Until the Reformation, it was not standard practice for clergy to learn the original languages of the Scriptures. This was in part due to the long reign of Jerome’s Vulgate translation into Latin that was the officially endorsed version of the Roman Catholic Church. Among Protestant pastors, learning Hebrew and Greek is common and often required, but this regard for the importance of the biblical text in its original languages has not filtered through to Christians on the other side of the pulpit. I want to say that the combination of centuries of working with the text and rigorous scholarship have given us English translations in which we can have a very high degree of trust. No one should think that because they don’t know Hebrew or Greek, they cannot understand God’s word. I recently saw a tweet where someone said “Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your bride through a veil.” This is foolish and ignores the work of translators and scholars who have worked hard to give us accurate translations. In English, we have an embarrassment of riches.
However, for those who want to explore the original languages, I want to encourage you that it has in fact never been easier to do so. What I write here is specific to Greek, but I think it would hold true for Hebrew as well. The changes to content delivery over the past several years have led to a “democratization” of learning. There is no need to sit in a class at a fixed time to listen to lecture on a topic. This has been a great boon for learning in general, and those learning Greek can use this to great advantage.
I share the methods and materials I have used, but as the saying goes, “Your mileage may vary.”
William Mounce: Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. Mounce’s textbook has been a standard for years, and he has honed the material through several editions, and proved it through classroom instruction. It is an approachable, easy to follow presentation of the grammar of Greek. Mounce has a complete system of other books (A Morphology of Biblical Greek) and flashcards to learn vocabulary. I use the flashcards and recommend them.
Daniel Wallace: Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Wallace’s book is a 2nd year text, as the name indicates, going beyond grammar and paradigms and moving on to syntax—usage of the language. Wallace’s mantra is “syntax is the backbone of exegesis.” Learning how the NT writers used the language is just as important as being able to recognize forms. This is a tome of some 860 pages, so it functions as a reference as well as an instructional manual.
Both Mounce and Wallace have accompanying workbooks, which are very important and useful.
Both Mounce and Wallace have lectures working through their textbooks. I purchased these several years ago (they come through Vimeo) and at the time, they were downloadable. Zondervan appears to have changed the model somewhat. Mounce’s lectures are broken into two separate courses now, and they are no longer downloadable (so you need an internet connection) In the case of Mounce anyway, they also now have a subscription model, so you get access for a yearly fee. That’s unfortunate, because you have keep paying. But the videos are valuable because you can watch as many times as you want, go back and review what you don’t understand. From time to time, Zondervan will offer a sale for these, so you can keep an eye out for that.
With the Mounce text, there are several teachers who have put their lectures out on Youtube, which are of course free. So even if you don’t want to pay for the Vimeo lectures, there are still options. In addition to going through each chapter of textbook, there are a plethora of videos out there covering various topics of New Testament Greek. The problem is not finding material, it is finding time for it.
Quizlet is an online flashcard app (and phone app) that you can use to create custom flashcards of things you want to drill, or you can use any of the already-created flashcard sets that are out there. One nice feature of Quizlet is, if you start to create your own set, and type in, for example “Present Active Indicative,” Quizlet will instantly search all sets it has and offer you a card or a definition you can incorporate.
The Greek New Testament Reader web site is one of the best resources learners of Greek can use. It is a free site, put out by the folks who created the Logos Bible software. GNT Reader is great because it offers parsing of every word in the NT. If you don’t know a word, you can click on it, and it will tell you, for example, “Noun: Genitive Masculine Plural 144 occurrences.” This occurrence number is a clickable link that will show you where else this word is used.
The search function is great because it allows you to search for specific grammatical constructions. If, for example, you wanted to drill yourself on participles, you can search for these, by tense, voice, etc. I have then used this to create flashcards on Quizlet.
This web site is another wealth of riches. John Dyer of Dallas Seminary has put this site together which has some nice features. One advantage over gntreader.com is, when you hover over a word, it will give you a pop-up of the parsed form of the word, whereas gntreader.com takes you to another page. The Bible Web App will show also show you all occurrences of a word in that same screen. (In contrast to gntreader.com, the Bible App also distinguishes things like 1st Aorist from 2nd Aorist.) It also has several versions of the Greek text including Tischendorf, Westcott & Hort, and the Septuagint as well.
Consistency is important, and as repetition is the law of learning, you have to keep using the language, keep reading. I’ve achieved what I would call “functionality” in the language. I can read the Greek NT without depending an interlinear. My goal is to keep going. There are lists online of the relative difficulty of the grammar in the NT. Generally speaking, the Johannine writings are the easiest Greek, so starting with these, you can boost your confidence and begin using the language for the most important reason: to know God’s Word and the Lord Jesus better.