Greek Geek Advice

Today’s post is an excerpt from an email I sent to a fellow seminary student who asked how to continue to improve his Greek. He has finished his required courses in Greek for seminary, but wants to keep growing in it. The references to Dr. Varner are specific to this student’s questions about taking a class with one of the best teachers of Greek anywhere (he teaches Bible and Greek at both The Master’s College and The Mater’s Seminary). Here is my advice, based on things I actually do:
I failed to maintain my own Greek after the first year. Although I had taken three Greek classes in the summer following the required exegesis, within a year I was a bit rusty. To prevent this happening I suggest a couple of things:
1. Read, read, read the Greek NT and Apostolic Fathers.
2. Take Dr. Varner’s 2 Peter/Jude class being offered this Fall. Even if you’re class load seems crazy, take it.
3. Carry your Greek NT everywhere.
Explanation:
apostolic_fathers
1. There is just no substitute for simply reading the Greek NT (GNT) over and over again. I have made it a daily practice of reading a chapter each morning, often two or three. Now, I don’t know all the words in the GNT, so I read using BibleWorks or Logos to help me quickly lookup unknown words. This allows for quicker reading than flipping through a hardcover dictionary, which means covering more ground and sticking with the flow of the author’s thought. It’s tough going at first, but soon you’ll find that you can fly through certain sections and books with relative ease (John, Ephesians, Mark), while other will always be a bit challenging (Luke/Acts, Hebrews). I also suggest you start reading the Apostolic Fathers in Greek. Either get yourself the delightful little green book by Michael Holmes which has Greek on the left side, English on the right, or use BibleWorks, which comes standard with all these texts (and you’ll have BDAG right there to translate). There are similar themes and terminology that will expand your facilities in the GNT manifold.
drill instructor
2. You must, must, must put yourself in a situation where a mentor is drilling you on conjugation face-to-face, unless you are crazy disciplined to do it yourself during your daily readings. This I have made a habit, is at random selecting a verb, infinitive or participle and conjugating it on sight, checking myself with BibleWorks or Logos. In Varner’s class, he does the same thing, but the pressure is much higher. It really helps to get your Greek solid. Also, you really get good at sight reading the Greek when you know that Varner is going to call on you to sight translate in front of the whole class, and this happens every class! Besides the drills, though, his insight on the text, both exegetical and theological, are absolutely priceless. Like I said, even if you’re over 20 units, take Varner’s class. I only wish I had been able to take him every semester. His students from the College just blow the seminary guys out of the water. It’s a bit embarrassing for us, but demonstrates his ability as a teacher of Greek!
Man-reading-a-bible-007
3. I began the habit of carrying my GNT (and now BibSac) everywhere as a way to force myself to be using the text in every occasion. My third year I was finally able to feel some freedom in using it in all my classes, including theology and preaching class. The real test was preaching from the Greek, which I don’t recommend, but nothing makes you study that passage harder than knowing you will be in front of people with only the Greek in front of you! But in other situations, such as chapel, in class, and bible studies, there is much benefit to just letting your eyes fall over the Greek while somebody else is reading in English. It has improved my ability to read by sight tremendously (I suggest the same for Hebrew once you’ve taken that).
Another few tips I forgot to add to the email include the following:
1. Start reading the Septuagint! Others have stressed this enough in elsewhere.
2. Spend a lot of time with David Black’s New Testament Greek Portal. It’s packed with Greek tools, resources, bibliographies and more.
Any other thoughts, please comment!
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5 comments

  1. 1. On the back side of a page, copy the Greek NT by hand, one verse at a time. Parse and decline the words you’re not sure of. Translate it.
    2. On the facing page (front side of the next page), diagram it.
    3. I’ve done much of the NT like this.
    4. Read good grammars, Copy and do the exercises where applicable.

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  2. Steve D · · Reply

    Great article Tavis – I would add the advise you gave me 2 years ago– instead of using logos for translating aids – make a copy of Kubo’s word under 25 times for the book you are reading from and use that. Also – could you give me the name of the books you recommended of the Early Church writing with Horton’s translation next to. I would love to start doing the

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  3. Reblogged this on Theological Musings and commented:
    My good friend Tavis has a great post on to improve your Greek. Do heed his advice!

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  4. Great stuff. Also, reading out loud (with others) is good. And listening to it.

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  5. Steve: The books that I found as a good starting place when I took an Independent study of the Apostolic Fathers with Dr. Black were the Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. The Didache is rather simple syntactically speaking and is laden with familiar vocabulary. The Shepherd of Hermas will have some unfamiliar vocab, but the narrative is easy to read and intriguing.

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