Sundays with Silva: The Real Payoff of Learning Greek

While I have previously posted some excerpts of the quotation below (see Greek and Pride), the point our Infallible Hero makes here can never be emphasized enough, and therefore bears repeating.

It may be worthwhile to keep in mind that, more often than not, grammar has a negative yet important function; grammatical knowledge may not directly result in a  sensational new truth, but it may play a key role in preventing interpretive mistakes.  Take, for instance, the doctrine of Christ’s deity.  It would not be quite accurate to say that Greek syntax directly proves this doctrine.  It is certainly true, however, that it can disprove certain heretical ideas.  For example, proponents of some cults are fond of pointing out that the last reference to God in John 1:1 does not include the definite article and so should be translated ‘a god’ or ‘divine.’  Someone with little or no knowledge of Greek could easily be persuaded by this argument.  A reasonably good understanding of predicate clauses in Greek, however, is all one needs to demonstrate that the argument has no foundation whatever (the article that accompanies the predicate noun is routinely dropped to distinguish the predicate from the subject of the clausebesides, there are numerous and indisputable references to God, as in verses 6, 13, and 18 of the same chapter, that do not include the article).

“Quite possibly, however, the most significant benefit of acquiring a knowledge of the biblical languages is intangible.  Most of us are conditioned to think that nothing is truly valuable that does not have an immediate and concrete payoff, but a little reflection dispels that illusion.  Consider the teaching we all received from birth.  Has most of it been immediately rewarding?  We are simply not conscious of how deeply we have been molded by countless experiences that affect our perspective, our thinking, our decisions.  Similarly, a measure of proficiency in the biblical languages provides the framework that promotes responsibility in the handling of the text.  Continued exposure to the original text expands our horizon and furnishes us with a fresh and more authentic perspective than that which we bring from our modern, English-speaking situation.

“In my own preaching during the past twenty-five years, explicit references to Greek and Hebrew have become less and less frequent.  But that hardly means I have paid less attention to the languages or that they have become less significant in my work of interpretation.  Quite the contrary.  It’s just that coming up with those rich ‘exegetical nuggets’ is not necessarily where the real, substantial payoff lies.”

Moisés Silva, “God, Language and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation: Six Volumes in One, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), page 278.

See also:

Saturday à Machen: The Minister and His Greek Testament
Sundays with Silva: On the Study of Greek

4 responses to “Sundays with Silva: The Real Payoff of Learning Greek

  1. Very true. Today in sunday school, some people got tangented on the difference between confession and repentence. I couldn’t help but think back to the very different NT uses of exomologos and metanoia. Clouded thinking from later categories can be avoided by careful attention to original languages. Thanks for the quote.


  2. Pingback: Week in Review: 09.17.10 | Near Emmaus

  3. Pingback: The Poulos Blog

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