the weblog of Alan Knox

“To be relevant and beneficial, the text must be understood – and then applied”

Posted by on Nov 14, 2009 in blog links, discipleship | 1 comment

The title of this post is a quote from Dave Black’s blog (Friday, November 13 at 8:02 a.m.). Here is the quote in context:

In the course of teaching Greek (both classical and Koine) the past 34 years I’ve found that translating Greek into English is a very different enterprise from understanding what the text means. A translation may at times sound very erudite, but to be relevant and beneficial the text must be understood — and then applied. One of my greatest challenges as a teacher has been to get my students to see the need to give up theological jargon when translating from Greek into English. If we can use simpler and clearer words to express the truths of Scripture, then by all means let’s do so. Why, for example, should we render Rom. 12:11 “distribute to the needs of the saints” when “share what you have with God’s people who are in need” will do the job and is much clearer? Or why should we insist that the purpose of pastor-teachers is “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry” when we can say “to prepare God’s people for works of service”? If all we do is parrot the standard English versions while translating from English to Greek, I’m afraid we’ll end up with nothing but another secret religious society. If insisting on the use of theological jargon actually helped people to become more obedient to the Word of God, I’d say do it at all costs. But is there any evidence that it does?

To admit this inadequacy honestly can be very intimidating to the teacher. It means, in fact, that we can no longer be content to offer courses in Greek exegesis that fail to include serious self-examination. Somehow we need to move our students from a mere grammatical approach to the text to one that involves them deeply in the Christian pilgrimage. What is the purpose of exegeting Paul’s Christ-hymn in Phil. 2:5-11 if we, the translators, are not willing to model the upside-down kingdom of God in our own lives? Strangely, I am discovering that more and more of my students are asking the “so what” question of everything they are learning. And I am more and more convinced that the joy of living the Gospel in our lives is what should drive the exegetical process in the first place. I may be wrong, but when we talk about “seminary education,” I think we are talking about training students for the adventure of living the Christian life in the real world by doing what is important in God’s eyes. I have found, to my horror, that it is far easier to simply talk about the text than to seek to live it out. Look at the New Testament writers like Paul or John who wrote and taught in the crucible of actual missionary experience. They were willing to follow the Lord Jesus even at the risk of death. They didn’t just talk about the truth, they lived it.

If Paul says I am to share what I have with God’s people who are in need, I’d better be doing just that. This pedagogical insight may belong in a fortune cookie, but it’s the best I can do.

I thought this post went along well with my series from this week: “Listening to the Experts,” “Listening to Theological Experts,” and “Listening to One Another.”

The work of disciple-making must move beyond education and telling what Scripture means in order to include the more necessary part: showing what it means… living the Scriptures. We can be highly educated and just as highly disobedient.

One Comment

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  1. 11-14-2009

    I like this: “We can be highly educated and just as highly disobedient.” I was praying a few minutes, ago. “Lord. Get my head knowledge to my heart.” There is little value to know in your head and not know with the heart.


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