Monthly Archives: January 2017

Timothy Keller’s False Gospel in “The Prodigal God” (Part 3)

This is the final post in a series evaluating the teachings found in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. “The Prodigal God” is based off of the well known parable found in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Despite being a very popular author and teacher, in this book, Keller attempts to redefine the gospel and in the process severely distorts scripture. His arguments are so contrary to the truth, that I felt the need here to correct some of his more egregious errors.

In the first post, I explained how the entire foundation of Timothy Keller’s teaching is based on a wrong interpretation of the parable, thus invalidating his entire reinvention of the Christian gospel. The second post addresses one of Keller’s more serious falsehoods, his redefinition of sin to include obedience to God, which in turn subverts the gospel. Here, I correct Keller’s false teaching regarding repentance and conclude the series.

In part one and two, we’ve exposed significant errors in The Prodigal God.  The author, Timothy Keller, completely misinterprets the Parable of the Prodigal Son, wrongly claiming that the elder brother is lost. Building on this faulty foundation and attempting to pervert the gospel, Keller redefines how we understand sin—twisting it from being disobedience to include godly obedience. Completely unhinged from biblical truth, Keller reveals that his new “gospel” actually condemns those who do what is right–those who keep God’s rules. Of course, sin has always been just disobedience. And the gospel has always been a message of reconciliation, calling those living in sin to repentance. I have corrected Keller’s teachings in the first and second posts. No need to retread the arguments here.

Since Keller’s “gospel” condemns the righteous, so too must Keller innovate a solution for this unique (and unbiblical) form of being lost. The solution he offers is a significant alteration to biblical repentance. In the Gospels, we read that both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed the good news, which included repentance from sin in light of God’s coming kingdom. (See Matt. 3:2; 4:17) However, Keller undermines this, significantly departing from scripture and misrepresenting the gospel in the process.

Keller’s Teaching on Repentance
As I’ve repeatedly shown, Keller incorrectly argues that the elder-brother is spiritually lost, excluded from the father’s love. He is excluded, not because of rebellion, but because of his obedience. With this in mind, Keller raises a question:

What do we need to escape the shackles of our particular brand of lostness, whether it be younger-brother or elder-brother? (Keller, 73)

Reading on, we discover Keller’s solution, an altered and altogether unbiblical understanding of repentance. This new form of repentance is presented as the way to become “a Christian indeed.” (78) Specifically, Keller incorrectly teaches that salvation precedes repentance, while also changing what we are to repent from.

Keller teaches that salvation precedes repentance. Keller states that, “The first thing we need is God’s initiating love.” (73) This is a true statement if we understand it in light of Jesus’ death on the cross and continued drawing all men to himself through the Holy Spirit. However, Keller doesn’t seem to be using “initiating love” in this sense. Rather than talking about God’s universal act of love and drawing of all mankind unto His Son, He is teaching that God accepts us before we respond to His call in repentance.

Keller bases this on the father’s reaction to the returning younger son:

He [the father] runs and kisses him before his son can confess. It’s not the repentance that causes the father’s love, rather the reverse. The father’s lavish affection makes the son expression of remorse far easier. (Keller, 74)

Earlier, on page 24 of The Prodigal God, Keller expounds upon this “lavish prodigality of God’s grace.” Again, it is clear that Keller teaches that repentance is not necessary for salvation. Now, he cloaks this in a veneer of the unmerited favor of God. However, Keller is clear that the younger son is accepted back (i.e. saved) before he expresses remorse over his sins. This is a false understanding of God’s grace.

Jesus shows the father pouncing on his son in love not only before he has a chance to clean up his life and evidence a change of heart, but even before he can recite his repentance speech. Nothing, not even abject contrition, merits the favor of God. The Father’s love and acceptance are absolutely free. (Keller, 24)

Keller argues, contrary to scripture, that the father accepts (symbolic of receiving salvation) the younger son before he repents.

Thus, the first error is introduced, that salvation precedes repentance.

Keller teaches repentance of “reasons” for obeying. This repentance, according to Keller, is more than simply “regret for individual sins,” because the elder brother has “never disobeyed” the father. (76) The elder brother’s problem is his “pride in his good deeds, rather than remorse over his bad deeds.” (77) The proposed solution, which is incorrect, is to “repent of reasons we ever did anything right.” (78)

Keller believes we must repent of trying to save ourselves by doing good, “of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord.” (78) Keller goes on, “It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed.” (78)

Keller is essentially attacking those who do good, saying they are really trying to control God and save themselves through their obedience. The solution is to repent, or turn away, from trying to live godly lives. He mixes in unfounded psychological reasons for this, but that is the core of his intention—to call Christians away from trying to please God and to repent of doing good.

Correcting Keller Based on Scripture
As I’ve just documented, Keller falsely teaches that (1) salvation precedes repentance, and that (2) repentance is not from sin, but from doing good. Now let’s allow scripture to do the talking.

Repentance must precede salvation. This is a core teaching of Christianity. Like faith in God, which is absolutely necessary, so too is repentance from a past life of sinful living. Repentance, in this context, means not only remorse, but a determination to stop sinning in light of His grace. True repentance will continue into action, getting rid of actual sin in our lives. As John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8)

Verse after verse makes it clear that repentance—basically returning to God—is a condition upon receiving salvation. (This does not mean it merits salvation in and of itself, but rather that God graciously saves those who repent and put their faith in Jesus.)

There are more verses than I can share here that express this universal truth. One such example is found in Ezekiel, where the prophet clearly communicates what true repentance looks like, and God’s response:

“But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.  Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23)

This truth, that the wicked who repent will be forgiven, continues to be consistently taught all over the New Testament. Peter, preaching the gospel to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem, called them to repentance.  He preached, “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

Paul preached this same message. When Simon the Magician attempted to purchase the Holy Spirit with money, Paul rebuked him, saying, “Repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Acts 8:22) Repentance precedes forgiveness and salvation, contrary to Keller’s claims.

