Miles Van Pelt, Associate Professor of Old Testament and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS speaks about the importance of the original languages for biblical study. Miles has helped produce several popular books and resources for original language study including Basics of Biblical Hebrew and Vocabulary Guide to Biblical Hebrew. Dr. Van Pelt encourages pastors and scholars to a renewed sense of the importance and efficacy of biblical study in Greek and Hebrew.
An excellent interview with Miles Van Pelt on the importance of the Original Lanuages and the importance of studying, learning, and maintaining them for ministry.
In the past I’ve talked about the reasons someone should study Greek. I’ve also talked about the correct motives for studying Greek. Actually, you'll find those two topics strung throughout this website. Here I’d like to share some simple thoughts about reasonable goals in Greek study. If we don’t set goals for ourselves, we are likely not to make much progress. That is especially true of myself. The following is an extract from Dave Black’s wonderful book “Using New Testament Greek in Ministry”.
A Few Thoughts:
R-1 is basically what a lot of pastors and Bible study leaders do. It is to learn enough to conduct word studies and use computer programs. As one friend once told me, it is learning enough Greek to "be dangerous". I would discourage anyone from pursuing this type of study. This kind of study boils down to using a concordance and/or a computer program. Most exegetical fallacies stem from people who really do not know or grasp the language, but rather pick up enough to "be dangerous" and make claims about Greek which are often incorrect. For more on this, please this post: Exegetical Fallacies
R-2 is the stage where most students are who have had at least one year of Greek, or completed an introductory Grammar book such as those from Bill Mounce or Dave Black. This is a good place to be, but by no means a place to rest and become content.
R-3 is, according to Dave Black, the place where many seminary and Bible college professors are. At this stage one may read the GNT daily in a devotional way, but still comes across the occasional word or phrase that must be looked up. This is attainable after 2-3 years of study, if the student is diligent and consistent.
R-4 should be the goal for all Greek students. It will take much dedication, consistency, and time to reach this place, but it is possible. I would say about 5+ years for the serious, devoted student. The thing which really seperates R-3 from R-4 is vocabulary. The only way to bridge the gap is daily reading.
So what are your goals? Where are you at right now? Right now I am trying to move on from R-2 to R-3. The only thing hindering me is myself, the lack of discipline and consistency.
In the past I posted two other reading plans for the Greek New Testament:
This plan below was put together by Dan Wallace, and I really like it. I appreciate the simplicity and focus of it, as it takes you through the books of the GNT in increasing order of difficulty. For most of us, reading a group a day, as is suggested, will be more than draining, though a chapter a day certainly is feasible.
by Dan Wallace
This list is organized along two lines: 1) easiest to most difficult, and 2) approximately 10 chapter segments which bear some semblance of unity (e.g., either literary [pastorals] or historical [James-Galatians]). If you do 1 group/day, you’ll read the whole NT in a month.
1 John; 2 John; 3 John; Philemon
1 Thessalonians; 2 Thessalonians
Philippians; Romans 1-8
1 Corinthians 1-10
1 Corinthians 11-16
1 Peter; 1 Timothy
2 Timothy; Titus
Jude; 2 Peter
2 Corinthians 1-7
2 Corinthians 8-13
It is, or should be, our goal to gain reading proficiency in the Greek New Testament which is parallel to our English Bibles, if not better. I strongly believe that this is possible. I believe that given the time, determination, work, and with the help of the Spirit, we can arrive at a place where we pick up the GNT and read it with the same effort that we do so in English. Why can’t this be?
In the past I wrote a post called Learning & Keeping Greek – Practical Helps, where I discussed some things that we can do and incorporate into our studies with the hopes of gaining a more comfortable feel for Koine Greek. Being so far removed from the times of this culture and language, nearly 2000 years now, we need all the help we can get. As I spoke of in the last post on Language Learning, we will never obtain a comprehension of the language unless we get deep exposure into the minds and culture of the people (more on this later).
Reading Comprehension versus Translating & Decoding
Many of us think that we are reading Greek. We suppose that if we can pick up our GNT and read through a few verses or passages while understanding for the most part (as we translate into English in our minds) that we are indeed reading. I would like to suggest that this is quite far from the truth. There is a huge difference between translation-reading and comprehension-reading. The former is what we do when we really don’t know a language but are fumbling to get by, the latter is when we have a control of it and it becomes second nature to us. This is what we want, second nature comprehension of NTG.
