How Knowing Greek Led Me to Know God
“NICHOLAS, I’d like you to give serious thought to taking Greek.” “Oh, yes, Sir, Mr. Benton, yes, Sir.” This was in the 1950’s. I was in my tenth-grade year at Phillips Academy, a private school in Andover, Massachusetts. I was already taking Latin and French. Now he wanted me to take Greek too? Well, I did like languages. Maybe he had a point about Greek.
So at the start of my 11th-grade year, I signed up for Greek. I found it amazingly flexible, very expressive and creative, yet very simple too. Soon I was hooked on the language. Thus it was that I began my very exciting trip through Greek—never dreaming where it would lead me!
From Phillips Academy I went on to college, to Princeton. In my senior year I decided I wanted to teach, and after graduating, I did start at an Episcopal boys’ school, St. Paul’s, in New Hampshire. This was consistent with my background. Growing up, I was a longtime choirboy at the local Episcopal Church. In my area the respectable people were either Unitarian or Episcopalian. So I’d been steeped in the very High Church Episcopalianism but exposed to very little Biblical or spiritual understanding. The Bible was swallowed up in church formalism. Now at St. Paul’s I was immersed in it once again. Everybody—faculty and students—had to go to chapel every weekday and twice on Sunday.
I taught Latin and Greek there for four years. After my first year I got married to a young lady named Suzanne. The next three summers I studied for and got my master’s degree in Latin and Greek. While considering going for my doctoral degree, I received a letter from my old Greek mentor at Phillips Academy, Dr. Chase. “I’ve just had an opening in Andover,” he wrote. “I know you want to go to graduate school. But would you please come down and talk to us?” I did, and wound up teaching Greek there. I’ve taught there ever since.
We hadn’t lived in our new home for more than three weeks when there was a knock on the door. It was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She started a Bible study with Suzanne. That was in 1968. The Watch Tower publication they studied along with the Bible was The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. It used some original-language Greek words, such as hades and psyche and stauros. Suzanne would come to me and ask:
“Oh, Nicholas, here’s a word that Karen and I studied in the Bible. Could stauros just mean ‘stake’?”
“Well, sure. It does mean ‘stake.’ I don’t know how they ever got ‘cross’ out of stauros. But I’m not surprised. The Christian church has been doing things like that at least since Constantine’s time.”
Later I met Karen’s husband, and after some general discussions a regular Bible study was started. But I had problems. Episcopalianism had given me no knowledge of the Bible, no faith in it. I needed an approach to the study that would satisfy my demand for logic. Was it reasonable to think that the Witnesses—an unpopular minority often scorned and ridiculed—had the scholarship to meet my need?
But then I remembered, minorities with different ideas were often ridiculed by the majority, even despised and persecuted by them, yet ultimately were proved right. Now here are these Witnesses—a minority, different, running around knocking on doors, standing on street corners with their magazines, scoffed at, and often despised and persecuted. Maybe it would be worth listening to them—they just might have something!
So I took as a working hypothesis, or theory, “Maybe Jehovah’s Witnesses can show me who God really is.” My theory began with just two assumptions: (1) that the majority isn’t necessarily right and (2) that, except for popular opinion, I had no reason to consider the ideas of Jehovah’s Witnesses false. After a few sessions to discuss the Bible, I realized there was a third underlying assumption to be dealt with. I brought it up to the Witness studying with me: “Arthur, how can I be sure that the words of the Bible are not just old stories?”
“Do I have the book for you!” he exclaimed.
He brought me a book just recently published (1969) by the Watch Tower Society, Is the Bible Really the Word of God? It was packed with facts on science and archaeology that confirmed the Bible’s historical accuracy and discussed many fulfilled prophecies that proved its inspiration. So this important assumption held up—the Bible had to be God’s Word!
Arthur and other Witnesses then showed skill in bringing together all the scriptures on given points, and by thus ‘combining spiritual matters with spiritual words,’ they brought clarity and harmony into material that otherwise seemed obscure or contradictory. (1 Corinthians 2:13) My questions were answered with scriptures, the pieces fit together, harmonious patterns of truth emerged. My second assumption was also correct: The Witnesses understood it correctly.