This teaching—that repentance must occur before forgiveness—is central to the gospel, as Jesus himself taught. At the very end of Luke, Jesus gives the disciples a summary of the gospel:

Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:47)

Could it be any more simple? We are to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Repentance is a condition upon receiving forgiveness. It is not—as Keller wrongly teaches—something that occurs in response to our being saved. Rather, we repent and thus are forgiven freely by God. Without such conditions upon receiving God’s grace, all humanity would be saved regardless of their response towards God. I’m sure Keller would not want to be associated with universalism, but that is essentially the root of his false teaching.

Repentance is from sin. Obedience, whatever the motivation, is never wrong. What do we repent of or turn away from? Keller suggests that we need to repent of doing good, or at least of any wrong motivations for doing good. What does scripture say?

Logically, we have two options. One can either turn from evil and begin to do good. Or, one can turn away from doing good, and do evil instead. The prophet Ezekiel presented both these options and their consequences:

When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life. (Ezekiel 18:26-27)

Scripturally, God commands us to repent of our sins for salvation. If one were to “repent” from righteousness by starting to do evil, the punishment is death. We can be sure God commands repentance from sin, definitely not from righteousness. Only repentance from sin leads to salvation. This is the fundamental basics, but it needs to be said in light of Keller’s confusing comments.

Throughout The Prodigal God, Keller has attacked those who live obedient, self-controlled lives. As we’ve seen, Keller believes that obedience can separate us from God. However, Keller also believes that people are obedient out of some attempt to save themselves. Thus, Keller believes we must “repent of reasons we ever did anything right.” (78)

This is where Keller’s logic falls apart. If obedience is the core problem, as Keller repeatedly asserts that it is, then one would need to repent of this very same obedience, not just of “reasons” for obedience. Of course, we’ve shown in scripture that obedience is not sin and that repentance from obedience is itself an abomination.

If, however, there is indeed “pride” for doing good works, what does God call us to? Is the problem that we are trying to please God through good works? Should we “repent” of trying to please God? Of course not. The problem would be the sin of pride in our lives. The solution is to repent of pride (which is indeed a sin), while continuing to do good. God delights in obedience. (See 1 Samuel 15:22)

To return to Keller’s argument, do we need to repent of doing good, or even “reasons” for doing good? Absolutely not! We must repent of sin, while continuing to do good. As Peter told the gentiles assembled in Cornelius’ home, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality,  but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35) God welcomes those who do what is right. Sin has always been the issue. That is why Jesus came to earth, to rescue us out of sin and redeem a holy nation for His glory.

Concluding Thoughts
Do you remember what Satan said to Adam and Eve?

Satan deceived Eve, asking “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1) The same lie is still proclaimed today, although many do not recognize it. The great lie, just as it was then, says, “Did God really say, ‘You must obey Me’?”

Keller is proclaiming this same lie. In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller offers a new gospel, a gospel that will “reveal the secret heart of Christianity.” (XIII) He wants us to forget anything we’ve ever heard or read about the gospel, and accept what he’s offering. The only problem is Keller offers a twisted and perverted gospel that is no gospel at all.  It’s actually a message of condemnation for those saints who are living obediently to God.

Keller calls good evil and evil good, redefining sin to include righteous living. He suggests that repentance is not necessary for salvation, and that we should instead repent of any motivation for obeying God. Much of what we’ve covered is so basic, but Keller has managed to mangle beyond recognition the most fundamental of gospel truths.

Keller seems to be quite wise in his own eyes, but his teachings stand condemned by scripture. Of Timothy Keller and his false gospel, the Prophet Isaiah’s words ring true:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
And clever in their own sight! (Is. 5:21-22)

Timothy Keller’s False Gospel in “The Prodigal God” (Part 2)

This is the second of several posts, evaluating the teachings found in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. “The Prodigal God” is based off of the well known parable found in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Despite being a very popular author and teacher, in this book, Keller attempts to redefine the gospel and in the process severely distorts scripture. His arguments are so contrary to the truth, that I felt the need here to correct some of his more egregious errors.

In the first post, I explained how the entire foundation of Timothy Keller’s teaching is based on a wrong interpretation of the parable, thus invalidating his entire reinterpretation of the Christian gospel. Here, I address one of Keller’s more serious falsehoods, his redefinition of sin to include obedience to God, which in turn subverts the gospel. The final, third post corrects Keller’s false teaching regarding repentance and concludes the series.

Introducing Additional Errors in Keller’s Teaching
In The Prodigal God, Keller seeks to redefine the gospel by revealing “the secret heart of Christianity.” Keller bases his teaching solely on a false interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32.

He argues that not only was the younger brother lost, but the elder brother was lost as well. Keller’s reinterpretation regarding the elder son is unequivocally wrong (this is discussed in the first post). Jesus is abundantly clear that the elder son has always been with the father and is a true heir, just as Christians are heirs of God.

Timothy Keller uses this misinterpretation of the parable as a springboard to support even more serious errors. He (1) changes the definition of sin, thus subverting the message of the gospel, and (2) twists the biblical understanding of repentance.

At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus began to proclaim the good news saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) To accurately understand the full gospel, one must realize their own sin and their need to turn away from their sin towards God. Thus both sin and repentance are indispensable. Any alteration to this foundation perverts the gospel’s truth and power, rendering it ineffective.

In this post, I’ll correct Keller’s redefinition of sin, which undermines the gospel. The final, third post will deal specifically with Keller’s error regarding repentance.

Keller’s Redefinition of Sin and the Gospel
The main focus in The Prodigal God is on the elder son. Keller describes him as dutifully obeying his father in every sense. He is “fastidiously obedient to his father and, therefore, by analogy, to the commands of God,” while also being “completely under control and quite self-disciplined.” (34) Yet, Keller still incorrectly insists that “there is not just one lost sinner in this parable–there are two.” (34).

Keller justifies his tenuous position by redefining sin. Keller argues that even though the elder son is completely obedient, this goodness is actually sin(!). Keller writes on page 37:

The hearts of the two brothers were the same. […] Each one, in other words, rebelled–but one did so by being very bad and the other by being extremely good. Both were alienated from the father’s heart; both were lost sons. (Keller, 37)

The word rebellion, as Keller uses here, is simply another term for sin. Keller is stating that the older brother sinned—“rebelled”—by being extremely good, by being obedient.

