In 1983, a local missionary named Dan discovered our ragtag band of Christian kids in a largely secular New England town, and offered to lead a Bible study on Thursday mornings. A dozen of us would show up bleary-eyed at 6 A.M. Dan would hand out a typescript passage—the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, the last discourse from John—and we'd read, study, talk, and pray.
It was then that I discovered how rewarding the study of Scripture could be. Even the simplest text turned out to have layer after layer of meaning. Dan carried a small Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, and often he'd resolve our confusion or illuminate our conversation by explaining "the original Greek."
I wanted to know Scripture as deeply as Dan did. And that, it seemed, meant learning Greek. If I did, I half believed, I wouldn't just understand the biblical text better, I would also understand the Bible better. I would be not just a better student of the Christian text, but also a better Christian.
So my freshman year of college I dove into classical Greek, showing up bleary-eyed on Tuesday and Thursday mornings with a few other classics majors for our induction into the mysteries of cases, particles, and moods. I loved it.
But my classics education brought my Bible study ambitions down with a bump. Reading my own Nestle-Aland edition, I discovered just how bad much of the biblical Greek was. Luke was elegant, Hebrews was poetic, but Mark and John wrote like Galilean fishermen—choppy, artless sentences quite unlike Homer and Euripides.
More disturbing, while my facility with Greek was growing fast, my spiritual life seemed to be changing far too slowly. Perhaps most alarming was realizing that much of the New Testament was far too easy to translate. When Jesus says, "Take up your cross and follow me," what that means in the original Greek is—well, "Take up your cross and follow me." It was not understanding the meaning, but obeying it, that was hard.
My adolescent self had latched onto something Dan carried—his well-worn Greek New Testament—as a substitute for what I was really looking for. Dan was a follower, who invited us kids into a deep and real conversation about following. He was not just a student. He was a disciple.
I thought of those Thursday mornings when I read Ted Olsen's marvelous cover story this issue. I was fascinated to learn how today's Bible geeks are exploring and recombining the text's layers of meaning. But information is not formation. And the real heart of the Bible is in its plainest texts, which are both the hardest and the best. To truly understand them, you don't need just a database. You also need a Dan.
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