Re: A little Greek is dangerous

Randy Leedy (
Sat, 24 Aug 1996 14:39:15 -0400

Thanks to James Vellenga and Karen Pitts for helpful posts on the
value of even a little knowledge of Greek. I would like to point out
a few things and then raise a question for Karen in particular.

First, I wouldn't be surprised if both James and Karen are higher up
the ladder of Greek expertise represented on B-Greek (and even among
Greek teachers) than they realize.

Second, they are aware of their limitations, which is one of the
points for which I intended my previous post on the subject to argue
most strongly. I probably didn't make myself clear: it seems to me
that any knowledge of any subject is valuable if it is coupled with
an understanding of its limitations. The caveat I wanted to offer was
against giving people a little Greek knowledge and, whether or not
intentionally, leaving them with the illusion of a competence that
they do not yet possess. The common sense evident in Jim's and
Karen's posts makes it clear that they need no such caution, at least
no more than the rest of us do.

Third, the approach Karen described does not sound to me as though it
fits David Cashmore's concept of a "casual" course, as best I can
remember it (somehow I have lost that message). It seems to me that
David was interested in teaching people to use some exegetical tools
apart from having worked through the grammar (memorizing paradigms
and vocabulary, and learning to translate). Karen's approach sounds
pretty traditional, just drawn out over a longer period of time. But
she's giving the students who stick with her a firm grounding in
grammar. So, really, Karen, it looks to me like you and I are arguing
for the same thing.

Now my question for you, Karen, relates to your background in
statistics (I'm one of those amateurs that give you professionals so
much grief). You may be in an ideal position to help me (and perhaps
some of the rest of us) understand whether or not we can help people
who want to USE GREEK but don't want to (or can't) LEARN GRAMMAR. If
I felt I needed to do some statistical work but I didn't know the
higher-level math and didn't want to learn it, what could you do for
me? If I knew such basics as addition, subtraction, multiplication,
and division along with raising to powers and extracting roots (my
language is probably revealing my limits in math quite clearly--is
that last item something a mathematician does, or a dentist?) but no
more, could you help me? Would you be able to point out certain kinds
of statistics I could learn to do and others that I had better not
venture into? To what extent would a calculator with statistical
functions help me, if I didn't understand what those functions mean
or how they work? (The calculator, of course, is analogous to any
number of reference tools that supply parsing data and other
grammatical information.)

I imagine you would be able to help me to some extent. Now, can you
apply the same reasoning to Greek? What would you be able to do for
your students who don't want to memorize paradigms or simply cannot
do so? This is the question David Cashmore raised as I understood it.
I am genuinely interested in how you would answer this, because it is
a question I am frequently asked, and I would love to give a more
encouraging answer than my conscience presently lets me give! The
best idea I've had yet is the one I floated on the list the other
day: word study.

As I understand the discussion, the line to follow is not "what value
does a little knowledge have?" I think we can agree that ANY amount
of knowledge is valuable; danger arises only with overconfidence.
(Can we stay out of theology here? I know lots of people would like
to jump on us Fundamentalists on this point--let's just acknowledge
that we all have our opinions on what constitutes overconfidence,
some will change opinions, and in due time we'll all know who was
right and who was wrong.) The line to follow, as I understand it, is
"to what extent can we equip students to do original-language
interpretation without teaching original-language grammar?"

In re-reading my original post, I see that I was vague about what I
warned against, using a phrase like "technical mastery" where I meant
"grammar." I hope now that I have framed the question more clearly;
if I have strayed from what David Cashmore has in mind, I HAVE
expressed the question I am frequently asked and am unable to answer

In Love to God and Neighbor,
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC