the weblog of Alan Knox

It’s all Greek to me

Posted by on Dec 3, 2009 in NT Greek | 15 comments

From time to time, I get emails or comments asking questions about New Testament (Koine) Greek. I know that many of my readers have studied Greek, and I know that other readers are currently learning Greek or are interested in learning Greek.

I would like to assist those who are studying NT Greek. But, while I have already talked with several people about this, I would like more input. If you don’t mind sharing with us, please answer the following questions:

  1. Are you currently studying Greek, have you studied it in the past, or do you want to (plan to) study Greek in the future?
  2. If you have studied Greek in the past or if you are studying it now, how do you currently use Greek in your study of Scripture?
  3. Why is knowing NT Greek important or not important to you?
  4. Would you be more interested in motivational help, grammatical/syntactical help, linguistic/discourse help, other help?
  5. Do you have any other suggestions, questions, or comments about learning and using NT Greek, I would love to hear them.

I would greatly appreciate your feedback!


15 Comments

  1. 12-3-2009

    I’m a distance-learning seminary student, so I don’t have to learn more than elementary Greek. Honestly, I’m nervous about learning any Greek, so any help is great. Maybe a word a week or phrase or something? That could be a fun way to learn.

  2. 12-3-2009

    I’d like to be a distance learning Greek student/disciple (I know you can’t really be a long distnace disciple) of Alan Knox, please send me the first lesson, required resource/reading list along with any applicable bill and I will get the proverbial check in the mail and get the books ordered ASAP.

    I’m not joking.

  3. 12-3-2009

    Dan and Hutch,

    Thanks for the feedback. Please keep it coming!

    Hutch,

    If you don’t have Dave Black Greek grammar (Learn to Read New Testament Greek), it’s a good one to start with. But there’s no book requirements for this “course”. :)

    -Alan

  4. 12-3-2009

    well i don’t remember all your questions but i have studied greek as you know (although my teacher wasn’t all that great, I mean he didn’t even have his PhD). I like that the more you understand Greek the less you have to trust your interpretation of the Bible to translators. The thing i would most like is an environment where people at my level (very low) could talk about Greek because the thing that i find hardest is to keep myself involved in it when everyone either knows nothing about it or way more than me.

  5. 12-3-2009

    Dan,

    I’m probably not much better than your Greek professor. :)

    I’m trying to come up with a method of teaching Greek (in person and in a group) in which people of all levels can come together and learn together. Hopefully, I can do something similar through the blog. I hope you’ll take part and ask questions.

    -Alan

  6. 12-3-2009

    I’m about to start my fourth Semester and what I’ve really come to appreciate and need is someone to help me read through passages. Having someone to correct me and explain grammar as I come to it in Scripture is helpful, and it still allows me to understand the general idea of the text. Often when I am trying to work through a text myself, because of all the sources I still need reading the Greek loses its fluidity.

  7. 12-3-2009

    Jim,

    In the last few weeks, I’ve started translating through 2 John (see this link). If you haven’t considered it yet, why not start a blog and post your own translations. You could invite people to comment on your translations. Or, you could ask questions about problems that you encounter in the text.

    (By the way, you can always email me as well.)

    -Alan

  8. 12-4-2009

    1. I am trying to finish Mounce’s first year grammar by self-study. Then I plan to tackle Black’s two grammars, and then Wallace’s.

    2. I currently use it to do phrase diagramming (as per Fee), word studies, and read exegetical commentaries.

    3. Because, even though I know so little of it, it’s already opened up my understanding of the NT a lot.

    4. All of that help would be, well, helpful, but motivation and assistance with linguistic/discourse stuff would be appreciated.

    5. I’ve always thought that an online community that replicated “language immersion” would fill a needed niche. Somewhere you could chat (written or oral) with others in koine greek. It could be moderated by someone who had superior expertise so that errors could be pointed out and learned from.