This redefinition of sin—from disobedience to obedience—is stated repeatedly in The Prodigal God. On page 35, he writes that the elder brother “is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it.” And also that, “It’s not his [the elder brother’s] wrongdoing, but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father.” (35)

This faulty reasoning—that obedience is the real problem, not just disobedience—continues to be reinforced:

This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently. It’s a shocking message: Careful obedience of God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God. (Keller, 37)

Since “careful obedience of God’s law” is supposedly a form of rebellion “against God,” Keller’s false gospel naturally condemns moral behavior:

Everybody knows that the Christian gospel calls us away from the licentiousness of younger brotherness, but few realize that it also condemns moralistic elder brotherness. (Keller, 67)

Keller teaches that obeying God is sin, and that—as a result of this premise—“the gospel” condemns the obedient. Apparently Keller believes his “secret heart of Christianity” involves bringing condemnation upon the righteous, rather than calling sinners to repentance.

This absolutely mutilates any semblance of biblical teaching, so let’s address what scripture actually says.

Scripture vs. Keller’s False Teachings

Is obedience sin, like Keller says? As I’ve shown, Keller believes that you can “rebel against God and be alienated […] by keeping all of them [God’s rules] diligently.” (37)

This couldn’t be more wrong. The Apostle John defines sin for us. He writes, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4)

So scripture defines sin as lawlessness. Lawlessness means a complete disregard for the rules (the Greek noun is anomia; without law). That one can break the rules (or sin) by obeying the rules is complete foolishness. Just as light doesn’t equal darkness, neither does rule keeping equal rule breaking. One rebels against God by breaking His rules, not keeping them. Only lawlessness is sin, not law keeping.

The Apostle John couldn’t have said it better. “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” (1 John 3:7)

Does obedience alienate us from God’s love? Keller asserts that the elder brother who carefully obeyed the father was “alienated from the father” and excluded from “the feast of his love.” (34) The elder brother “is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it.” (35) Essentially, Keller is arguing that obedience to God separates us from God’s love, which again is false.

Jesus plainly refutes this in the gospel of John:

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14:21)

The one who keeps and obeys Jesus’ commands “will be loved” by God the Father. Obedience to God does not cause us to “lose the father’s love” as Keller suggests, but unites us with His love.

Rather than being alienated, the obedient believer abides in God. As John writes, “The one who keeps His [God the Father’s] commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:2) Those doing God’s will are members of His family, enjoying His presence and love. As Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”(Mark 3:35)

Does the gospel condemn the righteous? Keller writes that Jesus’ gospel “condemns the moralistic elder brotherness.” (67) Does the gospel really condemn those who are living morally?

First of all, the gospel was not a message of condemnation, but rather a call of reconciliation. Yes, God will one day condemn the world for its sin, but Jesus came not “to condemn the world, but to save the world.” (John 3:16)

Secondly, this call of reconciliation was not aimed at the righteous who were already with God, but for the lost sinners. That’s not to say the righteous never previously sinned, but rather they repented at some point and were now reconciled with God. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) All of heaven rejoices when someone repents of their sin and returns to the Father. Jesus came to earth for this exact purpose. The Parable of the Prodigal Son so beautifully illustrates God’s love for a lost humanity and His desire for true reconciliation.

Clearly, the gospel does not condemn the righteous at all. Scripture teaches that (1) the gospel is not a message of condemnation, but of reconciliation and (2) this reconciliation is for the sinners, not the righteous who have no need of repentance.

Post Summary
Keller argues that the older brother is lost (and continues to be lost), which is completely erroneous. He redefines sin to include obedience to God, teaching that this obedience separates us from the Father—clearly another serious perversion of truth. And as a consequence of this redefinition, Keller’s gospel falsely condemns those who obey God.

The truth is Jesus came to graciously call the sinners to repentance, not bring condemnation upon the righteous. You’ll be hard pressed to find any biblical support in The Prodigal God. And it’s no wonder, since scripture consistently teaches the opposite. Even a little light goes a far way in exposing the darkness.

Next I’ll reveal where Keller deviates from scripture in regards to repentance and salvation. Repentance cannot be ignored or perverted if the true gospel is to be preached.

Timothy Keller’s False Gospel in “The Prodigal God” (Part 1)

This is the first post of several, evaluating the teachings found in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. “The Prodigal God” is based off of the well known parable found in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Despite being a very popular author and teacher, in this book, Keller attempts to redefine the gospel and in the process severely distorts scripture. His arguments are so contrary to the truth, that I felt the need here to correct some of his more egregious errors.

I explain below how the entire foundation of Timothy Keller’s teaching is based on a wrong interpretation of the parable, thus invalidating his entire reinvention of the Christian gospel. In the second post, I expose specific errors of Keller that are a part of his newly invented “gospel.” The final, third post corrects Keller’s false teaching regarding repentance and concludes the series.

Timothy Keller opens The Prodigal God by making it clear that his short book is meant to present the Christian gospel. However, he immediately clarifies this by saying, “Nevertheless one of the signs that you may not grasp the unique, radical nature of the gospel is that you are certain that you do.” (XI)

It’s a strange statement. Logically, the correctness of one’s beliefs regarding the gospel are not dependent upon how certain we are, but if we are in agreement with scripture. Why then does he begin with this misleading statement?

The answer is simple. This initial assertion by Timothy Keller in The Prodigal God is designed to convince us to change our understanding of the gospel. He’s telling us to forget anything we’ve ever learned in the past. The goal of The Prodigal God is to “correct” (or subvert) the teaching of the gospel with Keller’s own teaching, a unique perspective (or perversion) that we haven’t heard before.

That Keller aims to change something as central as the gospel should set off alarm bells. A godly, biblical teacher should aim to reinforce what was handed down by the Jesus and the Apostles, rather than introduce some novel teaching almost two thousand years later.

