Just before COVID broke out in my province, I happened to find by chance a Greek copy of the New Testament. It was reasonably priced (which is often not the case with translated Bible texts simply because of the amount of scholarly work that goes into producing such a book) so I decided to pick it up. Although this is my first copy of a Greek New Testament, it is not the first time that I have fallen back to the Greek text to better understand the Bible and the Word of God. Thanks to the internet the text and translations are easily accessible, in fact with a tablet or smartphone you can actually load up a Koine Greek keyboard and translate on the fly.
But why read the Greek NT in the first place? Why bother slogging through a text that is literally Greek to one’s English mind?
When we study the Word of God something that we need to keep in mind is that the phrases and words used by the writers exist within a certain place and time and more often than not a full understanding of the texts rests on grappling writing norms and practices that were common to that time. It is really easy today to pick up an English translation of the Bible and read a word or phrase in the Bible in the context of how we use that word or phrase today and the danger is that the word or phrase actually means or is intended to mean something completely different than how we use it.
A great example of this, and something that I ended up writing a few comments on in All Along the Watchtower, is the opening verses of the Holy Gospel According to Saint John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.John 1:1
When we read this verse it is tempting to assume that since the English translation says that “the Word” was with God that he must mean the Word of God (i.e. the Bible). And later, because John says that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (in reference to the birth of Christ), that this Word of God must be Jesus. And from there we go off on a doctrinal tangent about the Word of God existing before the world, being equal with Jesus and thus God and thus being complete, infallible, perfect and unchanging. What a profound leap from a simple understanding of the phrase “the Word.”
But John doesn’t mean word like words or text. In fact, in Greek he writes λόγος which is Logos in English. It more accurately translates into logic, reason, wisdom and specifically through speech or human expression and communication. And with that in hand we can compare it to secular Greek writing and we see that λόγος is not an isolated concept, limited to John’s Gospel, but rather is a popular Greek idea that logic and reason are scattered throughout the world and are able to be “picked up” and learned by people. John is literally linking a secular idea popular in the then-known world to the Jewish concept of the Messiah and saying that Jesus is the physical embodiment of that reason and logic and knowledge that exists in the world. And furthermore, right in the opening verse, John says that the world was created through all of this reason and logic and knowledge which is why we have laws of physics and logic and mathematics in the first place which govern our physical existence in this world.
All things are created through Him, and He is the Logos, and the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us. And His authority is not limited to the prophesies and Holy Writings of the Jewish people but rather the entire world and all that exists within it because Christ, the Messiah is not just the King of the Jews but the Logos, the reason and logic and knowledge that the entire universe was made through and by. That is some large stuff from Saint John and we do not get there unless we understand the Greek words and phrases he is using.
So why read Greek? Because with one sentence in John’s Gospel read in Greek we come away with a completely different and much more illuminated idea of what the author is getting at and what how the meaning of the text really should be understood by the reader. That is why I slog through the Greek as much as possible and why I think you should give it try yourself…