In my last post, I argued that the practical value of learning Greek and Hebrew becomes readily apparent when dealing with situations where careful exegesis of the biblical text is absolutely necessary, such as "[arriving] at a clear position on the latest theological controversy." Not long after writing that post, I stumbled across a timely example.
In an interview with Christianity Today, the founder of a conference on issues of sexuality made the following claim:
One way would be to say that eros is not intrinsically sexual. It’s never how that word is used in ancient Greek. The Greeks had a different word, venus, that was used to describe explicitly sexual love.
My purpose here is not to critique this person's overall position, which needs to be evaluated by looking at all the arguments he uses rather than just this single point. I simply want to look at this particular statement about Greek words and their meaning. If the Greek language makes a distinction between what we might call "romantic love" (eros) and "explicitly sexual love" (venus), then we should be wary of reducing the concept of eros to a strictly sexual attraction. This is the kind of distinction preachers can build whole sermons around!
The problem is that venus is not actually a Greek word at all! This is something that should be readily apparent to anyone who has managed to learn the Greek alphabet, since Greek has no letter "v". Perhaps I'm especially sensitive to this, since I learned early on that my name David is variously spelled with a 'b' (Δαβιδ) or a 'u' (Δαυιδ) in Greek.
Just to be fair, I searched the classical Greek lexicon by Liddell, Scott, and Jones for any Greek words that might approximate "venus", such as υενος, υηνος, βενος, and βηνος. The only one I found was υηνος, which means "swinish." I also searched the English Gloss field of this lexicon for "Venus." This turned up several terms related to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and desire.
Of course, we should already have noticed that the word "venus" is the name of a pagan goddess. In fact, Venus was simply the Roman equivalent of Aphrodite. We may be less likely to remember that eros, which actually is a Greek word for "love," is also the name of a Greek god, who is more popularly known by his Roman equivalent: Cupid.
The argument quoted above tries to distinguish between two Greek words, but one of them is actually a Latin word, and so the argument falls apart completely.
How could the author have made such a mistake? Because he probably derived this argument not from a careful study of Greek, but from a loose recollection of a passage from C. S. Lewis's book, The Four Loves:
The carnal or animally sexual element within Eros, I intend (following an old usage) to call Venus. And I mean by Venus what is sexual not in some cryptic or rarified sense—such as a depth-psychologist might explore—but in a perfectly obvious sense...
Note how Lewis decides to use Venus as a term for identifying the "animally sexual element within Eros" (as opposed to higher elements of romantic love). He says that this convention follows an "old usage," but he makes no claim that it is an ancient Greek usage. Lewis would have known all too well that he was mixing the names of a Greek god (Eros) and a related Roman goddess (Venus), but he didn't care, because these terms were a convenient short-hand for the concepts he wanted to discuss. I think the individual I quoted above merely read this passage from Lewis and mistakenly concluded that the distinction Lewis was making was actually rooted in the Greek language itself. He then repeated a completely false "fact" about Greek.
The more you study Greek and Hebrew, the more you can see the problems with these kinds of arguments. The author may have a point worth listening to, but this particular appeal to the authority of the Greek language should be summarily dismissed.
Are you a seminary student about to take your first classes in Greek and/or Hebrew? For many, learning the Bible's original languages can seem incredibly daunting. You may have talked to a pastor or other seminary graduate who has shared horror stories about their language classes. They may also have told you that they now remember little of what they worked so hard to learn. They may even have told you that they never really needed the languages in their actual day-to-day ministry, and that they wish their seminary had offered more practical courses and had fewer language requirements. No matter what anyone else has told you, I'm here to dispel any fears you may have about tackling Greek or Hebrew!
Are Greek and Hebrew difficult languages to learn?
I guess it all depends on whom you ask. The average two-year-old growing up in Greece or Israel today would probably tell you they have no problem learning those languages.
Seriously, if a language can be learned by little children, then we should never think of it as "difficult." The thing that makes it hard at first is its unfamiliarity. It's new. It's different than anything you've ever learned before. But isn't that what makes it exciting?
Will learning Greek and Hebrew really help me in the work of ministry?
