Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Teaching and Learning Biblical Languages

I have blogged regularly on the matter of teaching and learning Greek at the seminary level. (Here and here and here and here and here.) John F. Hobbins has recently posted on "Sadistic Approaches to Teaching Biblical Languages" that has generated quite a few comments. Lingamish followed up with his own posting on "Learning Biblical languages is impossible."
Basically, it comes down to some of the same old arguments. Do you have to learn Greek/Hebrew so well that you are fluent? Or do you count on the electronic tools (interlinears, lexicons) that make it possible to work with the text? John makes the helpful distinction between the goals we might set: to have a knowledge of the Language or to be fluent in the language.
I have certainly been working more and more to move from the latter to the former. How do I gauge success in my classes? You can't beat those moments when a student recognizes some interesting grammatical feature, and the light of understanding turns on. I also, however, take it as an important success when students tell me they had fun even learning Greek in my class.
As a way to make language more enjoyable, John suggests that more should be done with something of a conversational approach: learning phrases, songs, etc. I'm not so sure this is the best way. My wife learned Hebrew in this way, and the only thing she remembers is tohu wabohu (from Gen 1.2). I do incorporate a variety of tools to enhance the oral/aural aspects and to have fun in the class--we try to memorize the Lord's Prayer, we sing "Jesus Loves Me/ O Christos me agaph...," etc.--but I still think we have to provide a structure for understanding how the language works. Unfortunately, that often means first learning how English works... So, I am trying to minimize memorization of forms as much as possible and to maximize the use of tools to discover what is interesting about the grammar, syntax, or words.
A good example of how this looks is provided in a Logos blog post by Steve Runge on "Who Cares About Participles? I Do!" I have also used the Matthew 28:19 example to show that "making disciples" is the key part of Jesus' words, and that the "going..., baptizing..., and teaching" are simply ways of enacting it.


  1. I am an older, layman (60) attempting utilize the latest technology to gain some additional understanding of the New Testament by acquiring some knowledge of the Greek language.

    I use the Logos software and have made a lot of use of their Greek word studies starting from the Reverse Interlinear and this alone has been help to me in understanding translation differences. At this stage of life I probably cannot become fluent in Greek, but any Greek tools that are available are helpful to me.

    I do think it helpful to have some ability to read the original Greek and there is one site I just found that appears to be helpful to a novice such as I and that is:


    Here John Pappas, an engineer, has short video lessons starting with the alphabet broken down into lessons of 4-5 characters in each lesson. He pronounces each sound, demonstrates by writing each letter, and concludes by showing short words with each group of Greek letters. It has been helpful to me thus far.

    Another issue to "novice" Greek learners is understanding the differences in English and Greek grammar and I am still struggling in this area.

    Thanks a bunch for this blog on bible technology tools. I go to it every day.

  2. Thanks, Bill. I checked out the site you recommended. Looks indeed to be very helpful. (I only looked at the first lesson, but I didn't quite like the way he recommends drawing the letters...) The strength here is the video. There are other sites which provide full audio instruction. Note the one by James Voelz I described here: http://bibleandtech.blogspot.com/2007/05/itunes-u-and-greek.html