• Deacon Martin

A word (of apology) to Greek and Hebrew experts

This series of articles and podcasts is aimed at those who do not have a knowledge of New Testament Greek or Biblical Hebrew, but I hope it may also be of some interest to those who already read Greek and/or Hebrew. However, I've made a few editorial decisions which I feel I ought to explain to those who are more expert than I am in the original languages:

  1. First, I deliberately make frequent references to the word that is the subject of each article, in its original language, and therefore do not shy away from referring to the word in its Greek or Hebrew form. I do this to remind the reader about the point of this series: to follow the use of the relevant word in its original language, not by how particular translations have rendered that word into English. Scripture scholars will be aware of how intelligent readers without a command of Greek or Hebrew, can make connections between specific passages of the Bible, on the basis of their translations happening to use the same English word, when the original Greek or Hebrew does not use the same word. (So, for example, not all occurrences of the word "worship" in an English translation of the New Testament, are based on the Greek word proskuneo in the original text.) Of course, such commonality in the English translation does not deny a thematic connection, but I want to remind the reader that connections on the basis of the same word, can only be made by reference to words in their original language. While this approach bears a risk of appearing more academic, I believe it can be justified by its support for the main aim of the series: to help readers gain some sense of the richness of the Scriptures in their original languages, even if they don't have the time to master Greek or Hebrew themselves.

  2. Second, I quote the Greek and Hebrew words in transliterated form, to make it easier for the non-expert to read. I do make a brief acknowledgement that the original languages are written in different alphabets, by including each week's "Bible word" in its original lettering, in the title of each article. But to use Greek and Hebrew lettering any further, would get in the way of an intelligent reader's ability to follow the article - and to no gain, since my purpose is not to motivate the reader to learn Greek and Hebrew for themselves. (I'd be delighted if they did, but there are better advocates than me for that objective.)

  3. Third, I mostly refer to the word of the week in a single, unchanged form Again, my motivation is for simplicity's sake. So, for verbs, I always use the first person singular present indicative; and for nouns and pronouns, I use the nominative (masculine) singular case. These are the forms of the words most commonly used in concordances - which again, will assist the reader who is motivated to dig a little further. I do at times acknowledge other forms of the word (especially for verb tenses and number), to make readers aware that these words do appear in different variants in the original text - and to help readers who may have a little Greek or Hebrew, and may be searching for the specific form of the word used in a particular verse, perhaps using an interlinear edition of the Bible.

  4. Fourth, I incorporate the Greek and Hebrew words into my English sentences, without changing the form of the Greek or Hebrew word to match its grammatical function in the sentence. I apologise that this may be the most distressing aspect for the expert 😉. For example, towards the end of my first article about the Greek verb προσκυνέω, I have used the Greek word in the first person singular present indicative, as part of a sentence where it refers to the practice of worship, i.e. as a noun. Therefore, the relevant part of the sentence says: "...insisting that proskuneo belongs to God alone". I defend this approach - which I acknowledge is, strictly speaking, ungrammatical, as the most appropriate compromise between the different aims of this series: on the one hand, to open the eyes of the non-expert to the richness of the Bible in its original languages; and on the other, to keep such knowledge as accessible as possible, avoiding the need to learn conjugations and declensions.

I hope that those more expert than I am, will forgive these compromises, and still more, forgive the failings in my own knowledge. I ask for your forbearance, if, like the Apostle Paul, "I might not be found by you to be what you wish" (2 Cor 12:20a).

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Welcome to Bible Words! Find out more about this series, where we look at some of the words used in the Bible, in their original language.