Why Study Greek?: An Interview with David Black

Dr.-BlackThis will now be the third time I have taught one of the biblical languages in the context of the local church. I began with Greek Grammar I about four years ago. After, Nathaniel Cooley and I started a Hebrew Grammar class about a year and a half ago. This class is still meeting. All this is to say, I have been asked many questions about the value of learning the biblical languages. I have answered these questions in a number of ways: learning Greek will teach discipline, knowing Greek will bring greater insight and independence, etc.

Yet, at the onset of a new Greek class, instead of answering these questions myself, I decided to ask them to the author of your textbook (Learn to Read New Testament Greek), David Alan Black. Dr. Black currently serves as the New Testament Chair at Southeastern Baptist Seminary. He has been teaching Greek for countless years and he still considers it to be one of his great joys. I hope that you will benefit from the answers he provides to the questions I so often receive!

Isn’t the study of biblical languages a task strictly relegated to my paid ministers?

The answer is no. That’s why I taught Greek in my local church a couple of years ago.

Is it important for the ‘laity’ to learn Greek?

It is important for all Christians to know their Bibles. And one thing the Bible clearly teaches is
that there is no class distinction between “clergy” and “laity.”

If so why? If not why not?

Greek is helpful for one main reason: it allows you to have a personal encounter with the New
Testament in its original language. At the same time, it weans you from over-dependence
on commentaries and teachers. Finally, it gives you a tool by which you can better judge the
accuracy of what you read and hear.

Aren’t there more practical ways of using the limited time I have than learning Greek? After
all, aren’t English translations sufficient?

A student once asked me, “Why should I study Greek? After all, there are so many English
translations available today.” My answer was, “It is precisely because there are so many English
translations available today, and none of them agree with each other, that now, more than ever, it
is incumbent upon the student of the New Testament to have access to the original language.”

Will Greek give me all the answers to the questions I have about a specific New Testament
passage?

Absolutely not. As I tell my students, Greek does not tell you what the Bible means. But it
does limit your options and tell you what is possible. Then other features (context, historical
background, etc.) kick in to help you interpret the text.

Why should I learn more Greek than is necessary for engaging with the significant literature/
commentaries?

Luther put the answer this way: Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your bride
through the veil. No thanks.

What are the most significant benefits of learning Greek?

Greater fidelity to Scripture, development of a sharp mind, ability to discern what others are
saying, etc.

Is Greek hard to learn?

Greek is easy. It’s us Greek teachers who make it hard!

How time consuming is it to learn Greek?

When I was teaching Greek weekly in my local church, I asked each student to spend three hours
of study outside of class. I think that’s a realistic expectation.

How does Greek help my devotional life?

Actually, I have never distinguished between my devotional life and my academic life.

If I learn to read New Testament Greek, how do I use this newfound knowledge to build up
the church and not my own sense of importance or pride?

By putting it into the service of others. An old Scottish proverb puts it this way: Greek, Hebrew,
and Latin all have their proper place, but it’s not at the head of the cross, where Pilate put them,
but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus.

Dave, I want to thank you for your time!

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One comment on “Why Study Greek?: An Interview with David Black

  1. Pingback: Why Study Greek? | The Front Porch

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