ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
This page contains information on resources for learning Greek. It is maintained by Jonathan Robie. Make sure you check out Little Greek 101, our online New Testament Greek tutorial.
A "Little Greek" is someone who is still learning Greek. The phrase originated when someone on the B-Greek Mailing List suggested that "a little Greek is a dangerous thing". I replied that I am a Little Greek, and I am dangerous, but so are some of the Big Greeks. Most Greek grammars say a few things that are completely wrong, and most noted authorities on the Greek language have said at least one stupid thing. But there is good news: even Really Incredibly Awesome Big Greeks can be Little Greeks too, as long as they realize one thing:
Ἔχομεν δὲ τὸν θησαυρὸν τοῦτον ἐν ὀστρακίνοις σκεύεσιν, ἵνα ἡ ὑπερβολὴ τῆς δυνάμεως ᾖ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ μὴ ἐξ ἡμῶν.
(2 Cor 4:7)
Those who don't know aren't dangerous; those who insist they do know are very dangerous. This is just as true for Really Big Greeks as for Little Greeks. Each of us knows only in part; if we want to profit by studying Greek, we must have the humility and the patience to learn one step at a time, to be corrected by others, and be open to the Spirit who guides us in all truth.
Since I post a lot of messages on the B-Greek Mailing List, and occasionally mention that I am self-taught, many people ask me how I taught myself Greek. I started by getting a copy of the Greek text from the Internet and translating 1 John one verse at a time, comparing it to existing translations. If you already know a foreign language, and have a Greek text that includes parsing codes, such as the CCAT UBS text which is available on the Internet for free (see below), this just might work for you, too. Most people, though, will want to start out with an introductory text. I think this should be supplemented by daily reading in the New Testament.
So if you want to learn Greek, my advice is:
Find an introductory text with solved exercises and work your way through it. Here's my meager advice on introductory texts.
Get a Greek New Testament as soon as you can. If you can't read it yet, look at it wistfully and wish you could. As soon as you can pronounce the alphabet, start reading out of the Bible every day. If you don't understand the words, at least pronounce them. See my section on daily reading.
Be realistic, and start with books that are relatively easy. The easiest books are 1 John and the Gospel of John. Work all the way through them before going on to other texts. Next, try the other gospels. After that, go to Paul, but leave out Colossians and Ephesians, which are fairly difficult. I found Galatians easier than most of Paul's other letters. After that come Peter, Colossians and Ephesians, Hebrews, and Revelations. The Greek in the Old Testament is sometimes rather different than the Greek in the New Testament, and will be harder to understand.
Zerwick's Grammatical Analysis simplifies reading dramatically by explaining difficult vocabulary and grammar for each verse. This is one of the first books you should get.
When you can, get a lexicon and a reference grammar. You will continue to use these regularly as long as you use Greek.
If you want an introduction to New Testament Greek, I hope you will start by taking a look at Little Greek 101. However, you will still want to get an introductory textbook for these reasons:
Of course, Little Greek 101 also has some advantages:
So ideally, you will probably want to use both Little Greek 101 and a couple of introductory textbooks. I still haven't found the perfect introductory text for Greek. No introductory text for Greek is anywhere near as good as most widely used texts for modern languages like German or French. Many widely-used Greek texts are really pretty awful: impossible to read, just plain wrong on some of the grammar, lacking in systematic exercises.
But there are some reasonably good introductory grammars, including these:
New Testament Greek: a beginning and intermediate grammar, James Allen Hewitt, Peabody, MA. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1989.
I don't think this is that widely used, but it is the introductory text which I found most helpful. Explanations are clear, exercises are pretty good, solved exercises are available. There aren't enough excercises for me, but all in all, I think this is quite useful.
Basics of Biblical Greek, William Mounce, Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Pub. House, 1993.
Several people whose opinion I value highly recommend this book. Good workbooks and solutions to the exercises are available. It is very logical, with a good layout, and looks extremely helpful. This book is theologically conservative, and includes a good deal of exegesis as well as the grammar.
I'm personally convinced that the best way to learn to read Greek is to read Greek every day, and spend time learning the Grammar as you find time.
Here is my basic approach to daily reading. I don't do all these things every day, but all of these things are helpful enough that I do them regularly, and I will do them all for a text that I'm working through thoroughly:
Read the text carefully, understanding as much as you can. At the beginning, you may not be able to do more than pronounce the words. That's OK - for now, this is as much as you can do. Always read enough text to get some context. 10 verses or so works well for me. Don't read more than you can read with good understanding of all the details. The goal is to master a small passage, not to read lots of text.
