We read and study the Bible in the original languages. That is a non-negotiable. Hebrew and Greek are as fundamental to the work of the scholar and preacher as a hammer in a toolkit. We use the original languages in our day-to-day workflow, including our digital resources. A new tool in Logos helps you do just that.[Read more…]
By Brent Niedergall | Youth Pastor, Catawba Springs Christian Church
Sermon preparation is best performed behind a towering stack of commentaries and lexicons (physical or virtual) where one can grapple with diverging views on theology, interpretation, and the meaning of words. Understanding how a word is used in a passage is a fundamental of exegesis. And the highest authority you can appeal to in New Testament study is BDAG. When the commentators are in disunity, you can always flip through BDAG and hope it cites the passage you’re studying. There you’ll find column after column of carefully arranged entries filled with definitions, glosses, explanations, and citations as supporting evidence. The data all looks rather impressive, but as the Bible student eventually comes to realize, selecting the correct sense is a balance of art and science. There are options. But what if there was a lexicon that required less art and more science?[Read more…]
Learning the biblical languages can be very discouraging and frustrating. Studies and experience have shown that this is the most difficult aspect of theological training for students over the centuries. Many theologians have come to believe that a proper understanding and mastery of the biblical languages is what makes one “thick” theologically.
Just like learning any new language, learning the biblical languages can be on the one hand frustrating and discouraging, but on the other hand exciting and rewarding. There are no fast and hard rules on learning Greek and Hebrew. This is because individual motivation for learning differ significantly. Below are some general tips I have found helpful in learning the languages:
Commit your study in Prayer: I have found that constantly committing my studies in prayer very helpful. There are times I feel very discouraged that I don’t want to go any further. At such times, believe you me when I pray I usually receive comfort and courage to keep on.
Develop a Positive Attitude Toward Learning: One of the reasons why students easily become discouraged about learning Greek and Hebrew is because they have developed a negative attitude toward the languages. Some of it may be as a result of what they have been told by their friends and senior colleagues prior to taking the course, while the other part may be because of their personal experience with the course. But I believe that for one to be successful in learning the languages, one has to first and foremost believe that it is doable. Such a positive attitude will keep you going during difficult times.
Master Your Vocabulary: One of the keys to mastering Greek and Hebrew is to be determined to master your vocabulary. In my own opinion, a mastery of the vocabulary is the number one advantage to learning the languages.
Rehearse Constantly: You cannot be successful in learning either Greek or Hebrew if you do not develop a habit of constant practice. As it has been observed by many, it is much easier to forget the language than it is learning it. So to be on top of “your game”, you have to rehearse constantly.
Apply Wisdom in Using your Time: One of the common mistakes students make in learning the biblical languages is the temptation to spend many hours at a stretch doing the same thing. From my experience, however, the learning becomes simpler and more exciting when one spends few hours over and over again than long stretches of hours.
By Seth Kajang Bature. Seth is a student at Westminster Theological Seminary, PA.
By Rebecca Dobyns
In seminary, Greek is always the subject everyone winces about. I have heard more “I’m sorry”s or “Have fun with that”s about taking Greek than about any other subject, except perhaps Hebrew. Granted, much of it is in jest, and many students are genuinely excited to learn the language of the New Testament, but many other students dread Greek as the great time waster and destroyer of their GPAs. However, Greek is my favorite subject I have taken so far.
I will admit I have been blessed in a number of ways. First of all, and most importantly, I have an incredible professor who treats everyone equally and genuinely believes every single student is capable of mastering Greek. He shows no favoritism and teaches methodically and evenly, so that we know what is expected of us and exactly what we need to do in order to succeed. Another way I have been blessed is that I have a natural love of languages. I have two years of study in Mandarin Chinese under my belt, and those two years of immersion definitely taught me some excellent study habits! It is true that once you have learned another foreign language, it is much easier to learn another. Finally, I have a true passion for Greek itself and a great desire to use the language to delve even more deeply into the riches of the New Testament.
However, regardless of your experience with learning foreign languages, your professor’s teaching style, or even your passion for the language, I am also convinced that anyone can do well in Greek if he or she applies the appropriate learning methods. Here are some tips I have found quite useful in my Greek study:
1. Put in the time. There is no substitute for simply taking time with your exercises, making sure that you understand each sentence you are parsing. Skim through the chapter again before doing the homework, making sure to take note of all the parts your professor told you to highlight in class and applying them to your assignment. Take time to look up that one verb, the one that you can’t decide if it’s second aorist or imperfect. See if you can figure out why it’s one versus the other. Continually ask questions and look for the answers. Look for the patterns. Was an augment added? Did an epsilon change to an eta? Don’t just look for the answer, file these patterns away. It will be so much easier down the road, and you will naturally feel more passionate about something that you take the time to do well.
