I believe that great expositors of Scripture are good grammarians. That is, one does not have to be the second coming of A.T. Robertson to be a great expositor. The great preacher, however, will be comfortable enough in the languages to read competently both the original texts and the secondary literature discussing the text in light of the original languages. I think most would agree with me. However, the reality is that it takes some work to keep our Greek and Hebrew fresh and growing. So for you who aspire to be great expositors I have six suggestions for improving our use of the biblical languages.
First, let’s remove the angst. American students have little or no experience in foreign languages. For many of us, the study of Greek or Hebrew is a dark cloud over us that we rather dread. We often equate language acquisition to struggle, brute force, and angst. On the other hand, I have had students from other countries who live in multilingual situations; they have no fear of taking on a new language. Let us be more like them. Do not fear.
Second, make every opportunity to expose yourself to the languages. Set aside time each day to study the Word in the original languages. Read the Greek and Hebrew text in church (unless you are preaching, of course!). Use all the senses: see, hear, speak. Pump Greek and Hebrew to your brain.
Third, aim to learn naturally—that is, read whole sentences. I have waged a mini-war against interlinear texts for years. These do not help you read the language. They, in my opinion, never let your brain orient to Greek but to a mashed-up, rearranged English. Constantine Campbell suggests you burn them (Keep Your Greek: Strategies for Busy People [Zondervan, 2010], 19.). I’ll bring the marshmallows.
Fourth, do not depend on reading tools too heavily. In the same vein as our approach to interlinear texts, use software with caution. Use it to speed up your translation, not to do your translation for you. If you are forced to look up a word (and it will happen), find out why. Was it an unknown or forgotten vocabulary word? Was it a difficult or unfamiliar form? Was it the surrounding syntax? Whatever the problem, address it and learn.
Fifth, consider using a “reader’s edition” of the Greek New Testament. These provide footnoted lexical information for the lesser-used words in the New Testament. The drawback is that they do not have a textual apparatus, so I would not use it for formal study. If used properly, however, these can help us read more text with efficiency.
Finally, read the Scriptures as your “pure spiritual milk” (1 Pet 2:2). Let Bible study not be a mere academic exercise but your spiritual nourishment. If it becomes an act of love whereby we receive great benefits—and not laborious work—we will be on the path toward loving the exercise.
May God bless your efforts and may you gain great satisfaction and joy from the journey!
L. Scott Kellum (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary n Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is the co-author (with Andreas Köstenberger and Charles Quarles) of The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (B&H Academic).
Be on the look out for Scott Kellum’s forthcoming volume, Preaching the Farewell Discourse, set to release in April, 2014.