By this time I had started going to Witness meetings at the Kingdom Hall. Next I went from door to door with Arthur. One woman, a Baptist, gave me one of these little tracts about the Witnesses, supposedly exposing their errors. In several places it referred to the Greek. So I was curious: Just how knowledgeable were they in Greek. Within a few weeks I had acquired several more similar tracts to examine.
Most of them revolved around the Trinity. They assumed the Trinity to be true, then carefully selected their scholarly authorities to prove it. In fact, the attacks on Witness teachings often focused on the Trinity and on their New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. In Greek, as in English, some words can mean different things in different contexts. The English word “bow,” for instance, can be a courteous bow, a bow of ribbon, or a bow with which to shoot arrows.
In Bible study, however, you look not only at the context but also at other scriptures to see how the word is used in different settings. So you check to see whether you’re leaning on your assumptions or on the evidence. I noticed that these tract writers frequently manipulate the evidence, misrepresent it. On the other hand, the Society was quite honest in looking at all the evidence, all the possibilities, offering their conclusions, but then telling you to decide. After a careful examination of the points of controversy, I saw that the Society was right.
In some places the Trinitarians clearly manipulate the evidence. The classic example of this is, I guess, John 8:58. There Jesus said: “Before Abraham was, I am.” (King James Version) The Trinitarians pick up Jesus’ use of “I am” here and relate it to Jehovah’s statement to Moses in Exodus 3:14 (KJ), “I am that I am.” Because both Jesus and Jehovah used “I am,” they argue that this makes Jesus and Jehovah one. And the Greek root does say am in the present tense at John 8:58.
However, even their own theological grammar books acknowledge that where an expression of past time appears in the sentence, the present tense verb can sometimes be translated as if it has begun in past time and continues up to the present.* This is also true in French and it is true in Latin. Hence, when the New World Translation says “I have been” instead of “I am,” it is translating the Greek correctly. (John 8:58) Yet the Trinitarians act as if ‘No, that’s not even possible!’ So I began to notice this misrepresentation of the evidence on the part of the detractors of the Society.
‘Well, since the Society’s scholarship is credible in the Greek,’ I reasoned, ‘must it not also be in its other writings?’ It was this that led me to study in earnest, which in turn led me to baptism in 1970.
The year before this, a publication was released by the Watch Tower Society entitled The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures. It proved to be crucial for me. Perhaps more than any other single thing, it was instrumental in causing me to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the left-hand column on each page is the original koine Greek text, and under each line is a literal translation of the Greek. In the right-hand column of each page, in modern-day English, is the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Incidentally, right at the time when this publication came out, I was assigned to teach at Phillips Academy a course in New Testament Greek. Since I did not learn Greek from a theologian who was teaching New Testament Greek, I was probably much more objective about it. I could look at the words with fresh eyes, free of the traditional, doctrinal notions.
Such preconceptions can really give you eyes that don’t see and ears that don’t hear because if, as you do your research, you’re looking for something to confirm what you already believe, that’s all your eyes and ears will see or hear. Instead of looking to see ‘Well, what’s the whole case?’ they see only what can be used, or misused, to support their preconceptions.
Incidentally, most theologians that I’ve met are not strong in Greek. The quality of Greek scholarship in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, however, is very good. It’s the kind of thing that a person who really wants to work with the Greek, even though not knowing much Greek, can do a lot with. I feel it’s one of the greatly underappreciated jewels of the Watch Tower Society’s publications.
Now, as to my becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In addition to all the help from these scholarly works of the Society—especially those relating to the Greek—the time period was important for me. The years ’68, ’69, ’70—remember what life was like then? I sympathized with the hippie movement because I didn’t like what my country was doing and I didn’t like what the establishment was doing. On the other hand, I didn’t like the idea of dropping acid or smoking marijuana. The hippies didn’t really have the answers; neither did the establishment. I was looking for better answers, more meaning, some larger purpose in all of this.