Timothy Keller’s teaching is entirely focused on the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32. He’s taken this parable and reinterpreted it to present a completely new teaching. This new interpretation will redefine, not only how we understand Jesus’ parable, but also how we understand sin and salvation itself. This isn’t speculation. Keller himself writes on page 10 of The Prodigal God that, “Through this parable Jesus challenges what nearly everyone has ever thought about God, sin, and salvation.”  Later, in chapter 3, he again repeats this assertion, “He [Jesus] is redefining sin, what it means to be lost, and what it means to be saved.” (28)  The “redefining” of the Gospel is unashamedly and clearly evident in The Prodigal God. Even two of the chapters are entitled, “Redefining Sin” and “Redefining Lostness.”

Timothy Keller claims this redefinition of the Gospel reveals “the true meaning” of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He says that it changed the way he “viewed Christianity” and it reveals “the secret heart of Christianity.” (XIII). Both are quite bold statements. The only issue is that this supposed “true meaning” doesn’t agree with scripture or even a careful reading of the parable itself.

How can we know if Timothy Keller’s new version of the “gospel” is correct? Do we take him at his word? Of course not. We study the scripture, and compare it directly against what Keller writes in The Prodigal God. We’ll use the light, the word of God, to expose the darkness and deception in Keller’s teaching.

Keller’s False Teaching: Both Brothers Are Lost
Keller summarizes his new interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in this way:

“Most readings of this parable have concentrated on the flight and return of the younger brother–the “Prodigal Son.” That misses the real message of the story, however, because there are two brothers, each of whom represents a different way to be alienated from God, and a different way to seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven.” (Keller, 7)

He believes that both brothers represent two different ways to be “alienated from God.”  Timothy Keller teaches that both the younger and elder brother are “lost,” although for different reasons. The younger brother is lost because of his rebellious, disobedient behavior towards the father. The elder brother is lost for the opposite reason, by being completely obedient. According to Keller, each is trying to gain salvation through these different paths.

As one reads through The Prodigal God, it becomes abundantly clear that Keller is far more concerned about the obedient “elder brothers” than the rebellious “younger brothers.” He writes, “While both forms of the self-salvation project are equally wrong, each one is not equally dangerous.” (46) And a page later, “Being an elder-brother Pharisee is a more spiritually desperate condition.” (47)

As we see, Keller believes that the elder brother is more lost than the younger brother.

Biblical Truth: The Elder Brother Was Never Lost
Is this true? Is the elder brother in Jesus’ parable lost?  Is he in a “spiritually desperate condition?” Of course not. The elder brother has always been with the father, unlike the younger brother. He has no need to return in repentance and remorse, simply because he isn’t lost. This is based on scripture, so let’s take a look.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is the last of three consecutive parables Jesus gives that all teach the same lesson. Jesus makes essentially the same point in each of the parables, so we can compare them to clarify Jesus’ true message and intent.

The First Parable. Jesus begins with the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7). We’ve all heard the story:

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:3-7)

Jesus clearly explains what the parable means in the last sentence. Just as the lost sheep that was found resulted in great rejoicing, in the same way, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (v. 7) The lost sheep symbolizes a sinner who repents.

But what about the ninety-nine sheep that were not lost? Are they considered by Jesus as sinners too? Not at all, Jesus says they are “righteous persons who need no repentance.” So there are both sinners and the righteous in Jesus’ parable.

The Second Parable. Reading on, Jesus gives a second parable about the lost coin that reflects the same basic teaching:

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

The parallels to the first parable are obvious. Once again, there is great rejoicing over the lost being found. Just as in the first parable about the lost sheep, the lost coin here represents the “sinner who repents.”  Because the second parable closely mirrors the first, we know that the coins that were never lost represent “the righteous persons who need no repentance.”

The Third Parable. The final parable is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). It is in this parable that Keller incorrectly asserts both sons are lost and alienated from the father, who represents God. Although the third parable is longer than the previous two, it has the same structure and message. We’ve already seen how the first and second parables have both lost sinners and also the righteous who were never lost. We’ll see the same here in the third parable.

To summarize the story, the younger son takes his share of the fathers inheritance and wastes it in sinful living. After a severe famine, the son is starving and returns to the father with a repentant heart. The father welcomes his lost son with open arms and great joy, giving him a celebratory feast. Jesus concludes the parable by repeating the theme of being lost and found. This is expressed through the father’s words to the elder son.

The father answers the elder son who questions why he has never received a feast:

“Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. We had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:31-32)

Jesus is clear that the older son has (1) always been with the father (thus never lost), and (2) is a legitimate heir. He is enjoying the full rights as a true son. He is not lost at all, but “with the father” in every sense. Just like the older son, Christians are co-heirs with Jesus, being born again into the family of God. As Paul writes to the Romans, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17) The elder son represents those who are heirs of God, true spiritual children of the Father.

So, to recap, the younger son represents sinners who repent (paralleling the lost sheep and lost coin), and the older son represents the “righteous persons who need no repentance” (paralleling the ninety-nine sheep and nine coins).

Implications of Keller’s Error
Keller’s reinterpretation of this parable in The Prodigal God hinges completely on the idea that the elder son is lost, just as the younger son was lost. In fact, Keller argues that Jesus concludes the story with the elder son still being lost.

Keller writes:

“Although the sons are both wrong and both loved, the story does not end on the same note for each. Why does Jesus construct the story so that one of them is saved, restored to a right relationship with the father, and one of them is not? (At least, not before the story ends.)” (Keller, 46)

Keller is saying the younger son’s relationship is restored with the father, while the older son remains unsaved, distant from the father. But as I’ve shown, the Bible is clear that the elder son was never lost at all! He has “always” been with the father, which means he hasn’t wandered away like his younger brother. All that the father has is his. He is already in relationship with the father. Jesus couldn’t have said it any clearer.

This is a plain, almost elementary reading of the text. It does not require a sophisticated exegete to understand what Jesus is teaching in his simple stories. The fact that Keller has misinterpreted this parable is, frankly, both embarrassing and deeply concerning. The entire foundation of The Prodigal God is based off a complete twisting of scripture.

