Saturday, October 10, 2009

Biblical Greek

This is how I wish we could learn Greek at the seminary - as a living language, the way ordinary 1st century Greco-Roman families spoke it, the way the apostles preached it, the way the evangelists and St. Paul wrote it, and the way ordinary Christians heard it. All translations lose something in the process - which is why many church bodies (my own LCMS included) has a history of requiring Biblical Greek (and often Hebrew) to be studied right off the bat for seminarians.

I'm not complaining about my seminary education. I believe it was (and is) top-notch. But if I could change anything about it, I would extend it a year and focus on languages - especially Biblical Greek and Hebrew and ecclesiastical Latin, and some German for good measure. Maybe this would add a couple years. But the more time I put in preaching and teaching, the more I lament that I am not more literate in the classical languages.

If I were the pontifex maximus of the Missouri Synod and our seminaries had no financial woes, I would add at least one year to the M.Div. program for training pastors (perhaps by cutting out vicarage and replacing it with an optional post-ordination curacy). In so doing, we could have men reading New Testament Greek much more fluently and having to struggle with it less during exegetical classes. I believe we would also see a lot more pastors continuing to study the Bible in Greek instead of completely falling away and relying on English translations and perhaps a study Bible or commentary.

I teach Latin to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. My first two years, we used Latina Christiana - a beginner's course developed for much younger kids. It is rooted in memorizing endings and paradigms - and was just plain tedious for middle schoolers. It was a flop. It was boring, and unsuited to the middle school mind. I changed over to Hans Oeberg's Lingua Latina - a brilliant "natural method" approach to the language. It is not only more interesting and fun, it does not involve the rote memorization of paradigms. My students continue to impress me as the pick up Latin through reading and using the language.

The way Greek is taught at seminary is (of necessity) a ten-week crash course based on large amounts of memorization and parsing. It is a completely unnatural way to learn. I wonder if any seminaries have adopted Polis as an alternative way to learn the language. Reading and understanding any language in its native setting is far better than painstakingly hacking and parsing as a means to translating it into English. Such an approach bleeds the life out of the text - which is especially unfortunate when the text happens to be God's Word.

Readers of Koine (Biblical) Greek might want to look into Polis. I do not have the book, nor do I know anyone personally who has taken it. However, it has been recommended by fellow Latin teachers who use the Oerberg method. So, I'm reasonably confident that this approach could work in a seminary setting, or among pastors and lay people wishing to read, or improve their ability, to read Koine Greek.

Here is a video showing the course being used in the classroom. Can you imagine if our pastors were this fluent in Biblical Greek? I know I would love to have that kind of fluency. It would sure save a lot of time digging in lexicons and dictionaries, and it would bring the living Word of God into the realm of living language. Here is a sample chapter.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well, this is the reason why Greek (and Hebrew and German and Latin, back in the day) were prerequisites for the Seminary. The language study is completely smushed and concentrated beyond reasonable expectations.

Now, they have added Greek reading classes as requirements, so students are continually placed in Greek with oversight, so that probably is an improvement - but if we just wait for languages until the summer before hand, they will suffer.

I also think a good philosophy course ought to be required - so much of classical theology presupposes a basic understanding of at least Plato and Aristotle (if you don't know Aristotle, the idea of "transubstantiation" and complaints against it will make no sense). I also would approve of a good, basic rhetoric class as well - as writing and orating will be a large part of a pastor's duties.

Bibliophile said...

Until then, all of us pastors need to read Aristotle, Plato. that would include Aristotle's Rhetoric or Cicero. This, with a guide to Aristotle and or Plato would take us a long way. It is a poor substitute, but until the Seminaries catch on and can add such things, this will help.
Rev. Benjamin Pollock

Christopher D. Hall said...

Wow! That Latin course looks incredible. Been thinking of a way to try to teach the kiddos Latin, and it looks like a winner.

Fraser Pearce said...

Thanks for the post. I like Orgerg - I only found out about him on your recommendation. Now I've ordered Polis. It looks like fun.