    Just a thought. BTW, your blog already does encourage me to keep on with my Greek. I want to get to the point where I can read entire letters in Greek; then I’ll truly be able to do discourse and rhetorical analysis, and then biblical theology!

  9. 12-4-2009

    Thanks a lot, Alan, for even wanting to help us with our Greek. This is proof that you are a true teacher, when you are willing to teach and get nothing in return but the knowledge that your subject matter is being understood and enjoyed by more and more people.

  10. 12-4-2009

    Alan,

    Thanks for asking these questions. Let me preface the below response with a disclaimer that my answers are tentative and, in a sense, inchoate.

    “1. Are you currently studying Greek, have you studied it in the past, or do you want to (plan to) study Greek in the future?”

    Yes, yes, and yes. I my undergraduate degree is in Hellenistic Greek. We not only studied the Koine of the New Testament, but also Classical Greek of Sophocles, Thucydides, Aristotle, Plato, Herodotus, as well as the Hellenistic Greek of Philo and even late Hellenistic Greek of the Church Fathers (as to why I consider this “Late Hellenistic Greek” is due in part to the influence of Alexandrian Neo-Classical influences, not only in syntax but also in orthography). I am currently involved studying Greek in many ways. I currently am working for a Bible Software program on a certain 5th century codex, hopefully to be released for purchase in the next year (I can’t say much more due to project confidentiality and PR issues). This keeps me sharp and fluent, for I have to parse every single word, even provide parsings for ambiguous forms (e.g. 2per. Imprtv./2per. Indct.). As far as future studies of Greek, I am enrolled to take an exegetical course with Dr. Terveen in Matt. next semester. While New Testament is not my niche, I use Greek a great deal in my Old Greek Analysis of OT texts. I primarily reserve the term Septaugint for the Torah, and Old Greek for the remainder of the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint and Old Greek translations grant understanding how a pre-christian reader was understanding the Hebrew Bible. As such, I am heavily involved in LXX studies.

    “2. If you have studied Greek in the past or if you are studying it now, how do you currently use Greek in your study of Scripture?”

    I have already begun to answer this question in last sentences of question one. I use Greek daily in my study of the scripture. Whether it be a the function of the Old Testament in the New, or some LXX/MT related Textual Criticism, I have my LXX and UBS nearby. In fact, I took my first year of greek with Tracy McKenzie. After I mastered the participles, I have always taken my Greek Bible to church with me. In fact, since I have learned Greek, I have taken my English Bible to church once.

    There is another element I would like to address here: we are often taught Greek as though it were English. What I mean is, we assume once we translate the Greek into English, then we can wrestle with the sense of the text. In my fourth year at Multnomah’s Greek program, I quickly realized that I had to read Greek as Greek, not as English. Dale Wheeler once commented in class, if you have not mastered Greek Syntax, while you may hold a Greek bible in your hand, you read it as though it were English. So, my point, I use Greek for Greek Exegesis! I read it in Greek, let the syntax function as Greek, and let the rhetoric, or, locution and illocution, have its impact in its Greek structure. Then, I embark on the task of trying to communicate in way that my readers can share an equivalent experience (not just phenomenologically, but reasonably).

    When I write I formal exegesis paper, I treat English translations as commentaries.

    “3. Why is knowing NT Greek important or not important to you?”

    Laconically, Greek is important to me because I am teacher of the scriptures. Consternation ensconces me when I look at various seminary programs and find such low biblical language requirements. Moreover, the often jejune attitudes that mark the people, who will some day soon stand in pulpits and attempt to teach the Scriptures, is paradoxical.

    While original language knowledge is not required to understand salvation; it is required to understand the scriptures. I wish I had the time to fully elaborate on the previous proposition, and I am somewhat reluctant to share it. Thus, let me balance it by saying this: I often tell my freshman Bible Study Methods Students that they can plunder the English translations for insights and understandings. A critical (comparative) reading of the plethora of English Translations (I am thinking of all sorts from all theological backgrounds) will assist the English reader in locating translation issues. Well, as a student of Greek, I know these options without having to spend the energy pillaging the English texts—I know the semantic, lexical, and syntactical possibilities already in the Greek!