As I wrote in the introduction, Timothy Keller is attempting to redefine the true gospel with this teaching. The Prodigal God is written to convince us to reset our beliefs about sin and salvation. But Keller’s redefinition is based on a completely perverted interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Keller has sought to find a deep and hidden meaning in it that will “reveal the secret heart of Christianity,” but instead he has only introduced false teachings based on an obvious distortion of a simple parable.

In the next post, I’ll cover several of the most serious false teachings in The Prodigal God. Keller incorrectly tries to redefine sin, so we’ll correct that error. He also distorts biblical repentance to fit his already flawed teaching, which I’ll address in the final post. Each of these issues are key to correctly understanding the true gospel, so we’ll systematically address all of these falsehoods by comparing his teachings with scripture itself.

Beware of the Christ-merchant! (Didache 12:5)

I came across this fascinating passage from the Didache (50-70 AD), possibly the earliest Christian document we have outside the New Testament. It gives guidance to the church on how to treat itinerant Christian teachers and evangelists passing through the area, as well as what to do if they decide to settle down.

Everyone who comes in the name of the Lord is to be welcomed. But then examine him, and you will find out—for you will have insight—what is true and what is false. If the one who comes is merely passing through, assist him as much as you can. But he must not stay with you for more than two or, if necessary, three days. However, if he wishes to settle among you and is a craftsman, let him work for his living. But if he is not a craftsman, decide according to your own judgment how he shall live among you as a Christian, yet without being idle. But if he does not wish to cooperate in this way, then he is trading on Christ. Beware of such people. (Didache 12.; Holmes, 3rd Ed.)

Christians are to show hospitality by welcoming fellow believers, helping them out as much as they can. This assumes the travelers are only staying in town for a couple days. If the stay is any longer than that, they must work for their living.

This advice is completely scriptural. Paul himself taught the Thessalonian church that people should work if at all able, rather than rely on others. He writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” For those that have families to support, Paul elsewhere writes, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

However, it’s the second-to-last sentence that really caught my attention, “But if he does not wish to cooperate in this way, then he is trading on Christ.” The last phrase, “trading on Christ,” is a unique one-word construction in the original Greek (christempros; χριστέμπρός), combining the Greek word for Christ (Christos; Χριστός) and merchant/trader (emporos; ἔμπορος). It could be translated “Christ-merchant” or “Christ-mongor.” It essentially means one who is peddling Christ for profit. A “Christ-merchant” is one using Christ for their own material gain.

Keep in mind, this was written very early, possibly earlier than some of our New Testament epistles. Even at this point, before Christianity became a state-religion under Emperor Constantine, people were abusing the gospel for wealth. Not much has changed in two thousand years, has it? I’ve written about biblical tithing and giving before, because it’s an important topic that many pastors shy away from teaching in clear terms.

People start “Christian” ministries all the time to get rich, and it was no different back then. Although we live in a completely different time and culture, somethings don’t change. If someone wishes to be financially supported by other Christians, but refuses to work for a living, they are a Christ-merchant. “Beware of such people.”

The Seal on the Servants of God

Most have heard of the “mark of the beast” that is mentioned several times in Revelations. It’s captured the imagination of many Christians, especially of those holding a dispensational, premillennial interpretation of the end times. We’ve all read various speculations regarding forced chip implants, tattoos, and the like as possibly being the “mark of the beast.”

Of course, in all of this, people tend to forget the big picture. The beast, however we interpret it, is clearly in cohorts with Satan, working tirelessly to destroy the people of God. Those who have the beast’s mark on their hand and their forehead are those who have declared allegiance with God’s enemies, or are the very least not opposing their work.

However, in all of the speculation regarding the mark of the beast, what you don’t hear discussed is the mark of the righteous, the seal of God’s servants which John also writes about.

This is quite curious, since the Apostle John uses the same kind of language to describe this seal as he does with the ungodly mark. Perhaps its clear symbolic nature doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of frenzied speculation and excitement, despite being just as (if not more) prominent in scripture. We should take notice though, because just like the mark of the beast, the seal of the righteous is placed on the forehead of the saints. Those marked unbelievers who align themselves with the work of Satan act as a clear foil for those believers who are designated as belonging to and set apart for God.

This seal on the forehead of the servants of God is first mentioned in Revelations 7:3, after the first six seals are opened.

And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.” (Revelations 7:2-3)

A couple chapters later, in Revelations 9:4, the fifth trumpet sounds and the locust-like creatures ascend out of the abyss.  They are commissioned not to harm vegetation, as one would expect, but rather to torment humanity. Not just anyone, but specifically only those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them. (Revelations 9:3-6)

Just as we saw in Revelations 7, God has specifically sealed or marked the true servants of God. This is clearly not some physical, visible mark, but a spiritual designation by God. This spiritual seal indicates that they are God’s own possession, and as a consequence, they are spared here from the plague of demonic locusts, just as the Israelites were spared from the plagues God sent upon the Egyptians.

This does not mean the Christians do not or will not go through any tribulations. John is clear that many believers are killed for their faith in Jesus. (Rev. 20:4) We read the martyrs cry out to God day and night for justice to be served on earth. (Rev. 6:10) Yet, the seal of God clearly signifies that God knows all who are His. He is in complete control even in chaos, and will not allow anything to come upon His chosen people unless He has permitted it in His divine wisdom.

Ultimately, all those who have aligned themselves with Satan, having received the mark of the beast, are thrown into the lake of fire, but the servants of God enter into God’s eternal kingdom. They enter into His eternal reign on a renewed and glorified creation, where the curses of sin have been defeated, and the saints enjoy eternal fellowship with God. In this perfect world, where only the righteous dwell, we again see the seal—the mark of the holy believers—adorning the servants of God.

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelations 22:3-5)

While the mark of the beast is forced upon the world indiscriminately, the seal of the righteous is only given by God to those who serve Him wholeheartedly—those who love Him and trust Him with all that they have and are. It is on the foreheads of these holy servants that the name of God is written, for they are His alone.

