I bought a Greek Bible and I've been learning Greek, sort of. It's really cool, but I have some questions about the translation. (a) Logos: Why do you think the NIV and other popular English translations translate logos as "word" instead of "reason"? In John 1, they don't even add a footnote about it. In the Parable of the Sower, I think it would be cooler if it said God "sprinkles his reasoning" onto his hearers instead of his Word. Do you think Hebrews 4:12 is talking about Jesus as the Word of God? (I think so.) And the NIV is not consistent when using upper case Word and lower case word. (b) Love: Why don't English Bibles have a footnote explaining the different "loves" in the conversation between Jesus and Peter at the end of John? it would clear up some confusion. (c) I AM: Why does the NIV say in John 8:58 "I am" (indicating YHWH), but they say "I am he" and "I am the one I claim to be" (correcting the grammar for us), but it doesn't indicate YHWH) in 8:24, 8:28, 18:5, and so forth. (d) God (theos): "God" in John 1 is not capitalized in Greek (lower case theta). The whole chapter, everywhere else in the Bible, the theta in "God" is capitalized. Isn't that weird?... Hopefully you know enough Greek to answer these. -- Ian Mohlie (Richmond, Virginia)
I too am very interested in the Greek language (ancient). I took a year of Classical Greek in university, then in graduate school one year of Koine and another of Hellenistic Greek (doctoral level). I have also read the New Testament six times through in the original. For the last 25 years, I have tried to keep my grammar sharp and keep building my vocabulary. I've learned how easy it is to jump to (wrong) conclusions if I am not careful in my study. I will try to answer your questions, and also give you some tips for making Greek work for you (at the end of my reply).
You ask some good questions. One piece of advice: If I were you, I wouldn't try to second-guess the translators -- since as you freely admit you have not learned the language yet. My thoughts:
(a) Logos: context determines the translation. The word derives its meaning from the context, not from the dictionary definition the translator likes best. I would also be very careful about substituting Iesous for logos whenever you feel like it. This will lead to many contradictions (e.g., Ephesians 4:29 would become, "Let no unwholesome Word (Christ) come from your mouth").
(b) Philia and agape: They are synonyms in John 21! There is absolutely no difference in meaning (despite what you may have heard from other people who never studied Greek). If we are going to distinguish between philia and agape, why not between arnia (lambs) and probata (sheep) in the same passage? I've never heard a preacher yet draw attention to any distinction between these two animals!
(c) Ego eimi: "I am" is God's name (Exodus 6:3). All the passages you cite allude to this O.T. scripture and imply Jesus' divinity. It is not always easy to convey these things in the translation language.
(d) Theos: This is actually never capitalized in Greek, since Greek did not use capital letters to make distinctions. On the other hand, in some of the great uncial (majuscule) manuscripts, the words are all written in capital letters! Either way, whether to capitalize is left to the discretion of the translator. In English we capitalize God, unless we are referring to another (false) god.
As for Bibles failing to indicate translation options in the footnotes, I do not think this is a fair criticism. Many Bibles do, and even the NIV you read often does, too. If you are really serious about translation issues, buy the NET (New English Translation). It has tons of translation notes - in fact, over twice as many as there are verses in the Bible!
Finally, my suggestions for you as you develop your Greek. I share these not only for you, but for everyone interested in pursuing the original language of the New Testament.
1. Make sure your English grammar is rock solid. If it isn't, there isn't much hope you will master a complex and extinct language like Greek. Grammar, syntax, orthography, vocabulary, and style all are significant areas to brush up on, especially if you have not kept up your composition skills since you left school. Focus here first or drop the endeavor to learn Greek.
2. Become adept with the Greek alphabet. It should be as easy to read and pronounce for you as English. If not, you have work to do.
3. As you become more familiar with Greek, be sure to use multiple English versions, not just one. A stricter version will serve you much better than a looser one in these early years.
4. At this point you will want to enroll in a Greek course. It will be worth the cost.
5. Be a great student. Take all assignments seriously. There are no short-cuts!
6. Learn all the declensions and conjugations. Every verb has approximately 600 forms. It would be best if you learned all of them. Press on!
7. After a few months of Greek at the university level, begin to work your way through the N.T.
8. Begin with the easier books, like Mark and John. These can be read even if you have only had a year of Greek at the collegiate level.
9. "Graduate" to the letters of Paul and other N.T. documents of equal reading difficulty. By the time you have had 2 years of Greek, you should be able to manage Paul.
10. Then progress to the more challenging reading (Luke-Acts and Hebrews).
11. Don't quit. At least three years -- four would be better -- are required if you are going to develop a good grasp of the language.
12. You will need to keep practicing every year. Unfortunately, there is no one to practice with -- in that all speakers of ancient Greek are long since dead! You will need to be self-motivated.
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