Look up the words that you don't understand using a lexicon. Look up the grammar that you don't understand using Zerwick or for basic parsing, using the parse codes from the CCAT database, a good Bible software program, or Han. Get a better understanding of the meaning of grammatical forms that are used by reading the relevent sections of Smyth's Grammar. But before you look up anything, make a guess, then correct yourself and expand on what you know by looking it up.
Read the text out loud, slowly and prayerfully, at least once. I like to do this after I have looked up things I'm uncertain of, and before I try to make sense of the passage as a whole. Somehow, reading out loud helps me understand the text better than more analytical approaches, and it also helps turn the Greek into real language.
Now read try to understand the passage as a whole, connecting the thoughts. After doing this, I find it helpful to translate into English, but first try to connect the thoughts while thinking in Greek. Always read a phrase out loud in Greek before attempting to translate it. The real meaning of a Greek phrase is not its English translation.
Compare your translation to a handful of English translations. In general, most translations are really quite good. If you find translations that differ significantly, this can really help point out the meaning of the original Greek, which often may be legitimately translated in different ways. Don't correct your translation until you understand what features of the Greek led them to translate differently than you did.
Use Zerwick's Grammatical Analysis, Robertson's Word Pictures, commentaries, etc. to see how they read the passage.
Make a list of questions that you couldn't answer. Remember, a good question is just as valuable as a good answer! If you are confused about something, post a question to the B-Greek Mailing List, or search the B-Greek Archives to see if others have already discussed your question.
Now that you've done all this head work, go back and read the passage out loud again, prayerfully.
The authoritative Greek text used by most Bible translators, scholars, and seminaries is the Nestle-Aland text, which is now in the 27th edition. The same text is also used in the United Bible Society's Greek New Testament, 4th edition, which is what I use (well, actually I still use the 3rd edition). These two editions use the same text, but have different approaches to listing the variant readings found in the manuscripts. The cheapest place to get either of these is the American Bible Society (1-800-322-4253).
You can also find many Greek New Testaments online. Here are two that I like:
Kata Biblon — also includes Old Testament Septuagint!
A lexicon is just a dictionary. Greek scholars prefer to use the term lexicon because they know the plural and you don't. I use three lexicons:
A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament based on semantic domains, Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida. New York, NY, United Bible Societies, 1988. ISBN:0-82670-3402.
This is the easiest lexicon to use for general translation work, and the fastest one to look things up in. Most lexicons try to give you a feeling for the different kinds of meanings that a word might have, then point you to examples which illustrate each meaning. To really understand them, you have to digest the examples carefully. This lexicon gives fewer examples and more complete definitions, which makes it much easier to grasp the meaning quickly. It also lets you look up words in English and translate them into Greek, which can be useful for exercises that require you to write Greek.
To use this lexicon, always start with the second volume and look up the word in the alphabetical list. If you don't, you will never figure out how to use it.
The cheapest place to buy it is the American Bible Society (1-800-322-4253).
A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, Walter Bauer, William Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick Danker. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1979. ISBN: 0-226-03932-3.
This is the standard Greek lexicon for New Testament studies. I find that it takes longer to use than Louw and Nida, but gives a more mature understanding. It gives many more examples, and also points out grammatical features of the words, which can be extremely helpful. This lexicon does not attempt to give you a full dictionary definition; instead, it tries to give you the data to allow you to develop your own.
A Greek-English lexicon, Liddell, Scott, and Jones. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN: 0-1986-42261.
This lexicon is for classical Greek, not for New Testament Greek, but it can often give very helpful insights into the meanings of words. Scholars consider it extremely authoritative.
You can use it for free on the Internet at the Perseus Project Search Page. The really cool thing about this site is that you can look at the definition of a word, see where it was used in Greek literature, and click on the reference to see the word in the original text! You can also use this page to translate English into Greek, parse the forms of words, examine the frequency of words, etc.
A solid grasp of grammar is absolutely essential to understanding any language, and using the right reference grammar makes it much easier to grasp Greek grammar. Unfortunately, Greek grammars tend to differ in their use of vocabulary, and most of the ones I will recommend here use linguistic terms and approaches from the last century. There are grammars which use more modern linguistics, but so far I'm not convinced that these have as firm a grasp on the Greek language. These are the grammars which I recommend:
Greek Grammar, Herbert Weir Smyth, revised by Gordon M. Messing. Harvard University Press, 1984. ISBN: 0-674-36250-0.