2. Use flash cards and write down problem vocabulary. We use Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar for our textbook and workbook, and so I downloaded the associated Teknia flashcards. I can adjust which words I am quizzed on according to which vocabulary quiz we are about to take (for instance, right now it is set to quiz me only on words that appear 65 or more times in the New Testament). If you are using a different Greek textbook, perhaps there is another associated software program you can use. If not, there are plenty of programs you can download and use to create your own flashcards. After one or two flashcard run-throughs, I write down words that I missed in a notebook, and I come up with fun mnemonics and sentences to help me remember them. For example, whenever I see ercomai (I come), I think, “Ere come I,” which helps me remember the meaning. Some may be less obvious, but you can get creative! The only one who needs to be able to use these memory aids is you, so choose something that will help you remember, even if it seems silly. For instance,piptw means “I fall,” so I remember that I am more likely to “piptw“ whenever I tiptoe! Then as I go through my notebook and quiz myself, I put a star by any words that I continually miss.
3. Record your voice. I have to credit this idea to a combination of my Greek professor and my Chinese study. My professor puts recordings of himself saying or chanting paradigms on Blackboard. It really does help with memory if you can get in your head how the words actually sound! Back when I was studying Chinese and having difficulty with the tones and pronunciation, I would constantly record myself saying the vocabulary words. First of all, hearing myself would help implant the words and their meanings in my memory much more than simply reading a dry textbook. Secondly, I could hear what my Chinese professor was talking about when she said I pronounced a word wrong! Sometimes as you are saying something, it is difficult to hear what you are doing wrong, but if you record yourself and listen to your voice later, you can hear the differences between a native speaker and you much more clearly.
I have a long commute to school, so I can really get in some good study time if I remember to record Greek beforehand. Take some time to record yourself saying your problem vocabulary words and their associated memory aids. I’ve even recorded some of my mnemonics in a British accent before because it helped the words stand out more! You can also record entire paradigms this way. I have recordings of me saying “o` logoj tou logou tw| logw|…” over and over. The repetition really does work! Even if your commute is only 15 or 20 minutes, you can get in a lot of paradigm repetitions in that time frame. Before long, you will be able to recite the entire paradigm from the top of your head.
I hope you have found these study tips helpful! I truly believe that if you put in the effort and use strategies like those listed above, you will be able to learn the language and do well in class. If you have additional study tips, please leave them in the comments. No one’s mind works exactly the same, and you may have some different strategies that will help others out even more than the ones I have listed. Part of the battle is just believing that you have the ability to learn Koine Greek. God knew what He was doing when the New Testament was written in Greek, and He knows what He’s doing right now in giving you the opportunity to study it. I wish you all the best in learning the beautiful language of the New Testament.
By Rebecca Dobyns. Becky graduated from the University of Texas and still loves the city of Austin in all its weird glory. Nevertheless, she currently finds herself keeping it relatively normal by studying at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, preparing for further cross-cultural ministry. She blogs about spiritual and physical wholeness at Wholly Redefined and Tweets about the adventures of abundant life with Jesus.
Greek class often gets a bad rap in seminary. Bible students would probably interpret Paul’s words about trials and tribulations to be a reference to Greek class. “For what can separate us from the love of God…certainly Greek class!” Students of apologetics or theology may ask, “How can a good God allow such evil in this world…like Greek class!” However, I am here to give another viewpoint. I loved Greek class. I took advanced Greek grammar my second semester of seminary, and it has remained one of my favorite classes while at seminary.
I’m here to offer a few tips on learning Greek or keeping up with the Greek you have already learned. Also, I think these few tips will allow you to enjoy studying and reading Greek.
One of the problems with Greek class at seminary is that you don’t spend much time simply reading the Greek text. Before coming to seminary, I studied engineering in college. During that time, I also began learning Greek (and I mean more than just the Greek letters we used in calculus class).
My dad is a professor of New Testment and he taught me Greek in a class he offered at our church. Yes, I had to spend time learning vocabulary and verb paradigms, but he focused primarily on teaching us to read the Greek text. Eventually we would meet up once a week at the local coffee shop to read a chapter or two of the New Testment. I wish I could still do this, but we live in different cities now. These times together really gave me knowledge of how Greek works and a love for reading Greek. I will explain a little bit about how we worked through the text, and how you can do the same (on your own or with a friend).
First, use a Greek NT Reader’s Edition. These books are relatively affordable and super helpful. They typically provide the definition of words that occur 30 times or less in the NT (most of the other vocabulary you would have learned in seminary class). These definitions occur on the bottom of the page and make for seamless reading. In addition to providing definitions, these reader’s editions also provide the parsing of difficult words. The reader’s edition is especially helpful because you don’t have to have multiple books open in front of you.
