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Thinking in Greek

February 19, 2009

As I continue D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, I found this quote particularly relevant:

Perhaps the principal reason why word studies constitute a particularly rich source for exegetical fallacies is that many preachers and Bible teachers know Greek only well enough to use concordances, or perhaps a little more. There is little feel for Greek as a language; and so there is the temptation to display what has been learned in study, which as often as not is a great deal of lexical information without the restraining influence of context. The solution, of course, is to learn more Greek, not less, and to gain at least a rudimentary knowledge of linguistics.

This is what I’ve learned from my third semester of Greek more than anything. The goal in taking Greek in seminary is not to know loads of vocabulary or how to parse any verb that comes my way, so that I can one day stand behind a pulpit  saying things like, “now this is an aorist present active verb which means…” as people throughout the congregation not-so-subtly yawn.

The goal is to think in Greek. Learning a language is more than learning vocabulary, but the majority of the time Greek is used from the pulpit it is limited to this. Greek, just like English, has all sorts of nuances that are understood when somebody understands how the language works.

A foreign student could hear me say, “I paid room and board” and translate it into his language, but unless  he understands the English language he won’t know what I meant. Did I pay an actual room? Did I also give a large wooden plank to the man? I’m sure you know what I mean by the sentence above, but it’s not because you know English vocabulary well. It’s because you know the English language well. It’s a simple example that shows if you’re going to use another language, there has to be more work done then just using a dictionary.

Now will I be able to start “thinking” in Greek? That’s the question…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Adam Jacot de Boinod permalink
    August 13, 2009 8:16 am

    Dear Bryan

    I wondered if you might like a link to both my Foreign word site and my English word website or press release details of my ensuing book with Penguin Press on amusing and interesting English vocabulary?

    with best wishes

    Adam Jacot de Boinod

    (author of The Meaning of Tingo)


    or wish to include:

    When photographers attempt to bring out our smiling faces by asking us
    to “Say Cheese”, many countries appear to follow suit with English
    equivalents. In Spanish however they say patata (potato), in Argentinian Spanish whisky, in French steak frites, in Serbia ptica (bird) and in
    Danish appelsin (orange). Do you know of any other varieties from around the world’s languages? See more on


    The Wonder of Whiffling is a tour of English around the globe (with fine
    coinages from our English-speaking cousins across the pond, Down Under
    and elsewhere).
    Discover all sorts of words you’ve always wished existed but never knew,
    such as fornale, to spend one’s money before it has been earned; cagg, a solemn vow or resolution not to get drunk for a certain time; and
    petrichor, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a
    dry spell.
    Delving passionately into the English language, I also discover why it
    is you wouldn’t want to have dinner with a vice admiral of the narrow
    seas, why Jacobites toasted the little gentleman in black velvet, and
    why a Nottingham Goodnight is better than one from anywhere else. See
    more on

    with best wishes


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