Re: Learning/Teaching Greek at Different Levels

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Thu Aug 29 1996 - 13:50:52 EDT

Don wrote on Date: Tue, 27 Aug 1996 10:49:57 -0700 (PDT)

>John, thanks for your comments and questions. It has been a very long time
>since I taught the "little" Greek course, so only a couple of things stand out
>in memory. One that I will never forget, and which may well have been a nega-
>tive turning point, was that a student shared with the class how the concept
>of hO THEOS being "the only true God" impressed and edified him (I believe he
>was using Thayer's lexicon, but I don't have a copy and can't say for sure).
>On the surface this may seem to be just the kind of comment a teacher whould
>like to hear, but all the listers are well aware of the problems and challenges
>posed by the term QEOS with and without the article. So during the discussion
>I attempted to correct the student gently, pointing out that this was a theo-
>logical interpretation etc., without its being wrong in a given context. But
>the student seemed to deflate before my eyes and tried to salvage something of
>his definition anyway, and I think the rest of the class was wondering what the
>use of learning the material was if someone was going to throw cold water on

Boy, does this sound familiar ! These kinds of grammatical landmines are the
reason that, when I teach this course yearly, I both make it clear that I'm
NOT teaching them grammar AND I give them examples of how they cannot make
such grammatical interpretations with their limited knowledge (and the use/
non-use of the article is one of the prime examples, since you not only have
the problem of Greek covering with two categories what English covers with
three, but you also find as you read that different writers use the article
differently). It can be deflating, but I've just come to the conclusion that
its better to have students who realize their limitations, than to have ones
who think that their interlinear and Strongs is the solution to all
interpretive problems; sometimes, students who think a quick fix course in
Greek will allow them to solve all the problems in the text or pontificate
at a moment's notice are unwilling to deal with the reality of their
limitations and they just quit--its not a situation which makes me happy,
but I've resigned myself to the fact that such an outcome is better than
encouraging their naivete (or arrogance, as the case may be), and having them
go out and teach utter nonsense from the text (esp., if they claim I was
their teacher :-) )...I think there are enough folks out there already
who are doing that !

>Overall, I remember thinking that what I taught the students didn't stick
>with them, e.g. nuances of tenses (as you suggested). I'll be the first to
>admit that I did not do a great job, but then the fact remains that learning
>Greek takes a good deal of time and effort, and a class like the one I
>tends by nature not to have much discipline or commitment on the part of the
>students (not their fault, it's just human nature to skip study time and home-
>work when you don't really have to commit to either).

Amen and Amen !!! The problem is that study after study has shown that
there is a 90% dropout rate for Greek students (its 99% for Hebrew) who have
had between 1 and 2 years of Greek; so the drop out rate is still there
even if they learn more and invest more. My own informal survey seems to
indicate that the reason that people stop using their Greek when they, for
example, hit the pastorate, is because they can't read/translate with ease.
They learned grammar, and can tell you lots of stuff about the grammar, but
didn't learn enough vocab and didn't translate enough text to feel comfortable
with it. So they find that it takes them 5 of the 10 hours they have devoted
to the preparation of the Sunday sermon just to read through the passage; do
that a couple of times and you just stop doing it altogether. That's why I so
deeply believe in getting students into the text or Koine Greek stories as
quickly as possible, with a minimum of grammar and a maximum of vocab; this is
the main reason that I use Story/Story's _Greek to Me_ with the vocab cards
with the goofy pictures on them, and that the course of study for Greek here
at Multnomah is 3 years, with 3 1/3 semesters devoted entirely to reading/
translating the NT (@40%), LXX, and Koine lit. In the process of reading I
constantly review and deepen their knowledge of grammar; not to mention an
entire semester (1st, 3rd year) devoted wholly to Syntax/Advanced Grammar--
I have to confess that its a lot of fun to discuss Syntax with students who
can go just about anywhere in the text, translate with relative ease, and
SEE the actual problems and syntax at work in the passages. Their grasp of
what's happening in the text at the grammar level is sooooo deeply enhanced
because they can read and understand it.

I guess I'm getting excited again because school's just starting and I've
been on sabbatical for the whole previous year...

Dale M. Wheeler, Th.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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