Looking at Greek and the Church Evolving

Hello, and how was your weekend?

Last week, the second part of my Greek course started. The tutor gave us an overview of Biblical Greek, and how the culture and church seem to reflect the language.

A Greek Temple

Greek was an enthusiastic language, a sort of bubble of words that flowed like the thoughts in your head. It reminds me of when a 7-year-old writes a story, with lots of “and…and…and…and then…and…” This might be because some of the books in the New Testament were dictated—and that’s how people talk, but it also seems to be a feature of the language. It’s a wonderfully expressive language. In English, a verb basically can tell you what’s happening, and the time period (‘I went’ or ‘I go’) but not much more. In Greek, time is a tiny element, and verbs have aspects that convey whether the action happened once or was on-going, whether the action was passive or active, who did it. There is a lot of mood and feeling in the ancient Greek language.

Sentences in Greek are often very long. When they’re translated into English, the translators usually add punctuation, so a single sentence in Greek might be split into many sentences in English. (Originally, there was no punctuation, and people paused wherever they felt it was right.) The order of the words is not important, with ideas and expressions spurted onto the page in an order that appears to be random.

At the time that Greek was being spoken, the church was meeting in homes. The groups would have been fairly small, and homes automatically convey something intimate, expressive. When someone is sitting in your home, you notice if they are sad or worried, sharing emotions would be natural. Like the language, the church would have been enthusiastically conveying ideas and feelings, passing on the themes that Jesus spoke about—a lot of love and acceptance, looking to God rather than rules, learning how to change.

(Image: Blendspace) A home in New Testament times

As the church grew, people needed somewhere bigger to meet. A suitable building was the hall used as a law court. Instead of all sitting in a home, people now would have faced in the same direction, with a speaker at the front. The speaker would have been sitting where during the rest of the week the judge presiding over the court would have sat. The language gradually changed from Greek to Latin, which I understand is a language with strict rules.

The emphasis of the church also seemed to change, moving from expressions of love and freedom towards deciding rules. Who, exactly, was a Christian? Did they need to be circumcised? What were the rules of this new religion? What were the essentials that a person needed to believe in so they could be ‘classified’ as a Christian?

Today, we might like to think our churches are like the friendly church that met in homes, but we do seem to spend a lot of time talking about ‘non-Christians’ and the points they need to believe so that they can ‘become a Christian.’

Churches are currently seeing another huge change, as around the world they are unable to meet in person and services are all virtual. People miss being in the same space, being able to chat with their friends, touch each other, share a smile. But there are good elements too. People who are house-bound are able to be part of the fellowship again. Those who work unsociable hours can watch the service when they have time. People who want to be anonymous can watch a service unseen, they can listen to the Bible truths without having to defend their privacy, without the ‘danger’ of having to join something they are not yet sure about. I know that some churches have many more people ‘logging-on’ to their services than used to attend in person. I know of young people who would never have attended a service, but who will watch an online service, because they feel comfortable with that, it’s easy, more like the interactions they are used to.

Personally, I am enjoying Sundays in a way I never have before. As I wrote in a previous blog, it has become a special day, rather than one of duty. I can enjoy a service without being asked to do a job the minute I walk into the building. I have a loud tuneless singing voice and I’m not expected to sing or to keep standing up. When I take communion I am not wondering how many people have coughed on the bread before I eat it or if the server has washed their hands, and when I drink the ‘wine’ I don’t brace ready for an unknown acidic juice of dubious origin. Instead, I can listen to the words, and think about God, and take communion thinking only about what it means and why I am doing it. (Yes, I am bit of a grumpy unsociable person.)

I hope that when (if) the world opens up again and things start to return to normal, the church won’t rush to return to exactly the same model as before. I hope the leaders will keep some of the good things that have arisen this year.

Languages evolve, and people change. The church is simply a group of people trying to follow God together, and it’s interesting to look back and see the changes reflected there too.

Thanks for reading. Hope any changes in your life this week are good ones.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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