selling Greek

From: Edgar M. Krentz (
Date: Thu Mar 21 1996 - 13:01:43 EST

>I find myself needing to promote my classes among students at a Small
>Liberal Arts Christian College. One of the ways I plan to do this is by
>putting together a list of the ten reasons why a student should learn
>Ancient Greek.
>The main focus of my courses is on preparing students to work with the Greek
>New Testament. Do any of you have any suggestions for my list? I am familiar
>with David Blacks short book, "Using New Testament Greek In Ministry" and I
>plan on
>borrowing some of his reasons. Can anyone suggest any others?
>Timothy B. Smith

I think I can add a few reasons that may appear persuasive to students who
are first and foremost interested in understanding the Greek New Testament.

1. You cannot understand the NT unless you can work in the LXX with some
facility--and for that you need both a larger vocabulary at your finger
tips than reading only the GNT will give you and a wider knowledge of Greek
morphology and syntax.

Add to that the value of reading Josephus, Philo of Alexandria,
Aristobulus,and other Jewish writers close in time to the NT and you soon
need a wider acquaintance with the Greek language than the best NT
introductory text will give you. [I do not say this to denigrate any of
these useful texts. They do well what they set out to do!]

2. One does not understand any language from reading less than 750 pages of
it. Or from reading only one genre of writing, e.g. religious. One who
reads only the sports section of the Chicago Tribune will not really fully
understand that. Some writers in the NT use vocabulary that comes from
urban political life (Philippians), from contemporary social ethics (1
Peter's household or social code), from contemporaneous extra-biblical
religion (Colossians), or that uses language that comes from Greek
classical or hellenisitic philosophy (Hebrews). One should have read the
_Poimandres_ from the CORPUS HERMETICUM to understand Colossians, or Arius
Didymus and Musonius Rufus (to say nothing of Aristotle) to understand 1
Peter. And reading them in English translation aids, but not to th extent
that using the Greek text will--provided, of course, one is sensitive to
the use of semantic fields.

Fred Danker's _Benefactor_ is a good example of how reading public,
laudatory inscriptions in Greek illuminates some NT texts. Reading Richard
Saller on patronage will mean much more if you have some acquaintance with
the texts.

3. One who gets interested in the GNT soon finds that it uses literary
forms, e.g. the prose hymn, and rhetorical techniques that push one to read
outside the NT.

4. The New Testament also leads one [or should] to an interest in second
century Christianity and, in general, to the patristic era. Writers such as
Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and the like, or the partristic material that is
important for understanding patristic views on the canon and the origins of
the gospels and other books (see the extensive material in an appeendix to
Aland's _Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum_) will be locked unless one goes
beyond the reading of the NT alone.

5. One cannot use the major tools of NT study, the lexica and the
grammarian's contributions, with full understanding without some knowledge
of the history of ancient Greek and an acquaaintance with many Greek
writers of antiquity. The grammars of classical Greek by Herbert Weir
Smythe and Goodwin-Gulick [at least one of them] belongs on the shelf of
everyone who wants to understand the NT--to say nothing of Eduard Schwyzer
or Kuehner-Blass-Gerth.

I found Barbara O'Cleirigh's comments apt, as I did the submission of Peter

I teach too many students who have not benefitted from such wide reading
and find that the gap inhibits them in their seminary and graduate studies.

Here's to more Greek reading!

Edgar Krentz, New Testament
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Tel: 3112-256-0752; (H) 312-947-8105

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