One of my many deficiencies that plague me is the lack of knowledge in Koine Greek. I took 2 semesters of biblical Greek when I was going to seminary, in fact, I took those 2 semesters at the same time. I never pursued learning the language after that fiasco, and at the time I was so “King James Only” I thought it a waste of time (more on that some other time). I find myself now dependent on others to be my Greek scholars for me, as I try to play ‘catch up’ and learn it over again on my own.
However, one does not have to be fluent in the ‘original languages’ to rightly divide God’s word, that is, to be a proper exegetist.
First off, find a good, reliable bible in your language. Avoid using versions that that, quite frankly, are not translations. An adequate article on this topic can be found here. I personally stay in the realm of Formal Equivalents and avoid paraphrases. I generally have my King James, New King James, NASB and ESV standing by, in either electronic form or physical. I even have some electronic copies, via E-Sword, of Tyndale, Wycliffe, and the Geneva Bible. These are really interesting to look at, especially the way things are spelled, but also the history behind them. I don’t want to overload you on this, so I will move on.
Second, to steal from Greg Koukl, “Don’t read one verse.” By this he means, don’t grab a verse on it’s own. Read as much as you can before it to get the context, and after it to see the conclusion. A Bible that has good paragraph divisions can aid you in this. To use this practically, in the Gospels go back to the beginning of the event that is being described. You will be amazed at the difference this will make in some of your understanding. In the Epistles, study those from the beginning. If you start in Romans 12, you will miss how you got there. That is pretty basic, but you would be amazed at how many folks teaching and preaching the word of God will skip the beginning of these books, and by doing that they skip the gospel foundation that the letter is built upon.
Next, while you are studying the passage, find the answers to these questions:
- Who is speaking or writing? Example: Jesus is speaking
- Who are they speaking or writing to? Example: He is speaking to the Pharisees
- What is the subject that is being presented? Example: Justification of sinners
- At what time was it said or written? Example: Before the Crucifixion
- What is the occasion for the speaking or writing? Example: During Passover meal
I was taught this basic ‘historical grammatical’ approach to understanding the scripture my first year of seminary in my Bible Analysis class that used the book of the same name by Albert Garner (page 68 if you have a copy). This was information that Garner found in “Principles of Biblical Interpretation” by Berkhof, pg 13. Garner’s book was published in 1956. This is not new information, but it is a forgotten practice. On my next post, we will take these 5 questions and look at John 3. It will be fun.
Finally, get some trusted sources. By trusted sources I mean those that Orthodox men have written and are recognized as Orthodox. (Go here to see the essentials of the faith.) By my own rules I try to avoid hyper-dispensationalists, hyper-calvinists, and arminians of the ‘fall from grace’ category. If your pastor or elder is sound in the faith and is Orthodox, ask him for some advice on some good writers that can help you. Important: Remember the men you read after are, in fact, just men. The scripture is the final authority.
Note on lexical aids: Lexicons and Expository dictionaries are good tools, but keep in mind, the men that wrote these have a particular view point and they are writing it from that view point. Know who the author or editor is, and follow the same steps when dealing with them that I mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Okay. That’s it. My first post here and the beginning of our trek together on this topic. As I mentioned above, we will use the 5 questions to take a look at John 3. I know you already know the “Who is speaking” and “Who are they speaking to” answers. So on your own, start to walk through John 3 and the meeting between our Lord and Nicodemus. Hint: You might want to back up just a little bit into John 2.