, and literary critic Harold Bloom were all assigned to read Twilight and sketch the main character. The tween might enjoy the book the most, but we all know that the most insightful commentary would come from Bloom, assuming he had the fortitude to complete this agonizing task. All read the same book, but they did not all read the book the same.

If someone is a poor reader, learning Greek will provide almost no benefit. A poor English reader makes a poor Greek reader. Greek does not provide magical solutions to difficult passages. It does not furnish isolated nuggets of exegetical power. It does not compensate for underdeveloped thinking skills. It is a language, and in text form it exists to be read.

Now, if someone is a good reader, Greek has much to offer. Penetrating the veil of the translation, the reader of the Greek New Testament can interact with the text without potentially misleading English connotations. She can grasp the structure of a passage, often obscured in the translation to shorter English sentences. She can weigh areas of interpretive ambiguity, instead of settling for a translation’s questionable interpretive choice or overly literal non-choice. In short, she can apply all her powers of reading to the Greek text.

However, before even a good English reader can read Greek analytically, she has to be comfortable in the language. Analysis is a layer added on top of casual reading. If a student can’t read casually, make out the text and give its basic sense, she is in no position to go mining the depths of verbal aspect, causal participles, or obscure genitive uses. Crawling must come before running.

Here’s where many seminaries fail. Impatient to produce profound interpreters of the Greek New Testament, they rush through producing readers of the Greek language. The movement is away from learning a language to merely learning a text. But reading doesn’t work like that. What would we think of a Russian speaker who wanted to study the novels of James Joyce, but who started writing critical articles before being able to read Joyce without two grammars, a dictionary, and a Russian translation in hand? Also, he speaks and writes almost no English. We would not expect any quality work. We would rightly suspect that those critical articles really cover the Russian translation of Joyce, with just enough English references worked in to make the author appear conversant with the English.

This is what most seminarians do. After a year of beginning Greek, which often consists of pages of charts and paradigms rather than any real Greek, the student enters an “exegesis” class, in which he is expected for the first time to read more than a sentence-length segment. Even after several years, few can sit down, open up their GNT, and simply read. Obviously, these students are not nearly capable of exegeting Greek. Since they cannot actually read and understand Greek, they craft clunky, overly literal English translations and exegete those. In short, Greek exegesis classes are self-congratulatory smoke-and-mirrors shows.

If we believe that Greek really does benefit the student of Scripture, as I believe it does, the standards must be raised. Students must become competent readers, then competent Greek readers. It’s not impossible. It’s just that after a century of atrophy, it’s hard for the seminaries to remember the feeling of strength. Below is a college entrance exam from 1897. It requires students to translate an English paragraph into Greek. Most seminary graduates today could not even read the Greek text of Xenophon on which this paragraph is based. But they could once, so there is hope for the future if we are willing to embrace the hard work.

Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Purpose of Greek Grammar

The following was written by Carl Conrad, a very accomplished and now retired professor of classical Greek:

One of the insights into how language works that I’ve gained relatively recently is that grammar — including lexicology, syntactic rules, morphology, etc. –, whether it’s the traditional grammar of “dead scholars” of the decades and centuries past or the theoretical constructions and analyses of the academic linguists of more recent years — is fundamentally analytic. It’s function is to help us explain or give an account to ourselves and each other about HOW the Greek utterance or written statement means what we understand it to mean. I honestly believe that grammatical analysis cannot begin until one has already reached at least a tentative understanding of the Greek text. But I also believe that grammatical analysis will not help one reach an understanding of WHAT the text means so much as of HOW it means what it means. Understanding the meaning must precede analysis. And that is why so much classroom work and self-study of Greek (and other languages, of course) turns out so often to be a waste of time: students can recite paradigms of verbs and nouns and regurgitate glossaries of Greek verbs and nouns and recite the rules of syntax — and still be unable to make sense of Greek texts.