Rather than just focusing on the mark to avoid, let’s seek Jesus from whom we receive the seal that will last into eternity.

Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Koine Greek Pronunciation and Greek NT Audio Recordings

If you want to be truly comfortable reading the New Testament in Greek, it helps to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible.  Of course, Koine Greek is not a living language, which makes immersive learning approaches much more difficult (if not impossible). Although it’s a comparably poor substitute to interacting with live speakers, I found that listening to audio recordings of the Greek NT helped improve my pronunciation, vocabulary acquisition, and generally helped me understand the rhythm and flow of Greek as a spoken language.

Since Koine Greek is not a living language, different pronunciation systems have developed over time. Before you begin memorizing vocabulary and reading your Greek New Testament, you’ll need to pick one pronunciation and stick with it. Depending on what introductory Greek grammar you use, it may or may not thoroughly explain the various pronunciations. So I’ve briefly outlined the three most common below for you.  I’ve provided links with the basics for each, and listed NT audio recordings as well.

Erasmian Pronunciation
This is the most common pronunciation, especially in seminaries and universities. Most textbooks will use this as the standard, and may only mention alternate options. Erasmian is used for its teaching value, as it allows a student to hear each individual sound distinctly and consequently helps spelling accuracy. That said, it’s not the pronunciation you want to use if you plan on learning modern Greek at some point, which sounds completely different. The primary reason why people use this pronunciation is because that’s what their professor and colleagues use.

Erasmian Pronunciation Basics: This page is a great summary of the Erasmian pronunciation with audio files. There’s also several links to additional resources near the bottom.
Erasmian Vocabulary Practice: Zondervan has two different CDs available to help practice the pronunciation of vocabulary, Basics of Biblical Greek Vocabulary and New Testament Greek Vocabulary (Learn on the Go).
Erasmian NT Recordings: Although it only has selected readings from the New Testament, Readings in the Greek New Testament by Jonathan T. Pennington offers a good cross-section of the NT, and will allow you to hear larger portions of scripture outside of just vocabulary words in an Erasmian pronunciation.

Reconstructed Koine Pronunciation
This pronunciation attempts to more closely recreate how people would have spoken Greek during the 1st century. It is closer to modern pronunciation, although the pronunciation of a couple letters are different. It was developed by Randall Buth of the Biblical Language Center. Because it is relatively recent and there has not been widespread adoption, there are not many audio resources available for Reconstructed Koine. That’s said, here’s what I’ve found if you want to go this route:

Reconstructed Koine Pronunciation Basics: Here’s an explanation of how Reconstructed Koine differs with Erasmian, with several links and alphabet audio files. For someone who wants a rather in-depth explanation on the particulars, this PDF from the Biblical Language Center is for you.
Reconstructed Koine NT Recordings: The only recordings I’ve found are of the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John. They are available for purchase at the Biblical Language Center store, although here is several free sample recordings they provide as well. I would consider the lack of lengthy audio recordings a real weakness, especially if you want to listen to long portions of the NT in Koine Greek.

Modern Greek Pronunciation
Last, but not least, we have the modern Greek pronunciation. There are several recordings by native Greek speakers available of the entire NT, which allows you to truly master Greek pronunciation. You can listen to these audio recordings while driving around town, or while you read along in the NT. This allows you to “study” and immerse yourself in the Greek NT without having to read it. And if you decide to learn modern Greek, you don’t have to relearn the pronunciation. (Just try using the stilted Erasmian pronunciation with a native Greek speaker, and see how they react.)

Modern Pronunciation Basics: This page by Harry Foundalis offers a great explanation of modern Greek pronunciation, with audio recordings for each letter.
Modern NT Recordings: Spiros Zodhiates, a native Greek speaker born in Cyprus, recorded the entire NT, which is available for purchase online. It claims to follow the Nestle-Aland text (26th edition), although I haven’t verified that. Zodhiates speaks at a slower pace compared to the typical faster clip of a native speaker, which helps comprehension. An alternative recording of the entire NT can be downloaded through Faith Comes by Hearing. For language, select Greek. You then will have two options, choose the Ancient 1904 Patriarchal Text. This is a recording of the same Greek NT that the Greek Orthodox Church uses, which is based on the Byzantine textform. The NT is read at a much faster pace on this recording. I would recommend buying Zodhiates’ recording first, and only listen to the Patriarchal Text recording after you can comprehend the NT well at the slower reading speed.

If you haven’t read them already, check out my other posts to help you read the New Testament in its original language.

Teach Yourself Biblical Greek Series:

  1. Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Introducing the Process
  2. Choosing an Introductory Greek Grammar
  3. What Greek New Testament Should I Get?
  4. Memorize the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament
  5. Koine Greek Pronunciation and Greek NT Audio Recordings

Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Memorize the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament

Memorizing vocabulary is essential if you want to develop proficient reading ability in the Greek New Testament. No matter how well you know the Greek morphology and syntax, you will never be able to quickly read through the New Testament unless you know what the words mean. It’s as simple as that. You’ll spend all your time looking up words in a Greek lexicon. Even with Bible software, this is a time-consuming process.

Here’s some advice. Make sure you actually enjoy reading your Greek New Testament by spending time upfront committing the vocab to memory. Once you get down the basics of pronunciation, you can begin learning vocab words. Although it takes time and discipline, learning the vocabulary is one of the most controllable aspects of learning Biblical Greek. It is controllable, because anyone can do it with daily study. You’re in the driver seat.  As you learn more words, the language comes alive and reading your Greek New Testament becomes quite enjoyable.

The Method
Since the goal is to help you read the Greek New Testament, we can be very strategic in how we approach what words to memorize.

Of 138,607 total words in the Greek New Testament (don’t panic), there are roughly 5,394 total unique words. Of these unique words, the vast majority of them only occur a few times, while some occur hundreds of times. The key to memorizing vocabulary is beginning with the most frequent words first, and only then moving on to the less frequent words. Eventually, you’ll be able to recognize enough words that you can infer the meaning of the remaining based on the context.

