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.