An Interesting, Innovative Approach to Reading Biblical Greek
The English idiom “It’s all Greek to me” isn’t merely an expression that something isn’t understandable. It also embodies the frustrations all first-year Greek students have when they encounter the foreign language of the New Testament, yet want to understand it in order to read it for themselves.
A new innovative approach to Greek grammar aims to ameliorate such frustrations.
Reading Biblical Greek, ideated and designed by Richard J. Gibson and Constantine R. Campbell, introduces first-year Greek students to the essential information needed to optimize their grasp of the fundamentals of the Greek language—no more and no less—enabling them to read and translate New Testament Greek as soon as possible.
[This book’s] distinctive approach has been shaped by lessons learned over decades from students struggling with the inherent challenge of language acquisition, the limitations of inherited learning methods, and the ineptitude of their teachers…The effort put in over decades to redesign, reorganize, and refine has been motivated by these students in attempts to reduce the hours and the pain required to start translating the New Testament. (vii)
New Testament professor Mark Strauss calls their book “An interesting and innovative approach to biblical Greek.” Below we’ve briefly outlined how its approach can benefit either your students or yourself in learning and reading biblical Greek.
The Learning Approach
Gibson and Campbell’s Greek grammar tool is designed to optimize the learning experience by revolving around three core elements:
- Grammar. The pedagogical philosophy embraced here is minimalism. They are quick to point out this isn’t a reference grammar, but “aimed at optimizing [your] grasp of the fundamentals of the Greek language” (xiii). The grammar consists of micro-lessons addressing a single point, which break up information into small, digestible chunks. This arrangement makes for easy comprehension and review, and allows the teacher to pace the material based on its difficulty and ability of their students.
- Vocabulary. As an essential complement to grammar, vocabulary is introduced at strategic points. “Rather than lists arranged purely by frequency, the vocabulary is arranged first by what the student has been learning in grammar, and then by frequency” (xiii). All lists are collated at the back of the book for easy access, with the first 13 keyed to Mark 1-4 to help students integrate their vocabulary learning with a “real” Greek text.
- Reading and Translation. “The goal of this grammar is to enable students to read and translate the Greek of the New Testament. Learning grammatical information is simply a means to this end. Thus, the content is structured and tied to a specific Greek text to enable reading as soon as possible” (xiii). What’s fabulous about this innovative approach to reading biblical Greek is that a student–using the handy Reading Biblical Greek Workbook–will have read and translated the whole of Mark 1–4 by the end of the course.
The Layout Approach
When it came to designing a new approach to teaching people to read biblical Greek, Gibson and Campbell had three goals: clarity, convenience, and currency.
The quest for clarity is reflected in visual layout, the three-column structure to each lesson. Convenience accounts for the apparent minimalism of the material…In terms of currency, the material also seeks to reflect the latest development in verbal aspect, middle lexical forms, and other issues without burdening the beginner we detailed discussions better suited to intermediate-level study. (vii)
This approach is made evident in how lessons have been carefully (re)structured, using a three-column layout approach:
- Column 1: Introducing a New Topic. Students are expected to engage thoughtfully with this material, clarifying anything that is unclear and understanding what is the most important information. This is also the minimal information they’re asked to learn in order to have a confident grasp of the material.
- Column 2: Material to Be Memorized. This material needs to be remembered, including such concepts as noun and verb paradigms, and rules of grammar. Students are instructed to rehearse the paradigms, ensuring that they sound them out correctly and become familiar with the rhythms. Then, they need to practice and memorize the paradigms and relevant vocabulary lists.
- Column 3: Examples and Exercises. Examples and exercises are offered to illustrate the principles outlined in the introduction, reinforcing their memorization and application. Students are asked to initially observe how the examples demonstrate the new material, and then complete the exercises using the included space and check their answers against the key in the back.
The overarching goal of Gibson and Campbell’s approach “is to equip students to read the text of Mark’s Gospel as soon as practicable. The approach is informed by the dictum, ‘If you can translate one chapter of the New Testament, you can translate any chapter.’” (vii).
In a few weeks we’ll showcase this learning and layout approach, as well its real-world application. Until then, consider engaging their resource yourself to see why Michael Bird calls it “accessible and user-friendly for instructors and students alike.”
Professors, are you interested in taking a deeper look? Go here to request your exam copy.