Here’s the breakdown. This chart tells us, for example, that a total of 64 words occur 100 times or more in the NT. Altogether, these unique 64 words account for 84,330 total words in the NT, or 61% of the NT. If you memorize down to 10x, you’ll know 92% of the NT.

(Click on image for a larger image, or download the chart in Excel)

If you want be competent at reading the NT, I suggest trying to memorize through words that occur at least 10 times (a total of 1,126 words). To start, a good initial beginning goal is through 25x frequency (545 words). This is a lot compared to what you’re required to do in most beginning Greek classes, but it’s foundational to developing a basic reading ability. To truly feel comfortable and proficient reading the NT, I would suggest memorizing through 5x frequency (1,863 words), which will cover roughly 96% of all word occurrences in the NT. This threshold will allow you to infer the meaning of many unknown words you come across based purely on the context.

If at all possible, review your vocabulary words every day. Try to memorize new words every week, while consistently maintaining your previously memorized words. An attainable goal is 25 words per week. If you’re really ambitious, go for 50 words a week. That’s 10 words per day with a weekend break for just review. Again, the key here is consistency. You do not need to “memorize” so many words that you immediately forget them all.

The hardest words to memorize are the very first words. Many of the most frequent words you’ll first study are those little abstract words like conjunctions, prepositions, articles, and so forth. Not only this, but you haven’t become proficient in pronunciation, which only makes things even more difficult.

Despite this initial pain, don’t give up. Your brain will adapt. The more words you memorize, the easier it’ll become. When you have several hundred words under your belt, you’ll start to recognize common prefixes and roots. You’ll be able to memorize and retain words much easier, so keep at it.

NT Greek Vocabulary Cards & Programs
Now that you understand the process, you’ll need to either buy or make your own cards. I recommend you buy a set of NT Greek flashcards for the first 1,000 words, and then create your own flashcards for the remainder words with lower frequency.

There are two flashcard packs available for purchase that I am aware of, Basics of Biblical Greek Vocabulary Set by Zondervan and Biblical Greek Vocabulary Cards by VIS Ed. I would suggest the Zondervan set, as it has more features, such as providing the principal parts for verbs.

Bill Mounce has a free computer program on his website called Flashworks that has 1,127 of the most frequent NT Greek vocab words for review (it also has a Hebrew vocab list). This will allow you to drill vocab on your computer, or simply get your feet wet before you decide to buy a vocab pack.

If you want to memorize more than 1,000 words, you’ll have to make your own or use a computer program. If you want to make your own flash cards, download this handy Excel list of all Greek NT vocab words with their corresponding frequency (vocab list based on a free Excel vocab program available here). Just filter on the particular frequency you want to memorize, and you have all the words you need with their definitions. Buy some card stock, and start making your own cards by hand.

If you’re interested in just using software/online program to memorize, here’s an online option. Alternatively, this downloadable Excel file has built-in vocabulary program with vocab words from the entire NT.

Final Thoughts
Regardless of what tools you use, learning NT Greek vocab is completely manageable. There’s no magic formula, you just have to start doing it. Of course, if you want to read the New Testament, you can’t limit yourself to memorizing vocabulary. The words really stick in your mind when you begin to attempt reading through the New Testament. Instead, of just having random definitions in your mind, you’ll understand how the words are used in context. This, of course, will only reinforce you vocabulary acquisition.

Hope this post is helpful to you. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below and I’ll help you out as best I can.

Now that you understand the ins and outs of learning NT Greek vocabulary, why don’t you check out my other posts to help you read the New Testament in its original language?

Teach Yourself Biblical Greek Series:

  1. Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Introducing the Process
  2. Choosing an Introductory Greek Grammar
  3. What Greek New Testament Should I Get?
  4. Memorize the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament
  5. Koine Greek Pronunciation and Greek NT Audio Recordings



Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: What Greek New Testament Should I Get?

You’ve decided to start studying Biblical (Koine) Greek. You know the Biblical Greek grammar options, and now you need your own Greek New Testament. If you search Amazon, you’ll see a number of different versions. Which one should you choose? I’ll give you all the information you need to make an informed decision.

The first Greek New Testament I bought was a scholarly version of the Byzantine/Majority textform. While a great resource (one I’m glad I purchased even though I didn’t know what it was at the time), it didn’t match my Greek New Testament audio files which were based on the Nestle-Aland 26th edition. I was quite confused. I didn’t understand what the difference was and what GNT I needed. You may be just as confused as I was after reading this paragraph.  Well don’t worry, read on, and I’ll guide you through the different Greek New Testaments you can purchase or view online for free.

Before I list our options, some background information is necessary. Most Greek New Testaments available today are what we call eclectic or critical texts. This is a text that is based off of comparing many different ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. Scholars compare the biblical manuscripts and use their best judgement (and agreed upon scholarly criteria) to recreate what they feel is the closest readings to the original New Testament text. This discipline as a whole is known as textual criticism.

Besides these eclectic texts, other editions of the Greek New Testaments are often based off of what is called the Byzantine textform. This would include scholarly editions of the Byzantine/Majority textform, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchal text, and the well-known Textus Receptus. I’ve included links to the Byzantine/Majority and the Patriarchal Greek text below if you’re curious.

With that said, here are the most common Greek New Testaments available today. At the end of the post, I’ve also given my personal recommendation for a beginning student.

United Bible Society (UBS) Greek New Testament

The UBS editions are eclectic texts, as we mentioned above. These editions match the readings in the Nestle-Aland editions (see below). The primary differences between the two are found in the formatting and the apparatus (footnotes that show the manuscript variations). A complete technical comparison is given here on the German Bible Society’s website. Here’s a more visual comparison that’s also helpful. The most recently published UBS edition is the fifth edition (UBS5), although you can still easily find new and used copies of UBS4 online.

