Is It All Just Greek To Them?
It saddens me to hear Christians mock and ridicule what they do not understand. Few things are more intellectually (and spiritually) dishonest, than hearing someone denigrate others for engaging in godly labour that they, themselves, are not willing to perform. Such attacks can often be heard, or read, in the fluff and stuff preaching of those who do not put in half the preparatory labour as do others. Sadly, far too many seem to take pride in not taking the time to truly edify the brethren by helping them move beyond milk unto spiritual meat. It is the Spirit of God who must bring about this transition, but God indeed works via means.
Take for example the following quote. I will preface by saying that the quote may very well have been from a godly man. Moreover, it may have very real application to many uncalled preachers (the kind that put too much trust in study aids and carnal reasoning). However, the statement below represents an all too common sentiment against the general use of means to further one’s biblical understanding.
“….it is to be feared that many, in our day, labour too much, not in the things of God, but after the wisdom of men, being immured in their studies, in the midst of the works of Hawker and Crisp, with Hebrew and Greek lexicons, and a variety of mongrel and Arminian commentators, perhaps a work or two of some good old divine, with a vast variety of ancient history; from which aforesaid books and authors, they collect a few bones and bring them before their hearers, hard of digestion to the poor, hungry soul, and quite destitute of nourishment. These things do very well for head-knowledge, mere doctrinal professors, who go forth with “0 what a wonderful sermon; what a great preacher!” and these poor bones are banged about till they really sometimes make as much noise in a place as that unmelodious music of marrow bones and cleavers; but after all, may we not fear that such preachers and such hearers are but as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals? I cannot agree with those preachers who think so much erudition is necessary before a man can preach the gospel.”
The first criticism is lodged against those that are immured (imprisoned, entombed in a wall), spending too much time reviewing the works of Hawker, Crisp, and by implication Gill, et al. The first question I would ask is how much time is too much time? Who decides the point at which study becomes ‘immuring?’ Now I agree that few things are more trifling and bothersome than listening to a sermon lifted almost completely from Spurgeon, John Gill’s commentary, Matthew Henry’s commentary, etc. I can remember hearing one sermon on Ezekiel’s wheels and thinking that the sermon was nothing more than John Gill’s insights on the matter with fluff interjected to fill-in the seemingly required forty minute time limit. To read Dr. Gill and then read or hear a sermon of someone else essentially reading Dr. Gill is somewhat redundant.
However, God has given His sheep faithful pastors and teachers; their shared insights can be quite edifying. I see nothing wrong with an elder or teacher making use of the writings of others to further their own understanding. Religious ‘plagiarism’ is one thing, but learning from God’s other under-shepherds to help feed the flock is not only no sin, it is both beneficial and prudent. It is just as prudent as any Christian, learning from any other Christian, and then being like a Berean and verifying the truth for themselves as God enables.
Ephesians 4:11 And [The Lord] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:4 5 14 That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ:6 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
When I hear someone criticise the use of the writings of others, I cannot help but wonder whether the speakers deem themselves so holy, so led of the Spirit, so beyond the need for human means of study that they can only look down upon those less ‘gifted’ mortals who value the edification provided by others. If all that is necessary is to be led of the Spirit (in isolation), then what need is there of other pastors and teachers? If just a Bible and some ‘inspiration’ is all that anyone needs, what room is there for being edified by others?
Another common criticism aimed at faithful elders and teachers is that they labour too much with concordances, Hebrew and Greek lexicons, Bible dictionaries, and other such guides. The argument goes that if you make mention of Greek and Hebrew words, and give an alternate (though no less valid) definition, then you are just showing off, just trying to evidence to everyone how learned you are. I find such accusations of pride to be absurd and hypocritical at best. It takes quite a degree of gall to criticise someone for wanting to learn more about the God-ordained words that He has provided for us.
If a Jew, skilled in Hebrew from childhood, were to strive to learn more about the words in a Hebrew language Bible, no one would think anything of it. If a Greek, while reading a Greek Bible, were to strive to better understand the biblical usage of the words of His own language (putting aside the differences between koine and modern Greek for a moment), I doubt many would object. However, if an English speaker dared to strive for a fuller understanding of the meaning of the original Hebrew, Chaldean/Aramaic, and Greek words, why the King James Only idolaters (and those true Christians who sometimes mimick them) would rail about how heady and formalistic such endeavors are.
