I wonder how you feel when a preacher says, ‘Of course, in the original Greek this word really means blah blah blah’. You might think, ‘Ooh that makes a lot more sense’ or, ‘How interesting!’ Or you might think, ‘How do I know that that’s right?’ (Or… you might just think, ‘There goes the vicar showing off again…’)
We are so used to the fact that we read our Bibles, our Holy Scriptures, in translation. And we know that English translations vary, and this is sometimes a bit troubling. Which translation is better, or more accurate? Does it matter that they are different? Personally I find it awesome that God entrusts his word to us into our multitude of languages. To me, this is one way that the Holy Spirit teaches us in ways that we can understand. Christians (though not all yet, but Wycliffe Bible Translators are working on it) are blessed since the Reformation to have the Bible in our vernacular languages and that is a Good Thing!
However, if we find ourselves challenged by these issues raised above, then learning the Biblical languages is actually a fantastic idea!
I do believe people who seek to teach and preach the Word really ought to invest in learning some Greek and Hebrew, to dig deeper into those questions and discover the nuances in the original meaning. But, even for ordinary Christians (those ‘in the pew’, or more accurately these days, ‘in the cushioned tubular-framed chairs’), learning the original languages is helpful. Again speaking for myself, I find it exciting to read the narratives about Jesus or the teaching of Paul as it was first written. It is like having a new light shed onto the words, and you see things you would not have seen before.
What is more, Greek is not as difficult as you might think. At first the letters might seem like gobbledegook (or, “all Greek to me”) – but actually, many of them are the same as English but just a bit more curly – so you can already read α, β, δ, ε, κ, and more. Only a few are actually completely different, and within two or three weeks, you will be reading them easily. It always surprises students that within just a few weeks they can translate some of the simple verses in the New Testament. Perhaps you might want to have a go!
Rosie Button (GTS Greek teacher)