Wednesday, May 4, 2022

There's Help for the Greekless (To Be Used with Caution!)

My morning workout has left me famished, so I am cooking a huge chunk of pork in the crock pot for supper tonight. (I am too lazy to mash my own potatoes.) 

Prior to going to the gym I was in Rom. 12 in my morning Bible time. Today I used the Williams New Testament along with my Greek New Testament. 

I have a few thoughts about Williams I'd like to add to those I've shared with you previously.

Greek continues to be used (and, sadly, abused) from our pulpits. I am weirdly protective about this because I have trained many of those pastors who continue to use Greek incorrectly. At the end of the day, I think we can all do a much better job of both teaching Greek and using it properly in our lives and ministries. 

Charles B. Williams was an acknowledged expert of Greek. I know that the vast, vast majority of the translation choices he made are both correct and helpful. I respect and love him immensely. But you have to use all translations carefully. Here in Rom. 12:1, I love how he brings out of the force of the definite article: "the" mercies of God. By translating "the" here as "these" (this is called the article of previous reference), he quite properly calls us to recall all of the blessings enumerated in chapters 1-11 of Romans before embarking on a study of chapters 12-16. 

In other words, our response to Paul's call to present our bodies to God will only be deepened when we ponder anew all of the blessings of salvation we have in Christ. What incredibly important theology we have in the first 11 chapters of this great epistle!

However, when I read that I am to make "a decisive dedication" of my body to God, and then read in a footnote that the Greek aorist infinitive means "a once for all offer," I feel that Williams has gone too far. The aorist in Greek functions merely as a snapshot. And it says nothing about doing an action only once. All such wrong thinking about the aorist needs eradicating, as all modern Greek textbooks make plain. 

Stay with me please. My point isn't to say that you shouldn't use the Williams New Testament. Quite the contrary! But like all tools (including the ones I've penned), they need to be used with caution. As the great F. F. Bruce has written, "such an expanded translation as this cannot be judged by stylistic criteria; it is intended for the study, in order that the Greekless student of the New Testament may be made acquainted with all the shades of meaning in the original." Bruce also indicates, however, that "Sometimes, indeed, one may wonder whether some of the shades of meaning have not been read into the Greek in order to be read out of it" (The English Bible: A History of Translations, p. 182).

This is simply another way of saying no translation is infallible. Modern translations often go well beyond a strictly philological exegesis and enter into the realm of theological interpretation. We should not be blind to this. We mustn't use the rendering of our preferred translation to reinforce our preconceived interpretation, even unintentionally. Surely our people deserve better than that.

Greek can indeed help instead of hurt our exegesis of the New Testament. It is noble, necessary work. Let's give our people substance. They crave depth. They want to grapple with the text. Let's give them the goods.