greek greek!

From: John Oaklands (
Date: Wed Feb 26 1997 - 11:22:06 EST

In my experience both in South America and Australia, students who have the
greatest difficulties in learning Koine or biblical Greek, are speakers of
modern Greek. They would say things like, "The word doesn't mean that," or
"That's not correct grammar," or "We don't say it that way." I would have
to point out that we were studying Koine and not modern Greek. I've also
spoken with other lecturers who've had similar problems. The challenge has
been to help these students master the Koine Greek and to be able to see the
differences between the two phases of the language.

To indicate that I'm on track, one of my students in Australia, born into a
Greek family, finally pulled out of my Greek class and went to Greece where
he lived in Thessaloniki for a year. He later came back and had a different
attitude to Greek altogether. He was twenty years of age and had never been
to Greece before. He told me that when he arrived in Thessaloniki and
started speaking Greek, people would look at him as if he were strange.
They would make remarks like, "We don't say it like that any more." He was
shocked to think that in twenty years the language had changed so radically.
It helped me to better understand why such students have had so much trouble
with Koine Greek, where the gap is not a mere twenty years but close on
2,000. After all, isn't language always in flux? It seems that some
languages are more so than others.

In fact, I'm afraid that if some modern Greek speakers think that Koine
Greek is the same as modern Greek, they're probably reading biblical Greek
in terms of modern Greek culture and language and are unaware of the
language and culture of antiquity. For not only does language change,
culture also changes. The two cannot be separated--as those of us who have
lived in other language areas will readily realize. On a lesser scale but
equally true is the case of those who read the KJV in terms of twentieth
century western culture and don't try to understand the language and culture
of seventeenth century England.

But then I'm also led to the following conclusion, that a little taste of
Greek--like a little psychology, for example--can be counterproductive and
even detrimental. I do not favor the study of Greek as a tool for it
frequently overlooks the cultural and literary factors and makes students
think that with a slight hold on Greek they can master the theology of the
Bible, that they can better interpret Scripture. For me nothing is further
from the truth. I see so many errors of reference from this methodology.
Koine Greek was once a vibrant, exciting, beautiful language--and still is!
And I think it should be taught that way, in its own Sitz im Leben, in terms
of what was "in the air", so to speak, in the world of those times.

John Oaklands

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