Isn't it possible to preach a good sermon, teach a good lesson, lead worship, be an effective counselor, or minister in a thousand other ways without knowing the biblical languages? Sure it is. But what do you do when careful exegesis of the Scriptures is absolutely vital to your ministry? For example, what if the people to whom you are ministering have come under the influence of some strange new teaching that twists the text of the Bible in some way? What if your congregation is trying to arrive at a clear position on the latest theological controversy? What if you have to counsel someone who has been told that the Bible doesn't really condemn his or her sin? In some cases, you can settle these issues with a careful look at the context of a passage and maybe the use of some basic Greek and Hebrew tools. However, I can't count the number of times that knowing Greek and Hebrew made me much better equipped to handle these kinds of situations. At such times, I had no doubt of the practical value of original language study.
Will I forget it all after seminary?
Not if you make an effort to keep using what you've learned. I took Classical Greek in college and then Biblical Greek in seminary. One of my college profs apparently would translate classical Greek literature as a form of evening relaxation. One of my seminary profs told me that he was not a star Greek pupil, but after seminary he committed to translating a few verses of the Greek New Testament each day. Over time, be became proficient enough to teach it. I know what you're thinking: "What nerds!" Okay, maybe that's what I'm thinking because I'm personally jealous of their discipline! I'm afraid I was never anywhere near that disciplined.
For me, "keeping" my Greek (and Hebrew) simply meant using it when the occasion arose. Having ready access to all the tools available in Accordance made dusting off my Greek and Hebrew much easier, since I didn't have to give up in frustration every time I ran into an unfamiliar word or grammatical construction. My point here is that I've been fairly haphazard in my attempts to "keep up" my knowledge of the languages. But you know what? A few months back I decided to spend a little time each day translating a few verses of the Greek New Testament and a few verses of the Hebrew Bible. When I did that, I was very pleasantly surprised at how much vocabulary I remembered and how easily I could recognize certain grammatical characteristics. I was able to pick up on Hebrew wordplay, and even noticed an odd construction where seemingly masculine adjectives were used of women. It was fun and encouraging to see how much Greek and Hebrew I had actually retained after twenty-plus years.
Today, there are all kinds of resources and blogs devoted to helping you "keep" your Greek and Hebrew. We even have a section of our user forums devoted to working through passages together. But even if, like me, you're somewhat haphazard in your efforts, I'm happy to report that you'll retain far more than you think.
So if you're about to tackle learning Greek or Hebrew, there's no need to be afraid. When it gets difficult, remember that if children can learn these languages, you can too. When you wonder if it's worth it, rest assured that it will pay huge dividends for years to come. Finally, when you need help along the way, Accordance has got your back!
Not sure how to pronounce Greek or Hebrew properly? Accordance’s audio resources for the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament can help! This podcast covers how to use them on Macs, PCs, and iPhone/iPads. In addition, if you are a Mac user, Accordance can use any one of its high-quality system voices to read any text or tool. That includes Bibles in a variety of international languages. [Accordance 12: Basic]
Check out more episodes of the Lighting the Lamp podcast!
In session 3 of this Accordance Bible Software Training Seminar, David Lang demonstrates the Search Window along with Greek and Hebrew searches. Filmed in San Antonio, Texas, on November 18, 2016.
Using a tool as powerful as Accordance Bible Software while learning a biblical language can be like walking a fine line: you want to harness the power and time-saving benefits of using Accordance, but you don’t want to shortcut the learning process, or worse become dependent on Accordance instead of actually learning the language. Let’s face it, studying any language requires a lot of memorization. And my own experience echoes what I’ve always heard—memory is like a muscle; the more you use it, the better it becomes.
I remember that in both my introductory Greek and Hebrew classes, I spent a lot of time looking up words in lexicons. Having instantaneous access to all the major lexicons is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how Accordance can help you in your biblical language classes. We’ve already covered getting Accordance versions of textbooks (be certain to check whether or not your Hebrew or Greek grammar is available for Accordance!). Here are just a few of the ways Accordance can help you while you study Greek and Hebrew.
