This post is intended to give a one-stop-shop explanation of how you can teach yourself New Testament Greek (also called “Koine Greek”).
In the summer of 2010, I attempted to teach myself Biblical Greek so I could test out of two Beginners Greek classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
I gave up.
I was beat.
Those hundreds of vocab words, complex parsing charts, and participles got the best of me.
A few months after the next semester started, I regretted giving up and getting beat in my attempt to learn biblical Greek. But I did resolve to make it the goal of my next summer to conquer the Greek. And that is what I did.
My goal was to test out of an entire year of Beginner’s Greek (two classes, 8 credit hours) and get placed into Greek Exegesis 1. The rest of that year I talked to people who had taught themselves Greek and passed the test to see what I should do. Here are a few things they said along with a few personal tips:
- Treat it like a job. I saved myself 8 credit hours worth of tuition by teaching myself, which amounted to several thousand dollars. Pretend that your teaching yourself Greek is a job where you can clock in and get paid. Then add what you would save to what you expect to make over the summer. This might only help motivate you if you are a poor seminary student like I was!
- Map out the entire course. I had about two months to work my way through the entire 35 chapters of the Basics of Biblical Greek book (listed below). I scheduled days on my calendar to do each individual chapter, and dates where a friend who knew Greek well could test me (which goes with the next tip). If you are just learning Greek for fun (and really want to learn it), set some goals and talk to some people who have done it. Like many things in life, if you have no ultimate goal in sight, it is easy to drift off and waste all the time and effort you put into studying. If you are taking a placement test, find out from others what would be wise to study. A friend recommended for me to read the Didache in Greek for practice and because they sometimes used portions of that on the test I took.
- Find some sort of accountability. One of the reasons I gave up studying Greek myself is because I had no stake in the game–no fire under my butt to make sure I got the work done and did it well. To change that, I paid a friend to test me several times in order to force me to keep up with my work.
- Study often and study consistently. Taking a week or even a weekend off can set you back in your studies. Put some flashcards or a sheet with paradigms listed in your pocket and pull them out when in traffic, waiting for an appointment, etc. Try to not take too much time off from studying. If you need a break, try to at least review some of the basics and things you learned most recently for at least 10-15 minutes every few days. You will be glad you did!
- Work smarter, not harder. Keep a cheat-sheet with paradigms and vocab cards in your pocket, and study them every chance you get. Listen to audio in the car (see recommendations below) or find good YouTube videos to teach you.The two laminated reference sheets below (each around $5-7 on Amazon) will be the best $10-$14 you have ever spent, and will save you countless hours flipping around in your text books.
- Remember that your goal is to know God’s Word. Spending a ridiculous amount of hours memorizing vocabulary words and parsings for a dead language can be discouraging! Remember that the God of the universe chose to reveal himself to humanity through his Word, and that the words you translate (or will translate) are the very Words of God. Take joy that you have the privilege to study God’s Word at such a deep level—it is something people all over the world would love to have the opportunity to do. Also, if you are struggling with the language, know that God’s acceptance of you does not depend on your parsing skills or mastery of grammar–it depends on the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Recommended Resources for Elementary Greek:
- Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar* by William Mounce (make sure you get it with the CD). This textbook is as clear and simple as they get. He goes at a good pace and explains things in an understandable way. The CD that came with mine had a CD-ROM that had video lectures of Dr. Mounce and a flashcard program for learning Greek vocabulary. I used the 2003 edition in 2011 and it helped me pass my placement test.
- Biblical Greek Survival Kit by William Mounce. I did not use this one, but it contains what I did use and more. This survival kit has a set of flashcards, audio CD for vocabulary (which would have been so helpful!), and a laminated ‘cheatsheet’ with all of the noun and verb paradigms in one place (invaluable!!!).
- Basics of Biblical Greek Workbook.* If you are going to teach yourself with the Mounce book, this accompanying workbook is a must. It ensures that you understand what you are learning in the book and lectures and is the only thing that can gauge how you are doing.
- Basics of Biblical Greek Vocabulary Cards (The Zondervan Vocabulary Builder Series)* If you look at the tips section below, you will see the importance of knowing vocabulary. Keep in mind the CD-Rom that comes with the Mounce text comes with a computer program that can test vocab. There are now phone apps as well.
- Sing and Learn New Testament Greek: The Easiest Way to Learn Greek Grammar.* The track on prepositions on this CD is worth the price of the CD alone. I think that track is still in my iTunes “Top 25 Played” playlist several years later! Here is a video of a Greek class singing many of the tracks on this CD to give you a preview. The CD comes with a booklet with lyrics and explanations of concepts that I always found myself going back to.
- Biblical Greek Laminated Sheet (Zondervan Get an A! Study Guides). This will make your life SOOOOO much easier. The most important things of beginning Greek all on one laminated sheet.
The benefit of getting all of these related items is that they all organize terms, vocab, and their approach the same way. It would be confusing and a little difficult if you used resources from different people.
Other Recommended Resources for Advanced Exegetical Study:
The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar by Daniel Wallace.
- New Testament Greek Syntax Laminated Sheet (Zondervan Get an A! Study Guides). If you are taking a Greek Exegesis class and using the categories set out by Daniel Wallace, this is the best money you will ever spend. Trust me!
- New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors(3rd Edition) by Gordon Fee.
- Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson. This is probably a good book to reread every few years to make sure you’re dividing the word of truth correctly.
Tips for Learning New Testament Greek:
- Know the declensions, paradigms, vocabulary, and how sentences fit together (syntax). This is so important! You have to know how the different parts of Greek function and how they fit together. When you know the little parts by instinct, the whole sentences put themselves together.
- Know vocabulary. I said this before, but it is so important that I thought I’d say it again in case it didn’t stick the first time. Because not all New Testament Greek vocabulary occurs the same number of times in the Bible, make sure you have mastered the words that occur most frequently. Most classes/textbooks force you to learn those first and constantly review them.
- Group similar vocab words together, and then study the group to note the differences. For example, the word didomi and paradidomi are very similar, but not the same. Studying related words together will help you keep them straight in your head.
- When translating (for the more advanced), hold off using Bible software. Knowing how to use software is great, but it may steal from your ability to actually know the language. Do the hard work now, then using software in the future will be better because you’ll actually know what it all means.
- Read a verse or two a day of Greek. Try reading a few verses in Greek each day (once you’re at a reading level). This will allow you to keep the vocab, rules, and syntax fresh without much effort. Little efforts like this over a long period of time add up! For students trying to stay fresh in both biblical Hebrew and Greek, the book More Light on the Path: Daily Scripture Readings in Hebrew and Greek provides just a few verses a day in Greek and Hebrew that takes just a few minutes to read.
- Daily Dose of Greek — Dr. Robert Plumber of SBTS shares a short video each day to help you keep up your Greek. Browse his site for more amazing resources for learning Greek.
- BibleWebApp — This free online tool shows the Greek New Testament parallel to your selected English translation, will parse word and verbs, and help you tremendously! I didn’t have Logos while I went through Greek, but used this all the time instead.
- Free Online NT Greek Dictionary — If you need me to explain this one, you’re going to have trouble with New Testament Greek :).
- Biblical Greek Audio. Read the New Testament along with audio clips of each verse.
- Basics of Biblical Greek Courses on YouTube from Concordia University (starting at chapter 6 of Mounce)
- Here is a video that can help you learn the Greek alphabet:
May God richly bless your studies!
Photo used courtesy of Diffendale, ekidreki, and Chadbrooks under the Creative Commons License.