I’ve been retired and on the other side of the pulpit for seven months now. as I listen to sermons, my ears perk up when I hear a preacher mention that “the Greek (or Hebrew word) means….” Each time the speaker did it well and in such a way that it deepened my understanding of a passage.
But I did notice that all the listeners simply took that point at face value. Nodding their heads, they dutifully made notes in the margin of their bible. There was no hint of doubt or question about the statement.
Now I was taught at seminary not to do that very often. I learned learned Greek and Hebrew so that I could read, understand, and explain God’s Word from the original language. English translations may not capture all the nuances of an ancient word or phrase. A single word can say so much, and the meaning is worth including in preaching or teaching. But the listener doesn’t need to hear everything that went into preparation. You do not need to see everything that went on in the kitchen to enjoy a wonderful meal.
So I’ve been thinking, “What happens when you preface a thought or application with ‘The Greek (or Hebrew) word means…'”
I think it causes people to assume you know what you’re talking about, whether you do or not. It gives credence to your applications and sometimes your opinions. Are you manipulating the audience? Maybe.
When I hear those words, I pull out my phone and open up a bible app. “Accordance” is an app which displays a text in English as well as the original language. A built in lexicon gives you definitions and other uses in scripture, which often helps us understand a word or thought. I especially look up the word if it’s a definition I don’t remember hearing before.
When someone says, “The Greek word means…” you should ask some questions. Where did the speaker get that information? From a commentary? From an online source? From his or her own study of the language? Where were they educated?
Better yet, go home and read more about it own your own. Be like the church in Berea who went home and examined the scriptures after hearing the apostle Paul speak (Acts 17:11). They were eager to hear what he had to say. But they also made sure that’s what the scriptures really said.
We should be that noble, too. (That’s how Luke described the Jews in Berea.)