Saturday, January 12, 2008

On teaching Greek

(A question about the value of interlinears on the Logos newsgroup prompted me to write a response there, and I think it is worth sharing here.)

I'm old school from back in the day when interlinears were anathema. When I was a seminary student, the Greek requirement was a solid year+ worth of work, about 140 class hours.
I am now teaching at a seminary, and our Greek requirement is a two-week intensive course plus a fall semester course. Total Greek requirement is now about 80 hours. (We do, however, then continue require students to continue to work with the Greek in a required Gospels course and then a Pauline course.)

Among my seminary classmates, including students who did very well in Greek, very few have kept up their Greek over the years. Among my students, it is unrealistic to expect that they can or will do better with almost half the time of instruction.

I have decided that part of the problem is that Greek was taught with the assumption that students would come out reading (and even writing) it. Even 140 hours won't accomplish that without lots more follow up reinforcement. Is the point of Greek instruction to have students create their own translation? Given all the English translations we already have that represent the work of committees of far more qualified scholars, that does not seem to be a reasonable goal.

I have also decided, therefore, that I can most help my students by helping them understand how Greek grammar/syntax/vocabulary works and how they can use Greek resources (like Bible software especially) to better understand the text. To this end, I encourage my students to layout a number of English translations in parallel alongside the Greek. They are to compare the English translations, and where there are differences, that is where they need to take a close look at the Greek. It's here, then, where text critical matters, issues of tenses, ways of translating participles, interesting lexical choices, etc. comes into play. (Here [a DOC file] is an example of the kind of study notes I provide for my students.)

This change of focus has also meant a significant change of approach for me in my Greek instruction. There still is a lot of basic Greek vocabulary and grammar work that is needed simply for us to have an informed conversation about what is going on with a Greek text, but I am introducing the software resources very early in the instruction process. With the time we have, I can really only get them to memorize the Greek words in the NT that are used 50+ times, but it is easy to hover a mouse over a word in Bible software to provide a link to the lexicon. Instead of asking them to memorize complete paradigms, I am counting on the software to provide the morphological analysis, and I am spending much more time trying to help them reflect on the significance of particular grammatical features. (BTW, I am also finding that the notes in the NET Bible are particularly helpful in highlighting many of the significant issues.)

This approach has also had the advantage of allowing me to jump into the Greek NT much more quickly instead of having to spend so long with simplified exercises. The disadvantage is that I have had to spend more time trying to teach students how to use the software, but in doing so, I am also helping them to be able to work with the Hebrew for which we do not have a requirement.
My hope is that this approach will prepare my students to be able to use Greek for many years to come.


  1. I applaud your goal for getting them to understand the language rather than simply translate it.

    A book you might be interested in that's coming out this month is Dr. Herb Bateman's Intermediate Greek workbook by Kregel (though it assumes a first year of grammar).

    Dr. Bateman was my second year greek prof and I used a prepub copy.

  2. Hi there ... interested in your comments about Greek tuition.

    I had 2 years of seminary Greek, and still keep it going 6 years later as a full time pastor, but I am aware of the gaps in my knowledge.

    I don't have time or inclination to memorise paradigms (I let Logos do that for me), leaving me to try to make the important decisions.

    I wonder if you have any thoughts on resources or approaches that might help me take my Greek up a level?


  3. Hi,
    Its a shame to hear about the amount of hours being cut for Greek. There does seem to be a downplaying of Greek across the board (I've seen this in the U.K.).

    I've just started teaching a Greek class using Mounce's Greek grammar. It seemed to me that of all the different approaches to learning Greek, his was the one that best equipped students so that they didn't have to keep on memorising paradigms, but would still be able to use the language.
    I know that when I first came across Mounce's technique I was blown away by how easy Greek seemed compared to the rote learning method I was taught in secondary school (high school).


  4. I teach Hebrew and Greek study tools at Arlington Baptist College in Arlington, TX. I have done Hebrew for several years now and just took over Greek. Some of our students have a one year language requirement and we have set up two semesters to cover both languages - a very tall order. I have found success in Hebrew by dropping much of the memorization requirements and helping them to first tranlsate the parsing information and then the text, with a focus on theology and application. We will see how Greek goes as it is a much more sophisticated language. I wish we had one year for each language, but you got to work with what you got. A couple of years ago I taught traditionally taught Hebrew and found that the product I received - a final project paper - was roughly the same quality in both cases. Still sorting it out though. God bless.

  5. I had 2+ years of Greek as part of my undergraduate studies. My first introduction to Greek was with Machen's New Testament Greek for Beginners. The courses had a significant amount of memorization and translation exercises during the first year. I feel this was very valuable as it has allowed me to remember much more of the language 12 years later. However, technological tools have certainly improved since I first began my language studies. If I were starting from scratch, I'd like to spend at least one semester learning the basics before being introduced to the automated tools.

  6. Catching up a bit here, so let me provide a bunch of responses:

    Mike: Thanks for the notice about Bateman's book. I will watch for it. I haven't had time to check them out yet, but there are a number of Greek readers I've put on my Amazon list:

    - Rodney Decker's Koine Greek Reader and his work in progress on Mark
    - Jerry Sumney on Philippians
    - Parsons and Culy on Acts
    - Martin Culy on 1-3 John
    All these are designed for intermediate (about one year) Greek students, so these might be the kind of resources that will assist you, RichardL. I, however, am trying to figure out how to teach Greek from the beginning using software as a basic component of instruction. I recalled an article published on the Logos web site by Prof. C H J van der Merwe that sought to implement this kind of approach for teaching Hebrew, and it seemed to work out will. (I think the article is a few years old now. I wonder what they are doing now.) Logos also has an article by Steve Runge on "Using Libronix as a Teaching Aid in Introductory Greek courses" that provides some other good ideas.
    Duncan, we at LTSG are using Croy's Primer of Biblical Greek, but I have adapted it considerably in light of the good experience with Greek I had with one of my teachers, Jim Boyce at Luther Seminary, and his adaptation of Let's Read Greek. Corey Keating also has some interesting stuff at his site. That said, I have not used Mounce, but it is near the top of one of my piles of Greek grammars to check out!
    Mark and Shaun, you bring up the matter of memorization. I still struggle with figuring out how much to require. It sure helps, but I find that with our students' schedules, a lot of the memorizing is of the 'cram for the quiz' variety that is lost fairly quickly. I'm thinking of developing a set of biblical exercises to accompany the grammar instruction. I'm working on one right now that I will post when it is finished.
    Thanks again for all your comments.