Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Greek Quotes

As you may have noticed, I have been posting a number of quotes about learning Greek and using Greek (see here for all quotes). I first became interested in such quotes when Alan Gomes, my Church History prof at Talbot School of Theology, shared a quote from Augustine about the pain of learning Greek as a boy (I'll post that one later).

When I began teaching Greek, I tried to find other similar quotes for use in my lecture notes. Mostly, I found quotes that were already being circulated among Greek profs, such as well-known quotes by Zwingli and Wesley (also coming soon). But I found the motherlode of useful quotes on the topic while doing a doctoral paper on the history of textual criticism. I decided to read the letters of Erasmus to try to find out a little more about his text-critical approach when he was editing the first published Greek New Testament. It turns out that Erasmus didn't talk much about his methods in his letters, but he did talk a lot about the value of reading the Scriptures in the original languages. I'll be sharing more of those quotes over the next several days.

Erasmus' interest in Greek and Hebrew had several important results. Erasmus not only compiled (and repeatedly revised) the first Greek New Testament, but also made a fresh Latin translation. Despite Martin Luther's dislike of Erasmus, Luther used Erasmus' Greek New Testament as the textual basis for his influential German translation.

Seminarians of the time did not usually learn Greek and Hebrew; in fact, many theologians were wary of the possible heretical influence of the original languages (see some interesting quotes on this in the next few days). Erasmus encouraged other scholars to learn and teach the original languages, and eventually this became part of the standard seminary curriculum - a fact which causes modern seminarians to either bless or curse the name of Erasmus.

Do you have a favorite quote about learning and using the biblical languages? Please share it!

The picture: Title page of Erasmus' Greek New Testament, 3d edn., 1522.


  1. Many years ago, perhaps in one of Metzger's books, he quoted a marginal note in a MS, obviously penned by a less-than-brilliant Greek scribe: "Graecum est non legitur" ("Greek is unreadable").

  2. Thanks, Fred! I didn't remember reading that in Metzger, but it sounds like the sort of fascinating detail that he always included.

    I did some more research on that phrase, and this blog post(http://abecedaria.blogspot.com/2005/07/non-legitur.html, citing an Italian book, Non Legitur) says that it became a common practice among medieval scribes to substitute in the phrase "graeca est, non legitur," whenever they came across Greek text.

  3. There's a great quote by H.H. Rowley at this link, comparing preachers who lack biblical languages to a hypothetical "expert" on French literature who can't read French:

  4. Thanks, Anumma. I'll add that one to my file and post on it soon.