In this post, we unpack Angle 2: Reading anything as a translation limits the ability to pick up on subtle nuances and distances the reader from the writer and world of the writer. In essence, learn Greek to get closer to the writers of Scripture, and to better understand the world Jesus lived in.
There are many examples we could look at to emphasize how learning Greek can help bring us closer to the world of the Bible, but here we’ve chosen to look at simple word that many of us have probably never given a second thought to.
Many of the religious terms that we commonly use in English come from Greek words. Many of these Greek words were just common words before they were given special meaning by Christianity.
For instance, the English word ‘deacon’ comes from the Greek word διάκονος, which meant ‘servant’. As the earliest church grew and became more structured, they started to use the word διάκονος to refer to a specific role in the church—the role of deacon. So for example, this is the word that the Apostle Paul uses when discussing the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3.
But this very same word is used in other contexts with the original meaning of ‘servant’. For example, Jesus says, “Whoever must be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26), using the same word διάκονος for ‘servant’.
Knowing the word διάκονος in its general meaning of ‘servant’ sheds light on why Christians picked that word to refer to the office of deacon in the church. They were essentially designating certain people to be ‘servants’ of the church.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with translating this Greek word as “servant” in some contexts and “deacon” in other contexts; decisions like this are unavoidable in translation. But this necessity of translation means that the modern reader is a little more distant from the original circumstances. There weren’t separate words for “deacon” (or other church offices for that matter); rather, ordinary terms were used in new ways. And if we can see those ordinary terms in their ordinary usage by reading the original New Testament, we can get just a little closer to the original setting of the New Testament.