Re: How Long to Learn K. Greek?

From: Edgar M. Krentz (
Date: Mon Apr 27 1998 - 23:24:43 EDT

>At 11:24 PM -0700 4/25/98, Jane Harper wrote:
>>> I would like to give a hearty second to Carl Conrad's comments on learning
>>> Greek. What often passes for fluency among New Testament Greek students is
>>> simply great familiarity with the biblical text. I would like to offer a
>>> chellenge. Try reading something besides the New Testament.
Michael Palmer's comment is right on target when he writes:

>I would suggest, though, that reading the church fathers can be a helpful
>step in preparation for moving to other works outside the Christian
>traditions. Precisely because they are influenced by the biblical
>traditions, they are easier for a student of NT Greek to read than some of
>the works I suggested in my last post in this thread.

This is only minimally true! Perhaps the Apostolic Fathers are easier, but
Eusebius' Church History, when he is not citing others, is some very
difficulte Greek prose. The second century apologists (Justin Martyr,
Athenagoras, etc.) are not easier, as my graduate seminar last winter
learned. Origeen's great discussion of doctrine, DE PRINCIPIIS, or his
Apology AGAINST CELSUS are not easy Greek. But well worth the perusing in

> At the same time,
>they are different enough from the NT to help increase the reader's
>knowledge of the language significantly, making it easier to read works
>which are less influenced by the New Testament.
>As to why one would want to read works completely unrelated to the
>Christian texts, there are two main reasons. First, there is simply some
>very good literature out there worth reading. Second, after reading that
>literature your level of understanding of the Greek New Testament will be
>significantly higher.

I want to add something to what he writes. Perhaps some of you, like Paul
Dixon, might want to read the Cappadocian father St. Basil's little essay
on the value of non-Christian Greek Literature. It is not available easily
any longer-though you could always xerox the pages from Abbe Migne's
PATROLOGIA GRAECA; but if one goes to a good theological library you might
find the student edition done years ago:

vocabulary by Edward R. Maloney. New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American
Book Company1901. This edition has 20 pages of notes to aid the student
plus a Greek-English vocabulary of all the words in the text. It would be
fun to get together a group and read this in common.

Recall that Origen insisted in his school in Alexandria and later in
Caesarea as early as about 210 CE that students should study Greek
philosophy before they were allaowed to study the Scriptures. The Greek
fathers saw the value of reading the Greek writers of Athens. It was the
Patriarch of Byzantium, Photius, whose summaries of a long series of books
he read and sent to someone in the army that give us some idea of dozens of
otherwise lost works. Eusebius of Caesarea wrote a long work, the
Praeparatio Evangeelica, showing that Greek thinkers were a good
preparation for understanding the Gospel, while Clement of Alexandria
(Origen's teacher) said that "Either all philosophers were Christians
before Christ, or all Christians are [Greek] philosophers.

The three Cappadocian fathers studied, as Christians, philosophy and
rhetoric in Athens, while John Chrysostom learned rhetroic from Libanius.
In short, it is the very fathers you wish to study who point us to the
value of a broad acquaintance with Greek literature as the fitting
background for biblical interpretation.

It is no accident that many fathers cite Homer frequently.

Enough of a sermon. I do not get interested in many of the topics that are
discussed at great length on b-greek. But this one is important. You will
not understand the GNT if all you read is the GNT!

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Edgar Krentz
Professor of New Testament
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Telephone: (773) 256-0752
Since the home access is functioning well again, you can go back to using
it until further notice
Fred Allen once said to Groucho Marx, "I have just returned from Boston;
it's the only sane thing to do if you find yourself up there."
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