A Case for Learning Greek
1 Oct 2019
The Greek language is notorious for having lots of rules for grammar which many seminarians struggle with to varying degrees with when they first started learning the language.
The difficulty of grasping the ancient language has led to some theological seminaries making the study of the Greek language, or even Hebrew, optional for seminarians in their pursuit for a degree in theology.
However, there is much value for a seminarian to learn the language given that the New Testament was originally written in Greek.
We spoke to our seminarians Jerome Leng and Vanessa Ong as well as our pastor in training Daniel Lu who shared why they believe that learning Greek in seminary is an important part of theological education.
Is Greek Really Still Worth It?
Vanessa, a second year student in Moore Theological College, realised through her studies that English was an imprecise language.
Greek on the other hand despite its difficulty, had a depth, richness and detail which English lacked simply because it had more ways to convey an author’s intention, interestingly, because of its huge number of grammar rules. In the case of the bible, the detailed rules of Greek gave clarity about the intention of the biblical authors and God himself.
She even reports enjoying her second year of Greek classes (while still making long-suffering jokes about its difficulty).
“The assignments are giving me a ‘life-long learning’ view and I’m happier and more relaxed because I can just focus on learning rather than trying not to drown in new information which I struggled with in my first year,” she says.
She also reflected that this lifelong learning attitude is equally important for carrying out ministry, which requires pastors to humbly self-correct and think critically about themselves for the sake of teaching and leading the church.
Jerome, a final year student in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, likewise found Greek to be important for his own clarity about God and the scriptures.
“Greek has changed my appreciation of the Scriptures as the Word of God. Greek is able to communicate God’s truth in a way that is concise and profound…. The message of the biblical authors comes through clearer to me than when I would read it in English” he says.
Our pastor in training, Daniel, shares the same sentiments with our seminarians that knowing Greek well will help in seeing repeated phrases and ideas that one might otherwise miss in English. Hence, helping you read the bible more accurately.
“It also helps with getting a better understanding of what action is taking place and the relationship between the verbs (i.e. participles are always attached to the main verbs) because of the grammatical rules inherent in Greek,” he explains.
Is Knowing Basic Greek enough?
Daniel cautions that knowing only some Greek is actually more dangerous when it comes to misinterpreting the biblical text than not knowing any Greek at all!
“If you want to study Greek, make sure you learn not just the meaning of words, but the grammatical rules as well as the exceptions to it. Read up advanced Greek and commentaries that will provide good discussions on the possible options to interpreting a sentence and let context be your guide,” he explains.
There is no limit for how much Greek pastors should learn, our seminarians say.
Jerome explains that pastors should have a knowledge of Greek which is as functional as possible in order to read the bible in detail and appreciate its full intended meaning.
Vanessa explains that the value of a Greek course lies in the intensity of the introductory course. While some seminaries will require students to literally translate entire Greek texts, other seminaries may only need students to be able to read basic or intermediate Greek.
However, the duration of a Greek class does lend some weight in the seminarian’s mastery of the language. According to Vanessa, the duration of Greek classes can serve as an indicator of what the college can achieve in terms of teaching students.
Jerome adds that the typical Greek class which lasts a year is rarely enough to read Greek properly. He recommends taking extra courses or electives (which are optional in most seminaries) to really understand the language for all it’s worth.
His last piece of advice is to choose different professors and learn their styles.
“Some professors like to do diagramming and tracing, and others like to do discourse analysis. Expose yourself and learn both. Do not be afraid.
Lastly, submit your learning to God and ask Him to bless your studies. After all, you are learning Greek to read and obey God’s word. The desire to read God’s word in the original languages will encourage you to keep going when it gets tough!”
Is There An Easier Way Around Greek?
Sorry, there is no easy way out of it.
“There’s no shortcut to learning Greek, so don’t bother looking for it. It is going to be hard. It is going to take time. So, prepare yourself to put in the hours, days, months, and years to learn the language” says Jerome.
For Daniel, it took him a year to learn the basics of Greek. It took him another two years to better appreciate how the Greek grammatical rules work in the actual writings and understand the exceptions and ambiguities in Greek grammar.
“I’m still not a master of Greek yet, but I can definitely work out the meaning with the help of my Greek textbooks and commentaries,” he shares.
Our seminarians recommended taking intensive classes before going to college, to prepare students for the large amounts of new information and time needed to work on Greek.
Discipline is also an important tool to study Greek which often requires many repeated language exercises to build competence.
The only way? Bite the bullet.