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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Crypto Greek...
During the time that we know as the “intertestamental period” – that is, the time between the close of the OT canon and the writing of the NT canon, the son of Phillip II of Mecedon (“Macedonia” or Northern Greece) Alexander the Great conquered the known world. One effect of this profound conquest was the Hellenizing of the known world – that is, the conquests of Alexander the Great ushered in centuries of Greecian rule and influence – such that by the time of Christ, Koine Greek was the “lingua franca” (a language commonly spoken between people of different native languages) of the Roman Empire.

Those of us who believe that God is sovereign, will see that this as no coincidence. The Messiah was about to come, and the world was being made ready to receive both Him and the New Covenant He was about to usher in. Part of that readiness was the introduction of a highly inflected “lingua franca” – a language that could be (and was) translated into all manner of native dialects with precision and ease.

Koine was practically designed to be translated. I stand in awe of the providence of God.

Notwithstanding, one of the great strengths of the language is its uncomplicated, yet highly inflected grammar. It is almost difficult for anyone with a solid understanding of the basics to translate a passage poorly.

Yet we do not lack people in this day and age who will readily admit that they themselves are not schooled in Koine Greek - never-the-less they feel entirely confident and even justified when their own theological twist is unsupported and even contrary to a common reading of scripture – such that they give heed to obscure and even bizarre and cryptic “translations” of a passage, such that they can say (without any genuine authority) that they believe the text says “Y” when it clearly says “X.”

The idea that the bible is sometimes so cryptic, that the only correct interpretation is both novel, and far-fetched – to me at least – demonstrates a very, very poor hermeneutic (translation philosophy).

If in every ten thousand Greek scholars, you can only find one who agrees with a bizarre, twisted translation – guess what? It is probably wrong.

Biblical Greek is one of the easiest languages to learn, and there is enough (credible) information on line (even pronunciation guides!) that no one who is genuinely interested need suffer for lack of instruction. Yet there are so few believers today who bother to learn the language – thinking it only for pastors or scholars; and having no real use otherwise.

I don’t mind the believer who is satisfied with a good, literal, English translation (or whatever translation their native language happens to be) – who uses it for personal devotions, study and whatnot. But I do have trouble when someone who doesn’t know the language cites some “quack” who has twisted the Greek around some pet theology – such that the person who agrees with that (errant) theology is encouraged to remain in error because they have taken as an authority someone in whom such authority is an abomination.

Granted, it might be difficult to know the wolf from the sheep sometimes, a good rule of thumb is this – if translation from the Greek requires a great deal of controversial and cryptic rule bending – such that the crypto-translation says the very opposite of what a plain and ordinary translation says – and especially if that same translation caters to some particular theological bent – well, you can be almost certain that the cart is driving the horse in that translation.

posted by Daniel @ 10:51 AM  
  • At 11:05 AM, May 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My Greek professor, on the pronunciation aspect of koine, used to say, "hey there are no 1st cent. Greek speakers around for us to know how we ought to pronounce the koine (i.e. long or short pronunciation of omicron or omega--no one really knows :).

    I agree NT Greek is valuable to know--but its not that easy to learn--it's a "dead" language after all. Once you do learn, like anything, you either use it or loose it--and I would say most people I went to school with, "loose it" sadly. Btw, even if someone learns the NT Greek or Hebrew or both that person or translation board still has to make "theological" interpretive decisions at various syntactical junctures--so it's still not that cut and dry!

    Good post!

    In Christ,

  • At 11:31 AM, May 03, 2006, Blogger Daniel said…

    You're quite right Bobby - surely there are times when the text is ambiguous, and one has to apply to the immediate, and sometimes the overall context - and such choices are more often than not decided according to the theological presumptions of the translator.

    True as well, if the language is not used, it will be forgotten.

    My point is that it -is- and easy language to learn, such that those who handle it poorly are without excuse.

    I appreciate your comment.

  • At 12:41 PM, May 03, 2006, Blogger Jeremy Weaver said…

    That bugs me as well, Daniel.

  • At 1:34 PM, May 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Here's a good book on pitfalls to avoid when interpreting, specifically pertaining to problems with interpretation at the 'Greek level'.

  • At 2:00 PM, May 03, 2006, Blogger Daniel said…

    I have that book - it is "the" standard exegetical handbook, and more people would do well to read it.

    In fact, when I first began to study Greek, it was highly recommended to me, and so I got it quick as a fiddle. Great read, even if you aren't going to study Greek.

  • At 7:27 PM, May 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree that people need to be careful when understanding a word differently than it is usually given. However, without examples, it is hard for me to tell what limits you have on this principle of taking a word as given.

    Most pertinently, what about the words which everyone knows are not translated? Every scholar of Greek agrees that the word given as "church" is in Greek the word for "assembly." All Greek scholars also know that the word given as "Christ" is in its plain English sense closest to the word "annointed." And there's baptism, and deacon, and pastor, and bishop.

    Why are these words left untranslated? I think it is because their Latin or Greek form has been invested with a meaning the original word (and its translations) does not fully support--so we make a new word where one is not needed or warranted.

    The other thing you did not mention, which is much easier to simply bicker about, is contextual understanding. When someone is really learning a language, not out of a book but among people who use it, the words take their definition by the context in which they are used. Is there any place at all for a person who knows only English to guess at better meanings, when (and [b]only[/b] when) it would seem to provide a more scripturally-consistent sense?

    As a student of English, I know how much the meanings of words can be fought over. You notice that people generally don't agree on what any seminal author meant, down to the last letter. In whatever field, in whatever language, different schools of followers find different meanings in the exact same text--even if the language is modern and native!

    I wouldn't go against the Spirit-inspiration of the Scriptures by saying that their misunderstanding was the fault of the authors. But I would be careful about taking the meaning of a passage however the translators give it. By all indications, the majority of Old Testament experts in Christ's time understood scripture differently than He did.

    I try not to be dogmatic in any alternative readings of passages unless and until I find some textual basis, as a text note or in a Greek-English dictionary. Sometimes I have had to check the drift of my argument when I actually go to look up a word. More often I find that my interpretation is odd or generally unaccepted because of the predisposition of the translators, not the language itself.

    Of course none of that contradicts your invitation to free online and relatively inexpensive printed aids. Still, it's unclear who you might consider offending in this area and what you might consider reasonable skepticism of the translators. Care to elaborate?

  • At 8:06 PM, May 03, 2006, Blogger David said…

    δανιελ, ιτς αλ γρικ τυ μι, τυ.

    That's as proficient as I get.

  • At 9:43 AM, May 04, 2006, Blogger Daniel said…

    Arlen - Hello, and thanks for commenting! You said, Still, it's unclear who you might consider offending in this area and what you might consider reasonable skepticism of the translators. Care to elaborate?

    When I speak of translators, I am not speaking of a committee of hand picked linguistic experts, assembled together to ply their prowess to collectively culminate a new translation of scripture.

    I was/am speaking of the "non-experts" - those who themselves are not really qualified to competently handle the original languages - who, armed with [1] an online lexicon and [2] a Greek dictionary, and of course [3] a detailed exegesis written by some freakish, fringe "Greek grammar contortionist" - and although finding no real respect amongst scholars, this novel twist is hailed in by those who benefit from it - as the one "true" rendering of a verse or passage.

    It is the people who quote questionable quackery that I quip about.

    David - your transliteration threw me for a few seconds.

    Susan, google "free biblical Greek resources" and I am sure you will find more than enough stuff. Also there is a free program called the "interlinear scripture analyzer" that is pretty nice if you don't have an interlinear translation at home.

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