Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Teach yourself Greek

In answer to a correspondent:

Step I:

Buy a set of NT Greek flash cards:

One mnemonic trick is that many English word are Greek derivatives. So, whenever possible, write the English cognate on the translation side of the card.

BTW, this also works for learning Latin. Unfortunately, it doesn't work for learning Hebrew :-(

Go through the flash cards until you've memorized all the words.

Step II:

Buy an A Greek-English interlinear NT. There are several editions to choose from:

Step III:

Start with 1 John. I recommend 1 John because:

i) The vocabulary and syntax is simple:

ii) The letter is short and compact, which makes it easier to master.

Step IV:

Start with chapter 1, reading one verse at a time.

Block out the interlinear translation with an index card and see how much of the verse in the original Greek you can understand/translate.

Whenever you hit a wall, refer to the interlinear translation.

Alternate between the Greek and the English until you can sight-read verse 1.

Continue this process with verse 1, &c.

After you can sight-read every individual verse of chap. 1, run back through the entire chapter from start to finish until you can sight-read the entire chapter.

Progress to chapter 2: same process.

Continue until you can sight-read the entirety of 1 John in the original.

Step V:

Once you can read a chapter w/o the interlinear, buy a Greek NT:

From then on, just read the Greek NT version of chapters 1,2,3...

The above-cited edition also has a dictionary in the back in case you forget a word.

Step VI:

Purchase and work through Baugh's reader for 1 John.

This will give you some formal Greek grammar.

In may sound like we're doing this in reverse, and in a way we are, but it's more logical to learn how to sight-read the Greek NT and then catch up on formal Greek grammar than to rote-learn a set of abstract rules which you woodenly apply to the text.

Step VII:

Graduate to the Gospel of John. Repeat the same process.

Step VIII:

Purchase and work through Walther's inductive Study of the Fourth Gospel.

Step IX:

Buy a simple Greek grammar such as:

At this point I don't see much value in investing in the major Greek grammars. The reason is this:

Greek grammars are presenting undergoing something of a revolution. In the computer age, it's possible to input every Greek text and then perform an exhaustive analysis of comparative usage.

So the major Greek grammars of the past, while still useful, are becoming obsolete.

Keep up with the latest developments at Gramcord:

Step: X

Work your way through the rest of the NT. Save Hebrews for last.

Step XI

Sample the LXX, using a Greek-English edition:

This is a quaint translation (there is a more up-to-date translation available, minus the Greek) without a critical edition of the text, but it will get you started.

Start with shorter units like some of the Psalms.

Step: XII:

At some point you should bite the bullet and invest in the latest edition of BAG:

Step XIII:

Branch out to Greek writers who are useful for NT studies or church history, such as Philo, Josephus, and Justin.

Use the Greek-English editions of the Loeb Classical Library.

Buy/borrow/photocopy the sections must useful for NT studies, like Philo on the Therapeutae, Josephus in 1C history, &c.

There are an increasing number of online resources for NT, LXX, patristic, and Classical Greek stuff which I haven't bothered to investigate. You can look into that yourself.


  1. or just read commentaries ;)

  2. A couple of tools that are useful here:

    1. To help learn to sightread, try this book: Basic Greek in 30 Minutes a Day by Jim Found. He starts with cognates, the present tense verb endings, and simple sentences and translation exercises, rather like an elementary foreign language primer. Eventually, you're translating I John 1 by sight. He goes over some rules of grammar, but not many. His concern is that you can read the text and know the different noun cases and basic construction. He leaves the heavier lifting to Mounce and other texts.

    2. Dr. Maurice Robinson tells his students, and I agree, to be sure, once they are to the point they can read the text and know the basic rules of grammar, they should translate at least once a week for the rest of their lives to keep their skills fresh. Eventually, it becomes second nature, but you have to work on it.

    3. Yeah, Hebrew is another world.

  3. This is AWESOME!!!

    Atheist morons would never get this stuff.

  4. Gene,

    Jim Found's book is the first one that I used to attempt learning Greek and I must admit that I find it lacking. It starts off very good, starting with very simple concepts and introducing them to the novice in a natural way. About half way through the book though, it quickly shifts gears and pours on stuff that you know you will have to memorize rote before you can continue.

    Now, I have no problem with memorization - obviously, it's a necessity when you're learning a language, but I think the abrubt change in the book that dumps all of these concepts in the reader's lap at once is kind of a bad idea. Opinions may vary of course. I'm currently going through Mounce's book to see how I fare.

  5. Here are a few good online resources:




    4. More advice.

    5. Other websites from

  6. Oh, and of course, Dr. Mounce has a website. As well as free audio lectures of some classes: see here (under "Electives").

  7. I agree, Found shifts gears without warning. The bottom line: a student will have to memorize endings. Keep in mind that Found's goal is for you to sight read and fill in the gaps like a reader, not an exegete who's trying to parse words.

    I'd recommend that if this book is used:

    a. Memorize the vocabulary. It will serve the student well. Review it regularly. Keep in mind that Found sneaks vocabulary into his lessons without warning, which is frustrating. I would highly recommend he rewrite the book with a vocabulary list for each chapter and continue with it, just like a spelling course or reading course in grade school.

    b. Memorize the basic endings and review verb construction. This is inescapable.

    c. Construct a "basic test" that you review weekly for the following:

    Noun/Adj. endings.
    Verb endings.
    --Be sure to actually conjugate a verb and move a noun or two from each declension through its forms.

    Take "ego, su, and autos/autn/auto through their paces until you can recognize these.

    Ditto with "pav,pasa,pas," and "tis," and other odd words.

    On the 3rd Declension, just review the endings, because they are all over the map. Leave the particulars of construction to Mounce or another text. Just be sure you can recognize them when reading. The First and Second Declension are always easier to learn, because they follow a regular pattern.

    Doing this will develop a habit for you of writing down everything you know (bar vocabulary) before a test. You are not allowed in most courses to bring in your notes to an exam, but you are allowed to bring in blank paper. Spend the first ten minutes doing a "brain dump" of verb endings, noun/adjective ends, odd words, etc. Then, when you take your test/exam you'll have that in front of you for reference.

    Remember, the goal, with Found, is to read, not to identify every nuance of the text. That's the goal for which you should aim with Mounce or the other texts.

    I prefer these other texts, but for the layman, Found is a good start to get him / her used to the idea of sight-reading the text and developing the habit of keeping up with vocabulary. No student should begin and end with Found. S/he should get his/her sea legs there and then move on to another text.

    It also helps to memorize Scripture regularly, because you'll find yourself translating texts you know and you'll be able to fill in the gaps from memory (always helpful on a test in a real classroom setting).

  8. You got 'em, Triablogue! Atheists everywhere are really on the run now!!

  9. Well this blog does not exist only to refute atheists, although that seems to be the case lately, so forget your attempt at being sarcastic pal......

  10. Thanks for this.

  11. Hey Steve, is this how you learned Greek? Or are we your guiny pigs?