Re: 1st year Greek grammars & workbooks

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Feb 16 1997 - 15:42:20 EST

At 10:26 PM -0600 2/15/97, Bill and Ginger Dickson wrote:
>>When I started NT Greek, Wenham was the text used in our class.
>>While there a number of good features about this book, for another view of
>>the exercises can I quote from an assesement by Prof. Morrison. posted to
>>the Greek/Latin section of the Foreign Languages forum on CompuServe:
>>(Cambridge University Press, 1965), 268 pages. Based on the
>>earlier work of H.P.V. Nunn. Uses Nom./Acc./Gen./Dat. order of
>>cases; omits nearly all accents. The pace is leisurely.
>>Explanations are generally complete and correct. Exercises are
>>mostly invented and artificial, and some are nearly
>>incomprehensible. "
>Wenham's omission of the accents is in my opinion one of its strengths.
>Why burden the beginning Greek student with a complex anachronism? And I
>suspect Prof. Morrison exaggerates concerning the incomprehensibility of
>the exercises. I just finished working through the grammar with my
>students, I don't recall a single exercise which was incomprehensible. And
>a considerable number of the Greek sentences to be translated by the
>students come directly from the NT.

I wasn't going to, but I decided I might as well throw 2c worth into this
discussion. I probably haven't had enough experience teaching beginning NT
Greek, since at my secular school, I normally do a tutorial in Biblical
Greek with anyone who wants to AFTER taking a year of classical Attic.
Nevertheless I have taught NT Greek on several occasions to individuals,
using Machen (several times), Mounce (a couple times) and something else
that was so inadequate that I vowed not to use it again.

Brief comments:

(1) Textbooks: Machen is very old-fashioned and its grammatical
explanations are too brief; its sentences are made-up but more or less
accurate illustrations of the current lessons and there's the advantage of
having some English to Greek. I guess that's not the sort of thing you'd
want to do with a church group of lay people, but it's a healthy thing to
do: nothing beats it for gaining an understanding of the Greek way of
thinking. The chief of all the things working against Machen these days,
however, is the obscene price being charged for it when there wasn't even
any re-casting of the type. Mounce has nice explanations and seems to avoid
the idiosyncratic things I find too much of in Koine grammarians; the thing
I find most strange about Mounce is the thing that I'm sure was thought
through most carefully: the systematic procedure through all the cases of
nouns and then through all the parts of the verb; this makes it impossible
to use without using the workbook, which permits one to sell two books to
teach one course--Machen at least has exercises and textbook part together.
I find a problem with this systematic procedure to be that you can't very
well deal with the "real" NT until you've gone most of the way through the
textbook, and I think you need to be learning nouns and verbs
simultaneously and getting more and more of them by increments;
nevertheless, I know that Mounce's textbook and workbook together DO work.
Another factor that probably doesn't bother people who are theologically
conservative is that the exegetical tidbits introducing chapters are
weighted in a way that suggests that right grammatical understanding is
likely to yield what one has already decided is the right doctrine; the
other side of that complaint, however, is that this is an opportunity to
think through alternative ways of understanding the same constructions. But
is beginning Greek the place one ought to be doing that? Opinions will

I haven't found a beginning NT Greek textbook that I find altogether
satisfactory in every way--but I would hasten to add that much more depends
on the teacher and the students than upon the textbook. Certainly there is
no textbook that can make a teacher altogether unnecessary. I really do
think that people can learn out of almost any beginning grammar, but they
need to be brought as soon as possible to recognize the need for reference
tools--and that's another big question.

On the absence of accents (does that mean absence of rough breathings as
well?) we've had a considerable discussion recently on the list. I would be
for reform (but don't believe it's likely to happen), retaining rough
breathing and one accent that is used on that syllable where the accent
falls, whether it used to be spelled with a circumflex, acute, or grave.
But I think doing away with it altogether risks loss of some helpul
elements to distinguish similar words.

(2) Workbooks and made-up sentences: I don't think made-up sentences can be
altogether dispensed with in the earlier stages, but I think that students
ought, as soon as possible, to start reading longer and longer sequences of
connected prose. Made-up sentences, even when they are thoroughly
intelligible, are likely to be wrong here and there. I've made them up and
I know for sure that mine have had errors I didn't notice at the time but
later seemed egregious and glaring.

Other things will do: I started with Mark's gospel; we used a wretched old
textbook based on Mark prepared by a man named Rife, but I learned far more
by working slowly through the gospel of Mark and having each word-form and
construction that we didn't recognize explained as we went along. I think
that the gospel of John is probably the ideal thing for that purpose;
there's hardly any easier Greek in the NT and the more you do the easier it
gets, as you become familiar with his patterns.

In sum, my opinion is that what textbook you use doesn't matter that much
if the teaching is effective, but the right reference works need to be
available for consultation on words and grammar from a very early point.
And I also think that the best thing for beginning students of NT Greek to
sink their teeth into as early as possible is sequential reading in the NT

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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