As a scholar of New Testament Greek, John Bechtle has had the advantage of being able to read his Bible in its original language, taking out any of the ambiguity and confusion that come with the various English translations. He noticed other people wanted that skill, but they assumed they didn’t have the time or resources to commit themselves to learning the ancient language.
Learning New Testament Greek — which is different from modern Greek — in its entirety isn’t practical for most people, Bechtle said, but he realized that wasn’t necessary. The much more feasible goal was to go one word at a time.
“I could teach you in a day,” he would tell people.
So that’s what he started doing. Bechtle, who has been teaching Greek and Bible classes since 1972, is offering his second New Testament Greek workshop March 16 at Castleview Church. The six-hour workshop teaches participants how to figure out exactly what the Greek word in a verse means. Bechtle held his first workshop last fall and said he wants to do another one this year, perhaps in the summer. Learning Greek would only be useful for the New Testament, since the Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew, but Bechtle said the same techniques he teaches can be carried over.
Bechtle made it clear that knowing Greek — or even just knowing how to track down definitions of Greek words and apply the context of the verse — is not a prerequisite to being a “good Christian,” but the advantage is clear.
“Everything I want to know about the wisdom that’s there and the guide to life and what Jesus taught is in the Bible,” he said. “If that’s where my basic information is, it’s important for me to understand that as accurately as I can.”
There are some practical examples for this. In Ephesians 5:15, some English translations include a phrase about redeeming time. There are two Greek words for time: “chronos,” which is the root of many English words, and “kairos,” the Greek word used in the verse. According to Bechtle, the “chronos” translation implies a “conveyer belt” of opportunities that can make people feel like they’re always behind. But “kairos,” which refers to special opportunities, is different.
There are also literary benefits to learning how to read the Bible in its original language. Marti Steussy, who is retired but still teaches a few Greek and Hebrew courses at Christian Theological Seminary, said many of the Bible’s authors have distinct voices that tend to get lost when translated into English. Take Jesus, for example.
“His ability to play a soundbite is amazing,” Steussy said of his Sermon on the Mount. “We sort of miss that.”
Steussy said one misconception people have is that learning how to apply the original language to the Bible will answer all the questions they’ve ever had. But Steussy noted Greek and Hebrew, just like English, have words and sentence structures that a reader can interpret in a number of ways.
Even though the purpose of Bechtle’s workshop is to give everyday people the tools to understand the Bible as it was originally written without needing an expert at every step, there’s still much to gain from pastors and teachers having this knowledge. Matt Harmon, who teaches Greek and New Testament classes at Grace College, said one of his favorite things about having a grasp of the Greek language is that he can now better relay that wisdom to his students.
“When I use it for preaching and teaching,” he said, “I can see structure and flow of argument more clearly than just the English text, which helps me more clearly explain that to others.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
WORD STUDY WORKSHOP
When: 9 a.m.-3p.m. March 16
Where: Castleview Church, 8601 Hague Road
Cost: $44 before March 8, $49 after