In Search of Teh Greek

One of the most frustrating experiences for me as I continue in my pursuit of learning has been that the more education I get, the greater the sense of being behind. I’m already some five years behind the stereotypical track of burning right through to grad school. I’m 27 with the knowledge that some people are “right on track” coming in to my learning level at 22.

But that doesn’t get me too much. On a track to pastoral ministry, you could probably use a little age and experience on you. At the same time, though, I’m learning that those learnéd men of the past, up to whom we look so much, were much younger still.

Today in my church history class, we touched on Jean Calvin, a man whose theological work has had a profound influence on the life and culture of much of the protestant church. For four hundred years or so, the reformed church associated his name with all that is right and good about proper theology. His Institutes of the Christian Religion is still widely used as the theology textbook for pastors in training. As we were skimming through his life, it was just barely mentioned that he enrolled at a university at the age of 14. Actually, his age wasn’t even mentioned, just his dates of birth and enrollment. I had to do the math myself. Somewhere around the age of 22, as I was going back into undergrad school, Calvin was completing his first edition of the Institutes. On the basis of this book, he was cornered into being a major player in the reform work going on in Geneva. At 27, Calvin appeared before the Geneva city council to defend his reform programmes. At 27, I’m almost educated enough to read the texts he based things on.

Honestly, I’m jealous of Calvin. Not because he was brilliant or so spiritually perceptive did he accomplish all that he did (though I’m sure those things helped). It was because of the education he was able to acquire, an education which it would not have been possible for me to attempt at the ages that he did. (Was that bad English? How about this: He got a better education than I could have ever dreamed of.)

Oh how learnéd we are, and yet so stupid! One of the reasons I’m becoming so zealous for education is that it incenses me so whenever I think that we have so much more knowledge today than 400 years ago, and yet none of us has near the learning that was considered “normal” for an “educated” person back then. Granted the average Joe today may have a better education than the average Joe then, but I don’t think so. Joe today may have more math and science available to work with, but Joe then would know better what to do with it. We’ve taken the humanities today and shackled them, and for no apparent reason.

Granted, not everybody today wants to become a philosopher king, but that’s hardly my point: not everybody needs to shoot for the moon in education, but the problem is that those of us who might have wanted it simply don’t have the opportunity. Even Tolkien, who was every bit as broke as me, had a better opportunity to learn the things he wanted, as much as he wanted, as thoroughly as he wanted. When I was growing up, we didn’t know such learning was even possible.

So I’m partially filled with a zeal to do my part to see that those kinds of learning opportunities are available to those who want them. So I want to teach and see that excellent teaching is provided. And partially, I’m filled with zeal to make up for lost time.

I didn’t get the whole story, but apparently there was a Catholic bishop who suggested that the Reformation was the result of people reading only their Bibles and never bothering with looking up the understanding of the early church. At the meeting, Calvin stood up and began quoting, at great length, the early fathers in Greek. He had read all of them like some people I know read Spurgeon. In Greek. In the blossoming renaissance, they had been printing ancient manuscripts like crazy, so these things were available.

Having heard that story, and being filled with jealousy, I went to my Greek professor tonight and asked him if it were possible for me to get such a library, where I could read these texts in their original Greek. Goodness! I’ve put a lot of pain and toil into learning Greek. I won’t hardly be satisfied with reading only a single book with it. How can I understand the Biblical text, if I don’t have other Koine Greek context with which to compare?

Turns out such things can be acquired. He pointed me in two directions: Online is the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, which supposedly has available every Greek text ever written, with the caveat that you have to read the darn thing on the computer. For those of us who are still bibliofiles, there is the Loeb Classical Library, which has all the essential Greek and Latin texts in print form, as a parallel text, both English and the original.

Yeah, they’re going on my wishlist…

[edit:  Heaven help me, the Loeb Books are $22 each!]

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