My second-year, Greek Reading class has been discussing BDAG. Here’s a reply I wrote to some of the discussion on the course blog. I thought it might be of interest to those of you reading this blog as well.
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I sense that most of you are beginning to appreciate just how much info is in this volume [i.e., BDAG]. And some of you are perhaps a bit overwhelmed by it. That’s natural. But view it as a challenge–a challenge that you *can* handle. It’s a tool, and an important one, in understanding the NT–and that ought to be one of the top priorities in your seminary preparation. All the practical skills in the world (as necessary as some of them are) will do you absolutely no good if you don’t have the ability to minister God’s Word to those whom God entrusts to your care. A superficial knowledge of the NT is not adequate for the challenges you will face in ministry, nor will your people be satisfied long term with shallow ministry. I think one of the reasons that pastorates are so short these days is that there is far too little depth in the pulpit.
BDAG is not a “cure all,” but it is one of the tools that enables you to do more than frivolous Greek study based on Wuest and Strong’s numbers. Your Greek testament, BDAG, a good grammar (such as Wallace), a Greek concordance (these days likely computerized–ideally Accordance! ), and a strong dose of stubbornness  and commitment  will take you a long ways in building a stable, lasting ministry.
Notes on the last paragraph:
 Accordance runs only on a Mac and isn’t cheap–but it’s worth the cost [of the Mac!] to use it. It isn’t designed primarily as a “library tool” (though it has a wide selection of books), but as a language study tool, it is without peer. [Warning: “rant” ahead. 🙂 ] Yes, I’ve used BibleWorks (the most capable language tool on Windows, but a unintuitive interface that only a programmer could love!) and also run Logos (probably “walked” would be a more apt metaphor! It’s a sluggish behemoth of bloated code). Yes, I’m opinionated on this matter; amazingly, many people don’t agree with me (can you imagine that?!)–I suspect mostly because they’ve never using Accordance–or have an institutional “lock-in/restriction” to Windows only. Mac avoids a lot of hassles on other scores as well. [End of rant. 🙂 ]
 Stubbornness, not as a general personality trait, but in regards to maintaining your language skills. I was never the smartest Greek student; many received higher grades than I. But many of my straight A classmates have long forsaken their language skills. Tis a pity. I was just stubborn enough to determine that this was worth learning and using regularly. As a result I likely learned more Greek in the dozen years I spent in the pastorate than I did in college, seminary, and graduate study combined. (And I had 2 years in college, 3 more in seminary, and another in my ThM work before I began pastoring full time–all of which was good training; I’m not suggesting that I didn’t lean a lot then! But you learn a lot more by using it regularly year after year than you possibly can in the classroom. (I’ve probably learned more since beginning to teach Greek, now 17 years ago, mostly because of all your questions I’ve had to answer! 🙂
 Commitment: to the authority, sufficiency, and reliability of God’s Word. If the Bible is inspired in its original autographs (as I hold), then I have no choice but to commit myself to the biblical languages. My bibliology requires that of me. And rightly so.
Back to the main point, using BDAG. (Thought I’d forgotten didn’t you? 🙂 ) Don’t let the mass of detail overwhelm you. Learn to use it first to get the big picture. Then gradually drill down as you focus in on the particular passage you’re working on. You can ignore some of the data you find. Practically speaking, I realize that most seminary students and pastors are not going to make much use of the German bibliography that’s there in abundance. Nor a lot of the diachronic data regarding usage long before the NT. That’s OK. But even with that caveat, there’s lots left. Will you ever look up every word in BDAG as you preach through a NT book? Probably not, at least not on most passages. But you might on some. Right now you need to look up a lot of info simply because most of you have only had 2 semesters of Greek. It takes some time to get your Greek “legs” under you and begin reading more easily and rapidly. (This course is designed, in part, to help move you along in that direction.) As you do, you’ll soon develop a sense of where the greatest value comes in using BDAG. (And it isn’t just in the new words you don’t know.) Whenever you hit a snag and a passage just doesn’t seem to make good sense, it likely time to grab BDAG. As you discovered this week, even a little thing like a preposition can be very flexible in usage. Someone commented on the course blog about being sensitive to how the author seems to be relating various contextual elements together with a preposition. That’s exactly the point. And that’s where BDAG can help a great deal.
The electronic versions of BDAG can expedite quick reference to data on specific verses–at least those that BDAG lists by reference, so if you have the luxury of owning a e-copy as well as a print version, use it to find such listings. I’m not convinced that reading it on screen is ideal, esp. for lengthy articles, but that’s another matter–and one concerning which I have some Luddite ideas! 🙂 Someone asked me the other day if BDAG were available for a handheld. It’s not. And I can’t conceive of how something like BDAG could ever be a practical tool in that format. (I gave up using a Palm a few years ago simply because the limitations of what one could see at one time made reading context nearly impossible. If there’s one thing you hear in my classroom it’s context, context, and more context. If I can only see a small snippet at one time, it’s really difficult to grasp contextual relationships, whether in the Greek NT, English, or in a tool like BDAG.) But I digress. Again.
Several of you have commented on the improbability that you’d ever use any of the bibliography entries in BDAG. Don’t jettison that help too quickly. No, it won’t help on Sat night when you’ve delayed finishing (or starting!) your Sunday message too long, at least not until such time as we can all access full text journals for free on the net. But I’d encourage you to plan your preaching much longer in advance. You really ought to know 6 mths or a year in advance what you will be preaching. Since I’m sure you will all be expositors preaching carefully (and relevantly!) through one book after another, you can (and should) be working ahead, gathering material, translating, thinking about the series you are going to begin the next year, etc. That’s when you can benefit from BDAG’s bibliography. When you run into what seems to be a tough passage with some key terms, you can make an effort to get some of those articles (and many of them are in English) so they are at hand when you need them. Even if you don’t have a good theological library at hand, most local libraries gladly fill inter-library loan requests so long as you have all the info they need. And BDAG will provide it for you. It’s not “just for scholars.”
Perhaps some of the ideas you’ve just read are novel ones. That wouldn’t be surprising since many of you may have never had exposure to this sort of pastoral ministry. Some have the perception that the pastorate is about programs and personal work. It includes that, but your primary responsibility as a pastor (which, remember, is the word “shepherd”) is to feed the sheep. Someone once said, shepherds don’t have lambs, healthy sheep do. You’ll get to be a midwife on occasion, but serving the sheep is your first priority, caring for them, leading them to green pastures in the Word, guarding and warning them–all of which must be done by and based on the Word. And God saw fit to have his new covenant revelation written in Greek. Doesn’t leave you many options does it? Learn to make Greek a profitable and regularly-used tool, or become a second-hand, second-rate hired man panning off someone else’s work–and hoping they got it right.
Do you remember what you read from Martin Luther regarding the importance of the biblical languages earlier this semester? It’s worth reflecting on again in this context.
(And yes, the same principles apply to the OT and to Hebrew as well–but this is a Greek class! 🙂 )
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For those reading just this page, you might be interested in my regular web page devoted entirely to BDAG.