Someone asked me yesterday how much work it was to teach myself Greek, with an eye toward doing it himself. Learning Greek sounds like a cool thing to do. That is, until you realize that it takes 10 or more hours a week for 6 months just to get started, followed by a long period of painfully slow reading as you gain proficiency. Why would anyone bother doing this? Don’t we have some pretty good translations, and also excellent commentaries to go to if we have a question about a particular passage of scripture?
The reason some of us bother to learn Greek is so we can know, as best as we are able, what the Bible really says. We aren’t subject to the whims of the translator or commentator any longer. What Paul or Jesus or John said is right there before us. All translations are interpretations by definition. The translator has to make decisions; there is no getting around that. But the average reader doesn’t know what those decisions were or why they were made. When you are familiar with the language, you see the range of possible interpretations.
Part of the problem, for those who are contemplating learning Greek, is Western culture. Western culture has become a fast food culture. Westerners tend to think very short term. We have trouble sacrificing immediate pleasure (or even immediate boredom) for future gain. If you are going to be one of the few who teaches his or her self Greek, you have to come to terms with this attitude in yourself. For the sake of illustration, let’s imagine a twenty-two year old man is considering learning Greek. Maybe he somehow found this blog in the depths of Google, read my first paragraph, and despaired. What, hundreds of hours of work before I can really even begin reading the New Testament in Greek?! Forget it. Maybe though, because he is bored, he keeps on reading to this paragraph. We can imagine the thought process, Long term gain, huh? I’m twenty-two. That means I will probably live another sixty or seventy years. Maybe it is worth spending a year of hard work so that I will be able to read the New Testament as it was written for the next sixty years of my life. Ah. Our twenty-two year old friend has gotten the point. Hard work for a little while gives you advantages that can be used for decades.
For the Christian who is trying to base their life on what the Bible says, understanding what the Bible really says is crucial. Not everyone should go out and learn Greek and Hebrew, but some should. Maybe that someone is you.