13 Things Your Greek Teachers Won’t Tell You

I like this part of a post by David Black at Dave Black Online. I think some of this information is good for everyone to know, even though most aren’t in a position to learn Greek. Although if you’d like to, there is some encouragement here. #5 is especially instructive, and shows us why words can’t just be matched up “literally”. Used with permission:

The Reader’s Digest once published an article entitled “13 Things Used Car Salesmen Won’t Tell You.” Well here are “13 Things Your Greek Teachers Won’t Tell You”:

1. Greek is not the only tool you need to interpret your New Testament. In fact, it’s only one component in a panoply of tools. Get Greek, but don’t stop there.

2. Greek is not the Open Sesame of biblical interpretation. All it does is limit your options. It tells you what’s possible, then the context and other factors kick in to disambiguate the text.

3. Greek is not superior to other languages in the world. Don’t believe it when you are told that Greek is more logical than, say, Hebrew. Not true.

4. Greek did not have to be the language in which God inscripturated New Testament truth because of its complicated syntax. Truth be told, there’s only one reason why the New Testament was written in Greek and not in another language (say, Latin), and that is a man named Alexander the Great, whose vision was to conquer the inhabited world and then unite it through a process known as Hellenization. To a large degree he succeeded, and therefore the use of Greek as the common lingua franca throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century AD should come as no surprise to us today.

5. Greek words do not have one meaning. Yet how many times do we hear in a sermon, “The word in the Greek means…”? Most Greek words are polysemous, that is, they have many possible meanings, only one of which is its semantic contribution to any passage in which it occurs.

6. Greek is not difficult to learn. I’ll say it again: Greek is not difficult to learn. I like to tell my students, “Greek is an easy language; it’s us Greek teachers who get in the way.” The point is that anyone can learn Greek, even a poorly-educated surfer from Hawaii. If I can master Greek, anyone can!

7. Greek can be acquired through any number of means, including most beginning textbooks. Yes, I prefer to use my own Learn to Read New Testament Greek in my classes, but mine is not the only good textbook out there.

8. Greek students think they can get away with falling behind in their studies. Folks, you can’t. I tell my students that it’s almost impossible to catch up if you get behind even one chapter in our textbook. Language study requires discipline and time management skills perhaps more than any other course of study in school.

9. Greek is fun! At least when it’s taught in a fun way.

10. Greek is good for more than word studies. In fact, in the past few years I’ve embarked on a crusade to get my students to move away from word-bound exegesis. Greek enables us to see how a text is structured, how it includes rhetorical devices, how syntactical constructions are often hermeneutical keys, etc.

11. Greek can cause you to lose your faith. When the text of Scripture becomes nothing more than “another analyzable datum of linguistic interpretation,” it loses its power as the Word of God.

12. Greek can be learned in an informal setting. The truth is that you do not need to take a formal class in this subject or in any subject for that matter. I know gobs of homeschoolers who are using my grammar in self-study, many of whom are also using my Greek DVDs in the process.

13. Greek is not Greek. In other words, Modern Greek and Koine Greek are two quite different languages. So don’t expect to be able to order a burrito in Athens just because you’ve had me for first year Greek. On the other hand, once you have mastered Koine Greek it is fairly easy to work backwards (and learn Classical Greek) and forwards (and learn Modern Greek).

Okay, I’m done. And yes, I’m exaggerating. Many Greek teachers do in fact tell their students these things!

2 Responses to “13 Things Your Greek Teachers Won’t Tell You”

  1. 1 Scott Modrall

    Thanks for your recent posting! I enjoyed the “13 things your Greek teachers won’t tell you”. Informative! I am in my late 50’s, and have never been good at learning languages, but have often wished I had picked up NT Greek. Now I am overseas. Do you think there is a book out there that could help simpletons like me me learn the language if I kept plowing? I believe you have tried to learn Greek, right? Is there a book you could recommend? I assume eventually I would need a tutor as well, if I actually worked through a book.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    David Black will be glad you like it. I went through his book, linked in the post. I had a foray into Dobson in the middle of it, and then came back. Dobson takes a very different approach. I also used Mounce’s beginning grammar as a second source just to read if something needed more clarification or I wanted to read something in a different way. I started out with Croy before switching to Black, which is fairly similar.

    So I would recommend Black. I have a review of it here. Then I would have another source to get different explanations for things, and possibly something different like Dobson, which gets you into the Greek, but doesn’t really explain the grammar until later. I would also get the workbook that goes with the Black book, but it’s riddled with mistakes (and wasn’t put together by Prof Black) so you have to just be careful of that. Also, look into Conversational Koine Greek. There’s a book by Buth. I took an online course but can’t say I learned to converse.

    I only went through the beginner level, so realize that when you take my advice. See if you can ask others about it.

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