Greek for the Rest of Us (2nd Ed.) - A Resource for New Students, Seasoned Students and Pastors
Someone once said, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Bill Mounce might amend that to read, "A little bit of Greek is a dangerous thing." Which is why he is on mission to equip people with a solid, foundational understanding of New Testament Greek and good Bible study tools with his Greek for the Rest of Us, 2nd Edition.
After hearing the frequent response, "I have always wanted to learn Greek," Mounce "came to the conclusion that if people knew a little about Greek and a lot about how to use good bible study tools, they could in fact glean much from the Bible and from other resources that are otherwise beyond their grasp." (viii) The result is a highly accessible, approachable, and usable resource that will help Christians navigate Bible software, different translations, good commentaries, and the meaning of Greek words.
Who Will Benefit?
Before I get into the benefits, who exactly is this resource for? While it's primarily addressed to so-called lay learners who would like to study their Bible better but don't have the time for seminary, I see two other audiences who could benefit from its instruction.
First, I'd recommend this book for all first year Greek students before the first day of class. When I started my M.Div. program our Greek class was over capacity with some forty-plus students. Two weeks later, however, that number dropped below thirty, and then below twenty between Greek I and Greek II.
Only ten of us made it into and through three semesters of NT exegesis. I wonder if those other thirty students had surer footing at the start, would they have made it until the end? Since many M.Div. students enter such programs as a second career without having had basic Bible classes, Greek for the Rest of Us could play a significant role in preparing and retaining first semester Greek students.
A second audience who will benefit from this resource are pastors who'd like a quick refresher to maintain and strengthen their Greek language skills. Four years removed from my Greek classes I can already feel my grip on the language slipping. A majority of the content in this beginners guide will stem that slippage. If you're a pastor in need of a refresher, Greek for the Rest of Us could play a significant role in recapturing and retaining your language skills.
How Will You Benefit?
By using this resource, what will you be able to do when you are finished working through this text that you cannot do now?
- Use Bible software tools—There are a number of fantastic software tools available, and Mounce will help make sense of their components to help you in your Bible study.
- Discover the meaning of the Greek behind the English—"Without knowing Greek," Mounce says, "the best you can do is learn what the English word means. But as you will see, words have a range of meaning." (xi) And Mounce will help you navigate this range by teaching you how to do word studies.
- Learn the basics of exegesis—Using his method of "phrasing," Mounce will help you "learn to divide a biblical story into smaller, more manageable, units, locate the main thought, and see how the other statements in the passage relate to the main point." (xiii)
- Understand why translations are different—Mounce wants to help you understand that "what we need to do [when we study the Bible] is use the different translations to come together and arrive at a common meaning, a meaning that perhaps has several nuances that the different translations are trying to convey." (xv)
- Read good commentaries—Engaging commentaries are crucial when it comes to good Bible study. And Mounce wants you to "know enough about English and Greek grammar so that you can pick up an excellent commentary and be able to follow the discussion." (xv)
While many of these will especially benefit lay learners by laying a foundation for study, they will also help seminary students gain control and pastors re-gain control over the language in order to serve their people well.
Why Greek is Worth the Effort
I've personally experienced two of the above benefits from having a good grasp of NT Greek while in and after seminary, specifically benefits two and four. Let me illustrate with a story:
While neck-deep in first semester Greek, I led an adult Sunday School class at the church in which I was doing my residency. We were studying the significance of John:9-14, where Jesus said whoever believes in him will do his works, and even "greater works than these," which several commentators suggest are extensions of Jesus' own eschatological activity on the other side of his crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation.
An older gentleman challenged this idea that as Jesus' followers we were empowered by the same Spirit to continue his same Kingdom work. He challenged me because his Bible, the 1984 edition of the NIV, said that Jesus did "miracles," which he said we certainly couldn't do so the passage must mean something else than what I suggested. Here was the culprit:
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (Jn 14:11-12, NIV 1984)
My respondent did what many people do when they come across this passage, he spiritualized Jesus' "miracles" through his disciples to be acts of love, service, and humility, rather than acts of healing, exorcism, raising of the dead, forgiveness of sins, and judgment.
I was at a loss and confused. After the service I bee-lined it home for my Greek New Testament to John 14:11-12, to discover a surprise. Rather than the expected word for miracle, σημεῖον, was the word ἔργα, which any first-year Greek student knows (and BDAG tells us) is more accurately translated deed or work.
The Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV has since modified the translation to read "believe on the evidence of the works themselves." That day I wish I would have had an awareness of the Greek in order to better navigate the passage. I learned a significant lesson on the power of knowing the Greek behind the English and how translations can affect the application of Scripture.
Yes, a little bit of Greek knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but it doesn't have to be. Properly taught, understood, and applied, grasping even a basic understanding of the language can empower you to better handle situations like the one I faced, which Greek for the Rest of Us does. That, and as Mounce says, "the personal rewards of deepening your biblical study are so great that it is worth the effort." (xvii)
Jeremy Bouma (ThM) is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and writes about faith and life at www.jeremybouma.com.
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