The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Greek γνῶσις

I am working my way through Rodney J. Decker's Reading Koine Greek. I was struck by a line in the section introducing verbal aspect. Decker provides examples of perfective, imperfective, and stative aspect in the Greek New Testament (translated into English), and then follows them with:

Note that you cannot distinguish these aspects in English. That is why you are learning Greek.

Put aside for a moment the fact that is indeed possible to indicate Greek verbal aspect in English translations (which is evident even in the given examples). I was struck by just how gnostic this sounds.

I recall when I was first learning the language I had some similar motivations: I wanted to learn what the Greek text says to maximum precision. I was always thrilled when I came upon little insights into the text based on grammatical details. And many of these little revelations present themselves early in the study of Greek. So a Greek student can indeed come to believe they have a bit of special gnosis when it comes to the text. After all, one cannot distinguish verbal aspect in translation.

However, as I gained some age and experience I began to realize that such insights based on minutiae are not significant in the grand scheme of things. I believe that skillful translation to English (or any other language) conveys everything that the authors intended to communicate. So an emphasis on analysis based on a technically detailed understanding of Greek grammar is misplaced. It is fun for us language nerds, but it hardly justifies the entire pursuit of this language.

This raises the question, "what is Greek study for?" I may explore this in a future post. At this moment I would say the most important reason for study is to produce and maintain Bible translations (though not necessarily dozens of them, as in English) for the edification of the church. Following on to that is the never-ending work of textual criticism, which also requires a detailed understanding of the language. Everything else (reference works, commentaries, scholarship and criticism) hang from these in my current estimation. Studying Greek is also fun for its own sake.

Now don't read this as a knock on Decker's work. I am quite enjoying working my way through this textbook, and will post a full review upon completion.

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Category: language Tags: Greek

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