Greek like Violin: Changing the approach = reading

Since the beginning of the “Greek like Violin” project, I have daily been assessing what is working and what is not. What is contributing to my goal of fluency in reading biblical Greek and Hebrew and what is detracting. What is most efficient and what slows me down. What feels good and what doesn’t. What makes me want to wake up before the sun and be the first customer at Starbucks.

This consistent reevaluation has resulted in one major change from when I started last week (although it feels like a month already). Instead of spending a balanced amount of time split between reading my BibSac on the one hand, and reading grammars on the other, I’ve decided to tip the scales much further towards the biblical readings.

Throughout the posts so far, I have distinguished between “devotional” reading and “practice.” Well, I’m going to eliminate that going forward. What I’m coming to realize is this:

There is simply no substitute for reading, reading, and reading again in the original languages.

All other activity is merely supplemental. That includes reading grammars, drilling vocab lists, running through paradigms, you name it. Those help, especially when it comes to exegesis. But reading is where you will pick up the most vocab naturally, where you will start to notice on your own the finer nuances of grammar that you skimmed when reading Wallace, and where the manifold declensions and conjugations will start to become real and meaningful. After all, you can’t very well read if you don’t know what the verbs and nouns are telling you.

Another method I’m implementing into my reading: skimming. Not going so fast as to miss anything, but instead of turning every Greek word into its English equivalent, I’m forcing my mind to stop trying to rearrange the word order and just take the Greek as it is. This has been a refreshing exercise, and one that has made my reading from being fun to quite enjoyable.

The vision in my head that keeps me going strong morning after morning is seeing myself sitting in a room at Durham surrounded by brilliant postgraduates and some of the top NT scholars in the world. And we are going to be reading Greek together. And I’m going to have to offer something of value. I want to be able to engage in dialogue with the many other students and faculty, who have various takes on theology, and make an argument from the actual Greek or Hebrew text itself. I believe this will honor the Lord, making every effort in studying to show myself approved, a workman who has no reason to be ashamed. Even if others disagree with me.



  1. Luke Rhee · · Reply

    This has been very encouraging. A shift that really helped me was not to think in terms of English, but to think in Greek/Hebrew. So instead of reading the word proseuchomai in the Greek and immediately thinking of the English word “pray”, I tried to associate the Greek word with the actual action of praying. So learning to think in Greek instead of in English! It’s really helped but it does take mental discipline. But I think your post is spot on, no substitute for just reading it over and over without getting bogged down in parsings, declensions, grammatical structure, etc


    1. Thanks, Luke. And great to see you here online if not in person in our Greek classes. You make a great suggestion about visualizing the activity (or object = “door”) instead of the English word. Excellent suggestion, and I will incorporate that as well.


  2. Tavis: what you have described is analogous to the difference b/t immersing yourself in violin culture, and actually playing the violin. No matter how much violin history you can recite, no matter how eloquent you may wax on the beauty of the instrument, regardless of the editorials you may read on its contribution to culture, no matter how brilliant a violin fabricator you may interview or come to be, to be a virtuoso, you must play. Do this until you hit the 10,000 hour mark. Only be careful to take care of the non-negotiables, i.e. biblically mandated priorities of personal devotion, family, health, i.e. personal stewardship (paying particular attention to your eyes), etc. For those wanting examples of the above and to gain insight on the value of Tavis’ approach, see:


    1. Brian, I have read a portion of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, and some of what he states in there has been a motivation for my project. It’s true, you hear some people talking about Greek as though it was their first language (preachers are especially guilty of this). But how many are actually spending hours each week improving their skills by actually “playing the instrument,” as it were? So very good point.

      Your advice to “take care of the non-negotiables” is spot on. This is why I wake up so early, in order that I can still spend time with my family and pay attention to the normal responsibilities any husband must (finances, etc).


  3. “Instead of turning every Greek word into its English equivalent, I’m forcing my mind to stop trying to rearrange the word order and just take the Greek as it is.”

    This was the most valuable lesson my dad taught me when I was around 10 years old. I remember it clearly like it was yesterday.


  4. Steve D · · Reply

    Excellent, advise Tavis!! I grew up knowing a second language (my mom is Arabic). SHe and her side of the family always spoke Arabic, so the transition back and forth to english and another language always seemed something comfortable to me. I never thought of the “rules” of what I know with respect to translation I just kinda “did it” as a kid. As you articulated you are right, letting the language speak as it is, i.e. in the word order, and in the nuances, it is very much an art form to be able to read it in the order it comes and be able to take away the meaning intended to convey.


  5. Excellent post… you are right Tavis, there is no substitute for reading and reread and reread again… that is how I picked up most of my vocab naturally (not only in Greek or Hebrew, but also in English)… Just watch your kids as they learn a language (my sons went through that…;-)) they pick up whole concepts and not just mere vocab as they learn how to speak while they are listening to others as they speak. In a dead language such as Biblical Hebrew or Greek the only way to expose yourself in a similar way is to read it… and I also mostly read it out loud… that helped me to memorize not only the words but also their sound…


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