You Don't Know Greek

Have you ever noticed that pulpits are generally a few feet higher than the pews? I think it's so that everyone can see the pastor, and before sound systems, hear the pastor as well. Still, I've often felt that pastors, being so high and lifted up, were always looking down on me.

Especially as I got older and wasn't chasing Cheerio's under the pew, I found myself impressed by the things they could find in a text that I never saw before. They had this knowledge of the Bible and a command of theology that made me feel so small, no matter how big I got. You could sense it in the room too. As the pastor would say more uncomfortable things, the pews got squeakier and the scowls got tighter. But he could always say something that placated the growing discord: "In the original Greek..."

It was like magic. The scowls disappeared and were replaced with what seemed like lobotomized grins. The kind of look that says, "Oh, I see. I'm too dumb to understand. Continue." Maybe it was just my mind playing tricks on me, but sometimes I thought I saw a tiny smirk creep onto the pastor's face. "Gotcha."

I've said before that it's a travesty how biblically illiterate the church is today. And I can say with great confidence that a year of biblical Hebrew and the sparse Greek grammar I picked up along the way have been very helpful. But after four years of solid, biblical training, I can tell you this: there is nothing hidden in the original languages that can't be found in the context.

I haven't heard this from many pulpits. Probably because their microscopes are zoomed in too far to notice much else. That's what happens when original language obsession (OLO) sets in.

You see, many people abide by the mistaken notion that good interpretation and study of the Bible requires an in-depth analysis of Hebrew and Greek. And for pastors (who are generally nerdy types), this can quickly become intoxicating. Just like the nerds who know "the best" places to get pizza, or only listen to "the best" music, pastors can succumb to knowing "the best" possible interpretation for some random word or phrase. And they soon forget that semantic nuances are not more important context.

Missing the forest for the trees in this case, then, is missing the point of a passage for the obscure, extrabiblical translation that might not even be authentic. And just like not every jot and tittle has an application point, not every word or phrase has linguistic influence beyond keeping the flow going.

So if we can say that no doctrine should ever be based on a single passage of Scripture, then no interpretation should be based on a single translation of a word. Just because something has meaning doesn't mean it has significance. It's like constructing a biblical picture of womanhood based on the Hebrew root word for woman. It sounds impressive and will convince lots of people that you're smart; but in the end, you've just confused the Bible for a dictionary.