These are good and valid questions, worthy of detailed answers. The short answer to these questions would be both yes and no. Has it been done before? Is it possible? The answer would be yes. New Testament Greek is not nearly as difficult and complex of a language as some may assume. It has been said to be slightly more difficult than Spanish (considered by many in the field of linguistics to be the easiest foreign language, especially for the native English speaker). It is not nearly as difficult as Hebrew or a number of the Asian or Germanic languages today, including English. As with any language though, learning largely depends on the student: their drive, desire, focus, determination, and motivation. If you are a person who is prone to begin many tasks, yet often grows discouraged, weary, and rarely finishes, the answer then would be, no it cannot be learned. As with any language, New Testament Greek takes devotion, time, discipline, resolve, perseverance, sacrifice… and the list goes on. It can be done if the time and desire is truly there. More on this later.
Objections to learning NTG:
Before going on, I believe it is important to consider some common misunderstandings and objections regarding the study of the biblical languages. First, if you are wondering, “Why should I learn Biblical Greek? We have great English Bible translations and exceptional computer programs, the likes of which previous generations did not have”, then, you are quite mistaken. It is true indeed that the Christian can know their Lord and make Him known through translation. I would not dare to venture and say that a man must know Greek to be a preacher or pastor. Many men are able preachers, called and used by God, who do not have a knowledge of the New Testament language. But to know the oddities and intricacies, the nuances and deep secrets which translation does not and cannot reveal in any translation, these are reserved for the Greek New Testament. The computer program can shed some knowledge and insight, though theoretical to the learner. A groom can kiss his bride through the veil, it is a kiss, though it is not as real, vivid, and personal, it is not the same as if the veil were lifted. And so it is taking instruction through a computer program or other second or third hand source, yet remaining intellectually unattached from the language of which you are being told. In the end, when asked by our hearers “How?”, “Why?”, “What?” etc, we will simply be left saying, “Because so and so says so” or "Because the computer program...", for we will not be able to explain from a knowledgeable and informative stance what the Greek language is saying. We want firsthand knowledge of the Scriptures through its own language, not to always have to turn to second or third-hand witnesses telling us their view. This language can be learned, and we can have first-hand experiential knowledge of the New Testament Scriptures in its own language. People learn to read, write, speak, and translate foreign languages with great fluency; learning to read and understand Biblical Greek is no different.
Others will no doubt object and say, “There’s no need to learn Biblical Greek, we have the translations and programs, etc.” It has been observed that those who are usually the quickest to negate a need for learning Greek due to an abundance of English translations and programs are often, if not always, the same who do not know the language themselves. It yet remains to find a man acquainted with his Greek New Testament who would discourage others from studying the language due to the English translations and tools available today. If you desire to embark on the life-long journey of learning Biblical Greek, and you want advice on whether or not to do so, ask a man who knows the language. For, how can someone who does not know the language recommend or discourage something that he does not have experiential knowledge and understanding of? One cannot appreciate what they do not have. For more on the need for the Biblical languages, see the following articles:
Biblical Languages as a Spiritual Discipline
The Minister’s Use of His Greek New Testament
There will even be those who will state that "Studying Greek commonly causes the one studying to become prideful, arrogant, and puffed up. Therefore, this is not something we should promote in our churches". It is indeed a tragedy and a great shame for a man who is unacquainted with New Testament Greek to discourage others, especially young men, from endeavoring to learn and study this language, while their opposing argument is merely based upon the supposed snare of pride that learning a Biblical language could present for the learner. There will always be snares and temptations for pride, but we must not run to the opposite extreme and ban the intellect altogether. If we are led by the flesh then we are doomed for pride and arrogance, but if we study and learn being led by the Spirit, then it will be a profitable and humbling endeavor. I have seen humble pastors teach year-one Greek classes for those interested in their congregations, and the result was genuine humble Christians learning to understand and read God's Word in the language of the New Testament. It is indeed a false notion that knowledge always puffs up, and it is false that learning Greek will puff up. There were problems in the church at Ephesus regarding a misuse of the law. However, Paul did not discourage the study of the law, rather he taught what the true purpose of the law was. This is the same with NTG. If one becomes prideful from studying Greek, is there fault to be found with Greek? By no means. The fault is with the learner. 1 Corinthians 8:1 is often quoted out of context to state that knowledge puffs up, especially when someone who is anti-intellectual desires to prove their point. For those who are opposed to the study of the original languages based on the argument of possible resulting pride and arrogance, you may find this previous blog post helpful:
Rightly Handling the Biblical Languages
One Common Misunderstanding:
Now, moving on from the objections, I trust it will be profitable to mention one more misunderstanding regarding the study of this language: Regarding language learning, there is no easy route, there are no shortcuts that can be taken to learn any language, and there is no exception here with NTG. Language learning is hard work. Language learning is demanding. Learning Biblical Greek is hard work. I don't want to make it sound exceptionally easy, but we also don't want to make it seem so difficult that it appears to be entirely unattainable or inaccessible for the average person. Some who have never attempted to learn the language for themselves will no doubt assume that NTG is so difficult and unattainable that it is only accessible and able to be learned by the "few and chosen" Christians who possess "special language gifting" or who are "linguistic experts". This is not so. Alas, a person cannot know how easy or difficult NTG is until they attempt for themselves to learn it. It is challenging and demanding, but its not that hard. Time, dedication, determination, resolve, discipline, consistency, and perseverance are all necessary factors in learning any language, including New Testament Greek. If someone wants something bad enough, they will exert themselves until they obtain it. Though the study of NTG will be challenging, demanding, and take many years to master the language well, it is well worth the effort. 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." For some great encouragement on this matter read the following story of John Brown.
More Objections & Misunderstandings:
These are certainly not the only objections and misunderstanding regarding Greek. Some people are just adamant about not studying this language and will travel land and see in search of excuses to get out of it. I have written another post on the matter which deals with the aforementioned objections and more: Common Misunderstandings Concerning Biblical Greek
A Word Regarding Self Study:
Lastly, regarding learning Greek by self study: Can this language be learned on one's own by self study using books and materials? The answer for the determined, serious-minded student who has the desire and time to set forward, would be an astounding yes! In centuries past the resources for learning the Biblical languages were very limited, relatively speaking. Nevertheless, many pastors and preachers knew at least Greek. Today though, the means to learn Biblical Greek are much greater, there are many more resources which can be easily and reasonably accessed by the general public, especially in the English speaking world, and we are today in a sense, with less excuse for not studying it. This language is attainable and you can indeed learn it! You can learn this language without seminary or formal training, you can learn it well through simple self-study, if using the right materials. We should not dare discourage those who are interested within our congregations from studying it. What a shame this would be.
It should be noted here that there are sufficient first-year Greek grammars, vocabulary builders, and even a number of second-year grammars to make one go insane. Too much variety can often be paralyzing; one does not know which text to choose or where to begin. Today there are books written to specifically aid the student who chooses this course of learning. I have tried to narrow down the options into their respective categories and make it easier to "know where to begin". You can find that information here. I have also put together a series of posts on Getting Started with Greek, which breaks down the different stages of learning Greek and attempts to give practical advice along the way.
Tips & Pointers for Students of NTG:
See the blog post here titled "Learning & Keeping Greek: Practical Helps"