Learning Biblical Greek

As a part of my job as Dr. Black’s Research Assistant, I am occasionally asked to respond to emails inquiring about Greek resources and advice on how to further one’s development in the language. Here is a portion of the email I received this morning, and my response:

There are many Greek 1 lectures available, both audio and video, but I have not found any that lecture through Greek Syntax. Do you know of any? In fact, do you have any available I can hunt down?

Any thoughts on the future of Greek instruction? The overwhelming sound I hear from most who take greek is that they don’t use it anymore and at best they have the basic tools to use software. This must not be! What a waste of time and energy! Even at my seminary (which boasts a very strong emphasis in the languages) I talk to 4th years, and they barely use their greek and forgot all their vocab that they learned down to 10 occurrences. If we really believe that greek is imperative to be able to see the Scriptures clearer then I think there needs to be some shift.

Sadly, I am unaware of anyone who goes through Greek Syntax, and makes the course available online. There might be one in six months if my class sticks with me long enough (though that is doubtful, and unhelpful to you in the here and now).

What I found helpful in my own studies, especially if you are struggling, is to pair It’s Still Greek to Me or Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics with a resource like Decker’s Greek Reader or Bateman’s Workbook through 1-3 John. This gives you a two-pronged approach to syntax: deductive (Wallace) with Inductive (looking at how the categories talked about by Black and Wallace are encountered within certain books of the Bible). The only warning in doing Bateman or Decker is that they are time intensive and require a bit of internal motivation (both factors being somewhat mitigated by the fact that you seem adamant to learn).

Regarding future instruction, Greek retention, and using Greek in ministry, I offer the following. It isn’t easy. There is no shortcut with languages. Retention requires regular translation. Without regularly translating, Greek will be a distant memory when it comes time to prepare our sermon or lesson. We will think it is too difficult, not worth the effort. After all, the commentaries will do it for me.

If you make it a point to read Greek like you would design an exercise plan (read 4 days a week), then you will begin to grow past retention. The amount of time you spend laboring over translation will be reduced due to familiarity with syntax, style, and vocabulary. The amount of time spent in commentaries will be reduced because you start to see what they see (that isn’t to say we stop using them as we hope they push us to see the text in a new light).

To help with the task of reading more, and if you don’t have Bible software, then consider getting a Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, or an Analytical Lexicon. These tools, though we should hope to eventually move beyond them, will help eliminate the frustration of working through larger portions of the text without a comprehensive vocabulary.

Also, I am sure that you have heard the cliche that you don’t really know a subject until you teach it. That was certainly true for me. I started tutoring students in Greek before I really knew it. This might sound dishonest or counter-intuitive. What I mean to say is, instructing another student opened up a new world. It reinforced, reminded, and deepened aspects about the language that I had previous learned, forgotten, or never learned to begin with. My advice . . . after finishing Greek Grammar 1 and 2, find someone that needs help. Work through the chapter they are working through. Simply put, tutor and teach the language.

Though I didn’t include this in the email, I will include it now. I often here the objection that learning and using Greek when preparing lessons and sermons isn’t pragmatic. There are many other pastoral concerns that arise throughout the week that make it unrealistic. I hear you. Greek takes a lot of work. What I just laid out is not an easy task. It is a daunting task. When I started teaching Greek again at Cary Alliance Church this past year, one of the things I told my students the first week of class was this: If nothing else, learning Greek will teach you discipline. And it will.

Yet, here is the flip side. I remember having a conversation with a friend a couple weeks ago where it occurred to me that I spend less time preparing for a message or sermon because of the amount of time I previously invested in Greek. Finding the limits of a passage, translating, diagraming, and developing an outline took under an hour. Of course I checked the commentaries after, but I found little there that wasn’t readily apparent in the text. Now this won’t be true of every passage. What is true is this: the investment you make in Greek now will pay great dividends in the future. Let us not be short-sighted. Our labors will not be in vain. We must be faithful now, and we will reap the rewards of that faithfulness in our future service to God.

I concluded the email with this:

P.S. These are not necessarily the “right” answers. What I have offered are things that have helped me in my own learning and development in the language.

This entry was posted in Greek, Greek Resources, NT Greek and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Learning Biblical Greek

  1. jacobcerone says:

    Sound off in the comments section if you know of any available free online Greek Syntax courses, as well as resources or approaches that have proven indispensable to you in learning Biblical Greek (or Hebrew)

  2. Iris Godfrey says:

    Thank you for this helpful post.

  3. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival XCIV: December 2013 | Cataclysmic

  4. Joseph says:

    If I may I want to share my own experience with Koiné Greek.

    At first I spent a month learning Greek grammar which was not not a good experience at all. So I went on a brief hiatus. I did not give up, I was just looking for a new approach. So what I came up with was amazing.

    What I did was get myself a New Testament frequency word list and briefly memorized it all, which I am fairly good at. Plus I made an attempt at reading those words in the passage itself. So I read all Paul’s greetings and what I found was very interesting. It was almost like reading English (my second language), and the grammar was automatically caught by my brain, such as the Dative (Favour TO YOU, etc) and the Genetive (Father OF OUR Lord…), and much more. As I read further the text became more difficult. So I just started to read each intro to each letter until it was effortless.

    Next I made a list of verses to memorize. Also since the book of Revelations was the most “graphic” book I began to read it from beginning till ending and although it was a strain, I readily understood what I read. First I thought to myself “Am I really learning this language or is it just that I already know the book very well?” but that was not the point because even as I read my vocabulary increased, and I caught on the grammar as well. Especially in the places of repetition such in the case of the seven trumpets (and the first messenger trumpeted… the second… etc)

    When I returned to my notes on grammar it was much much much more simpler than before. I still consider myself a beginner. Lately I could read deeper into Paul’s letters since my vocabularly has increased dramatically.

    I would advise anyone to get interlinear bible software and maybe a pdf version of the Greek NT. Just submerge yourself into the language, but first into the shallow side. To me this was the greetings of Paul since those are also the most frequent words in the NT. I would also suggest that you not be too critical at first, especially with what verb tense you are coming across, since the context helps alot. The beauty of the whole thing is, when you read the context as a whole and you come across unfamiliar words then you will still understand what you read and your mind can even tell you what that word is. As an example, where Paul says:

    “Luke the beloved **** and Demas **** you” – This should be very simple. Context: Salutations. Luke and Demas salutes you. What Luke is is not immediately important to you learning Greek.

    “your **** is not good…” – something not good. The unfamiliar word is ‘boasting’

    or Revelations

    “all the **** of the earth…” – it can either be people, nations, tribes, etc. You may already know the Greek for people, and nations, and that would leave tribes.

    Just keep reading and it will come to you. Or after you have read the passage you can go to your interlinear program and find the translation of the word, and then read the passage again. Always keep in mind the context. Afterwards read your study material.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s