Greek and Me

I completed two years of Biblical Greek a few years ago and pretty much stopped using it. Now that I’m in my internship I’ve decided to refresh my skills. There were a few blog entires on how to keep your skills fresh and I took them to heart. I’d hate to think that I did all that work for nothing.

Step one was to spend money. Again. I bought the Reader’s Greek New Testament and Kubo’s Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. I also dusted off the Greek flash cards and started working on my vocabulary. There is a haunting feeling of the pain and suffering I endured gaining my basic skills but it hasn’t been too bad. I started reading Colossians in Greek. Slowly. I’m trying to master that vocab and that’s where the Reader’s NT comes in very handy. For words that are less frequent in the NT there are footnotes with a gloss. That really helps. At the beginning of each book is a vocabulary list of common words in that particular book. It would help to review that list before digging in.

One of the handicaps I had in both Greek and Hebrew was that I got a lousy English education in high school. While I was slugging through mastering new languages, I was also trying to figure out my own. One of the books we were assigned in Hebrew taught Hebrew syntax by introducing the English form first. Wish I’d had that in Greek.

Now that I (loosely) have the framework for English syntax in my brain, I’m going back to my Greek grammar and starting it all over again. Words that seemed foreign (such as ‘the subject of the verb’ and ‘the direct and indirect object’) are now making sense. So when they speak of the nominative case as the subject, I have a category to place that in instead of trying to figure out what ‘the subject of the verb’ means.

So if anyone is interested in going to seminary and is wondering how to prepare, I have two suggestions. First, take a speed reading course. You’ll have so much reading to do you won’t be able to keep up. Speed reading will help. Second, brush up on your English grammar. You can’t believe how helpful that will be when it comes to learning other languages.

Once you start studying Greek and Hebrew, I have a few suggestions on memorizing vocabulary. I discovered these too late to really help. First, write your own vocabulary cards. I found some 3×5 cards at Office Max Depot Shack or something that have holes already punched in the top two corners. Cut the cards in half and they’re a perfect size. By writing your own, you get a head start on memorizing them. Learning is a mental process and the more mental activities you use in the learning process, the better chance you have of getting it. If you can get an audio recording to go with them, even better. But don’t rely on just that. You need the cards. Next, once you have your stack of cards for the week review them in groups of five cards or so. If you have a stack of 20 cards and walk through the entire deck you won’t see the cards you’re having a hard time with as often as you need to. Five is a good number for me. Finally, I found that I could memorize them easier when I was walking. The rhythm seemed to get my brain moving in an orderly fashion and facilitated memorization. A friend who is an aeronautical engineer learned how to juggle in college and that helped him. There is a connection between body and mind, use it.

One last tip. My beginning Greek professor had us develop a cheatsheet of all the Greek verbs. She told us to do it however it would work best for us. I’m glad I did. I lost the original file but I use that sheet today as I’m trying to parse the verbs. If you buy one it may not be arranged the best way for you. Also, in building it, you’ll see what you don’t understand so well. I’m going to try to build one for the pronouns and for the forms of the “to be” verbs as well.

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  • Hi Tim,

    Here’s a URL to a sermon by Richard Belcher at a F.I.R.E. Conference. The part that is germane to this topic is his testimony about his struggle with using the original languages. If you’re using Windows Media Player that part of the sermon starts at about 39 minutes into the presentation. It’s very helpful and I think you’ll find it profitable.

    God bless,

  • AMEN to all you said. I discovered the Reader’s Greek NT just after it was published and LOVE IT. I refer to it often when wanting to read through a passage in Greek before going to Bibleworks for heavy exegesis. It beats running to a Reader’s Lexicon every third word when reading through Hebrews ;)

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