For the Record (David Alan Black): How Can I Keep Up with My Greek?

[Editor’s Note: David Alan Black is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern. He has published numerous books on New Testament Greek, including Learn to Read New Testament Greek and Using New Testament Greek in Ministry. He is regarded as an excellent teacher of the New Testament and Greek and a mentor of students. For these reasons, we asked him to help our readers with keeping up with their Greek.]

So you’ve studied New Testament Greek and are finding it a bit of a challenge to retain what you’ve learned. A lot of people don’t stick with it. “I tried learning Greek and it didn’t work for me.”

The problem with these people may just be that they never learned persistence. Do you want to master the Greek language and be able to use it in your walk with God and in your service for Him? If you do, you will have to put forth some effort. How can we “stick with it” in a practical sense?

1) One aspect of persistence is spending time in your Greek New Testament every day. Notice, I said spend time. It’s an investment, a conscious choice on your part. Don’t wait for it to just happen. Make time in the Greek text an indispensable part of your day. I do, and I never fail to benefit from it. If you need to, use any help that is out there, including interlinears. Yes, I said interlinears – which are usually considered anathema to Greek teachers. But if an interlinear can get you into the text, it’s worth the effort. As one preacher put it, “Halitosis is better than no breath at all.”

2) Second, take time to pray. Ask God to help you. For many Greek students, things go well for a few weeks. But as soon as a little difficulty comes their way they say, “Forget it. This is impossible.” That’s when you need to go to God in prayer. John wrote, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15). Prayer is your lifeline to God and your only source of strength. Take advantage of it.

3) Third, those who want to master the Greek language must grow constantly in their knowledge of grammar. If you’ve already had a year of Greek but are floundering, why not pick up a good intermediate textbook and begin reviewing your paradigms and syntax? Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics is excellent for this purpose. Others find my It’s Still Greek to Me helpful. If you’re going to master Greek you’re going to have become a perpetual student of the language. I’m sorry, but there aren’t any shortcuts, no easy solutions. We can’t skip a grade or two.

4) Fourth, to master Greek means to be patient with yourself. You put one foot in front of the other. It’s a steady gait, not a foot race. As I said above, the only way to get the job done is to stick with it.

5) Finally, let me suggest that you teach others what you’re learning. It’s often been said that the best way to learn something is by teaching it. This can make all the difference. It’s interesting that my best students tend to be those who are teaching Greek to others, whether in their small group fellowships or to their children at home or in their Sunday School classes. A couple of years ago I taught beginning Greek in my local church every Monday night for a year. We started out with 55 students and finished with six. At times I almost decided to give up. It’s at times like these that I have to ask myself, “Who am I serving? Am I doing this for God or for me?” The Bible says, “Let us not grow weary while doing what is good, because at the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). I’m so proud of those six students who finished the course, who ran the race to the end. I’m also deeply appreciative of the efforts of those who had to drop out along the way, some for serious medical problems. (My wife Becky, one of my very best students, had to leave the course because of her surgery and chemotherapy).

I know that Greek can be tough. If anyone ever experienced a sinking feeling while studying this language, it was me. I dropped out of my beginning Greek class at Biola after only three weeks! Thankfully I went on to take Moody Bible Institute’s correspondence course and, by God’s grace, aced it. Remember what Peter’s problem was when he was walking on the water? He took his eyes off the Lord. And that just about says it all.

An Invitation to Study New Testament at Southeastern

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of the New Testament for the Christian faith, non? The New Testament continues the narrative begun in the Old Testament with the fourfold record of the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of the promised and long-awaited Messiah of Israel, and so the world, Jesus. His message-that the kingdom of God is at hand, so all should repent and believe the gospel-was proclaimed by John the Baptist (see Mark 1) before him and by his disciples after him (see Matt 10:5-10). By gathering his 12 disciples, performing messianic signs (miracles), establishing the New Covenant (see Luke 22), promising the Holy Spirit (see John 14-16), dying and rising from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-5; cf. Mark 8:31-32), and commissioning his disciples to carry forward his mission (Matt. 28:18-20; John 20:21-23), Jesus demonstrated that his gospel of the kingdom was the truth and that he was indeed the promised and long-awaited Messiah (John 20:30-31).

After the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2), the promised inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God occurred (see Acts 8, 10) and the church expanded across the known world. Paul’s conversion and call continued this trajectory as he planted churches composed of Jews and Gentiles “in Christ” (see Eph 2:11-22). In the midst of his church planting and gospel work, Paul wrote epistles instructing believers on their history and destiny (e.g. Rom 8; Eph 1-2) and on how to live now in light of the “not yet” (e.g., 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:8-21). His colleagues Peter, James, John, Jude and the author of Hebrews joined him in writing letters which proclaim the same gospel but do so with beautiful diversity. Revelation then concludes the story of God’s faithful dealings with all of creation, summarizing his plan for his people in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21).