    “4. Would you be more interested in motivational help, grammatical/syntactical help, linguistic/discourse help, other help?”

    I largely am autodidactic when it comes to language. According to Dr. Fred Mabie, I am “just someone who gets languages.” Now, this does not mean that I have to spend hours researching verbal semantics or aktionsart. I spend a great deal of time in studying language, not just Greek and Hebrew, but philosophy of language, hermeneutical issues, etc. However, I am also a tutor of Hebrew and recognize that for some people language studies are not so easily grasped and comprehended. Now matter our giftings, regular exposure to reading aloud, hearing it read aloud, syntax/grammar, and exegetical practices are crucial in our facility of language and biblical theological proposals. The most beneficial aspect I find for me is to balance my exegetical discussion between two groups. The first group is my academically equivalent colleagues. In this group, we can have at it—not worry about the technical grammatical terms we use because we are all immersed in the field. The second group is the younger scholar, almost as in a discipleship relationship. This is what I do in my tutoring times. I have the student read a verse, I then read the verse; I then have the student translate it and parse verbal forms. I then work on the assumption of Saussure’s proposal of Langue and Parole. That is to say, I ask the student what other synonymous terms could have been used, other syntactical forms, etc. I also ask what naunces of meaning are altered when we change the syntax (this is a great question with Hebrew Poetry). Such questions I find are pedagogical to the student and the instructor. I confess, this stems from my view that exegesis ought to include the imagination of the exegete!

    “5. Do you have any other suggestions, questions, or comments about learning and using NT Greek, I would love to hear them.”

    I do, and maybe we can dialogue about them more in the future. Let’s just conclude with this comment. I recently taught a one week course at Ecola Bible School. I gave eight lectures on Jeremiah. For the most part of the class, I read from an altered English translation, that is, I used a well-known translation that was in consensus among the students. However, I marked the English text based upon my knowledge of Hebrew. I would highlight paronomasia in my English text, alter the English syntax, intonate words based upon my Hebrew knowledge, etc. The last class, I had a student ask me what translation I was reading, because at times he sensed I was using his translation, but then I would “change” something. I asked the student if during those times when I “changed” something if he sensed he could better understand the argument I was making, to which he indicated that it did provide a level of clarity. Now, let me be clear—my enhancement of a previously completed English translation was not done so as to produce a straw man. Rather, my alterations were made in part because I was teaching and exegeting at the same time. I could have been wrong in my exegesis, ergo, my alterations. However, my point is this: I never had to say, “The Hebrew says…” or “The Greek says….” I was able to tease out the implications of the text by either making improvements to a translation (I mean improvements in a sense of NET footnote perhaps). The student was able to focus on the text of scripture; not be distracted by my pronouncing a foreign word that he or she does not even know.

  11. 12-4-2009

    Mike,

    Thanks for answering the questions. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write some posts that are beneficial to you and to others.

    James,

    Thank you very much for the detailed response. As I write more posts about Koine Greek, please feel free to jump in and offer your own perspectives.

    -Alan

  12. 12-4-2009

    I have no knowledge of Greek right now, and don’t know what resources to start with for self-study. I would be looking for whatever guidance a raw beginner needs, and accountability. Like Hutch, I have a checkbook waiting for the teacher to appear :)

  13. 12-4-2009

    Wendy,

    Hopefully, I’ll be able to write some posts that you find beneficial. I would encourage you to start studying Greek if you have the time and inclination. I’ll give some reasons soon. :)

    -Alan

  14. 12-5-2009

    I have posted some free resources at my site, hopefully some of those here looking for a place to start could benefit from these awesome free resources…

    http://www.deliverdetroit.com/2009/12/resources-updated-to-include-koine.html

  15. 12-5-2009

    James,

    Thanks for the link to the resources!

    -Alan

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