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The Value of New Testament Greek in Ministry

An Informal Talk by Timothy B. Savage, Th.M., Ph.D., Senior Pastor of Camelback Bible Church - March 1999

(The following information was presented during an informal talk with Dr. Tim Savage. These paragraphs are the main points of that talk, reconstructed from my notes. This information is used by permission from the speaker.)

The Value of Using Greek as a Minister

He feels that to be a pastor is a great responsibility and privilege – a pastor has an enormously important challenge: to convey the word of God, which is the most important thing ever fallen on human ears. Preaching is a monologue, not a dialog, and God promises to bless it. "I will communicate it best when I see clearly." Greek is a gloriously descriptive language, a means to a glorious end. Our first love is the Lord Jesus Christ, not Greek – it is a means to know Him.

  1. Greek it is a descriptive language and has much clarity as opposed to English.
    1. This is because of things like noun declensions and suffixes-specifically the genitive and dative cases have so many rich interpretations.
    2. And biblical authors exploit the riches in verb inflections.
    3. Greek word order is important for showing emphasis but we miss this in the English language and translations.
  2. When we read Greek we are forced to concentrate and think carefully about what we are reading. When we read in English we may miss what a paragraph is saying.
  3. Because of the value of the Septuagint (LXX), Greek is equally important for the study of the Old Testament.
    1. Eight or nine times out of ten, Paul’s references to the Old Testament were closer to the LXX than to the Hebrew.
    2. For instance when he quotes the O.T. in 2 Corinthians 4:6 and says, "out of darkness light shall shine," most people would think that he is quoting Genesis chapter one. But in Genesis it is a totally different construction in the Greek LXX. The only place the O.T. uses these words is in Isaiah 9:2, referring to the light of the Messiah. (Isaiah has a theology of ‘light’ and ‘glory’.) In Isaiah we find the same paradoxes of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’, and ‘glory’ and ‘shame’. This is the same as Paul in Corinthians.
  4. The meaning of languages and the study of linguistics. Meaning is found instinctively in languages. But how do we distill the meaning?
    1. Sadly, in our past we say that we arrive at meaning based on our own interpretation, not the meaning inherent in the language. It has become too subjective.
    2. We have evacuated texts of their meaning, so that as a society we are confused, lost in a sea of meaninglessness. We assert that, "Only I can decide the truth."
    3. But, we can find meaning in texts, especially in God’s text. When we jettison that, we are lost as a society.

Linguistic Tips

  1. We should de-emphasize word studies. Etymology is not the primary method for finding the meaning of a word.
    1. Greek is far more complex and descriptive to reduce it to word studies.
    2. First we must look at how a word is used by the same author in the same book. But we must stress the context and interplay of words in the same context, then go on to look how it is used elsewhere.
  2. We must look at participles. (I love participles; I am ‘a participle man’.)
    1. Is it circumstantial, causal, or concessive? How does it change the meaning of the text?
    2. For example, Philippians 2:6-7 "Existing in the form of God…"
      1. Is it concessive, "Although He existed in the form of God…"?
      2. No, rather, it is probably causal. He tells us what God is like by emptying Himself. He perfectly displayed what it meant to be God. God emptied Himself in order to go to the cross.
  3. Look for words and ideas in common. English may change translation of a single Greek word within the same context. (E.g. John 14:2, 23)


  1. If you have ability in Greek then use it regularly.
    1. Continue to build your skills.
    2. You can’t just learn it in class.
    3. Lamentably, Biblical languages are on the decline (even in seminaries and Bible schools). They are being pushed out by social sciences (such as pastoral care and psychology).
    4. We need to recover this ability as ones speaking the word of God.
  2. Don’t make people feel inferior who don’t know Greek. (e.g. in the congregation).
  3. Greek is a tool to help us be accurate and help us clarify the truth.
    1. The end is to know God better, love Him more, and serve Him more fully.
    2. He is the end. Don’t make Greek the end; it is only a means.

Question and Answer Time:

When the meeting started out someone asked Tim to impress us with himself. He told us that that is something he has learned never to do. There's only one person we should be impressed with, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Q: What is your educational background?

Answer: He went to San Diego State University for four years, then to Dallas Theological Seminary for four years, then to Cambridge University for four years plus a three-year ministry internship at a Baptist church in England. He went to Cambridge mainly because they allowed pure research; he didn't have to take any classes or tests. His passing or failing all depended on his dissertation. For the last ten years he has been at Camelback Bible Church, Paradise Valley, AZ.

His dissertation was mainly on the paradoxes in the writings of the Apostle Paul. This mainly centered on the phrases in Second Corinthians, such as "the dying of Jesus" and "the life of Jesus", and "when I am weak then I am strong", and 'glory coming through suffering', and 'riches coming through poverty'. Paul was mainly responding to critics within Corinth. He did a careful analysis of these criticisms. He felt the four criticisms were socially, not theologically, motivated. The four criticisms were based on: 1) his not boasting 2) his being weak physically 3) him not having impressive speech and 4) not taking money from the Corinthians thus they were embarrassed by his poverty. He felt this was due to the current social milieu of Corinth. For a year and a half he combed through classical and archaeological data. What he found is contained in chapter one his dissertation. Tim’s adviser wanted him to do the same type of work concerning Galatia, Ephesus, and other ancient towns. He was unwilling to do this because he wanted to be a pastor of a local church, not just someone doing research and writing.

Q: Was his experience of getting his doctorate degree at Cambridge beneficial?

Answer: It was immensely beneficial. At Dallas Theological Seminary he was given such a large volume of work that he came out with more questions than when he went in. There was no time to meditate on, and pour into, the Greek New Testament. In a sense, at Cambridge he kind of started over. He was dismayed with America's Evangelical churches; they are 3,000 miles wide and about 1 inch deep. He needed time to find what things meant from God's word. He needed to discover things through his own study and research. He hopes this has animated his ministry.

Q: Do English Bibles that paraphrase Greek help to clarify the meaning?

Answer: Greek can be described in English, but most paraphrases don’t describe Greek, but instead just make more easily understandable English.

Q: Is there value in using a Greek Interlinear Bible?

Answer: Learning Greek is a lot like learning math; if you always use a calculator, you will never know how to do division. You should start out to learn Greek (without an Interlinear), but later on it could be useful.

Q: How long do you spend preparing for a sermon?

Answer: He takes about 17-20 hours in preparation for a Sunday morning meeting sermon.


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