When I was in seminary a man I knew came up to me in the library asking me how to pronounce some Greek words out of Revelation 2. I did my best without thinking twice. Later I realized he wanted to say the Greek correctly in a sermon. He didn’t know Greek.
It’s a situation I hope never to be a part of again, and it still makes my stomach turn thinking about it.
“But in the Greek it says…” I am sure you have heard it before or possibly even said it. You know the pastor (or you!) is getting serious.
It is here where I want to throw a whole lot of caution. It’s a dangerous thing to utter such a phrase in a sermon. So what follows are five cautions to think about if you dare venture to use this phrase:
If you have to say, “But in the Greek…” a lot, you probably are preaching from a bad translation. I have a friend who teaches Greek at an Evangelical seminary who, when he hears anyone say, “But in the Greek…” he says to himself, “Then why didn’t the translators say that?” You are not using a good translation if you feel the urge to go this way often.
You probably only know enough Greek to be dangerous. Of course, it’s hard to know when you know enough! Reading Exegetical Fallacies is a good start, but that is just the tip of the iceberg! You are most likely getting insight from a commentary, which you probably do not understand fully. Be slow to think you understand Greek.
Knowing the original languages is a gift from God, but it is also elite knowledge. 99% of Christians don’t know it and when you quote the Greek you undermine the translation in their hands, which is their only access to Scripture. It sets you apart and can turn you into, at least in the eyes of your church, a professional.
If you really feel there is such an egregious error in the translation, maybe it would be best to say, “I am really helped by another translation here that translates this passage…” There is no reference to Greek and it still allows a thoughtful Christian to think and appreciate the text you are talking about more deeply.
Consider your audience. If you have a bunch of farmers, you might want to steer clear. If you have a bunch of academics, you might dare mention “Greek.” You just need to be careful. Not mentioning Greek does not mean your preaching is shallow. Academic does not mean more godly. Deep preaching does not mean more intellectually stimulating.
These are not excuses to be lazy. Seminaries don’t teach Greek and Hebrew so their students can forget and discard what they have learned. Knowing the original languages for most of us is a life-long process which takes a lot of discipline and hard work. We are average linguists at best but are afforded the benefit and joy of reading the Word of God in its original. That is AMAZING. Just be careful how you wield the sword.
Darren Carlson is the President of TLI, which he founded in 2009, and now serves with a staff of over 40 people serving around the world, providing theological training in underserved and undertrained areas. Darren holds two masters from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a PhD from the London School of Theology. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.