My four decades in the Bible – Part III

Chapter Five – I start to teach others

For two years I had been taking in the Bible and growing in prayer and evangelism. I served a summer as a camp counselor at Camp Pine Ridge in Rumney, New Hampshire. The older counselors were students at Bible college, and they told me that the New American Standard Bible, published in 1971, was the most dependable; I used it for the next few years.

At some point, my church’s youth group added a Wednesday night Bible study to its weekly schedule. For a year or so I attended, and for some reason I was asked to be a regular teacher. I was keenly aware of the verse that said “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). How was I to teach other teenagers, most of whom were older than I, when I was just beginning to feel my way around the Scriptures? I asked God for help, falling back on a verse he had shown me from Jeremiah 1:6-7 –

Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, Because I am a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak.

I used some teaching aids and wrote up some studies of my own, posing questions for the group to answer from the text for that week.

Later I started other weekly groups, including one at our house for my non-Christian friends. For several years I was most at home leading groups of 4-6 people my age.

In my senior year of high school I preached my first sermon from the Bible, an Easter sunrise service that our youth group organized, inviting people from the church and from around our area. In Bible college I learned how to preach expository sermons, that is, going verse-by-verse through a passage – this is still my preferred, but not sole, manner of teaching.

During this time of my life, I developed a strong sense of why we study the Word, one that I use with my students today: If you are not planning on giving out, then why are you taking in?

Chapter Six – I study biblical languages

For some Bible college students, Greek or Hebrew were dreaded courses. Me, I couldn’t open-greek-ntwait to take them. I took two full years of Greek and a semester of Hebrew in college. Over the years I’ve come to conclude that there are Greek people and Hebrew people: for me Greek was my favorite. By the time I finished seminary I had taken over five years of Greek courses and over four of Hebrew. Since then I have spent many, many hours in the original text.

People have a serious misunderstanding about the Bible languages. One blogger writes

[Greek] was the most explicit, precise and unambiguous language the world has ever seen! A veritable peak of human communication by words!…The Koine Greek has vivid word pictures, language idioms, and delicate shades of meaning…Greek scholars state that it would take an average of six English words to precisely translate each Koine Greek word into English.

That pastor could not be more mistaken, and he shows that he cannot possibly not have studied the language. In fact, Greek is no clearer or vaguer than any other language. In some cases it is fuzzier than English, in some cases it is sharper. For example, English no longer distinguishes between you singular and you plural, as it did in the time of the King James. “Thy faith has healed thee” reflects the singular “you” in the Greek, “you as an individual.” On the other hand, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations,” “ye” is plural, “you all.”

When people have a question about the Greek they sometimes ask, “Here’s what it says in the English, but what does it really say in the Greek?” 99% of the time my answer is that, it says the same thing as the English. There is a wonderful story attributed to Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary. He got up and said, Now where it says “joy” in your Bible, there is a Greek word which means…“joy.” We have to remember that each Bible version has maybe a hundred experts of world-wide reputation who labored to render the Bible in plain English – you can trust your English Bibles.

A professor has used this illustration – reading the Bible in English is like seeing it on a black-and-white television with a crisp picture; reading it in the original is like seeing it on a color television with poor reception. That about sums it up.

All in all, with all the investment of time, memorization, reading and researching, I would not trade the ability to read New Testament Greek for anything. I completed my first read-through of the Greek New Testament beginning during Operation Desert Shield in the summer of 1990. All of my teaching and preaching is based on a reading of the text in its original language, and my commentaries are based on a very slow word-by-word study of the Greek. Sometimes I have devotions in Greek, but beyond that I read something every day.

For those who wish to give serious attention to the Bible, the original languages are essential. On the other hand, just a little Greek or Hebrew are more dangerous than having none at all.

Go to Part IV, Conclusion

“My four decades in the Bible – Part III,” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

10 thoughts on “My four decades in the Bible – Part III

  1. I prefer not counting decades as you do, but am also grateful for solid spiritual discipleship in my early formative years and the decades that followed.

  2. Gary,
    A very interesting read.
    I do sincerely believe that you have dug in, and have a very good (not perfect!?) understanding of biblical/Koine Greek, which is one of the reasons why I follow your blog, especially as regards the eschatological verses. Clearly no man needs to understand one word of the original languages to come to faith and repentance in the Savior.
    You say;
    “‘During this time of my life, I developed a strong sense of why we study the Word, one that I use with my students today: If you are not planning on giving out, then why are you taking in?”
    This is surely what it is all about?
    I am now 52 years old. I came to faith about 10 years ago, and until then I didn’t have a clue who Jesus was, apart from some fuzzy notion that He ‘loved everyone’ (which He does), I seriously started to study the Abiding Word of God about four years ago.
    When I was starting to witness as a new believer, I found that, even though I was obviously well intentioned, I was lacking in grace,knowledge and a thousand other things! In fact I may have done more harm than good, the Lord only knows.
    Daily I now pray to God that this head knowledge that I am building up, would be used for His glory.
    It would seem that once upon a time, in the main, we only had the Geneva, and the KJV 1611 bible. Today we now have more translations than you can shake a stick at: Are we any better off for all of this??
    As regards your last sentence, this IS where we need much needed humility, especially in respect of Jame’s admonition in 3.1.
    God bless you.

    1. Hi Colin, thanks.

      I do think every Christian should be giving back, but of course not necessarily in a formal teaching position.

      Most definitely there are way too many Bible versions. Nonetheless, I would far prefer the state of affairs today than going back to KJV-only.

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