RE: b-greek digest: September 02, 1999

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Sep 05 1999 - 06:40:41 EDT


At 6:54 AM -0500 9/5/99, Jay Adkins wrote:
>Dear Phil,
>I would like to second the recommendation of Gordon Fee's book on
>hermeneutics, "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth," for a short but
>useful chapter or two on the subject. Also I recently had the chance to
>teach a Sunday School class on 1 Thess. which had as one of its main goals,
>in addition to a verse by verse exegesis, to give people a sense of
>confidence in their English translation regardless of which of the major
>translations they used. I used my own translation along with 4 others.
>Too often laymen hear things like, "literally the original says" or "from
>the original language we get the idea that," ECT... This gives some a
>false impression that no matter what translation we use, unless we learn
>the original languages we are missing out from not knowing these mystical
>languages. It is a form of present day Gnosticism that I think needs
>addressed. While I like to encourage people to read several translations
>when they study, I think they should have confidence in God's ability to
>speak to them through those translations they have available. Not everyone
>has the opportunity to study Greek & Hebrew, nor is there a need. While I
>would encourage anyone who has the chance to do so, it is not needed in
>order for God to speak clearly and authoritatively to His Church. It is
>the Spirit that leads us to all truth, not Greek.

Dear Jay,

I don't know whether or what anything will come of this message of yours, but herein you've made me realize WHY I felt uneasy, when this thread first began, that it was going to lead, sooner or later, into hermeneutical and doctrinal questions. While I really do agree with what you're saying here (so much so that I sometimes feel that learning Greek, if one does not go about it very carefully and very conscientiously, may even do some harm to a student of the Bible and to those he or she goes on to teach after acquiring "a little bit" of Greek. On the other hand, the way you phrase your last sentence hints, without saying so, at the proposition that (a) the Greek (or Hebrew) text has no bearing on whether or how the Biblical text gets through to the layperson who has no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, and/or (b) ANY translation of the Biblical text WHATSOEVER is sufficient, if only the Spirit is operant when one reads. I wonder whether either one of those propositions is one that you really want to affirm?

I am not an inerrantist, but I think that the Chicago statement on inerrancy is right to insist that only the original Greek and Hebrew autographs may be declared definitively free from error--and then goes on to insist that, despite the fact that the original autographs are lost beyond any hope of recovery, the authentic Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible have not suffered significant variation in any thing that is important to faith. While that just MAY be true, I think that in fact textual variations in the manuscripts in some significant passages are responsible for significant doctrinal differences between faith-communities within Christendom. That really is a problem; there's a lot we really don't understand and must trust God about, but the original "Protestant" proposition--that (as my own Presbyterian tradition puts it) "God alone is Lord of the conscience" and that the conscientious and faithful lay person has the intelligence and sufficient guidance from the Spirit to interpret the Biblical text
for himself or herself--does NOT appear to mean that any uniform understanding of the Biblical message will prevail among all conscientious and believing Christians. I say that for myself alone as what appears to me to be true. It may be that the splintering of Christendom, especially since the Protestant Reformation, is not something counter to God's will, but it is a phenomenon I find hard to square with Jesus' high-priestly prayer in John 17 "that they may all be one." The problem as I see it is that human minds and understandings are not simply overruled by the efficacy of the Spirit even when Scripture is read conscientiously and prayerfully. I guess what I think this means is that it is also important that the group and church tradition and even solid and sound KNOWLEDGEABLE Biblical scholarship have to play roles in the process of Biblical interpretation--or posed more simply, that one ought not to assume that the Spirit will guide the reader of a translation of Scripture to "all truth" if the reader
does not make use of all of the resources, INCLUDING what can be learned directly from the Greek and Hebrew texts, in the process of pondering what Scripture says. That is to say, we should not expect God, through the Spirit, to help those to understand Scripture who will not help themselves with the assistance of every available resource.

The peril of relativism is an immense one, and it will not do (I think) to accept at face value either the Roman Catholic proposition that only the Holy Mother Church can rightly interpret scripture or the traditional Protestant notion that the individual conscientious layperson may interpret scripture rightly. I think that the function of the Spirit's guidance must depend upon all the lore and wisdom which the community of believers can bring to bear upon Scripture. But I can't really say this on B-Greek in response to your message because it goes to the heart of hermeneutics and very important differences between faith-communities over the authority of Scripture and the role of the individual layperson and the role of the Holy Spirit. On B-Greek I think we have to stick to Greek and steer clear of questions that really are doctrinal, where we all come with different fundamental assumptions.

Best regards, cwc

P.S. Please don't consider this a "warning" or anything like that; it's just an off-list endeavor to say what I find problematic in your message; I am sending a copy of this to Carlton and Jonathan to let them know that I have corresponded with you and to give them a chance, if they wish, to get their own input into this question (it's certainly not my intention to start an off-list private thread on this matter!). c

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