Published on January 15th, 2011 | by Dustin Schledewitz
Greek and Bible Study
You know what, I really don’t know HOW this computer works. I don’t know or understand the language behind it, and I don’t know how the hardware is put together in order to make it function. However, I recognize that those elements exist, and most importantly, I know how to practically use it. Similarly, I really know very little Greek, and I really don’t know a lot about how the Greek language functions. Fortunately, there are scholars who know a lot about those things and have created tools that can be practically used by anyone, whether they know Greek or not.
The Greek New Testament
Before I came to seminary, I had barely heard about the New Testament being written in Greek, let alone the importance that this plays in translating and understanding the text. That has changed now that I have three Greek courses under my belt. What I’ve come to realize is that although I’ve learned a lot about the language, there is SO much more to be learned. Just knowing the alphabet, a large portion of the New Testament vocabulary, Greek paradigms, and basic translation rules is just the beginning to understanding what is going on in the text.
Greek Study Tool
However, one of the greatest gifts that our professors gave us was introducing us to good resources, and there is one particular resource that I have become particularly appreciative of. It is the Lexham High Definition New Testament by Steven Runge. This resource takes the reality that there are some things that are communicated in the Greek New Testament that are just hard to translate, and it does something about it. The Greek authors used various literary devices of the Greek language that just can’t always be communicated by translating the text word for word.
For example, there was a general word order that was followed in Greek sentences, and if that word order was changed, the author was most likely trying to draw attention to something in particular in the sentence. That emphasis can be hard to communicate in a similar way as it is translated to a different language.
Greek Language and the Bible text
In this resource, Runge has identified the attention-getters, suspense-builders, emphasized words, and outlining signals that the original authors used, and then he labels them in the English text. Runge takes into account the following literary characteristics in marking the text:
- Choice implies meaning,
- Prominence (what has the author communicated as “background” or “foreground” information),
- Contrast (recognizing an underlying pattern and how the writer breaks or changes it),
- Semantic meaning versus pragmatic effect.
Regarding point #4, Runge points out that it is “very important to distinguish between the inherent meaning of something (i.e. its semantic meaning), and the effect achieved by using it in a particular context (i.e. its pragmatic effect)” (LHDNT Introduction 1.4).
For example, it would be easy to semantically translate the phrase “your children” into another language, but the context may have an effect on what is truly being communicated. For example, if I just got home from studying and my wife looked at me and said, “Guess what your son did…,” I would understand that there is more being communicate than the simple semantic meaning of that phrase. As you can begin see, a lot more goes into translation than just knowing what English word means the same as a particular Greek word.
No Greek Needed
The joy of this resource is that you don’t have to know anything about Greek in order to use it. As you go through the English text, he has marked the text in a way that communicates what the Greek literary device communicates as well.
For example, he marks the forward-pointing tools that work alone (meta-comment, attention-getters, repetition, backgrounding), forward-pointing tools that work in pairs (counter point/point sets, forward-pointing reference and target), emphasis, tools for highlighting details (characterization, changed name, thematic address, near distinction, far distinction), and propositional annotations (sentence, principle, support, complex, sub-point, elaboration, circumstance, or bullet). Those titles may not mean a lot to you right now, but the introduction to the resource clearly explains each one of them and their implications.
What I really appreciate is that Runge has brought together a vast amount of knowledge about the Greek language and how it functions, and he has brought it together to create a tool that can be used by anyone, like a computer. I hope that this resource may prove to be a help to you in your Bible study or sermon preparation.