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One Reason Why You Should Learn Biblical Greek — An Excerpt from "Greek for the Rest of Us, 2nd Ed."
If you've been following along with us this week you know we've been emphasizing learning the original language of the New Testament, Koine Greek. On Monday we gave away a 26-minute lecture from Dr. William Mounce's DVD-based video lecture series on the basics of Biblical Greek. Our Tuesday column explored why learning Greek is worth the effort, as well as the benefits of a new Greek learning guide "for the rest of us." And because we believe so strongly in learning New Testament Greek, we wanted to give you a chance to win a copy of Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures series for your own library.
This emphasis on taking the time to learn the original Greek might strike some as odd. Why go through the trouble when we have many good English translations, helpful Bible software, and plenty of commentaries to do the legwork for us?
In the excerpt below from Greek for the Rest of Us, 2nd Edition, Mounce shares one of the reasons why we should apply ourselves to the task of learning this marvelous language by helping us understand the history of this language.
The Greek language has a long and rich history stretching all the way from the thirteenth century BC to the present….
As the Greek language spread across the world and met other languages, it was altered (which would happen to any language). The dialects also interacted with each other. Eventually this adaptation resulted in what we call Koine Greek. "Koine” (κοινή) means “common” and was the common, everyday form of the language, used by everyday people. It was not considered a polished literary form of the language, and in fact some writers of this era purposefully imitated the older style of Greek (which is like someone today writing in King James English).
Koine unfortunately lost many of the subtleties of classical Greek. For example, in classical Greek ἄλλος meant “other” of the same kind while ἕτερος meant “other” of a different kind. If you had an apple and you asked for ἄλλος, you would receive another apple. But if you asked for ἕτερος, you would be given perhaps an orange. Some of these subtleties come through in the New Testament but not often. It is this common, Koine Greek that is used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the New Testament, and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.
For a long time Koine Greek confused many scholars because it was significantly different from Classical Greek. Some hypothesized that it was a combination of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Others attempted to explain it as a “Holy Ghost language,” meaning that God created a special language just for the Bible. But studies of Greek papyri found in Egypt over the last one hundred years have shown that Koine Greek was the language of the everyday people used in the writings of wills, letters, receipts, shopping lists, etc.
There are two lessons we can learn from this. As Paul says, “In the fullness of time God sent his Son” (Gal 4:4), and part of that fullness was a universal language. No matter where Paul traveled he could be understood.
But there is another lesson here that is perhaps a little closer to the pastor’s heart. God used the common language to communicate the gospel. The gospel does not belong to the erudite; it belongs to all people. It now becomes our task to learn this marvelous language so we can make the grace of God known to all people…
So why learn Greek rather than Latin? I learned Latin and read Caesar’s Gallic Wars; it was interesting. I learned Greek and read the Bible; it was life changing. (pg. 2-3)
Greek for the Rest of Us: The Essentials of Biblical Greek (Second Edition)
by William D. Mounce
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