Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Theologians are First Grammarians

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all (I Tim 4:15).

At The Prostrate Calvinist, we are spending much of our summer brushing up on Greek reading. We have been especially helped by Lee Iron's reading method and calendar for the Greek New Testament.

An encouragement to "taking pains" with those pedantic rules of Greek grammar, we have also recently begun reading The Minister and His Greek New Testament by that venerable Greek grammarian and New Testament commentator, A.T. Robertson. His exhortations to develop intimacy with the Greek New Testament are compelling and convicting:
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 (p. 8).

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… 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 out to know (pp. 9-10).

The Greek compels one to pause over each word long enough for it to fertilise the mind with its rich and fructifying energy. The very words of the English become so familiar that they slip through the mind too easily. One needs to know his English Bible just that way, much of it by heart, so that it will come readily to hand for comfort and for service. But the minute study called for by the Greek opens up unexpected treasures that surprise and delight the soul (p. 11).
It is our hope that we who glory in the riches of Biblical theology know well the language in which that theology was originally penned. Again, Mr. Robertson recalled the words of A.M. Fairbairn, "he is no theologian who is not first a grammarian."

(For more on the importance of study in the Greek New Testament, see:
Henry Thiessen, "Should New Testament Greek Be 'Required' in Our Ministerial Training Courses?"

F.F. Bruce, "The Greek Language and the Christian Ministry"

John Piper "Brothers, Bitzer was a Banker!"
And lest we be accused of imbalance by some of our less grammatically-inclined readers, be encouraged by Greenlee's "No, You Don't Have to Know Greek.")

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