There is so much confusion about the world of language learning and linguistics. Many people "want" to learn a language, but few do. Language learning is often viewed as something torturous and dreadful. In this article I will seek to explain and clarify the matter and hopefully bring some closure by way of discussing some misconceptions of language learning, excuses against language learning, and giving some hope for language learning.
Introduction & Clarification
First - From the outset I would like to state that this writer is not linguistically gifted by nature. That is to say that I don’t possess special language learning abilities, in that languages do not come easy for me. I have to work just as hard as the next person. I mention this now so that the following statements and ones like them are not made upon reading this post – “Easy for you to say, you are a natural linguist” “You have special language acquisition abilities, so it just comes easier for you than most”. When speaking about language learning, those who do not know a language and have not put in the effort to even try and learn one will often say such things as quoted above. Such statements are rarely true and I would like to suggest that there is a bigger picture to consider.
Second - The fact that I am not a natural linguist is not to say that I am ignorant of the field of linguistics or languages. By the Lord’s help, prayer, and much hard work I have learned to read, write, and speak Spanish fluently as well as acquired a small level of a native Indian language spoken in South America. My experiences and studies with learning living languages has carried over and influenced the way in which I view Biblical Greek.
Third - I also realize that not everyone learns the same way. People are different and some learn differently. I am not trying to put everyone into a mold. I am also not the authority (if there is one) on the matter of language learning. I am still studying this field, not only from an objective way but also through personal experience. I will share some of my own experiences in the years that I have been exposed to foreign languages through living in another country and culture.
Fourth - The information in this post is not limited to learning Biblical Greek, but rather applies to “living” or spoken languages today as well. In most instances, you can swap the word Greek for other languages as the statements will often apply to languages in general. The issue of indigenous, developing, or unwritten languages is a slightly different issue, though not that much different. If you have questions about such languages you can write me and we can discuss it.
Fifth - This article is rather long, not by intention but by necessity. This is a deep and complex subject which merits discussion and detail, though certainly not everything is covered here.
I'm hoping to write a post soon on Language Learning. Though it will be targeted at Greek, there will be much overlap into "living" languages as well. So in light of this, I would like to share a post from my friend John Mureiko.
You can find it here: Greek Miscellany
_ Discouragement is one of the greatest factors which eventually causes some students to put down Greek, and never pick it up again. After being immersed in the grammar that year one and two present, it can be quite easy to be weary and downtrodden. You may even feel like that after the first year. In order to learn anything well we must be persistent in it. Hopefully the following will provide that spark of hope and drive that we all need in an ongoing way. Greek is a rich and rewarding language. Your work will pay off if you persevere in it. In the words of A.T. Robertson, 19-20th Century Greek Scholar, "There is no sphere of knowledge where one is repaid more quickly for all the toil expended." I hope that the following will renew your vigor for the precious language.
The Minister's Use of His Greek New Testament
This article speaks of the common neglect towards studying NTG among gospel ministers, the blessing of studying it, and the importance and benefits of being closely acquainted with the Greek New Testament. Though it is nearly 100 years old, this is still a must read article. You can find the entire book here for purchase - The Minister and His Greek New Testament – A.T. Robertson
The Story of John Brown
An inspiring and motivating story of John Brown (1722-1787) who taught himself New Testament Greek with nothing but a Greek NT. A must read for anyone interested in the Biblical languages.
The Importance of the Biblical Languages - Martin Luther
In this discourse Martin Luther speaks of the importance of knowing the Biblical Languages and being closely acquainted with them.
Rightly Handling the Biblical Languages (The Danger of Extremes)
Discusses the danger of extremes regarding the biblical languages, namely, the two prevalent trends which exist in local churches today. In addition to this, mention is made as to the proper use and place of these languages among Christians.
Quotes on the Biblical Languages
A list of quotes from numerous men, both of old and contemporary, speaking about the importance of, place of, and the blessing of knowing the Biblical languages. This is a great encouragement and motivation. Thanks to Miles Van Pelt for providing almost all of these quotes.
Previous Post: Learning Greek Part 4: Second Year
_ In the first and third posts of this series we discussed Getting Started With Greek – Year One, and what to do to prepare for year two while you are Between Year One & Two. Now we are ready to move onto the second year and offer some suggestions for materials.
The grammar must go on. If you stop after year one you will be greatly limited. So keep moving forward.
Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Daniel B. Wallace
This is hands down the best 2nd year Grammar book for Greek. It is thorough, exhaustive, and yet at the same time accessible. Though I am calling it a 2nd year Grammar (intermediate), it goes beyond that and should serve for years more in the advanced realm. This is the standard reference which Greek scholars turn to over and over when they need a definitive word.
New Testament Greek Syntax Chart – Daniel B. Wallace
This chart is to the above what Bill Mounce’s chart is to his Grammar book. It is not necessary, but helpful for the price.
Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament - Steven Runge
Wallace's grammar is thorough, exhaustive, excellent and quite suitable for self-teaching. I would recommend reading through the entire body of the book, as opposed to only using it merely as a reference tool. It uses the grammar-translation-method of teaching, as do most Greek grammars today. It would be greatly profitable to use Steven Runge's Discourse Grammar in addition to Wallace, as it uses linguistics and other methods of teaching which traditional grammars often choose not to use today. They greatly complement each other. Get them both if you can.
You have been learning vocabulary glosses thus far through the Vocabulary Cards from Bill Mounce as well as in using his book. Glosses provide the top one or two meanings of each word, but you need to move on to fuller meanings. Now is the time to get a Lexicon (Dictionary) and use it in your studies, in addition to the Cards and other Vocabulary you are learning.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament & Other Early Christian Literature – 2nd Edition 1979 used
This is the standard Greek Lexicon. If you have this you then you do not need another. It is the most up to date lexicon today, being based on the most recent discoveries, research, and scholarship, and so it surpasses Thayer and others.
Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament – 2nd Edition – F. Wilbur Gingrich
This is an abridgement of the lexicon above, and as such it is very handy and portable. It does provide definitions of all words in the NT, but leaves out the information from other early literature.
Notice that I have linked to the 2nd edition of the Lexicon as opposed to the newest 3rd edition of BDAG. The 2nd edition can be purchased used and in good condition for $15-25, where as the 3rd edition costs about $145-160. There are however several changes that took place between the 2nd & 3rd editions, namely with typography (which are good improvements) and "inclusive and tolerant language" (which are not so good). You can read about some of the changes here. For the unfortunate issue of language of "inclusiveness and tolerance" found in the 3rd edition, I highly recommend Vern Poythress' review here.
A helpful pattern for learning vocabulary is as follows: In 1st year with Mounce’s Grammar you should have learned the words with occurrences of 50x or more (325 words). In 2nd year now you should memorize the words occurring 20x to 49x (323 words). Eventually work your way down to those occurring 10x to 19x (352 words). This equals 1000 words and will enable you to comfortably read the GNT, with grammar of course. The materials above will help you to learn vocabulary well. Learning cognate word groups, reading the GNT daily, and using the UBS Greek Reader's NT will do the rest.
For 2nd year I recommend continuing with Mounce’s Vocabulary Cards, as well as spending a lot of time reviewing and digging into Warren Trenchard’s Vocabulary Guide.
You should be at a place now to begin to get deeper into the original text and do some Greek based exegesis. These tools assist in this task.
The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament – Cleon Rogers
This book gives a verse by verse analysis of concise explanations of grammatical features that may not be immediately obvious to the reader. Occasionally it will refer to other works such as Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, BDAG, and others. This work is very accessible to those who have first year grammar and keep up with it.
NT Greek Commentaries
See the 3rd category for a list of recommended technical and exegetical commentaries I have put together based on the Greek New Testament. These take a detailed look at what the text says in the original language for the purpose of exegesis and interpretation as well as to see different shades of meaning and nuances. These will be a more long-term investment as there are numerous volumes, but they are worthwhile.
It is helpful to get as many senses involved as possible. Hearing the language spoken, whether for vocabulary or the reading of the GNT, is very helpful.
You may want to consider getting New Testament Greek Vocabulary – Learn on the Go – Audio CD – Jonathan Pennington. This will expose you to the using more senses and actually hearing the words you are reading and pronouncing out loud.
The Audio Greek New Testament of Westcott & Hort – Marilyn Phemister is a free resource and can be downloaded. It provides a clear reading of the W-H, which is close enough to be used with the UBS/NA. For a slower and also clear reading, you may like the Audio Greek New Testament of Robinson-Pierpont in the Byzantine Tradition. You can find the PDF here to follow along)
Previous Post: Learning Greek Part 3: Between First & Second Year Greek
Next Post: Learning Greek Part 5: Encouragement
In the first post of this series I wrote about where to start with learning Greek, namely the first year. So once you are done with first year Greek, where do you go from there? Well before jumping head first into second year Greek grammar, I have a few suggestions that should help to bridge the gap between the first and second year, between beginning and intermediate Greek.
