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.
- "The student translates from Greek into English. Indeed, that is the very task he is graded on–not how well he has comprehended the text.
- The student has to resort constantly to the lexicon (or, to available translations). And, these lexica, without exception, are Greek to English.
- The student finds the task to be hard work. It does not qualify as reading for pleasure.
- The student is focused on form, grammar and syntax, and often on analyzing, labeling or parsing various elements, not on comprehension. Indeed, comprehension is delayed until the translation into English is completed and can be read by the student.
- The student is moving slowly, at a snail’s pace, really. Analysis and translation takes time. Many students I have interviewed find that working through a page of text can take almost an hour. That’s a rate of 5 words per minute!"
Do you see what he is saying? Though Greek is being "read", the end product is still English. No devotional content is able to be processed until one arrives at English by means of dissecting syntax and decoding Greek grammar. I can affirm from personal experience, that the above is not enjoyable, but rather unfavorable translating. I do not want this for myself, nor do I wish it upon others. We must strive forward to be able to read the text and comprehend it without going through a list of syntax and parsing guidelines every time we look at it. Greek is not a code to be cracked, but a language to be read!
As I said before, "we will never obtain a comprehension of the language unless we get deep exposure into the minds and culture of the people." This usually would be done by living in and among a people, studying their culture by observation, their habits, language, etc. But, there are no living Koine speakers today around, so other methods must be employed for Greek. Such second nature comprehension can only be gained by digging into the literary work of those times, this is our most valid means of getting into their minds and culture. Here are some suggestions for moving in this direction:
Reading the GNT:
Here is a GNT Reading Plan which will put you through the entire GNT once in a year. It moves rather fast though for beginning students, so I would recommend trying the following first and then making the transition:
Here is a plan that will work with any piece of Greek literature. It is what I am calling Sectional Reading:
First Reading: (Read aloud)
- Pick a chapter or a shorter passage in context. In the future you can also do this and go through an entire NT book.
- Read through the entire section in one sitting without stopping or taking notes, not too fast but at a comfortable speed.
- Record observations and questions: unknown words, grammar, difficult constructions, etc.
- Look up the unknown words and write down their meanings in context.
Second Reading: (Read aloud)
- Once you have understood the vocabulary and grammar of the passage, read through it again in one sitting without stopping and taking notes.
- After finishing, note anything which you still do not understand and write it down.
- Now read and re-read the text numerous times, at least 5 or more, until you gain a "feel" for the writer, his style, message, and content without having to go into English anymore.
Reading the Apostolic Fathers & Patristics:
Many of us, including myself, can read the GNT with some level of ease (I do not say this boasting as you will see). This is mainly because we are already so familiar with its content. We know generally what certain chapters already contain. We know who wrote what, what their message is, what the section/passage is already about because it is listed above, etc. We have had so much exposure to the NT already that when we "read" it in Greek, we are in reality reading it through our ingrained English filter. In order to be able to gain literary comprehension of the GNT though and move past a mere wooden Greek-English gloss translation, we must read what we don't know. This is where the Apostolic Fathers and other Patristics come into the picture.
Whereas the LXX is a translation of the Hebrew OT, this literature is 100% rooted in Koine Greek. Most of us, myself included, are not very familiar (if at all) with these writings. In order to read them we will have to work hard and really think, in a way in which we do not in the GNT. I suggest trying applying the Sectional Reading method mentioned above along with the resources which follow.
Resources for Reading the AP & Patristics:
- Koine Greek Reader - Rodney Decker (A great reader for an introduction to reading Koine Greek outside of the GNT)
- Greek Creeds - Rod Decker FREE RESOURCE (Thanks to Rod Decker, you can study some of the early creeds in Greek)
- A Patristic Greek Reader - Rodney Whitacre (This reader would be good to use before diving head first into the text with no help. This goes further than the AF and delves into some other lesser known and later Patristics. You can see a preview of the content here)
- The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations - Michael Holmes (This is in my opinion the best and most economical resource for studying the Apostolic Fathers in Greek)
- Make sure you have your copy of BDAG when you study this literature. You can find the 2nd Edition for much less than the 3rd.