The King James Bible is my primary Bible of choice, but it is by no means a perfect translation. I trust that the underlying Textus Receptus (Received Text) is perfect, but not the AV/KJV itself. It is erroneous to believe that the AV/KJV, as a translation, is the perfectly infallible, inerrant, word of God. I agree that the modern translations based upon the Westcott and Hort texts are corrupt, but that doesn’t mean that the Authorised Version is without its weaknesses. Using the means that God has provided to overcome those weaknesses is not a bad thing, it is a blessed thing. When one makes right use of such tools, labouring to delve into the contextual and lexiconic meanings of the original words, it becomes abundantly clear just how rich, cohesive, and inspired (God-breathed) the Bible really is.
I love knowing that the Greek word homologeo, translated as confess, has as its literal root the words Homo and Logos. It firms up the truth that one must be homo, together, the same, at one with, the Logos, God the Word and His teachings, before one can truly confess or profess Him (this being but one of a multitude of examples regarding the richness of the underlying Greek and Hebrew words). God ordained the original text; He makes it possible for us to study and be enriched by the words He breathed forth in His text. What error it is to criticise someone for wanting to learn and share with others the depths of such riches.
II Timothy 2:15 states “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” To some this means (amongst other things) “let me try to come to as much of an understanding of God’s word, and words, as possible.” To others this means “let me be holier than thou by abstaining from studying the Greek and Hebrew words and by denouncing those that do.” The term experimental should never be used as an excuse not to thoroughly study. Likewise, words like heady, proud, and formalistic, should never be wantonly used to describe those who are more willing to uncover the deeper layers of biblical truth than others. I trust that if you examine the lives of such critics, you will find that the degree to which they criticise others is directly aligned to the degree to which they fail to properly study God’s word. The lazy will always mock the industrious.
Another complaint is the reliance on “a variety of mongrel and Arminian commentators…” I surely do not want to defend the idea of relying on will-worshipping and modern-day Judaizing works, but I will say that even the ungodly can produce helpful tools. One may put forth a great article on baptism; another on head-coverings; another on the Old Testament temple and the items found therein. I am not recommending that one blindly rely on the works of such men; however, I am saying that one should be open to using whatever tools are rightly fit for the duty — no matter what their origin.
Finally, there is the misguided criticism of ‘too much study in ancient history.’ Much of the Biblical language is idiomatic in nature. Understanding Greek and Hebrew culture goes a long way in understanding the idioms, which can lead to a richer understanding of the Bible itself. Is it essential for salvation? No. Does the knowledge of such things make you an intrinsically better Christian? No. Are you more fit to be a preacher or teacher? Maybe not. However, those who have had a taste of the richness of the God-ordained words, the Hebraisms and other idiomatic expressions, and the overall cultural context can readily attest to the fact that such things enhance true, experimental understanding rather than hindering or forbidding it.
Think of it this way; does one have to wax poetic with flowery words of elation, or with grim and dismal words of despair to prove their experimental credentials? I would rather read the word of God with deeper understanding and, by His grace, have that move me spiritually, than to have the swollen and grandiloquent words of men effect some emotional response from me. Fluff and stuff, mere filler, can fool for a season. However, after time the emptiness of it becomes clear and one longs for the richer, deeper things. We ought to seek greater understanding, love for Truth, and a true experimental walk with the Lord Jesus; we need not seek greater rhetoric, eloquence, or biting words against the ‘educated and learned’ students of God’s precious word.
I encourage everyone to learn about the ancient history and culture; learn about the idioms and figures of speech; learn about the Greek and Hebrew words and how they evidence that the Bible is but one (exceedingly multi-faceted) word, one unified whole. Do not put your trust in such things; do not mistake the accumulation of facts for God-given knowledge and understanding. Simply make use of whatever resources you can to further your insight, knowing that true, spiritual apprehension must come from God. Do not heed pontificators who would discourage you from delving more deeply into these things (simply because they are unwilling or unable to do so themselves). The best bet when you hear someone mocking those who refer to the Hebrew and Greek, or who make use of dictionaries, word study guides, and other such ‘carnal’ tools, is to tune them out and turn them off.
Unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, [be] honour and glory for ever and ever.