Although his opinion certainly gains no stature because of my agreement, I heartily agree. The “Zondervan” method for learning Greek, in which we break down the genitive into 147 “uses,” is helpful in some ways. However, it’s nothing more than a stepping-stone, a scaffolding. Taken too seriously, it can become an obstacle. The authors of Greek documents did not consciously think, “I’m going to put in a dative of sphere here.” When we try to interpret cases or tenses by referencing a menu of possible options, we have already given up the real task, learning to think in Greek.

Grammar is not a substitute for reading and writing. It cannot, by itself, give you the intuitive feel for the language that extensive exposure and use provide. Until a reader begins to conform her thought patterns to Greek thought patterns and her modes of expression to Greek ones, she is not reading—she is merely decoding. Competency in a language is the ability to encounter a new construction or form of expression and make sense of it based on one’s feel for the language as a whole. That is a vital skill, and not one that can be learned from grammars.

The problem, though, is not too much grammar, which is also essential. The problem is too little exposure. As long as Greek courses consist mostly of lectures in English moving through primarily English textbooks, only occasionally referencing real Greek texts, the results will continue to be mastery of paradigms and mediocrity with paragraphs.

Published in: on February 12, 2011 at 8:28 pm  Comments (4)  

Greek Project Finalized

Here is the finalized reading project. I figure a month is about the right time to commit to something new. We’ll see if a blog is a good format for this; if not, I’ll move to something like Google Groups. Anyway, I’m excited and grateful to know that there are people in this world who really want to read and discuss Greek.

Εν τͅη καρδιᾳ μου εκρυψα τα λογια σου ̔οπως αν μη ̔αμαρτω σοι (Ps. 118:11 LXX)

Matthew 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount)

Matt. 5:1-12  –  2/22

Matt. 5:13-20  –  2/25

Matt. 5:21-32 — 2/28

Matt 5:33-48 — 3/3

Matt. 6:1-15 — 3/6

Matt 6:16-24 — 3/9

Matt 6:25-34 — 3/12

Matt 7:1-12 — 3/15

Matt 7:13-29 — 3/19 (extra day for St. Patty’s and a long assignment)

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 10:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Greek NT Reading Partners

If you’re here, you probably already know about this, but just in case you don’t, a quick recap. I’m looking for people to form an online Greek NT reading and discussion group. Interested individuals sign up for projects, which are discrete portions of the GNT along with a set reading schedule. That way nobody has to make an indefinite commitment, and you can look at the project and schedule to decide if you want to be involved. My expectation would be that everyone who signs up for the project would be able to do most of the reading, and would participate in the discussion to whatever extent you feel comfortable, whether that’s asking lots of questions or making some observations.

A Proposed Project: Matthew 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount)

Matt. 5:1-12  —  2/22

Matt. 5:13-20  —  2/25

Matt. 5:21-32 — 2/28

Matt 5:33-48 — 3/3

Matt. 6:1-15 — 3/6

Matt 6:16-24 — 3/9

Matt 6:25-34 — 3/12

Matt 7:1-12 — 3/15

Matt 7:13-29 — 3/19 (extra day for St. Patty’s and a long assignment)

I’m open to suggestions both as to the project and the scheduling. I think this passage is medium difficulty. The scheduling as it stands is likely to be slow for advanced readers but challenging for anyone who isn’t in a habit of reading Greek. For those advanced readers, this passage presents some great opportunities for digging through both for OT and synoptic parallels.

Discussion: Anything that’s relevant is welcome. Grammar, syntax, parallels, theology, discourse analysis, text criticism, etc. It’s not expected that all the readers will be on the same page on all issues.

Text/Typing: I will be posting the NA27  text (BNT in Bibleworks). Greek should be posted in unicode. You can copy-paste from a unicode Bible here. In addition, you may want to install a Greek unicode keyboard on your computer so you can type in Greek. Instructions here. Also, be sure to visit this page for lots of useful Greek tools.

Signup: In the next few days, based on feedback, I will finalize the project and make a new post. You can sign up just by leaving a comment and subscribing to my blog. 😉

Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 9:14 am  Comments (3)  
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