I've got a start on my sermon for tomorrow.
Three years of seminary for me started one hot Tuesday in Decatur, Georgia, July 6, 1999. Sixty-two of us piled into the only classroom being used that month on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary with our blue Nestle-Aland Greek New Testaments in one hand and in our other, the hardcover, black J. Gresham Machen, publication date, 1963, although it really hadn’t changed much at all since it was first published in 1923. Why should it? Ancient Greek hadn’t changed any in that amount of time.
Greek School met five days a week for about six hours a day, and that was our first taste of seminary. It was the introduction, the prologue so to speak. For the first four and a half days, we memorized the alphabet of squiggly letters, from alpha to omega, the beginning to the end. We practiced making the sounds, some familiar, some foreign. We spent a whole day and half just on the accent system of Greek before we moved on to conjugate a few verbs and decline a few nouns.
It was exciting to be in the classroom learning the original language of the New Testament, to begin this new step in life, following through on a calling from God, but at the same time… Well… It was also sort of anticlimactic. “I see, you see, he sees, we see, you (pl.) see, they see” “I know, you know, he knows, we know, you (pl.) know, they know” It wasn’t exactly hearing the New Testament like the first Christians did. In fact, we weren’t hearing the New Testament at all.
Until Friday afternoon. Prof. Wayne Merritt, a white-haired, leather-skinned, salty older man, had been teaching Greek to new seminarians for decades, but we were one of his last summer classes. It was clear throughout the eight weeks that he would much rather be out on a boat with a cold beer in the hot summer sun than in the second floor classroom of Campbell Hall with a new batch of pre-ministers. When we came back from lunch we found Greek scrawled across the blackboard, but this time it wasn’t just six forms of the verb “to loose”; it looked like a real sentence. The eager among started pestering Prof. Merritt, “What is it? Where is it from?” we all asked. “You tell me,” Prof. Merritt answered.
We wanted to turn in our Greek New Testaments to find these mysterious words and use our memories or our English translations to figure out what he said, but all we were allowed to use was our lexicon. “En Arche” – in the beginning, “ho logos” the Word. In the beginning was the Word. We were doing it. “Kai ho logos” and the Word. “pros ton Theon” with God. And the Word was with God. We could finish the sentence from memory at that point, but figuring out the Greek, what form the words were in, why they were translated the way they were, what they meant because of their tense, became much more important to us than it ever had before. In the beginning was the Word, and how the Word, the logos is read, what the logos says, reveals more than a memory, or written or typed words on a page ever can.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
These eighteen verses of the gospel of John are called the prologue, but I’ve been thinking of them more as a prequel.