Re: Teaching Greek

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Thu Sep 18 1997 - 10:06:38 EDT

At 15:38 97/09/17 -0500, Jim Oxford wrote:
>I think that all of us who teach/have taught Greek would agree that our
>primary objective is that our students learn Greek. There has been some
>discussion as to the various merits/demerits of different teaching methods.


It sounds very much to me that you are now in your thinking where I was
many years ago when I was charged with the responsibility of teaching NT
Greek by what I guess we could call "traditional methods". I have read
somewhere that someone once said, "Greek can be learnt by just about any
method or using just about any book, so long as you have an enthusiastic
teacher and a motivated group of students." And I reckon that this is
correct. But I have also come to see two other things: Some methods do work
better than other methods; and, We are all built differently, and what
works with one student (or group of students) will not necessarily work
with another.

>Perhaps, though, the needs of the learners are being overlooked. Some
>learners do well with traditional methods, which appear to be defined as
>"rote memorization." Other learners may profit from the manner that Clay
>and Jonathan suggested.

I wholeheartedly agree. Two conclusions follow, about the "ideal" course
for teaching NT Greek: (a) It should have as its core a program for
teaching Greek which incorporates the best of both these approaches (and
certainly, it is not really possible, in my experience, to teach people how
to read the Greek NT without requiring "rote memorization" of the basic
twenty paradigms); (b) it should be flexible enough to provide scope for
individual students to follow up along the line of learning which they are
most comfortable with (i.e., it should provide additional paradigms beyond
the bare minimum, for learning by those who can handle this easily and find
it beneficial; and explanations of what is going on in the language for
those who learn best when they understand the "how" and "why" of what they
are learning; and so on).

>But in the end, shouldn't we, as teachers, be
>ready and willing to curb our pedagogy to the needs of our students?

But do our students really know what they NEED? Mine usually don't. They
are dependent upon me, as their teacher, to show them what they need. And
Jim, if that is what you mean, then, again, I agree. So often, though, I
find students are led astray by a false "need": they think what they need
is to gain enough Greek to pass an examination. And then having passed it
(and thus achieved the goal to which they were moving), they can put their
Greek aside - and often do. What an incredible waste of time, effort, and
opportunity for spiritual profit! Their goal has to be reassessed and their
perceived "need" reoriented, to become: they need to learn to read the
Greek New Testament. That is their real (and valid) need in studying Greek
at all, and our "pedagogy" should be directed to fulfilling that need in
the most efficient and effective way.

>I'm also curious to know if anyone has attempted to bridge the gap between
>traditional and non-traditional teaching methodologies?
>Jim Oxford
>PhD Candidate in New Testament
>Baylor University

Jim, I require students to learn the twenty basic paradigms (as I have
mentioned), and I use most of the basic technical terms and categories as
found in the standard grammars (from A T Robertson to BAGD and BDF, etc.).
But in addition I teach students a dozen terms and concepts from modern
linguistic science, which enable them to have the tools to understand what
is going on behind the scenes in the language (this is very helpful for
some students, less so for others who just want "the facts"). I explain why
diversity exists (for example, I set out the six linguistic rules which
between them account for all the different paradigms which are found for
the Third Declension). I show how, according to the application of
linguistic principles, there are three Conjugations for the Greek verb,
which differ in the aspect inherent in the verb root. I reveal to my
students the nine morph slots of the Greek verb, and demonstrate what can
occur in each of these nine slots and how this "morphological analysis"
shows the meaning and grammar of each possible verb form (and there are 507
possible forms for each Greek verb, not counting compounds with different
prepositions). And from the very first Lesson I also use ONLY actual
extracts from the Greek NT - absolutely no "made-up" sentences of
pseudo-Greek at all for examples and translation exercises (cf. the recent
on-list discussion of the sentences in Machen and the possibility of
learning Greek working from actual slabs of text from the Greek New
Testament itself). In such ways as these I seek to combine "traditional"
and what could be called "modern linguistic" approaches to the teaching of
NT Greek.

>Was it successful?

Jim, how does one measure success? I have been teaching this course for
many, many years now, starting a new Beginner's Course every semester while
also conducting a parallel course in reading the Greek New Testament (what
amounts to a Bible Study on the Greek text) for those who did the
Beginner's Course the previous semester - or even earlier, and who choose
to continue to come along, as we study other parts of the GNT. That is to
say, at the end of every semester (of weekly three-hour classes) I have a
group of beginners who move up into and join in an Intermediate level class
which is engaged in reading and discussing the text of the Greek New
Testament. Some of those who enrol are aiming for College or University
examinations; most are simply wanting to learn Greek to study the
Scriptures for themselves in more depth; quite a few are recommended to
join by previous students; and I always have students enrolling for the
next semester. Often I have people join my class who have already studied
NT Greek by another method and who want the additional benefit of the
linguistic understanding of the language which I offer and which they did
not get from what they have already done. All of them come because they
ENJOY it: none of them come because they have to. My course has been
published in book form, and the textbook for teaching this method is now
into its fifth edition. It comes complete with a Student Workbook with
fill-in-the-answer questions covering all the grammar for each Lesson, plus
a section in the textbook (Appendix B) which teaches the teachers how to
use all the methods of modern language teaching in their classes (I do not
know of any other book which aims to give this kind of instruction in how
to teach a "dead" language, i.e., a language which is not spoken as a
mother-tongue today).

Yes, I believe this combination of the tradition and the modern and
linguistic is a successful method for teaching interested people how to
read the Greek New Testament.

I hope others in b-greek will also answer Jim's query, and share with us
their experiences of teaching Greek by combining traditional and
non-traditional teaching methodologies. We can improve our effectiveness
when we share with each other in this way.

(If anyone on the list would like more information about my methods of
teaching Greek, outlined above, or would like to have a copy of the
textbook and student workbook, please contact me off-list by email.)

Ward Powers

Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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