Between 1st and 2nd Year:
This is a great time to review year one grammar as well as introduce yourself into newer aspects of more intermediate grammar.
A Graded Reader of Biblical Greek – William D. Mounce
This workbook from Bill Mounce works through numerous passages or chapters of Scripture by increasing level of difficulty. It also introduces you directly to more advanced grammar and vocabulary, simply by reading the text.
It's Still Greek to Me - David Alan Black
This provides a good introduction into and transition from first year Greek into more intermediate second year Greek.
Take this time and try to nail down the words you learned in year one.
Complete Vocabulary Guide to the Greek New Testament – Warren C. Trenchard
This is a great book which gives you literally everything you will ever need for vocabulary. Keep using the Vocabulary Cards but start incorporating this book as well.
Read Read Read:
At this time it is recommendable to read as much as you can of the GNT. Reading will help to cement the grammar and vocabulary that you learned in the first year, and at the same time introduce you to new vocabulary.
Previous Post: Learning Greek Part 2: Learning & Keeping Greek: Practical Helps
Next Post: Learning Greek Part 4: Year Two
After talking about how to get started, I think it profitable to focus on some other relevant factors of NTG. I had written this article last year, but feel that it would be helpful to drag it into this series. It is important to note that year one Grammar is not necessarily prerequisite to the information in this post. Some of these things you have already done, others you may need to start with now.
One of the biggest challenges in learning Greek is remembering what we study over the long term. It is so easy to begin to lose Greek through negligence and a lack of consistency. It is indeed easy to temporarily memorize a list of rules or words, but to devote them to permanent heart memory is the result of diligent and consistent work. This is something that does not come overnight. Below I have tried to offer a few things which have helped me in my own Greek pilgrimage.
Note that the following are brief tips and pointers for those who are already studying NTG and desire to make further strives, or who are considering embarking on this worthwhile journey.
(This is not intended for those whose desire is to learn enough Greek for the purpose of using tools or to do word studies. See the page on Functional Greek if this is what you are seeking.)
Grammar is a must: A language cannot be learned and understood without studying and knowing its grammar. Do not listen to the person who says that "Grammar isn't that important, you don't really need it." We use grammar every day and all the time in English, often without even knowing it. One may be able to pick up bits and pieces of Greek without a handle on grammar. You can glean some of what is being said through tools and computer programs, however you will not get a solid grasp and understanding of what is really being communicated, you will not see shades and nuances, but will leave with only an unrefined and partial product. See sections VII-IX on this page for a list of recommended grammars.
Read your GNT every day: There is no substitute for reading Greek. This cannot be emphasized enough. This is what you are striving to be able to do, read the NT in its original language. You must read it frequently, often, daily if possible. You must have “maximum exposure” at every turn. You must get as many senses involved as possible. Read it aloud to help with pronunciation and to "hear" the language. Read it fast to work on fluid pronunciation. Read it slow to focus on the meaning. Read a passage a day. Read a few verses a day. Reading just 5-10 minutes a day can be the different in keeping or losing the language. Make your GNT your close friend, take it everywhere you can. Take it to church and follow along with the teaching and sermon -Yes, some people may label you as being prideful just because you have the GNT on your lap when everyone else has the English. Be humble about it though and don't flaunt what you are doing. You are trying to learn this language. Some bring and English/Spanish parallel Bible to church, you bring Greek. This is something which every Christian has the right do to, many though make the decision not to, so don't feel bad if you are judged for doing it.
If you are asking yourself, “Which GNT should I use?” then click here to read this post.
Be careful with interlinears: Interlinears are good in their respective area of purpose, they can be helpful for Functional Greek. But, if you are learning the language, you may want to reconsider. You may think that these will help you, but more than likely they will tend to be a hindrance in the end. Having the English translation right below the text can greatly deter the progress that otherwise would and could be made, by causing an unhealthy dependency on the English. It is my recommendation to stay away from interlinears if your goal is to be able to read the GNT fluently and devotionally. If your desire is to dabble with study tools, then interlinears may help you some, but if your objective is to learn the language well, it would be in your best interest not to mess with them. Force yourself to read the GNT in its purest form, and use a Reader if necessary, but not an interlinear.
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