Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

How Persevering in Greek Equips You for the Christian Life

How Persevering in Greek Equips You for the Christian Life

At the outset of this year I started lecturing at a theological college. This was something I’ve longed to do since completing my own studies, many moons ago. Considering my wide range of interests, I’ve often joked that apart from ethics I’d enjoy lecturing in most fields—from church history to dogmatics, practical theology and biblical studies. All these years later I find myself lecturing New Testament Greek. Admittedly, it’s not a course I ever envisioned myself teaching, but it’s been a delightful not to mention demanding experience. And throughout the academic year I’ve encountered a significant challenge in the classroom: motivation.

Why Theological Students Lack Motivation

For some this challenge will be surprising. Many believers envy those who get the privilege of a theological education. What could possibly explain a lack of motivation, when those fortunate few are afforded a full-time opportunity to grow in their faith and understanding? Most Christians are restricted to developing their theology in the margins—outside of instruction received in the local church. Many would jump at the chance and therefore can’t imagine why others wouldn’t relish it. Yet motivation is a major hurdle for theological students. And I think this is especially true in studying the original languages. Let me explain why.

The reason for this lack of motivation is fairly simple: there’s a considerable delay in what we might call pay-off. As a previous article in this series noted, learning New Testament Greek is hugely demanding. And to make matters worse, the benefits always feel very far off—and in most ways they are. For the better part of the year my students have learnt a foreign verb system, hundreds of vocabulary words, and the dreaded reality of exceptions. Why? Well, that’s not always immediately obvious. It certainly doesn’t take your quiet times into the third heaven. You don’t suddenly become a master Bible reader or preacher. First year Greek is, on the balance, an extensive and arduous labour, with few ostensible fruits. At least, that’s how it can seem.

Making a Case for Persevering in Hard Things

Now, I could make a case for the profound benefits of learning Greek for Bible study, teaching, and preaching. But countless others have done that already. It’s incontrovertible that proficiency in the Bible languages aids faithful interpretation. But those fruits are long-range—if you don’t mind me mixing metaphors. So in the remainder of this post I want to make the case that there are very real, short-range, spiritual benefits to persevering in New Testament Greek—or any demanding study, for that matter.

One particular benefit was recently highlighted by Nat Eliason. Though discussing Calculus at high school, Eliason writes: “The ability to do hard things is perhaps the most useful ability you can foster in yourself,” for sticking with and succeeding at seemingly insurmountable tasks provides us with “historical evidence of our abilities.” Persevering in a discipline—whether Greek or Calculus—can become a vivid reminder of our competence and resolve. And, as Eliason writes, proof that you can do hard things is “one of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself.”

Eliason’s point is a general one, of course. Both in that it applies to more than academic discipline and because it’s readily applicable outside of the church, for everyone. Persevering through hard things in the past prepares us for the inevitable obstacles we’ll face in the future. Competence isn’t the measure of a person, but it’s indispensable for confronting challenges—and the temptation to give up. And that language is what makes Eliason’s point especially applicable to the Christian life and faith.

Christian, Learn How to Endure

Even only a brief scan of the New Testament reveals that the Christian life is hard. Maturity takes work, discipline and determination. Even the word perseverance entails strife and struggle. Jesus spoke about taking up our crosses. Paul said we must put sin to death. Elsewhere he writes, “I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:7). The writer to the Hebrews uses Israel’s wilderness wanderings as an analogy for the Christian faith, beset with innumerable threats and temptations. None of this sounds easy or effortless, but a journey of exhausting endurance. Joining Eliason’s point to the study of Greek, persevering in such a demanding discipline is in some ways preparation for persevering in the Christian life.

Of course, Greek is peculiar—distinct from, say, Calculus or Physics—in that it equips us to be better exegetes. But as I’ve said, for the undergraduate student this isn’t immediately evident. Instead, week after week they’re confronted by the bemusing oddities of Greek syntax and a barrage of new vocabulary. It’s worth it. Make no mistake. In the end a technical grasp of both Hebrew and Greek will enable exegesis and more informed engagement with commentators. In the interim, however, proving to yourself that you can persevere through a significant challenge such as Greek prepares you for the various obstacles you’ll encounter on the road to holiness—and glory.

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