I couldn’t have written this article five years ago. I am not sure I could have written it two years ago, but today, anyone can learn to read the Greek New Testament.
Greek is hard, and learning it won’t be easy. But, it is possible today where it was nearly impossible up until recently (unless you lived near a Bible college or Seminary).
My commitment to learning Greek involves about 2 hours a day plus 2 or 3 hours a week.. If you do any less, progress will be so slow you won’t make enough progress quickly enough to keep you motivated. Here is how I spend that time:
- Vocabulary: one hour a day. Much of this time is in “filler time” between things.
- Read the Greek New Testament every morning in your quiet time. I will explain how below. You can start tomorrow. One hour a day.
- Learn the grammar with Bill Mounce. Read the book. Subscribe to his online videos at www.teknia.com The first few sessions are free. If nothing else, use this free resource to learn all those funny letters in the Greek alphabet.
How I am learning Greek and how you can too
Learn the vocabulary
Here is a brilliant insight: language is a lot easier if you know what the words mean. Corollary: language is almost impossible if you don’t know what the words mean. I wrote an article a few months back reviewing some of the IPhone apps that can help you learn vocabulary. The apps start at a dollar.
I’d like to mention a couple of apps I have discovered sense I wrote that article.
The first app is actually not a Greek app. It is a learning app. You can download virtually any language vocabulary into it. It is called Anki. Because it is used by all kinds of languages it is a very well developed, mature app. $24.99. The Greek includes all 5446 words in the Greek New Testament. One of the limitations in all the other apps I found is they only include the top 1000 words. I am close to having those down.
I wouldn’t do Anki first. I would start with the Greek Bible. (Note: not Greek and Hebrew Bible) I like the way the vocabulary is set up on it. For one thing, it is multiple choice. Anki is fill in the blank. Nice thing about multiple choice–you always get it right by the 4th try. This app will review about a dozen or so words, starting with the most commonly used words. The list is short enough to be manageable. Once you get a word right 5 times more than you got it wrong, it passes that word and gives you another one. The one thing I didn’t like about this app is it crashes when you get to about 350 words. This happened to me three times so I think it is a bug in the program. But still, to learn the 300 most commonly used words, this is a great app.
The second app is called the Greek Reader. To get a feel for what it does, check out this cool site: http://biblewebapp.com/reader/
It allows you to select a passage of the Bible and what words you would like to see. If you memorize all the words used in the New Testament that are used more than 50 times, then you can see only those words in the book of John that are used 50 times or less. Way cool.
Great thing about these tools–you can use them in down time. I end up with a lot of 10 minute time slots during the day where I am waiting on something or someone. I won’t mention any names. This is a great time to learn a little Greek. I spend about an hour a day on vocabulary.
Read Greek in the your quiet time tomorrow–for real!
Check out this book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/English-Greek-Reverse-Interlinear-New-Testament/dp/158134628X
It is the ESV Bible with the Greek word under each English Word. It looks more or less like this:
I say more or less, because segment above comes from Logos which can do the same thing from the ESV, KJV, NASB, and NLT (NIV on the way). You can also add in some other lines. For example if you look up the word for took ἔλαβεν in a Greek dictionary, for the same reason that you might not find the word took in an English dictionary. I looked it up on www.websters.com and it has the meaning “past tense of take.” “Take” is the root word. Logos can show you all those root words as well. That looks like this:
If you would like to know the tense of this word, you can see that as well:
VAAi3S stands for: verb, aorist, active, indicative, third person, singular. Everything you wanted to know about “took” but were afraid to ask.
You might not be completely up to speed on what an aorist tense verb is. This is where the third resource comes in. But, before I show you that, let me point out a couple more things. Notice the little numbers in the text above–not the verse numbers, the other ones? This is giving you the Greek word order. Piecing together those numbers, you can see that in the Greek the first five words actually appear as follows: Τότε οὖν ἔλαβεν ὁ Πιλᾶτος
If you want to see the actual Greek word order you can do that as well–with or without English translations, root words and parsing. One example looks like this:
Pretty cool, huh? But wait! There’s more! Here is how my screen typically looks as I read the New Testament each morning:
As you hover over each Greek word, the parsing information (tense, etc) appears below. The information panel in the lower right hand corner gives a full definition from any of several dictionaries. The graph on the left shows how many times the word is used and how it is translated by the ESV. Everything you want to know is just a few click away.
By reading the Bible this way every day you learn language the way you learned English–by usage. You will gradually get familiar with the words and language of the Greek New Testament.
But, like English, if you really want to learn it, you have to take a class. This is available online as well.
Do a search for “learn Greek.” About the third listing down is Bill Mounce site. Bill Mounce a the leading Greek expert alive today. Here is what he says about himself:
I live as a writer in Washougal, Washington. I am the President of BiblicalTraining.org, a non-profit organization offering world-class educational resources for discipleship in the local church. I also coauthor Bill and Bob’s Blog, a blog focused on issues of translation geared for second year Greek students.
Formerly I was a preaching pastor at a church in Spokane, WA, and prior to that a professor of New Testament and director of the Greek Program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I also taught at Azusa Pacific University for ten years. I am the author of the bestselling Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other resources. I was the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, and am serving on the NIV translation committee. Robin and I have been married since 1983 and have three children.
Dr. Mounce (I find it interesting that he doesn’t have Dr. on his books) has his first year Greek class on video on his website. It costs less than it would to take a similar course at a college or seminary. Dr. Mounce’s style is relaxed and comfortable. He makes a very intimidating subject approachable. If you are serious about learning Greek, signing up for his online course is a must. Oh, did I mention he is a genius?
Warning: I am about half way through this course and this is one thing I have learned: I am going to have to go through this more than once. I spend two or three hours a week on this and reading the text book.
You can learn New Testament Greek if you will do these things:
- Work on your vocabulary using one of several apps.
- Read from the Greek New Testament, starting from a Reverse Interlinear, and working toward the day when you can read from an unmarked Greek New Testament.
- Learn the grammar from http://www.teknia.com/ Plan to go through it three times.