Re: Grammars

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Aug 10 1999 - 07:35:36 EDT

At 9:44 PM -0700 8/9/99, George Goolde wrote:
>At the risk of getting very close to the edge of that precipice leading to
>the nether parts of the B-greek world. . .
>It seems to me that one of the "right on" posts said "It depends on what
>you want to study grammar for."

I'm not sure whether this was, as it might appear, aimed at me or not (nor
am I sure what the gun was loaded with ;-) ). I did say:

>What to acquire in the way of a grammar really depends upon what your needs
>and your commitment to Biblical Greek might be. . . .

 And without (I hope) jumping over that
>precipice that is where I say your approach to hermeneutics is part of your
>understanding of exegesis which is part of your reason for studying Greek
>in the first place. Which is all to say, that differences of opinion being
>carefully considered, and persons of varying faith perspectives being
>respectfully treated, you cannot ultimately separate hermeneutics from Greek.
>Unless, of course, you are a classical Greek scholar with no driving
>connection between your love for Greek and your understanding of Scripture.

As Clay Bartholomew has already noted, the logic of this assertion is
hardly compelling, although I assume that, if it is aimed at me, it might
be assumed or argued that my own lifelong academic and professional love
for Greek does not derive from my understanding of Scripture or the nature
of Scripture-- any more than my lifelong love of the English language has
anything to do with my profound feelings about English Biblical versions,
including the KJV. As a teacher of Classical Greek in a secular university,
I have certainly known great numbers of students who have studied Greek for
a different reason than to enable themselves to read and understand the
Greek Bible, but I have also taught quite a few students who have studied
Greek for no OTHER reason than to enable themselves to read and understand
the Greek Bible. And I have tried to be of service to both groups of
students without assuming that one group is more deserving of special

I did not begin my own study of Greek with any "driving connection" between
love of Greek and understanding of Scripture. I confess it without shame: I
began to study Greek with a passion to read Homer--a passion that has not
abated in the course of 47 years since I first enrolled in Greek 101. But
as a believer I DID start reading and seeking to understand the Greek text
of the Bible almost immediately and have never stopped.

To return to my statement (and I cannot, of course, be sure that George's
message really was aimed at me):

>What to acquire in the way of a grammar really depends upon what your needs
>and your commitment to Biblical Greek might be. . . .

My reference here was to an ongoing debate that has risen repeatedly to the
surface in B-Greek discussions over the years: many say that the Biblical
text is the only Greek they ever want or intend to read; my response to
that has repeatedly been, "If you really want to understand the Biblical
Greek language, you will find your competence enhanced and your
understanding improved by paying SOME attention to Greek literary and
grammatical traditions outside the confines of the Greek Bible. I'm not
telling people that they need to read Homer and Plato (although I don't
think it will hurt anyone to do so) but when I recommend that Smyth's
grammar is a tool of considerable value to students of Biblical Greek, I am
deadly serious, and I think many students have found this to be true.

>I am nowhere near being neo-orthodox (being theologically somewhere to the
>right of Atilla the Hun!), but I cannot resist grabbing a neo-orthodox
>dictum and applying it to the name of our cheery list: <G>
>Thesis - antithesis - systhesis.
>B (Bible) - Greek - ?????

I've never been quite clear where Attila the Hun stands on the theological
spectrum (nor have I ever much worried about it or used it to measure my
understanding of the theological spectrum. Moreover, I had always thought
the formula cited above was originally associated with Hegelian dialectic,
and then recast in various questionable ways by Marx & Engels and others;
not having read much neo-orthodox theology, I guess I didn't realize that
it had been claimed for that camp as well. But the application of it, with
more than a suggestion that Bible and Greek stand in antithesis to each
other, strikes me as closer to the stance of him who said, "What have
Jerusalem and Athens to do with each other," and who also said, "credo quia

By all means, let's (PLEASE!) not dash like lemmings over "that precipice
leading to the nether parts of the B-Greek world." If people want to
discuss again the question whether one may properly be committed to
learning Biblical Greek without attention to the language and literature in
Greek outside the Biblical texts, that's okay. But I would hope that we CAN
steer clear of a determination to raise theological and hermeneutical
issues as themselves the focus of B-Greek discussion.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243 OR

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