How to study greek while doing a PhD

This sounds like a question that shouldn’t even be asked. But when you have a family and you’re trying to make a life for them in a foreign country far away, while also serving at a local church, things get a bit busy.

So, I asked one of the faculty here at Durham how she goes about maintaining her Greek. I noticed during the last NT Seminar that her Greek New Testament looked like it had been through 10 wash cycles. It was battered, browned, taped, faded, and simply awesome.

Her response was that she had studied Greek and Latin from early school days, and then in undergrad as well. She read vast amounts of Greek and Latin during her holidays, and during the term time was writing essays on her readings. She also was writing in Greek and Latin by the time she got to undergrad.

Here, then, are a few ways in which I am trying to make up for my lack of experience (this is an excerpt of an email reply to the Durham lecturer):

Dear So-and-So

You have a very interesting background in the languages; I’m jealous. I wish that I had been taught from a young age as well. I have made efforts to make up for that lack of experience, all the while knowing life is only so long and there are only so many hours in every day. My personal approach has been along the following lines, some of which I have blogged about to help other Greek students stay motivated and keep reading:

  • Attitude – I approach my languages, especially Greek, with the attitude that I am a professional violin player. This demands from me dedicated practice and study time, meaning, the time I spent reading the languages is highly focussed, so that a half-hour with intensity will be more focussed than 2 hours drifting through. I was inspired by the practice regimes of world-class violinists, and have a blog series titled ‘Greek like Violin.’
  • Schedule – I make sure to have something that I am reading through on a daily basis. This summer, per John Barclay’s suggestion, I read through Paul’s epistles 2.5 times, as well as part of Genesis in both Hebrew and the Greek. I just don’t have time for that now during term time, so I have devoted my attention to the Psalms of the LXX, reading one a day. I also haven’t been able to make the time I would like for Hebrew.
  • Devotion – earlier this year I was memorizing Romans in the Greek. I haven’t continued due to time constraints, but I am currently working on memorizing the Sermon on the Mount in Greek. It takes me out of Paul, where most of my study resides, and into a more devotional and pious use of the language.
  • Intention – I carry my GNT everywhere, dipping into it whenever I have a chance. I’ve tried to be very intentional about this, so that even if I’m at the Dr’s office, waiting on a bus, whatever, I can open anywhere in the text and just start reading. This type of reading is more about letting my eyes fall on the text and pick up what I can, so it’s not a rigid translation but more a learning how the language works, how prepositions are tying things together, how transitions are being made, etc. It makes the reading more fun than those times when you have to slog through something by looking up every word and its various glosses. However, having done that work previously aids tremendously in the ‘easy reading’ sessions.

So that’s how I have been going about it. I don’t hold to these practices as strongly as I would like, because when you have two kids and a wife who is also studying, there is just not enough time with all the other demands. But at least these things are always in my mind, constantly reminding me to tolle lege.



  1. Tavis,

    While your post is as an overall description of your own personal journey in Greek (which I can appreciate) within it there is what could also be interpreted as indictment against your seminary Greek Professor, for failing to teach you Greek and prepare you for your time in Durham. I have had that same Greek professor, and I am sure many of your readers know who you are publically referring to and that is why I am making my comment.

    I have had that same Greek professor and I will say, first and foremost, he loved you deeply and cared for you greatly. I say that because am sure he would be deeply hurt that you put him on public blast like that and also because we must not under estimate the importance of our mentors caring for/loving their students in the midst of their studies.

    That same Greek professor not only taught me Greek, but also how to use it in ministry. Most importantly, he taught me how to shepherd my people. He taught me what a commitment to the Word of God looks like in the original languages.

    He taught me how to be a pastor and a scholar. That same Greek professor has made me proficient in Greek and with the risk of sounding prideful and arrogant, I would challenge/put the skills he taught me up against anyone else trained at any other seminary. It was a privilege to be his student. I hope someday, I can be as proficient in the Greek New Testament as he is. I hope someday I could be as great a pastor as he is. I hope someday I could be as great a professor and scholar as he is. I take solace in what Jesus said, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” – Luke 6:40

    On a more personal note, I hope you are well and give my best to your family. I have fond memories of you and I in class.


    1. Steve, thanks for your comment. I hope instead you see my affection for Maximus in my brief description. There are many devout and godly men whose teaching I have sat under whom I did not mention. My purpose in using the ‘crazy’ professor was to emphasize just how futile it is for any of us to try and learn Greek solely in the classroom. Even one-on-one tutoring is limited in value. We need to knuckle down and get our boots dirty in the solitary study of paradigms, vocab lists, private readings, and prayer. I love Maximus. He kept things interesting for a lot of guys. But I sat there most days wanting more Greek instead of the other random musings.


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