Translation is the main task of any language class. In the multiple biblical language classes I took years ago, I wrote my translations out by hand and carried sheets of paper to class. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I have very little of that work today. I probably translated the majority of the New Testament and much of the Old Testament when I was in school. I wish I had my translation and notes saved digitally, but it wasn’t an easy option back then.
Regardless of whether you want to work out a translation by hand or directly on the computer, consider saying your translation work (the translation itself and your syntax notes) in an Accordance User Notes file. This set of notes can be viewed in parallel with the original language text as well as popular Bible versions.
Need to turn your translation in as homework? Select the text you need to turn in and from the contextual menu choose Print Selected Text. Or if you need to format it or submit it electronically, copy and paste it into the word processor of your choice.
Don’t be surprised if you’re referring to these notes for years to come! And it’s also good practice to continue saving this kind of work when you’re teaching or preaching after you graduate.
Using Accordance is like having Greek or Hebrew super powers: with just a mouseover, you can get instant morphological and syntax information. However, I regularly tell users, “Use your Accordance super powers for good, not evil.” So, you don’t want to use Accordance to do your parsing homework for you. However, you can use Accordance to check your parsing homework.
In some cases parsing a Greek or Hebrew word can be interpretive. If your personal parsing work doesn’t line up with what you find in Accordance, don’t just correct your work according to what you’ve found in the software. Instead, try to figure out why Accordance is giving you different information than what you found on your own.
In addition to moving your mouse over the tagged original language text, you can also create a Parsing Chart. Begin by highlighting the text (this can be individual words, verses, or entire passages), and from the contextual menu, select Lookup: Parsing. If you want to save your chart, make certain it is the active tab, and from the File menu, choose Save Active Tab.
Diagramming sentences has really made a strong comeback in recent years after being neglected for an entire generation of students. There’s no real substitute for diagramming a sentence to understand not only syntax, but also the thought process and logic of the biblical writer.
Accordance has a built-in diagramming feature that’s extremely flexible. You can create your own diagrams and save them for later use in Accordance. Save your diagrams in Accordance and re-edit them later if necessary. Print them out to turn in for homework or take a screenshot to paste them in a word processor. If you want to incorporate a diagram with your Translation Notes (see above), take a screenshot of your diagram and add it to your notes.
You can create as many diagrams as you want in Accordance; however, we also have a Greek Diagrams module available for sale in the Accordance Store. If you purchase these diagrams while taking a class, though, remember proper use of your super powers! You will want to use the purchased Accordance Diagrams to compare and check the diagrams you have already created.
Word Charts (Syntax Practice)
Many Accordance users may not even know they have access to Word Charts from within the software. Select a passage in an original language biblical text, and from the Amplify Menu, choose Language: Word Chart.
This will give you a table with columns for the biblical word (inflected form), lexemes (lexical form), parsing, function, translation, and comments. By default, the function and comments sections are blank. These tables are completely editable, so double-clicking a blank cell will allow you to add your work to it.
If you really want to challenge yourself, double-click any of the cells that already have content and delete what’s there. Test yourself by figuring out on your own information such as lexical form, parsing, and translation. These charts can also be saved for later reference. With the Word Chart as the active tab, select the File menu: Save Active Tab.
And here’s a tip for the profs: follow the same procedure in the paragraph above to create a quiz that can be printed out for your students to fill in the missing information.
Beginning Hebrew and Greek students live or die by memorizing vocabulary. Here’s how to create a vocabulary list in Accordance. Since almost every intro Hebrew class translates the Book of Ruth, we’ll use it as an example in the steps below.
With a Hebrew text set to search for words, type this into the search field: [RANGE Ruth] <AND> *
Note that because Hebrew is a right to left language, your search argument will appear reversed from what you see above, but that’s okay. In fact, you can enter the elements of this search in any order as long as <AND> is in the middle. The asterisk is the wild card symbol used to find every word in Ruth.
After you run your search, you should see every word in Ruth appear in red because every word is a hit resulting from the wild card (*). Click View Analytics immediately above the text and choose Word Count Totals: Analysis.
