Monday, April 30, 2007

Maintaining Your Greek

Last week I met with my first year Greek class for the final time. By this point they have spent hundreds of hours learning paradigms, memorizing vocabulary, parsing verbs, and many other often mundane and repetitive tasks in an attempt to be able to read and study the NT in its original language. But as many of you know, it doesn't take long over the summer before that knowledge begins seeping out of one's brain.

In light of this, I gave them the following suggestions for maintaining one's Greek over the summer. I have posted them here in the event they may prove helpful to others who have studied Greek at one time but let their knowledge slip away.

1. Put your Greek to use in teaching and preaching. Too often people have an all or nothing approach in which they feel that since they do not have the time to translate an entire passage themselves they cannot use Greek in preparing to teach. But with the help of certain tools one can dip into the passage and look for certain things that may prove helpful in teaching the passage.

2. Set aside time to read from your Greek NT at least once a week. The emphasis here is on reading, translating and occasionally parsing in your head as you go. Spending as little as 20-30 minutes 1-2 times a week can make a huge difference. To make this realistic, I would suggest one of the following two tools. The first is A Reader's Greek New Testament. This version of the NT provides glosses of every word that occurs less than 30 times in the NT, which saves you having to look them up in a lexicon. The second resource is A Grammatical Analysis Greek of the Greek New Testament. This is a handbook that is a companion to your Greek NT. It goes verse by verse and provides glosses for vocabulary as well as help on unusual syntax. Having this next to you while you read from the NT will be very helpful and spare you from leafing through BDAG for glosses.

3. Review your vocabulary. While this is not the most exciting activity, the more vocabulary one remembers the less dependent you are on tools. Furthermore, your speed in reading and comprehending depends in large part on your vocabulary. For those who have Bibleworks, there is an easy way to review vocabulary. Under "Tools" you will see something called "Vocabulary Flashcard Module." With this tool you can load the vocabulary of the NT, sort it by frequency, and have it quiz you. You can even mark words as "learned" so you won't be quizzed again on them.

4. Work through Colossians . I suggest Colossians as a good book to work through by translating because it is not the simplest Greek, but it is not exceedingly difficult either. Plus, it provides exposure to a wide variety of grammar/syntax. A tool that I would highly recommend when doing this is Colossians and Philemon, by Murray Harris. This is a unique book in that Harris works through the text verse by verse but focuses on the grammar and syntax of the Greek. So, for example, for the genitive "Christou" at the end of Col 2:2 Harris lists three possibilities with a discussion of each. This tool is especially helpful for those who have finished a year of Greek but are just now beginning to work with grammar.

5. Check out the blog Hellenisti Ginoskeis: Do you Know Greek? This blog, run by Dan Philips, explores various Greek NT passages and comments on the Greek. Stop by, makes comments, ask questions. Dan would loves being harassed by Philhellenes.

6. Team up with someone else. Beyond providing accountability, it is more enjoyable for most people to work with at least one other person. When I was a Ph.D. student I met with my two pastors and another Ph.D. student to read Greek together most Friday mornings at a coffee shop. This was always one of the highlights of the week, and we often ended up having rich theological discussions based on what we were seeing in the Greek text. I was thrilled to find another group here in Winona Lake that meets every Thursday morning to read Greek one week and Hebrew the next. These times are an invaluable way to maintain and improve one's knowledge of the language.

Given how much time people in seminary spend learning the Biblical languages, it is poor stewardship to let them slip away to the point where one cannot use them.

7 comments:

Bryan C. McWhite said...

Thanks for teaching me Greek, Matt. I still use it almost every day, both personally and pastorally (is there a difference in a pastor's life?).

danny2 said...

congrats on making justin taylor's blog.

that's pretty much the equivalent of a star in front of the chinese theatre!

Matt said...

Those are some very helpful tips. Any tips on Hebrew? :)

Milton Stanley said...

Couldn't make trackback work but wanted to let you know I appreciate this post and linked to it this week. Peace.

Matt Harmon said...

Bryan: good to hear from you. I trust your continued studies and pastoral ministry are progressing well. If all of my students worked as hard as you, my life would be a lot easier!

Danny2: As long as its not a Chinese restaurant. No offense to anyone, but I do not care for Chinese food.

Matt: I hope to do something similar on Hebrew very soon.

Milton: Not sure why trackback didn't work but thanks for stopping by.

Chris Gates said...

Thank you for this post, and for this blog. You are on my blogroll now. In my experience (SWBTS) most profs don't take the time to blog (at least not for free). Your blog is most helpful.

P.S. If you know a way I can write in Greek font on my wordpress blog without having to transliterate (a hate transliteration)please let me know.

A Christo Regnante . . .

J&T said...

I just found this - but I will definitely be taking these to heart...thanks!