The New Testament was originally written in Greek since that was the “English” or “lingua Franca” of the the first century. So I thought it would be a good idea to learn the NT or Koine Greek some years ago. I must admit though that the vast range of English translations we have seem to capture most of the nuances of the Greek word meanings as far as I can tell. But I am no expert.
There are a few things that the NT Greek does bring out:
1. The simplicity of the language John uses compared with Paul. It is really very easy to read John’s gospel and letters in the Greek especially in comparison to Paul’s. It is a real and compelling miracle to see the depth of meaning and the deep subjects that John is able to explore with so few words. I really don’t know anything equivalent in English. However Revelation is no easier to read in Greek than it is in English even though John wrote that too.
2. The Greek uses the continuous form of the verb “to be” far more than the English translations I have read do. I am guessing that is because it would be being far more awkward to be reading. But what the Greek brings out is a very important theological point or continuity rather: You must keep on being saved to be saved. There is no emphasis in the New Testament on point decisions or actions like the English translations seem to imply. The examples are everywhere in the N.T. (Colossians 3:1 keep on seeking, Romans 8:1, 4 are not walking, etc., etc.).
3. Of all the English translations I have read I have yet to come across one which brings out the distinctions in the Greek words for love in John 21:15-17. Knowing the differences significantly adds to the understanding of Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter and the qualifications for being a minister in God’s church. Only the amplified version really brings it out but you can lose the significance in all the words. Here is my version:
15 When they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, do you agape Me more than these? He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I phileo You. He said to him, Feed My lambs.
16 Again He said to him the second time, Simon, son of John, do you agape Me? He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I phileo You. He said to him, Shepherd My sheep.
17 He said to him the third time, Simon, son of John, do you phileo Me? Peter was grieved that He should ask him the third time, Do you phileo Me? And he said to Him, Lord, You know everything; You know that I phileo You! Jesus said to him, Feed My sheep.
Agape means love like Jesus’ love when He died for us on the Cross. A supernatural love that comes straight from the Father. Peter knew he didn’t love Jesus like that – not after his three denials on the night Jesus needed him most. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake he had made before the crucifixion (John 13:37).
But he also knew that he had phileo – a brotherly affection and natural love for Jesus. So he had responded honestly. He didn’t mind Jesus questioning his agape love but he was upset when he questioned even his phileo love. He would have been devastated to discover that he didn’t even have that!
But actually Jesus was out to encourage him. For each time He questioned Peter and each time Peter answered honestly and without pretense Jesus found in him someone He could trust. Someone who could feed the young and tend to the needs of and even feed the more mature.
Some teachers would say that Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-4) added the agape to the phileo that Peter had. And perhaps it did. But for me I think I know what answer I would give to Jesus if I was asked the same questions, Pentecost or no Pentecost.
Only He knows really how qualified I am, or anyone is, to spiritually feed and tend His lambs or sheep. But the qualifications are definitely not academic ones. You don’t have to learn the Greek to love His people enough to feed them.