Monday, May 16, 2005

Ruminations on learning NT Greek --- Part 1


About a decade or so ago, I was pulled out of my secular humanist mindset and brought back to the church in a very boring fashion, though there were of course the impulsive voices in my head that feverishly stated Religion is fine, but don't get too serious about it --- remember to focus on real life!

Skip forward about two years or so, and, foolishly enough, I remember that I started initiating conversations with the Mormon and Watchtower people who would set up booths in the main campus quadrangle. Anyway, they were generally unproductive, and, in fact, if seeds of doubt were planted, they were planted in my head, which was the complete opposite of the intended effect of my effort!

These seeds of doubt basically involved one thing: the full deity of Christ. Now, Christ's deity is positively asserted in scripture in at least three different types of passages:

(a) The passages that explicitly call Christ by the title God. Examples: John 1:1, 1:18, 20:28, Rom 9:5, Titus 2:13, II Peter 1:1, Hebrews 1:8 and most likely I John 5:20.

(b) Those passages in which properties that can only be predicated of full deity are predicated to Christ. Example: John 8:58, Col 1:15-20, and Phil 2:6-11, for example.

(c) Those passages in which Christ and God are used in an almost interchangeable fashion. Rev 1:8 comes to mind here, as well as Hebrews 1:8 mentioned earlier.

It turns out that the Mormons and the Watchtower people were able to wave off every passage mentioned above. On top of that, the Watchtower people had a particular Bible translation [the New World Translation] whereby the passages in (a) and (b) above were altered to fit into an Arian meaning.

(i) For example: The Word was God became The Word was a god ,
(ii) For another example: Before Abraham was, I am became Before Abraham was, I have been

It will be seen how the deity of Christ is affected here by the Watchtower translation.

On top of that, the Mormons and Watchtower people were able to make blanket claims about the Col and Phil reference, and to remove the force of the Hebrews passage as well. The claim was that our Bibles were not translated correctly.

Being a skeptic-at-heart, which is a characteristic that I'll have until my last breath, I found myself in the rather uncomfortable situation of having a Bible in my hand that explicitly proclaims the full deity of Christ, whereas others had a Bible in their hand that upheld an Arian or semi-Arian view that denied the full unequivocal deity of Christ. Who was right?

I began looking up the issue myself. Orthodox Christian scholars and writers of course would agree with my Bible translation, whereas the Watchtower folks could cite somebody somewhere who would vindicate their Arian translations. The typical dialogue would be quite predictable: I pull out a list of scholars who agree, they pull out a list of scholars who don't agree.

One thing I noticed was that the Watchtower was really prickly about giving exact citations and such, and this made me suspicious. However, there were plenty of mainstream Biblical scholars as well as the Jesus Seminar goofs who would deny the deity of Christ anyway, so I really didn't have much of an argument at this stage to defend my position.

For my peace of mind, I had to throw myself into learning NT Greek, if only so that I could read the grammars, commentaries, etc, and arrive at a reasonable independent judgement regarding an argument pertaining to a passage dealing with the deity of Christ.

Sometime in late 1996 [or 1997, I'm not sure], I bought John Wenham's The Elements of New Testament Greek and the answer key to his book, and began diligently working through the exercises.

Next thread: Part 2, dealing with my thoughts as I was learning NT Greek.


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