Reading New Testament Greek Together

Lesson: Introduction

This Week I would like to take you through some introductory remarks and set the platform for how we are going to do Greek together. There is a common belief that Greek is a very difficult language to learn and many students of theology try their best to avoid it. In other seminaries, it is compulsory to do some introductory course on Greek and those who are passionate about it will then take it further in other courses. I experienced that as a student, first at Bishop Gaul Theological College in Harare, it was compulsory and everyone have to do it. Then at the University of Zimbabwe, it was an elective course and I still remember that out of more than 120 students enrolled in the program, only 10 of them enrolled in Greek and less than that number for Hebrew. The scenario at Nashotah was similar to that as well. In the first year, Greek was compulsory and the full class of about 15 students enrolled for it but in the second and third years it was an elective and I remember we were only three in that class.

The first task of this introduction is to demystify that Greek is a hard nut to crack. It is however partially true that it is difficult as J.W Wenham puts it, “the learning of a language is an enormous task.” (Wenham 1965:VI). This is true of any language; I am currently experiencing that in Spain as I am trying to learn Spanish. David Wenham in Jeremy Duff concurs that “learning Greek may be a slog, especially for some, but, just as with learning a musical instrument, the rewards for hard work can be very great.” (Duff 2005:X). Therefore, learning anything new is not easy at all but it requires determination and commitment.

Here are the tips for learning Greek;

  1. Hardworking and consistent.
  2. Practice it daily
  3. Learn small chunks at a time.
  4. Empty yourself and behave like a small child learning language for the first time.
  5. Do not overdo it. Otherwise, you will be exhausted and get frustrated.
  6.  Attend group discussions with your peers and sometimes they simplify grasping techniques more than that done by the teacher.
  7. Subscribe to online daily Greek tips like the Daily Dose of Greek especially after going through a couple of lessons.
  8. Try to internalize at least three new words per day and it means at the end of a year you would have internalized about 1095 words.
  9. Do not be shy to share your challenges with your teacher and colleagues.
  10. Be positive about the subject

Why bother you by studying an ancient language? True, it is an ancient language that dates back to the 13th Century BC but it is still written and spoken today as the official language of other states. It was in the 5th and 4th century BC that classical Greek developed during the production of Greek drama, oratory, history, and philosophy when Athens rose as the capital city of Greece. J.W Wenham describes this period as the “golden age of Greek literature and language.” (Wenham 1965: 9). The coming of Alexander the Great into power and his introduction of Hellenization shaped the influence of the Greek language. Greek became an international language that was spoken throughout his empire and the language became known as, ´Common Greek´. The Greek word for ´common´ is koine (κοινε). This is the Greek that influenced New Testament writings. However, in the period of the renaissance, they were an attempt to distinguish between classical Greek and Koine Greek by scholars who were trying to study ancient literature.

In this study, I prefer the term, ´New Testament Greek´ to Koine Greek. The justification is that “Koine Greek´ is broader because it covers not just the New Testament but also the wider range of Bible-related Greek, especially the Septuagint and to some extent the pseudepigrapha and apostolic fathers.” (Decker 2014. XIX). This study will be limited to New Testament Greek.     

Is it necessary to study New Testament Greek when they are enormous volumes of New Testament translations? They are big benefits in studying New Testament Greek;

  1. According to David Wenham in Duff, “it is a door into Christian scriptures.” (Duff 2005:X). He further argues that “translations are often very good, but not always, and going back to the original is very worthwhile, as well as exciting for those who get some facility in the language.” (Duff 2005:X).    
  2. Understanding Greek is a tool for proper exegesis. Dobson argues that “if you wish to study the New Testament, it helps greatly if you are able to read it in the original language.” (Dobson 1993)
  3. Furthering the point of studying the New Testament in the original language, David Wenham in Duff argues that, “reading the New Testament in Greek rather than in English is like watching a sports game on television rather than hearing it on the radio.” (Duff 2005:X). Sometimes the radio commentary is fast than the action.
  4. You will be able to read much of the New Testament material without referring to the lexicon. That saves a lot of time.

These are some of the benefits of studying some basics of New Testament Greek, especially for theologians, biblical scholars, and preachers. I will conclude with the words of Geoffrey Horrocks, “no one writer can be an expert on everything.” (Horrocks 2010: XII). I also admit that though I have been a teacher of New Testament Greek over a long period of time, I also have my weak areas in the subject that I struggle with and in most cases when I reach the area, I study and work hard to produce a lesson. Do not be shy to correct me when I make blunders in some of the weaker areas. Let’s meet next week for the alphabet lesson.

List of Reference

Decker, Rodney. J. (2014). Reading Koine Greek. An Introduction Workbook. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Dobson, John. H. (1993). Learn New Testament Greek. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company.

Duff, Jeremy. (2005). The Elements of New Testament Greek. Cambridge: University Press.

Horrocks, Geoffrey. (2010). Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.  

Wenham. J.W (1965). The Elements of New Testament Greek. Cambridge: University Press.

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