This is by far the easiest reference grammar to understand. It is incredibly well organized, systematic, and contains lots of examples. However, it is actually a classical Greek grammar, not a New Testament Greek grammar, which means that some of his descriptions aren't quite accurate for the New Testament. I generally look here first, then look to Robertson for New Testament examples.
A Grammar of the New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, A. T. Robertson, Broadman-Holmann, 1934. ISBN: 0-8054-1308-1.
This massive yellow tome contains lots of New Testament examples to illustrate every grammatical principal, and the index of scripture citations seems to list a citation for the majority of verses in the New Testament. I strongly prefer this to any other New Testament grammar, but it is easier to read if I look at the shorter, more systematic explanations in Smyth first. Robertson is quirky at times, but very rich.
Robertson also wrote a verse-by-verse commentary on the New Testament called Word Pictures in the Greek New Testament. In addition, he wrote a shorter grammar, but I prefer to use Smyth when I need a shorter grammar, since the explanations in Robertson's shorter grammar are sometimes oversimplified to the extent that they seem to contradict his longer grammar, especially for issues involving tense and aspect.
Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch, Friedrich Blass, Albert Debrunner, und Friedrich Rehkopf. 17. Auflage. Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990. ISBN: 3-525-52106-5.
A Greek grammar of the New Testament and other early Christian literature Friedrich Blass, Albert Debrunner, and Robert Funk. University of Chicago Press, 1961. I don't know the ISBN.
This grammar is quite good, but it is less systematic than Smyth, and presents fewer examples and less explanation than Robertson. I prefer the combination of Smyth and Robertson, but if I had to settle for just one grammar, it would be this one. I have never seen the English version edited by Funk; I have only the German version.
Biblical Greek Illustrated By Examples, Maximilian Zerwick, S.J., translated from the Latin by Joseph Smith, S.J.. Roma. Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1994.
This very slim book has extremely clear, simple explanations. Better yet, it is keyed to a verse-by-verse grammatical analysis which tells you exactly which article to turn to in the grammar when you are looking at a difficult construction in the Bible. Highly recommended. I bought both books from Loyola University Press: (800) 621-1008.
Edgar Krentz, whose opinion I value, suggested this: "Add to your grammars the four volume grammar of NT by James Hope Moulton, W. F. Howard, and Nigel Turner. It is one of the best." I have never used this grammar myself, so I'm posting this as his recommendation.
Ideally, we would all speak Greek as fluently as our native language, reading with perfect understanding without external help. I've been hoping to receive this as a spiritual gift, like the gift of tongues, but I haven't worked out the details yet.
So I cheat. There are a variety of aids that will help you understand what a confusing word or construction means. The good ones direct your attention to the details of the Greek that may be hard to understand, teaching you the significance of difficult forms so that you will learn to recognize them next time. The bad ones give you a translation into English instead of helping you understand the constructions in the original Greek. An interlinear translation may be one of the worst, since it gives no help in identifying the grammatical structure of the Greek, but it gives you the feeling that you have understood the passage when you haven't.
Here are my favorite ways to cheat:
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981. ISBN 88-7653-588-8
This book explains the difficult vocabulary and grammatical constructions for each verse in the New Testament. The explanations are concise and helpful, and grammatical constructions are indexed to Zerwick's Biblical Greek, a good intermediate grammar.
I bought both books from Loyola University Press: (800) 621-1008. Highly recommended - I use this almost every day.
Word Pictures in the New Testament, A.T.Robertson. Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1930. ISBN: 0-8010-7710.
This is a six volume set. Robertson's grammatical explanations may be a little difficult to follow unless you have read his grammar, since his vocabulary is different from the vocabulary used in more modern grammars, but he often explains difficult constructions that Zerwick missed, and vice versa. He also offers commentary on the meaning of the text.
I bought mine from Great Christian Books. I use it several times a week.
A Parsing Guide to the Greek New Testament Nathan Han. Herald Press, Scottdale Pa., 1971. ISBN: 0-8361-1653-4.
Learning to parse Greek verbs is quite difficult at first. This useful book gives the tense, voice, mood, person, and number for each verb in the Greek New Testament, verse by verse.
Do not use this book before you try to parse the verbs yourself, use it to confirm your own understanding. I have found a useful game for improving my parsing skills - I read a few verses, write down the verb forms, then check them in Han.
Many Bible software programs also help parse the Greek. If you have one of these programs, you probably do not need Han.