Lost in the Translation? Do We Need Greek? While we have an abundance of many fine translations, problems arise due to our western linguistic and cultural blind spots. Familiarity with New Testament Greek, called Koine, the language that Jesus spoke, can clear these up. I was forced to take Koine Greek at Princeton Seminary and have benefited greatly from it. This series will not make you proficient in a language that still gives me fits. [Greek verbs have over 100 forms]. The reason for it is to expose believers to crucial, eye-popping insights, not found in English translations.
Second Person Blues: A key issue for English speakers is we make no distinction between singular and plural “you.” Quakers used “thee”; in the south they say “you all”, but for most of us, if we want to say “hey you guys” or just “hey you guy”, we are stuck with plain “you.” Conversely, Koine is very clear whether the speaker means “you” (pl) or (sing.)
Why Is this Important? Consider Jesus’s word, “You are the light of the world.” I asked a friend. “Who is this light? “I am,” he answered. Of course! In our western culture the individual trumps the group. In an interview, Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, states that we Americans live in an “individualized, unconnected society.” So, when we read “you,” we think “me” and we sing “This Little Light of Mine, not ours.” The culture of the Bible honors the individual but never at the expense of the community. Our western bias towards the individual tends to skew our grasp of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.
On to the Greek: In the original Greek, “You are the light of the world,” we find the verb esta [are]. Since it’s plural, we don’t need the plural pronoun [humeis] and it’s often left out. Yet Jesus does use humeis here and often elsewhere. The rule of grammar states, “when the pronoun is used, it’s to emphasize a point.” So, a literal translation would read, “You all together are the light of the world.” That same rule applies to “You (all) are the salt of the earth,” and “Let your (pl.) light shine before men.” By stressing the corporate “you”, Jesus teaches us how vital community is in the kingdom. It’s more about “us” than “me.” That same stress is found in the prayer he taught us: “Our Father in heaven,” not my Father.
Join us for the series, “Secrets of N.T. Greek” and add your comments. Thank you.