Some good and important reminders from my friend at Baker Books:
We have an abundance of resources to help a layperson “understanding” Greek. But, the old adage of “knowing just enough to be dangerous” is more true here than anywhere. All too often I get customers who want something to help them understand what “the Greek really means.” When pressed I offer them a Greek lexicon to which they inevitably say, “I can’t understand that. It’s in Greek.” I then offer them something like Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. I once had a lady look up a word and after reading the definition said, “Well, this is just what my Bible says.” I said, “I guess your translation is right. You’d be surprised just how often it is.”
I was browsing through an old Baker publication by F.F. Bruce entitled In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past. After I read the paragraph below I was sure I saw the heavens open and an angelic chorus broke out in great praise saying “spread this wisdom far and wide.”
“I have met students who claimed to ‘know Greek’ on the basis of their acquaintance with the Greek New Testament; even if that latter acquaintance were exhaustive, it would no more amount to a knowledge of Greek than an acquaintance with the English New Testament could amount to a knowledge of English. There is a story told of A.S. Peake writing a Greek word on the blackboard of his Manchester classroom, and one of his students saying, ‘You needn’t write it down, Doctor; we know Greek.’ To which he replied, ‘I wish I did.’ To know a language, even an ancient language, involves having such a feeling for its usage that one can tell, almost as by instinct, whether a construction is permissible or not, or whether a translation is possible or not. Translation is not simply a matter of looking up a word in a dictionary and selecting the equivalent which one would like to find in a particular passage. It is this manifest mastery of Greek usage which makes William Kelly’s New Testament commentaries, especially those on Paul’s epistles, so valuable. ‘And you know what is restraining him now,’ says the RSV of 2 Thessalonians 2:6, following some earlier interpreters. This construing of ‘now’ with ‘what is restraining’ Kelly describes as a solecism, pointing out that the ‘now’ is ‘simply resumptive’. Kelly is right. But how did he discover that the construction of the adverb with ‘what is restraining’ is a solecism? No grammar-book or dictionary would tell him that; it was his wide and accurate acquaintance with Greek usage that made it plain to him, an acquaintance which is the fruit of long and patient study.” (Bold emphasis mine. 293)
See also Gary Shogren’s excellent series of posts entitled “But the Greek REALLY says…”: Why Hebrew and Greek are not needed in the pulpit, Part 1, “But the Greek REALLY says…”: Why Hebrew and Greek are not needed in the pulpit, Part 2, and “But the Greek REALLY says…” Why Greek and Hebrew are not needed in the pulpit, Part 3.