b-greek-digest V1 #763
b-greek-digest Sunday, 25 June 1995 Volume 01 : Number 763
In this issue:
Re: Made-up Greek sentences
Real or artificial
Re: Translation Question (Act...
From: Ken Penner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sat, 24 Jun 1995 11:32:56 -0800
Subject: Re: Made-up Greek sentences
Last week there was a thread about using made-up sentences in
teaching New Testament Greek. I was hoping to see more on this
subject because I will start helping teach introductory Greek
The issue here is whether to use sentences taken directly from
the New Testament material or to generate new sentences.
Summarizing the basic arguments as I've seen them,
On the side of using the NT:
- - It gives students the satisfaction of having translated a
portion of the Bible. Students feel like they're accomplishing
their goal: to read the NT.
- - The material is relevant to students who are learning the
language to help appreciate what God revealed.
- - Students feel progress in understanding the Bible.
Disadvantages of using the NT:
- - It's unreliable for testing students' knowledge. A student
may already know the verse in English. (Solution: discipline
on the student's part.)
Advantages of using made-up sentences:
- - To see if students can translate without any help at all
(like memory of the verse in English).
- - Exercises can be made to emphasize what was covered in each
- - Sentences can be constructed to test any particular
point of grammar.
Disadvantages of using made-up sentences:
- - If one person makes up all the exercises in a course, they
tend to sound very similar. (Solution: have several
- - Often, made-up sentences will make no sense. This
is frustrating for students.
Alternatives and their pros and cons:
1) Make NT sentences fit the lesson by modifying or
Con: some students find "tampering" with the Bible offensive.
2) Use authentic sentences from the LXX.
Con (or Pro): LXX syntax often follows the Hebrew and does not
reflect a Greek way of expressing things.
Pro: exposes students to the scriptures of early Christians.
3) Use non-canonical early Christian writings.
Con: some vocabulary will have evolved since the NT.
Pro: exposes students to a wider view of early Christianity.
I find myself on the side of using authentic Koine material.
I'd like to hear feedback from the rest of you, in case I'm
missing a something.
The main problem I see with using made-up sentences is that it
rewards memorizing glosses and rules rather than enabling the
student to learn meaning from context. None of us can know
Koine Greek perfectly. When we make up sentences, we are
teaching students OUR limited understanding of the language,
rather that letting the language itself teach them. We pass on
our own misunderstandings and narrow views. Using authentic
material is as close as we can come to learning NT Greek from a
I'm afraid that adversarial exercises "filled with every
imaginable linguistic booby trap" (to use McNair's words) make
student and teacher into opponents. Students would develop
antagonism toward the language rather than love for it. Also,
"For each time students attempt to learn something and don't
succeed, the probability that they will learn it on the next
attempt diminishes" (Erickson, p. 33).
There is no such thing as translating "without any help at
all". Language always has a context. For example, when the
Philippians heard Paul's letter, they had some idea of what he
was going to say next. Using verses in isolation is already
stretching this point.
I'm concerned that students raised on "decoding" made-up
sentences and will think of studying Greek as an artificial,
esoteric, irrelevant exercise. They would see little to tie it
to reality and less to suggest that this learning might have
some use after the exam is over. They could see Greek as a
daunting, uninteresting, irrelevant ordeal.
Yet many self-motivated students have used Machen or similar
books and have become brilliant Greek scholars. The key word
is "motivated". I believe that the single most important factor
contributing to apprehension of any subject is interest. And
that's the strong point of using NT sentences. Students get
excited about actually reading their NT. If we aim for a low
threshold of utility, student interest will be more easily
Whereas I think we shouldn't use made-up sentences for
exercises, using them on tests is another issue. I recognize
that at schools we need to have a reliable way of finding out
if students are really learning the material. Translating
made-up sentences is the easy way but perhaps not the only way
to accomplish this.
For testing, I'm inclined to suggest deigning questions asking
the student to identify what's wrong with a translation. Or get
them to explain why they translated a verse one way rather
To test parsing abilities, we can have students parse
isolated words. To test memorization of glosses, give them
straight vocabulary quizzes. To find out if they understand
syntax, get them to explain points in their own words. But if
we want to test comprehension (which is what I see as the
purpose of learning NT Greek), we should supply students with
as much context as practical. Maybe even supply them with a
standard English translation of the passage in question.
I think exams should reflect real-world situations. If the
goal is to understand the NT in the original language, we
should design exams to test that ability, not their
"problem-solving" ability. The last thing I want is for
students to think of the New Testament as an intellectual
exercise or a problem to be solved.
Would you agree? Disagree? Modify anything I've said?
Elaborate? I appreciate your feedback.
Erickson Gerald M., "Self-paced Instruction: Back to the
Little Red Schoolhouse?", _Strategies in Teaching Greek and
Latin_, ed. Floyd L. Moreland, Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981.
McNair, Ian. "Learning New Testament Greek at a Distance", _Vox
Evangelica_ 22 ('92), 57-61.
From: "DR. KEN PULLIAM" <email@example.com>
Date: Sat, 24 Jun 1995 12:58:09 -0700 (MST)
Subject: Real or artificial
This is in reply to Ken Penner's question concerning using real sentences
either from the NT or other Koine source or using artificial sentences
made up by the instructor. I have taught Ele. Inter., and Adv. Greek courses
for 9 years. Up until this year I had always used a straight deductive
approach to teaching using the standard first year books by Machen and later
Ray Summers. This year I decided to use the book by William Mounce, BASICS
OF BIBLICAL GREEK, which takes a more inductive approach. Again, there are
pros and cons to both approaches. The biggest weakness I see with the
inductive approach, where the student is given portions of the NT almost
from day one, is that they are overwhelmed with information before they
can assimilate it. It seems that it is better for a student to learn a little
master that and then move on to the next lesson. Using the NT I would have
to constantly explain to them new phenomena long before we had covered it
in the text. They had a difficult time building confidence in their ability
to translate the Greek.
On the positive side they saw the practical and spiritual value of studying
earlier than students following the other method. As far as their overall
performance, at least in comparing one class to the other 8, they seemed to
better equipped at the end of the class. This may be due, however, to
greater aptitude on the part of the class.
I guess what I am saying is that from my standpoint the jury is still out
on which is the best approach. I do believe however that you should get
them in the NT as fast as you comfortably can.
Date: Sat, 24 Jun 1995 21:55:21 -0400
Subject: Re: Translation Question (Act...
To my (rather limited) knowledge there are 4 ways a noun can be definite:
1) By use of the definite article;
2) By modification;
3) By definition; and
4) By use of a preposition.
"By definition" means that if the substantive represents the only one of its
kind it is definite. For example, the noun "world" (kosmos) need not be
preceded by the article (though it could be) because, since there is only one
"world", the reference to "a world" would have no meaning in that there is no
other world than THE world to which we could refer. It is possible that the
reference in your passage to _odon swthrias_ could be translated "the way of
salvation" if the reference is taken to be to the one true way of salvation,
since there is, in reality, no other way to salvation than that to which Paul
and his entourage testified.
Paul E. Brouillette
Gordon-Conwel Theological Seminary
End of b-greek-digest V1 #763
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