Second, begin reading books with “easier” Greek (like John) and later begin working in more difficult books. Daniel Wallace provides a helpful Greek reading plan that basically works from the easier books to the more difficult books (http://danielbwallace.com/2013/12/29/reading-through-the-greek-new-testament/). This would be a good plan to follow, although you may want to stay in the writings of John until you become more comfortable with reading.
Third, keep up your reading everyday. “If you don’t use it, you lose it” rings true for learning Greek. I would recommend reading a chapter of the NT per day. This may be difficult at first but will become easier over time. Having a friend to read with once a week would also be helpful. My dad and I would simply take turns translating a couple of verses each (while sipping on lattes, of course).
Those three steps will allow you to improve your Greek in no time. Also, reading through the Greek will open your eyes to many things in the text you never noticed in English. These discoveries will fuel your desire to stay in the Greek.
I also have a few, final suggestions that have helped me a lot. An alternative to using the Reader’s Edition is to only use a Greek NT (NA28 or UBS5) and Burer and Miller’s A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. This extremely helpful resource goes through each chapter of the NT and provides the definitions for words occurring less than 50 times in the NT. This resource allows you to learn all the vocabulary before you attempt to read the chapter. It’s less of a crutch than the Reader’s Edition.
Also, if you’re interested in reading the Greek of the Apostolic Fathers, Daniel Wallace recently released A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers.
Another resource I usually have when reading Greek is my iPad, running a Bible software like Logos. I only consult it when having a lot of difficulty with a particular verse. It allows you to define and parse every word, in addition to having an English translation immediately available. I’d be lost without it. However, don’t rely too much on Bible software when reading or you won’t learn to read Greek without it.
I hope these few tips will assist you as you begin your journey into reading the Greek NT. While you may not enjoy Greek class, I am sure you will love reading through the NT in the original language in which it was written.
By Cameron Sapaugh. Cameron lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Kellie. After graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M, he headed off to Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently in his last semester of the ThM program and hopes to pursue doctoral studies in New Testament in the fall. He enjoys photography, basketball, reading, writing, and windsurfing.
In my mind, the primary reason we attend seminary is so that we can learn how to handle God’s Word appropriately. Of course there are many other benefits to seminary that go beyond that, but I believe that this is what makes seminary unique. There are lots of places to learn some of the more ‘practical’ things, but ultimately it gets down to God’s Word.
To do that most seminaries will force you to learn the original languages. There are many good reasons to do this. Luther wrote ‘let us zealously hold on to the languages’ in one great article. Erasmus described reading from the Latin Vulgate as ‘drinking from a muddy puddle’ while reading the New Testament in Greek was like drinking from a ‘pure fountain.’ Of course, most of us give mental assent to the truths of this, but the fact is that we have some very good English translations and if we use them properly we can get to the same place, right?
After all, Greek and Hebrew are a lot of work. It takes a lot of time to study paradigms. It is exhausting to translate even a familiar passage of Scripture as we go through our grammars and lexicons for reference. Despite the best efforts of Bill Mounce, there really is no fun way to learn vocabulary. All these things just take mental elbow grease.
What I’ve noticed is that most students get through the languages and then pretty much discard them. They gave lip-service to the value in learning them, but clearly they did not see the point. If they had they would have stuck with them.
My exhortation to you is to keep up with your languages. Like with physical fitness it is much easier to maintain than to get it back once you’ve lost it. There are very good reader’s editions of Greek and Hebrew that will get you past the drudgery of obscure vocabulary and keep you in the text. Commit to spending a little bit of time each day. Even 5-10 minutes will do if that is all you have.
I have a few personal motivations to do this. One is that I worked very hard in Greek and Hebrew classes and I don’t want to just throw all that time away. I have talked to countless men in ministry who remembered taking Greek and Hebrew, but cannot use any of it today. I don’t want to be one of those guys.
Another is that I see the value in it. I would not go so far as to say that it is vital to keep up with the languages, but it is definitely very valuable. As a practical matter, diagramming a passage from Paul often gives you the points of your sermon right from the text. Remembering how the languages work will sometimes help you make decisions about the meaning of difficult passages too. Some things just don’t translate perfectly into English.
But for me, perhaps one of the most compelling reasons is to recognize just how blessed I am. There are pastors around the world who don’t even have a Bible, let alone a seminary education. They would love to have just a complete Bible in their native language, let alone one of the many excellent study Bibles that are available to me today. We have a plethora of resources at our fingertips. Our seminary educations give us outstanding preparation for ministry. Throwing such a key part of that education away is akin to the millionaire who lights his cigars with $100 bills. Why waste something so valuable?