10 February, 2010

Greek Just for Reading the NT? A Wittenberg Answer

An unequivocal "No!" from Melanchthon:

It was not apart from an extraordinary divine plan that it came about that the teaching of the Gospel was first and most powerfully committed to writing in the language of this people [the Greeks] and thus entrusted to posterity, even if it was to be spread throughout the whole world. For since this language [Greek] already encompassed the teaching of character, of discipline and culture, that is, of the divine law, since it was already the mistress of the best arts and of those arts most necessary to cultured life, a ταμεῖον [tameîon/storage room] of deeds wrought and of the history of the world, God [because He chose to commit the Gospel to men in Greek] willed also that treasure [outlined above] to be bestowed upon the human race through the service of this very language, in order to demonstrate that it was this gift of His kindness that, amongst His other kind gifts, ought especially to be sought out and embraced.

Non absque singulari consilio divino factum est, quod evangelii doctrina, etsi per totum orbem spargi debuit, tamen huius gentis lingua primum ac potissimum descripta atque ita ad posteros transmissa est. Cum enim haec lingua iam ante doctrinam morum, disciplinae et humanitatis, hoc est legis divinae, contineret, cum optimarum artium vitaeque humanae summe necessariarum magistra esset, cum rerum gestarum et historiae mundi ταμεῖον, voluit Deus et hunch thesaurum per eiusdem linguae ministerium humano genere impertiri, ut ostenderet inter cetera beneficia sua hoc beneficium vel praecipue expetendum atque amplectendum esse.

[Philippus Melanchthon, Oratio de studiis linguae Graecae a Vito Winshemio dicta, pp. 23–38 in Karl Hartfelder, Philippus Melanchthon. Declamationes, 2. Heft (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1894), pp. 29–30.]


Steve Gehrke said...

This post perplexes me. Is it saying that Greek is a language uniquely capable of expressing God's words to us, or that because God used Greek for most of the New Testament that simple fact alone should inspire us to want to learn Greek simply for its own sake? Or just being able to read many other classic works in the language in which they were written is important to live a "cultured" life?

I can write the Greek alphabet, because all the letters are used in math and science! Never considered that there was any reason to learn Greek other than to read the New Testament or the Septuagint.

Not a hostile question, I've just never heard anyone claim learning Greek was of value for anything other than reading the Bible (or communicating with modern day Greeks, who have a disproportionately large influence on modern chemical engineering - an interesting cultural story behind that fact).

Jon Bruss said...

That's exactly what Melanchthon's point is. Worth chewing on?

J. Hayes said...

The problem is that students who have only ever read NT Greek are generally very poor readers of the NT. Their understanding of Greek is extremely narrow. It was only after I started a classics program wherein we read a ton of Greek from many time periods that I truly began to read the Greek of the NT. Until I had a broader experience with Greek, it always had a certain "bible-code" character to it. Once I really saw that Greek is a true, human language which real people used to discuss everything from daily life to philosophy, I began to truly enjoy and appreciate the NT texts. So the fact is that reading Plato, Homer, Aristophanes, Herodotus, et al. actually makes students better readers of the NT.

And incidentally, why should students and teachers go through so much time and effort to learn a language like Greek, and then limit themselves to only a small subset of the language. If you're going to take the effort to learn Greek, why not go the whole nine yards? Why cut yourself off from the Greek of Clement, Chrysostom, the Cappadocian Fathers, et al.?

J. Hayes said...

Jon, I’d like to hear your thoughts regarding the method of teaching Greek and Latin. I am a huge proponent of the so-called, “direct method.” This is really nothing else than the way Latin was taught in Luther’s day. I envision a Wittenberg education teaching students Latin in Latin (just as modern languages are). Students are thereby encouraged to speak, write, think, and read in Latin. Texts like Lingua Latina per se Illustrata are perfect because they treat Latin like a language (not a code), and also encourage students to memorize paradigms and learn grammar thoroughly. Last I checked, Dr. Kellerman at CURF was teaching Latin this way to his class using the Lingua Latina materials. And lest any of your readers think that it can’t be done, or there is no point, I am a living testimony that Latin can still be used in our day. Every week I spend time reading, writing (prose and verse!), and speaking Latin. Just imagine how well students would imbibe languages at a college with 50 or so Latin speakers!

Iohannes, uelim audire quid de lingua Latina Graecaque docenda putes. ego quidem methodo quae "directa" uocatur maxime faueo, quae reuera nihil aliud est quam ea methodus qua praeceptores tempore Lutheri usi sunt. censeo apud nostros Latinum Latine discendum esse, sicut linguae hodiernae suis uocibus disci possunt. ex doctrina huiusmodi discipuli ad Latine dicendum, scribendum, atque legendum excitantur. libri grammatici (e.g. Lingua Latina per se Illustrata) maxime ualent quod Latinum non uerba cryptica, ut ita dicam, sed linguam ueram docent discipulis imperantes ut partes orationis, res grammaticas, atque formas uerborum penitus memoria teneant. hac methodo, quoad ego scio, doctor Kellerman libris "Lingua Latina per se..." adhibitis apud uniuersitatem CURF utitur. et, ne quis lector hoc negotium esse nimis difficile seu infelix putet, his ipsis uerbis testor fieri posse ut homines etiam nostris temporibus latina utantur; nam latinae lectioni, scriptioni, et locutioni operam omni hebdomade do ipse, quod si discipuli item facerent, quam bene res Latinas perhaurirent non solum oculis, sed etiam auribus ac linguis!

Steve Gehrke said...

Jon, I could chew on it, but I don't know enough about the subject to ever be ready to swallow.

I do of course have to make a connection to math and science (hope I'm not getting [excessively] tedious, but if so this is a warning not to read further). In higher education, it's important to take mathematics through differential equations. Then you can derive the laws of the (God's) universe yourself. Otherwise, you have to accept that the equations given you are valid, i.e. correctly translated. So I'm positing that it is important for a curriculum to include a course in differential equations - that would be equivalent to the level of Greek that makes one fluent in the classics. Unless you reach that level, you are relying on someone else's interpretation of the "text".

Not to put nature and Scripture on the same level - one is clear and necessary for salvation and the other is not - but my intent is to draw some parallels between two different kinds of creations of God's. As such, would it be wrong to posit some likely consistency between them?

Jon Bruss said...

Steve, yes. There are certain minimums, much more arduous than those minimums that today are in use, for establishing a solid liberal arts education. My initial thought was that a minimum in mathematics would be advanced calculus, perhaps even multivariable. But if differential is it, that's it. That's very helpful. So we'd be looking at roughly 2 or 2.5 full years of mathematics (unless the mathematics curriculum began Euclid, which has its up-side).

Steve Gehrke said...

Hi Jon, Differential equations is the course following multivariable calculus. So it's one more. I advise my undergrads that basically the whole point of the calculus sequence is order to get to differential equations. Hence my comparison to Greek - stopping a semester or two before becoming fluent largely diminishes the value of the prior courses apart from the aspects of training the mind.

That said, the traditional 3 semesters of calculus to get to DiffEq could probably be condensed to two. So how many semesters of math would be required largely depends upon where students start. Engineering doesn't count any courses prior to Calc I toward the degree but most other majors allow and algebra class.

Jon Bruss said...

Josh, I am of mixed opinion, actually. I am strongly attracted to a living appropriation of the ancient languages, and I think that it can be done and done well. It's probably even the case, too, that students who learn like that will ultimately be far better users of Greek and Latin and Hebrew. On the other hand, and is this something worth considering, the "grammatical" method, which, it appears to me, P.M. used in his introductory Greek text, has the bonum of being able to teach grammatica like nearly no other method. So what I'd say is that an approach that combines the two would give us, in the inimitable words of Dr. Pangloss, the best of all possible worlds. I would be remiss, in answering this, if I did not direct you to Diane Johnson, who just entered a comment on the post on Vocation. I hope you follow up with her, since I gather her approach at WWU is very much a living approach.

One last thought: it's perhaps the case that a neo-Humanistic Lutheran curriculum would have to develop its own textbooks for Greek and Latin that would accomplish what we're talking about here.

J. Hayes said...


Re: both worlds. I agree, the best of both worlds should be the goal. And I believe that it is only when a teacher employs both methods that the best chances for learning occur. Like mixing cheese and wine, focusing heavily on grammar in an environment of natural/direct language learning produces the best effect. I am utterly convinced that the best way to learn Latin grammar is to force students to write and speak it. If you want students to truly understand the character of Ovid’s metrical genius, have them try to write a couplet or two.

Re: curriculum and textbooks. This, I suppose, would largely depend on where incoming students are at. If they all come from classical background and have had a year or two of Latin, they might be able to jump right into rudimentary composition and basic Latin discussions on easier and more familiar texts like the vulgate and the Lutheran confessions. At the same time, of course, they would go through a detailed study and review of Latin grammar. I confess that I have had very little experience teaching Latin, so my opinion isn’t worth that much in this regard.

As an aside, I often feel like Latin students are forced out of using Latin (speaking and writing) because (1) their instructor can’t/won’t and (2) because they are usually tossed from one year of basic grammar into the sea of classical literature which is too deep. The Catilinarians and even Caesar are, in my opinion, frustratingly outside of the ability of a new Latin student. It’s like giving a foreign student one year of English and then forcing him to read Shakespeare. In order to cope, students are forced out of reading Latin to just translating the text by any means necessary. Classical authors must be read, but why not start in the shallow end first? On a hunch (correct me please), I suppose this was the way of teaching Latin in Melanchthon’s day.