THE IMPORTANCE OF GREEK IN EDUCATION
THOUGHTS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF GREEK IN EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.
[Originally for the Pathfinder]
In a Truly Christian Education
"It's all Greek to me" -- that's the popular word when we don't understand or don't want to understand something. The current educational mindset relegates the subjects of classical importance to the status of "Greek." It is ironic that "progressive" secularists and anti-intellectual Christians have a shared value -- the denigration of classical languages in education. Now, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew is "Greek" to secularists and sectarians alike. Even though virtually every great leader in the history of Western Civilization knew and valued the study of Greek, now one must defend it afresh. On the other hand, some of the elitist private schools of the past have had the educational sense to require Greek, though they have generally not had a worldview which can account for history or learning.
In speaking to Christians, I suppose the first place to start is with God. God was pleased in the fullness of time to send His Son, our Savior into a world whose common tongue was Greek. Consequently, His authoritative spokesmen wrote of Christ and His redemptive work with Greek words. And the first missionary efforts were directed to those who understood Greek. Surely, a truly Christian education should pursue God's Word as deeply as possible, which means a study of Greek at some level.
Second, about 40% of our English vocabulary builds upon Greek words -- not just the any 40%, but the most content-filled words used in literary, scientific, philosophical, and theological areas of study. Vocabulary is always connected to academic achievement. But more importantly, vocabulary and the scientific advancement which it produces is required by God in the dominion mandate (Gen 1:28, 2:20).
Third, since Homer, Plato, Aristotle, the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), the New Testament, and the early church fathers are in Greek, it is quite an understatement to conclude that some of the world's most important literature comes to us by way of Greek. Not to mention that if one learns the grammatical structure of Greek, other languages will surely present less of a challenge. If Christians are to lead in our culture, educationally, then it is imperative for us to equip our children to be conversant with the history of Western thought. Consider the Apostle Paul who knew the Greek language (Acts 21:37 and as is evident from the NT), Greek literature (Acts 17:28, 1 Tim 6:10), and the current philosophies shaping his audience's mind (Acts 17:17). He was truly equipped to be their "apostolos" -- their messenger.
Now we must play catch-up with those who set the pace in the past. Jonathan Edwards, educated at home under his father's care, had thorough knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin when he entered Yale before the age of 13 in 1716. Likewise, J. A. Alexander (1838-1860) one of the second generation professors of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, knew the rudiments of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin by his tenth birthday. The founder of Southern Seminary, James Pedigru Boice learned Greek from a Sunday School teacher. -- I'd say we all have some catching up to do.
In a Truly Theological Education
Being Men of the Word of God
Being men of the Word of God demands that we, in the words of 2 Ti 2:15, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth." Of course this is directed to the young minister, Timothy, though the application certainly extends beyond this immediate audience. Being diligent requires labor and work (Gal 2:10, Eph 4:3, 1 Th 2:17, 2 Ti 2:15, 2 Ti 4:9, 2 Ti 4:21, Tit 3:12, Heb 4:11, 2 Pe 1:10, 2 Pe 1:15, 2 Pe 3:14). There can be no question that the task of becoming a man of the Word will require serious, consistent, study. Generally, every unashamed worker must grasp the overall intent and purpose of the "whole counsel of God." Specifically, however, those who "labor in the Word and doctrine" (1 Ti 5:17) must aim to master those perennial matters of our faith, like systematic, biblical, historical, and polemical (apologetical) theological content. Among these matters of expert, but crucial, non-negotiable truth, stands the language of the New Covenant revelation, Greek.
Being Ministers of the Word of God
According to the injunction of the Apostle, to "handle accurately the word of truth" (1Ti 2:15), we must aim at, literally, "holding a straight course, a smooth, right way." That is, as those who propagate the very truth of the gospel and its larger theological foundations, we must check up on our initial understanding of the Word. But how are we to do this? By the exegetical processes of uncovering the true intent of the writers of Scripture. Certainly, this cannot be completed without penetrating reference to the original language of the text. This is not to say that one must know Greek to understand the truth of the Bible. God's gospel of grace is for every people, tribe, and language. Yet, to properly "check up" on our understanding, especially of the details of our belief system, we must consult the original language. Clearly, then, the Reformation cry was correct, "ad fontes" -- back to the sources.
As a minister of the Word of God, we must follow the model of Ezra who "set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel" (Ezr 7:10). The sequence is of fundamental importance, to know God's word, cognitively, to know it experientially and practically, and then to disseminate it accurately. One of the first processes, then, it to assess the truth we think we have, to study diligently. This certainly implies returning to the original text of the New Testament, inasmuch as possible.
Being "Masters" of the Word of God
The goal of being a man of the Word of God and a minister of the Word of God is to let the Word master the man. We can let Scripture grasp us to such an extent that we have a master grip on it. We should aim even beyond the example of Apollos of whom it was said that he was "an eloquent man" and "he was mighty in the Scriptures" (Act 18:24). I take this to mean that he was able to communicate its truth powerfully, recall its details exactly, and refute those who contradict it polemically. After Priscilla and Aquila "took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately," the Scripture say, "he helped greatly those who had believed through grace; for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ" (18:26-28). Nothing less than this kind of mastery should be our aim as ministers of the Word of God. May the Lord grant to His servants who pursue His Word diligently the blessing of Psalm 119:99-100,
I have more insight than all my teachers, For Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Thy precepts.