Click on the Display Settings (gear icon) for your Analysis tab and make certain the first column shows the LEX. Set Sort to Count Down, Secondary Sort to Alphabetical, the Count to None (to remove the numbers), and check Show Root with LEX and Show Gloss with LEX. Click OK.
Print the list or Copy it from the Analysis window to a word processor or whatever app you intend to use with your vocabulary.
Learning an ancient language is tough enough, but Accordance Bible Software gives students a tremendous advantage with tools for diagramming sentences, creating word charts and vocab lists, checking parsing homework, and translating the Hebrew or Greek text itself.
Don't miss previous installments in our Strategies for Students series!
“I always use the most updated version of Accordance. What I like? Fair pricing. Fairly simple to use with a little help from support. You can buy what you need and want. Better yet? While working on my Ph.D., it has helped tons! I have the Greek and Latin and Hebrew text in front of me all the time. The parsing is an excellent feature, especially since my primary goal is not to teach these languages, but to use them. I don't have to constantly review what I'm supposed to have memorized many, many years ago."
—Floyd Schneider, Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies, Moody Bible Institute/Spokane, Washington
Construct Searches are a unique, Accordance-exclusive graphical interface for complex searches. Once we understand the concept, they are actually easier to use than regular searches! In podcast, Dr. J introduces this feature for those interested in searching Bibles and texts, including Greek and Hebrew grammatically-tagged texts. [Accordance 11.2: Intermediate]
See more episodes of Lighting the Lamp on our Podcast Page!
If you’ve invested the time to learn Greek, Accordance is the Bible Software for you! We have a host of Greek texts and resources—and an amazing set of search tools. In this podcast Dr. J covers the basic kinds of Greek searches, modifying those searches with search commands and symbols, and how to type in Greek.
See more episodes of Lighting the Lamp on our Podcast Page!
Bible devotions are a great way to start the day. Some offer a nice reflective thought to orient one’s thoughts toward more spiritual matters in light of the day’s necessary routines. Sometimes, though, many devotional titles tend to fall a bit on the “lite” side. That is, while their content may be doctrinally sound, they might just leave the reader wishing for a bit more theological depth.
If you would like to take your devotions to the next level, consider joining J. D. Watson to explore a Hebrew or Greek word each day. In two volumes from AMG--A Word for the Day: Key Words from the New Testament and A Hebrew Word for the Day: Key Words from the Old Testament--Watson presents, for each day of the year, a brief word study on an original language term and then offers an application to help that particular Hebrew or Greek word become real for practical living. To aid reinforcement, related verses are listed for the reader's personal study.
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A Hebrew Word for the Day: Key Words from the Old Testament
Hebrew and Greek words are transliterated making these resources available to anyone, even if you’ve never formally studied biblical languages. In most entries, the Strong’s number is referenced, hyperlinked to either AMG’s The Complete Word Study: Old Testament or The Complete Word Study: New Testament. If neither of these dictionaries are in your personal Accordance Library, you can use the Amplify function to launch the dictionary of your choice.
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A Word for the Day: Key Words from the New Testament
Entries are meant to be read in order as later entries often build upon previous ones. While each title can be used as a standalone reference, either can be made the default Daily Reading in Accordance Preferences: Reading/Research. With either title as the default, clicking on the Daily Reading icon in the Accordance toolbar will launch the entry for the current date in one column with all related scripture references in a second one.
Entries go beyond surface-level discussion by addressing cultural meaning, biblical context and theological importance. Moreover, Watson regularly challenges the reader to reflect on his or her faith commitments in regard to the theme of particular entries. With the Accordance 11 note-taking features, users can take the next step by recording their personal responses and reflections to the word of the day entries.
Best of all, these two titles are extremely affordable. Both A Word for the Day: Key Words from the New Testament and A Hebrew Word for the Day: Key Words from the Old Testament lists for $12.90 each. That’s less than $26for 732 (Leap Year entries included!) devotionals with real depth and lasting impact.
Accordance users will want to know that Watson strongly prefers the King James Version over modern translations.
A Hebrew Word for the Day:
A Word for the Day: