April 1, 2009

Q & A: Revitalizing Koine Greek As A Lingua Franca Among Christians



I wanted to run something by you. There is a small movement in Protestant New Testament scholarship to revitalize Koine Greek as a Lingua Franca among Christians (scholars and lay intellectuals). Randall Buth, who is sort of a figure head of the movement, uses a proverb to make a point. A Rabbi in Russia can communicate with a Rabbi in Argentina in Rabbinic Hebrew. A Muslim scholar in Indonesia can communicate with a Muslim scholar in Egypt in Quranic Arabic. So why do not Christians have the ability to communicate in the language of their sacred texts. Well Judaism and Islam have made a commitment to preserve the use of their sacred tongues. Buth heads up a language school in Israel that teaches Koine Greek and Biblical Hebrew by teaching the class in the respective language.

Here is an explanation of the value of such an approach as given by him:
http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-greek/2009-March/048787.html. I have been debating whether to throw my hat in with this movement.Your thoughts?

ex animo




That's a good question that I have contemplated as well. Here are my brief thoughts on the subject. As far as the movement within Protestantism is concerned, the question that must be asked is what the purpose of this whole movement is. Will the original language alone help ones understanding of Scripture? I think it could help, but it is also misleading in many ways. For example, I once had a professor in Old Testament who taught some fringe things about the subject, but no student was allowed to question him unless he knew Arabic or Hebrew. Language is a lot like logic in the sense that they both can be manipulated to justify just about anything. From an Orthodox perspective however, keeping in mind that the Orthodox preserve this understanding of the original language of Scripture, the key to understanding Scripture is not the language alone but the entire living tradition of the Church. If you read Becoming Orthodox by Peter Gillquist about his conversion to Orthodoxy from Evangelical Christianity, the one thing that struck me was the fact that his study of New Testament Greek did not necessarily bring him to an understanding of the truths of Scripture, but it confirmed for him that the knowledge of the original language of Scripture confirms the living tradition of the Church as the framework through which Scripture can be understood. If the living tradition of the Church is the framework through which understanding of Scripture comes, then language of Scripture becomes unnecessary though helpful. This is why Sts. Cyril and Methodios had such great success evangelizing the Slavs and Sts. Herman and Innocent the Aleuts among many examples. They did not impose a common Lingua Franca like the Papal Missionaries did. It's the idea of a common Lingua Franca that led to a Protestant Reformation in the first place, among other things. By translating the Scriptures in the language of the "barbarians", the Saints above were better able to teach them the living tradition of the Church which would guide their understanding of Scripture and gave them greater potential to reach theosis.