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.