7 Tips for Starting to Learn Biblical Greek
This article is part of the 7 Tips series.
If you make it past the first paragraph of this article, the chances are that you are either in the process of learning Greek yourself or are helping others to do so by encouraging or even teaching them. Either way, I will give you my top tips for learning biblical Greek. I give this advice not in order to make things easier, but to make the process more realistic, and more pleasant. Make sure you do not miss the last one!
1. Find other people so that you can learn in community.
Learning together with others is much better than going at it alone. We are not made to be alone, and learning languages on your own (which enable us to communicate with others!) is not going to work very well either. I know only a few people who successfully managed to learn Greek (or Hebrew) in isolation; I have seen many more who tried and did not manage to keep it going. What is more, being in the same room beats virtual, online presence, though the latter is still an improvement over complete solitude.
2. Be ambitious; be realistic.
No, these are not two tips merged into one—they modify one another. Be ambitious in that you want to read the very words in which the apostles taught the church about Jesus. Be realistic and do not expect to get all the fine details and nuance in your first month. Learning biblical Greek is not an ‘on/off’ or ‘yes/no’ activity. It is a process of approximation. With every new bit of knowledge that you make your own, you will see fresh things in the Greek—even if you knew these already from your English reading.
3. Do not worry too much about ‘method.’
There are many different textbooks around, and different teachers use different approaches. The important issue is that your teacher is comfortable with the method used. I know that there are whole tribal wars being fought about the rights and wrongs of this and that approach, but in the end the effectiveness of someone’s learning is dependent more on the teacher than on the textbook. Having said all this, some methods are considerably ‘dryer’ than others. Some require more rote learning than others, and I know of one ‘natural language learning’ approach in which the students reach a good level of first-year Greek simply by doing activities and answering questions (in Greek) while going through the text (and all this without any homework).
Learning Greek is much more a way to sit closely at the feet of the true Teacher, than that it is a tool to become a better preacher.
4. Expect to be stretched.
Learning Greek can be discouraging at times. We may realize that our recall is not what it used to be and that we keep on forgetting words or grammatical rules despite trying again and again. We may look at the mountain to climb and cannot imagine we ever reach the top. We realize that it is not always possible to keep the same enthusiasm going. Don’t worry, learning biblical Greek is a bit like sports: no pain, no gain. Yet the pain is only mild, while the gain is disproportionately large.
An Introduction to the Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge
This short book offers Greek students answers to crucial questions about The Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge and the Greek New Testament in general.
5. Realize that Greek, like any language, is more flexible than its rules.
Greek does not ‘obey’ grammatical rules, it simply tends to follow them most of the time. Especially in the early phases of Greek learning it is good to learn the rules, but also expect to be puzzled by ‘exceptions.’ Language is not the same as mathematics.
6. Get stuck in the text as soon as possible.
Of course it is good doing exercises and to learn your paradigms, but it is even better to be guided through a real verse of Scripture, even though you may not have covered every grammatical feature yet. What greater reward is there than to read John 1:1 in the very words in which they were given originally? It is difficult to get any closer to the authentic voice of the beloved disciple.
7. Learning Greek is not primarily a tool for ministry.
I wish someone had told me this years ago: Learning Greek is much more a way to sit closely at the feet of the true Teacher, than that it is a tool to become a better preacher. If the main reason you want to learn Greek is to have an additional tool for exegeting the text and preparing astonishing messages, you will face difficulties maintaining your motivation. Eventually your knowledge of Greek will affect all these things, but only after a number of years and quite likely without you realizing it. However, once you have discovered that struggling through a few verses of the New Testament in Greek is an act of practical submission and also a great spiritual discipline, you will find a joy and personal fulfilment in the process that is hard to beat. You are not learning Greek primarily to serve others; you are learning Greek to be closer to the voice of the Master.
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