the weblog of Alan Knox

Learn Greek to Ask Questions

Posted by on Dec 10, 2009 in NT Greek | 2 comments

A few days ago, I wrote a post called “Don’t Study Greek” which listed several bad reasons to study Greek. But, what are some good reasons to study NT (or Koine) Greek?

There are many good reasons to study NT Greek. You can Google the question and see the responses from many different people. For the most part, these are very good reasons.

But, there’s one additional reason that I can think of for studying NT Greek. If you read the NT in Greek, you will learn to ask different questions about Scripture, and those questions will be based in the text of Scripture and not in a translation.

That’s right. If you learn to read NT Greek, you may find the answers to some of your questions about Scripture, but you will also learn a whole new set of questions. These new questions will be raised by the Greek text of the Scriptures, not by our English translations.

There is one simple and well-known example of this phenomenon. Consider the popular verse John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)

The English word “so” translates the Greek word “οὕτως” (hootōs). Most of the English translations use the word “so” here. The problem is that the English word “so” can be “so much” (the most common usage) or “in this manner” (a much less common usage). (The NLT translates “οὕτως” (hootōs) as “so much” while the HCSB translates the term as “in this manner.” Otherwise, other translations use the English word “so.”)

But, the Greek word “οὕτως” (hootōs) cannot mean “so much.” Instead, it means “in this manner.” John was not writing about the quantity of God’s love (“so much”) but about the means that God loved (“in this manner”).

Of course, if we read the English translation as “so much,” we ask different questions (i.e. “How much did God love”) than if we understood “οὕτως” (hootōs) to mean “in this manner” (i.e. “How did God love”). So, reading the Greek text causes us to ask different questions; but, we’re now asking questions that arise from the text of Scripture not from a translation.

Often, in order to make their English translations, translators had to answer those questions for themselves (and for their readers). So, the readers will never know that the questions are there in the first place, much less will they know to ask the questions.

So, when we learn Greek, we’re able to study the words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and sections of the Scriptures ourselves. We learn to examine the relationships between terms and phrases. And, we learn that new questions arise from the texts – questions that we may have missed if we only studied our English (or other language) translations.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-10-2009

    Thanks Allan,

    That is one of my favorite examples. Besides leading us to new questions, learning the original language can also reveal connections between passages hidden by translation. Such as the “what manner” in John 3:16 referencing God sending His Son, can be directly associated with the “in the same manner” of John 20:21 where Jesus sends the disciples.

  2. 12-10-2009


    Thanks for the comment. Yes, sometimes we can find connections between passages easier if we know the original languages.