Life has to be more than going through the motions of teaching or selling insurance or what have you. Life isn’t just books: It’s people—not just people going to elite prep schools and Ivy League colleges. I’d been that route, and something was still missing. I was looking for something that was bigger than the usual mold, something of real value.
And I found it in Bible truth. Bible truth has it all—loving God and loving people. This truth made me really see people. People who are auto mechanics, ditchdiggers, railroad engineers, people who are all kinds of different things, people that I would have missed meeting in any other way. And it wasn’t just getting to meet them; it was getting to know them well and coming to love them.
This is really what it was with Jesus, too, wasn’t it? The people. He related to people. To the needs of people. He was so involved with people. Paul too. Much in Paul’s letters is counsel about people getting along with people. I said to myself at one point: ‘If they’re going to start throwing people into concentration camps, I want to be in there with people I care about. Let me in too!’
I thought: ‘If it comes to the time when you have to stand up and be counted, then you’ve got one choice. Either you’re going to be part of the system that is persecuting or you’re going to be part of those that are being persecuted.’ I wanted to be counted with those who were applying Bible principles and standing up for righteousness, whatever the cost.
I’d spent enough time on the scientific, intellectual aspects. It was time for feelings to take over. These people were doing it. These people were living it. I wanted to be with them. It wasn’t some date, it wasn’t Armageddon, it wasn’t saving my skin. It was my heart talking. These people are right. These other groups are wrong. I want to be where it’s right.
All of this was going through my mind one morning as I stepped into the shower, and it was at that moment that I made a dedication in my heart to serve Jehovah God. I’m one of those people that had to go through the intellectual part before I could move on to the matters of the heart. It put my dedication on a solid foundation of faith based on knowledge—the all-important knowledge, namely: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3.
Thus my life came to have meaning and now rests on a foundation of love—love for Jehovah, love for Jesus, and love for the people who love Jehovah and Jesus.—As told by Nicholas Kip.
A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, by A. T. Robertson, 1934, pages 879-80; A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by H. E. Dana, 1957, page 183. See also appendix 6F of the New World Translation Reference Bible, 1984, pages 1582-3.
[Blurb on page 11]
“It does mean ‘stake.’ I don’t know how they ever got ‘cross’ out of stauros”
[Blurb on page 12]
They see only what can be used, or misused, to prove their preconceptions
[Box on page 14]
Some Comments by Greek Scholars on The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures
“I am interested in the mission work of your people, and its world wide scope, and much pleased with the free, frank and vigorous translation. It exhibits a vast array of sound serious learning, as I can testify.”—Letter, December 8, 1950, from Edgar J. Goodspeed, translator of the Greek “New Testament” in An American Translation.
“The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing.”—Hebrew and Greek scholar Alexander Thomson, in The Differentiator, April 1952, pages 52-7.
“The translation of the New Testament is evidence of the presence in the movement of scholars qualified to deal intelligently with the many problems of Biblical translation.”—Andover Newton Quarterly, January 1963.
“The New Testament translation was made by a committee whose membership has never been revealed—a committee that possessed an unusual competence in Greek.”—Andover Newton Quarterly, September 1966.
“This is no ordinary interlinear: the integrity of the text is preserved, and the English which appears below it is simply the basic meaning of the Greek word. . . . After examining a copy, I equipped several interested second-year Greek students with it as an auxiliary text. . . . The translation by the anonymous committee is thoroughly up-to-date and consistently accurate. . . . In sum, when a Witness comes to the door, the classicist, Greek student, or Bible student alike would do well to bring him in and place an order.”—From a review of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, by Thomas N. Winter of the University of Nebraska, appearing in The Classical Journal, April–May 1974.
[Picture on page 10]
Nicholas Kip teaching Greek
[Picture on page 13]
Nicholas and his wife Suzanne, checking in the Kingdom Interlinear