Re: A little Greek

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Thu Aug 29 1996 - 13:50:59 EDT

Jonathan Robie wrote on 28 Aug 96 10:44:56 EDT:
>> It seems to me that Jonathan Robie's suggestion DOES have merit: the
>> value of learning Greek is not to improve upon exisiting
>> translations. I took this to mean, not that there are no passages
>> where the translation is problematic, but that none of us "little
>> Greeks" is going to produce a New Testament that is superior overall
>> to the existing ones. Apparently either Dale or I have misunderstood
>> him.
>This is precisely what I meant. Dale's message does miss what I intended
>to say. IMHO, the goal for us "little Greeks" shouldn't be to do a better
job of
>into English, but to understand the original Greek better. Dale points out that
>modern translations may differ significantly. This is true -- in fact, one of
>the big
>reasons I got into Greek was that our small groups had a number of Bible
>and they sometimes differed enough to affect our interpretation of the
>In general, if I want to improve on the translation of a passage, or see new
>in the Greek which I didn't see in the English, I feel the need to get the
>opinion of a
>"big Greek".

Following is my off-list response to Jonathan's off-list response to
my comments (did that make sense ???); I'm not posting this to get into
a "did not..." "did too" debate, but just to let you'all know why I said
what I said and that I wasn't attributing contra-Greek motives to
Jonathan's statements. On the contrary what Jonathan has said in his
posts is EXACTLY the way learners (MAQHTOI; and sometimes the learned-
DIDASKALOI) should approach the text, and I applaud him for it; too
often I (I'm sure this is a shared experience) run into folks who
really don't know what they are talking about but they are vigorously
defending it "from the Greek..."

My apologies if you think I misunderstood or misrepresented you; I was
just responding to your offer of an opinion to jump on; I actually
thought you were doing it a bit tongue-in-cheek as devil's advocate,
to try to draw out a response like mine to point out that a little Greek
is not dangerous, but necessary, as long as its done correctly and that
the MAQHTOI understand their limitations and the limitations of the
language. My personal experience is that even "little Greeks" (I must
admit I'm not particularly pleased to see the non-experts referred to
in such a condescending manner...but if you all don't object, I
guess I'll let it go) can translate just as well as alot of committees
who are so (mis-)guided by their presuppositions that they can't
translate the passage in front of them without forcing the English
reader to understand it exclusively in their terms.

I do not agree with some other opinions expressed that a little Greek
is dangerous, and you provided me with the forum to say so; that was
my reading of your offer (email can be difficult at times...); again,
I'm sorry if you felt it was directed AT you--that wasn't my intention.
I personally abhor the condescension of some "experts" towards, as
some have put it, "the less fortunate" (btw, I RARELY IF EVER have seen
that on this list), and strive to NEVER engage in it myself (not always
successful, I would be the first to point out).

I also emphathize with so much of what Don Wilkins has written, and I
just want to put an exclamation point after some of his comments,
mainly because we are all aware of the fact that there are many folks
out there (some on this list) who really desire to interact with the Bible
at the level of the original language but don't have the context at present
to do anything more than to try to learn it on their own. If I'm reading
him correctly, I think Don and I have the same concern, namely that those
of you learning on your own should both pursue the goal with all vigour
and, at the same time, recognize your limitations, especially in the
area of grammar, when you are tempted to say dogmatically that the Greek
text teaches such and such. I think (?) I can speak for the rest of the
Greek profs who visit this list when I say that its exciting to see all
of you learning the language and asking such great questions; none of
us has any desire or intention to discourage you in anyway--we want to
see you succeed brilliantly (I say this in response to some off-list
queries directed at me about my comments). I also agree (though I
might not have said it the same way) that pastors who ascend to the
pulpit without a serious knowledge of the text in the original do
themselves and their congregation a great disservice; can you imagine
a Muslim cleric who does not know Arabic; a Rabbi who studies and
teaches from the English ? Not everyone needs to be an expert, but
those who stand before others and claim to be telling them that
the Bible teaches so and so, esp., in the one way conversation of a
sermon, these people need to take the responsibility seriously and
make sure that they know what they are talking about (this reminds me
of an advertisement for a certain piece of Bible software which claims
that you don't need to study or even really know the original languages
if you'll just use their product which has Strong's dictionary and
concordance in it to tell you the "real" meaning of the text--what's
interesting about that is that the developer is an M.D.; I wonder how
he'd feel about a Doctor's CD which claimed "You don't need to go to
Med School to learn surgery; just buy our product and you'll be
operating on your friends in no time." Who's going to take that
seriously ?? [This is a rhetorical question with an implicit
follow up question and response :-) ]).

I now descend from (one of) my hobby-horse(s); sorry for the lengthy
rambling--we now return control of your monitor to you (for those
of you to young to remember, that's a pun on the Outer Limits
TV show :-) ).

Dale M. Wheeler, Th.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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