Why Greek Matters (Part 1) – The Resurrection and the Joy of Jesus (Matthew 28:9)

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This is from a series paintings depicting the entire passion/resurrection cycle on the walls of medieval church in Oxfordshire, UK. This scene is Jesus appearing to Mary.

Since I teach New Testament Greek, I am often asked why one should invest the time to learn a whole language just to study the Bible. It is commonly phrased as, “do I actually need to learn that to understand the Bible?” Of course, the answer is no (though click here for a somewhat fuller answer). The modern English translations are reliable enough to give you understanding of the Bible’s main points. So then, why study Greek (or Hebrew for that matter)? Rather than give a drawn out philosophical argumentation, laying out all the benefits of learning Greek, I’ve decided to give an apologetic that goes right to the text. This will be the beginning of a series of (hopefully short) posts which will look at specific texts and explain why its helpful, illuminating and/or exhilarating to know whats “going on under the hood.” The point will not be that “these are the six passages where Greek is helpful, therefore you might consider learning it.” Rather, this is just a sampling of what will happen nearly every time you read the NT in Greek – you see things in fresh ways and from fresh angles, very often in a manner that is at once exciting and heart-warming.

To start, I’d like to take a quick look at the first resurrection appearance in Matthew (apropos, since we are in Easter Season). The women arrived at the tomb, only to find it empty, with an angel sitting on the stone that had once concealed its interior. Instructing them that Jesus had risen from the dead (just as he said), and that they were to go report the news to the disciples, they ran off quickly in fear and great joy. Suddenly, Jesus “meets them” and says to them…according to the NRSV, “Greetings!” according to the KJV, “Hail!” and the NASB simply says, “he greeted them” without telling us what he said (Mat. 28:9). However, in Greek, Jesus literally says “Rejoice!” Granted, this was a common greeting in first century Judea. In English we have common greetings like “hello” (which literally is an expression of astonishment), “how are you” (potentially a quite involved question…), “what’s up” and others whose specific words don’t necessarily contribute much to the formulaic nature of the generic greeting. The same kind of phenomenon was happening in Greek with the word χαίρετε (chairete). However, we know that there are times when we use the standard greetings with their literal meanings. In surprised astonishment upon seeing someone we might say, “well, HELLO, look who we have here” or we may sincerely asking someone how they are doing, ready for the long, heart-felt answer.

I think it is more than plausible to believe precisely this is happening when Jesus greets the women and says “χαίρετε” (chairete). He says it and literally means “rejoice!” I simply love that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth to another person after the resurrection are about gladness. I can only picture Jesus saying this with a huge smile on his face. Or better yet, an explosion of exuberance and laughter upon being reunited with his friends. What precisely he or the women should be happy about is not specified in the text. While, there were undoubtedly many things to be happy about (see my earlier post on the resurrection and the renewal of the earth), I think Jesus, among other things, was simply happy to see them. After the agony of the preceding weekend, Jesus’ heart was thrilled with delight to see his friends and for them to rejoice in seeing that he was well, and indeed, far more than well…

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One Response to Why Greek Matters (Part 1) – The Resurrection and the Joy of Jesus (Matthew 28:9)

  1. Richard,
    I recently signed up to receive all of your posts. I look forward to reading them. I studyed a little Greek, but not enough to accually ready it–I have forgotten it all. But I do appreciate your study of it. I does matter.

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