But how do we accurately interpret these books written many years ago? How do they fit together as a coherent and unified whole? How do they fit with the Old Testament testimony? How do they apply in a 21st century context? How can I preach through books of the New Testament, being faithful to the text but also communicating meaningfully to the multiple cultures and sub-cultures that surround me?

For those of you who seek answers to these types of questions, we invite you to come study with us at Southeastern. At Southeastern you will have the opportunity to study the New Testament in the original Greek and so be better equipped to minister to the people of God (see Eph 4:11-13) for the glory of God. In so doing, you will have the opportunity to study with the following men:

David Beck (Ph.D., Duke University) is Professor of New Testament and Greek and Associate Dean of Biblical Studies. He is the author of The Discipleship Paradigm: Readers and Anonymous Characters in the Fourth Gospel (Brill) and co-editor with fellow SEBTS Professor David Alan Black of Rethinking the Synoptic Problem (Baker). Dr. Beck manages to be, at the same time, both wickedly smart and enviably laid back.

David Black (D. Theol., University of Basel, Switzerland) is Professor of New Testament and Greek and author of Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications (Baker); Learn to Read New Testament Greek (Broadman & Holman); Why Four Gospels? (Kregel) and the author and editor of over 15 other books. Dr. Black is internationally renowned as a Greek scholar, is a member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, and spends 3-4 months overseas per year working in Ethiopia and other countries.

Ed Gravely (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies and History of Ideas and wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Codex Vaticanus under the supervision of Maurice Robinson, fellow SEBTS professor. Dr. Gravely is smart, funny, and articulate. He is one of the few textual critics alive who is not weird.

Scott Kellum (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek, author of The Unity of the Farewell Discourse: the Literary Integrity of John 13:31-16:33 (T&T Clark), and co-author with Andreas J. Köstenberger and Charles L. Quarles of The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (B&H). Dr. Kellum mastered classical Greek in college and koine Greek at the grad and post-grad level; if any other sort of Greek develops in the future, he’ll know that too.

Andreas Johannes Köstenberger (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Senior Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and Director of Ph.D. Studies at Southeastern. He is the author, translator, and editor of more than 20 books including The Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God (Zondervan); John, Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament (Baker); co-author with L. Scott Kellum and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (B&H); co-author with Michael Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Crossway); God, Marriage, and Family: Restoring the Biblical Foundation with fellow SEBTS professor David Jones (Crossway). Dr. Köstenberger has written more books than most people have read, and he’s only mid-career. Scary.

David Lanier (Ph.D., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Professor of New Testament and served as Editor of Southeastern’s first journal, Faith and Mission 11/1 (Fall 1993) to 24/3 (Summer 2007). Dr. Lanier is a particularly amiable fellow, and is a history buff whose specialty is the Confederate War.

Benjamin Lee Merkle (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek and author of The Elder and Overseer: One Office in the Early Church (Peter Lang); 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Kregel), for which also he serves as Series Editor; Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide (Kregel); and co-editor with fellow SEBTS professor John S. Hammett of Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (B&H, forthcoming). Dr. Merkle lived and taught in Malaysia for years and is known for being a thorough and efficient writer of theological prose. If he continues publishing at this rate, he might give Dr. Köstenberger a run for his money.

Maurice Robinson (Ph.D., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Professor of New Testament and a renowned textual criticism scholar. He is the author of Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament: Revised and Updated (Hendrickson, forthcoming). Dr. Robinson is a world-renowned textual critic, an accomplished guitarist, and is known to give a Bob Dylan impersonation that is “spot on.”

Southeastern offers several degrees with a focus on the New Testament. The Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies with a minor in Biblical Studies introduces undergraduate students to the knowledge and skills central to the work of pastors, particularly in the area of Old and New Testament competency. The Master or Arts (Biblical Languages) prepares students to serve as translators and as field supervisors for Bible translation teams. The M.Div. with Pastoral Ministry prepares students for pastoral ministry in the local church with and is grounded in study of the Old and New Testament. The M.Div. with Christian Ministry offers the same strong core education while giving one freedom to pursue elective courses in the area of New Testament and Greek. The M.Div. with Advanced Biblical Studies offers the greatest opportunity for focus in New Testament and Greek exegesis, preparing one for a pastoral or teaching ministry. The Th.M. in Biblical Studies equips post-M.Div. students who want to enhance their theological training, either for preparation for doctoral study or as an advanced degree for service in the church. Students can take the thesis or non-thesis tracks under the supervision of a professor in the area of New Testament and Greek. Finally, the Ph.D. in Biblical Studies with a concentration in New Testament prepares students to teach New Testament, Greek, and other courses to college or seminary students, and to write about the interpretation and theology of the New Testament.

We invite you to study with our New Testament faculty in the B. A., M.Div., Th.M., or Ph.D. programs of Southeastern. For more info visit our website (http://www.sebts.edu/) and check out the Admissions and Academics links.