This article is for anyone who wants to learn how to read the New Testament in the language it was written in. I taught myself enough Greek over the last six months to test out of 6 hours of Greek at Covenant Seminary so I have an idea about what methods are helpful. I’m currently in Intermediate Greek so I can’t help you past the beginner stages, but if you can get that far you’ve got a pretty good start.
All translations are by necessity interpretations. The translator can’t help but interject his or her thinking into the translation. Knowing at least some Greek allows you to discover what was really written and even if you aren’t an expert you can still know what some of the translation options are.
Before you begin or even fully consider beginning, you need to know that you can teach yourself Greek. I taught myself in six months with a full time corporate engineering job and a wife and three young children. If I can, you can. Once you decide, commit yourself. In learning any skill, and particularly learning languages, commitment and discipline is everything.
When I’m learning something new, I think it is best to get as many resources as I can. If I’m going to spend 100 or more hours studying a subject I think it’s worth an extra $20 or $30 to get resources to help answer my questions and help me work faster. If you have a teacher maybe this isn’t necessary, but if the resources are your teachers more is better. To begin you’ll need to buy two books and download one free or relatively cheap program.
Basics of Biblical Greek by William Mounce – around $32
A New Testament Greek Primer by S. M. Baugh – around $20
Quickmem Greek which you can download from http://blackstripespub.com/greek.html
Oh yes and you’ll need a Greek New Testament as well.
A Reader’s Greek New Testament: 2nd Edition from Zondervan – around $20. Zondervan also publishes a Greek and Hebrew version which has both testaments in the original languages.
Ok, to begin you are going to use Baugh’s book as the primary textbook/workbook and use Mounce as the reference. Baugh unfortunately has some errors, but is so helpful that it is worth it and the errors become obvious once you begin to learn the language. The method I’m recommending is to go through Baugh’s book lesson by lesson, reading the corresponding chapters in Mounce to get fuller explanations. For example, Lesson 3 of Baugh is Second Declension Nouns. Mounce combines first and second declension nouns so you will need to read chapters 5 through 7. This may seem like a lot of reading, but that is a good thing. You want more explanations. The more the books teach you the less you have to figure out on your own. Learn the noun and verb endings from Mounce as his method is the most helpful in the long term. Memorize the vocabulary from each lesson of Baugh and do ALL the exercises. The answers to all the exercises are in the back which is wonderful for the student on his or her own.
Be consistent with your study. Shoot for working an hour or two (or more) 5 or 6 days a week.
Lastly, what do you do about the vocabulary? If you are going to actually use what you’ve learned you have to know what the words mean. There is no getting around that. Mounce recommends that you only learn the words that occur 50 times or more. At first this sounds great because that’s only 313 words. Learning 10 words a day you could be done in a month. The problem with this advice is that there are 5,437 different words used in the New Testament. Knowing the 313 words would still leave you with over 27,000 occurrences that you have to look up if you were to read through the whole New Testament. I don’t know about you but this doesn’t sound like much fun and if we don’t enjoy doing it we won’t stick with it. The Reader’s Greek NT gives you definitions of words used less than 30 times on the pages they occur. Therefore, that is your starting point. Aim to learn the words that occur 30 times or more. You do this by using the QuickMem Greek program.
QuickMem Greek is a wonderful flash card program. It divides the Greek words into groups based on frequency of use, for example 500 or more occurrences, 201 to 500 occurrences and so on. You chose the first group, run through the flash cards until you know them. When you miss one it will ask you the same word again after you gone through the rest of the words in the group. If you get it right it will remove that word for that session. Then go to the next group and repeat the process. QuickMem Greek has all the words used down to 10 occurrences. Right now I’m down to 28 occurrences. My goal is to learn 15 words a day until I know all the words, which should take roughly a year.
Be consistent. Have fun. And read your Greek NT.