UBS5: This is your standard copy of the UBS fifth edition. You can find a couple different covers, but the content is all the same. The NT is entirely in Koine Greek.
The Greek-English New Testament: UBS 5th Revised Edition and NIV: Includes the NIV English translation on one page, with the Greek text on the other. Once you start being able to read your GNT, it is helpful to have an English translation when you’re in a bible-study or church service. This allows you to read the Greek, but still have the English translation readily available without flipping between two different Bibles.
The Reader’s Edition: The Greek New Testament (UBS5): I would highly recommend this edition for beginning students. The Reader’s Edition offers the standard UBS text, but with definitions for words that occur less than 30 times on the bottom of each page. Here’s a PDF sample from Matthew. Verbs are parsed, which is a good check as you read. The font is large and legible, and the formatting is excellent. The definitions are short-glosses, so I would only use the definitions as an aid. To see the full range of possible meanings, you’ll need to use a proper lexicon.

Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece

As stated above, the text of the Nestle-Aland editions match the UBS editions.  Read the UBS section above for more details regarding these differences. The most recently published edition is the Nestle-Aland 28th Edition (NA28). Between the older 27th Edition (NA27) and the NA28, only the text for Catholic Epistles (non-Pauline epistles) have been updated, and those updates are minor at that. (See here for more info). For pure reading purposes, a used copy of the NA27 will work just fine.

NA28: The most compact format with just the Greek text.
NA28 with Dictionary: Same as the standard NA28, but includes a compact dictionary at the end.
NA28 Greek-English: Offers the Greek text with two English translations, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the Common English Bible (CEB).  Due to the added translations, it’s double the thickness of the standard NA28, but still portable.

Other Greek New Testaments Available

The Greek New Testament for Beginning Readers: This is a reader’s that uses the Byzantine Textform. As a reader’s GNT goes, it has some excellent definitions for words that occur 50 times or less. Another nice feature is that the definitions include the word’s frequency in the NT.  However, It is a bit bulky and the binding isn’t high-quality. But if you only plan on using it at home, it is a good resource for a student with minimal vocabulary knowledge.
A Reader’s Greek New Testament: Third Edition: What differentiates this reader’s GNT apart from others is that it uses Greek text underlying the NIV. Footnotes provide differences with UBS5/NA28. You should also beware that this reader’s does not include parsing information for verbs.  Only definitions are provided, which I think is a weakness, especially for a beginning student.
The New Testament: Original Greek (Koine) New Testament: Should you be interested, this is a paperback copy of the 1904 Patriarchal text used by the Greek Orthodox Churches. I’ve looked for a nicer copy, but I haven’t found one that is readily available online. (If you know of one, please let me know!)

Free Greek New Testaments Online

SBL Greek New Testament
Byzantine Greek New Testament (BGNT)
The New Testament In The Original Greek Byzantine Textform (alternate link)
Tregelle’s Greek New Testament
The New Testament in Original Greek (Westcott & Hort)

My Recommendations

If I’ve confused you with all these options, here’s what I recommend for a beginning student.

  1. The Reader’s Edition: The Greek New Testament (UBS5)
  2. Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece 28th Edition (NA28): This is not immediately necessary, but if you plan on seriously learning biblical Greek, you’ll need this at some point.

Now that you are informed about Greek New Testaments, why don’t you check out my other posts written to help you read the New Testament in its original language?

Teach Yourself Biblical Greek Series:

  1. Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Introducing the Process
  2. Choosing an Introductory Greek Grammar
  3. What Greek New Testament Should I Get?
  4. Memorize the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament
  5. Koine Greek Pronunciation and Greek NT Audio Recordings

Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Choosing an Introductory Grammar

You’ve decided to teach yourself Biblical Greek and now you need to purchase an introductory grammar.

To kick-start your search, I’ve summarized some of the more well-known textbooks below for you. I’ve even included several grammars you can download or view online for free. You can teach yourself from all of these texts, there’s no right or wrong grammar.  In fact, if you’re serious about learning, it may be helpful to have a couple grammars to compare and contrast from as you learn.

A good grammar is indispensable as you study Biblical Greek. In order to read the New Testament in its original language, you’ll have to identify many different forms of words to understand their full meaning.  The only way to learn the forms is to study them. Knowing vocabulary will only get you so far, so you need a grammar. There’s no way around it.

Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar by William D. Mounce
This is one of the most well-known introductory grammars out there. The strength of this grammar is found in the supporting materials.  William Mounce’s website,, includes a variety of supplemental resources available for purchase that go along with the grammar, including a complimentary workbook, flashcards, and video lectures.

I started out with this grammar, and it has everything you would need. That said, I found that while it did a good job of explaining the concepts, it didn’t help me bridge the gap to actually reading the New Testament in Greek. Within the textbook, there are not many practice examples to apply the concepts you learn. I suspect the corresponding workbook is needed to supply the additional practice needed to really understand and apply the grammar.

Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook by Rodney J. Decker
As evidenced by the title, this grammar combines both a practical introduction to Koine Greek and an ‘integrated workbook.’  By ‘workbook,’ I believe they mean that it offers plenty of practice examples that have been included at the end of each chapter.

The book is really designed to help you read the New Testament. Each chapter has thorough explanations, which is great if you don’t have a professor to explain the concepts. A short reading passage is included at the end of the chapter for practice. The examples included throughout are straight from scripture (both the New Testament and Septuagint), rather than being made-up sentences. This is a fairly thick book at 672 pages, but when you’re learning on your own, more content is not a bad thing. Here’s the first chapter online for free.

I am biased since this was my primary introductory grammar, but I would definitely recommend this book if you’re going the self-taught route.

Learn to Read New Testament Greek by David Alan Black
Dave Black is a great communicator, so it’s no surprise that his grammar is one of the more popular options. I have never used this book, but it looks to be a solid grammar. I’m sure it’s used often in seminary classes. I’ve read his intermediate grammar, and Dave excels at explaining intimidating concepts in a clear and concise manner. Dave has a whole slew of resources available for his grammar on his website, which is worth checking out regardless of what textbook you buy.

A Primer of Biblical Greek by Clayton Clay
This is another well-received introduction to New Testament Greek. I believe it is a paperback, which could be a problem since a grammar is the type of book you’ll be using a lot.  That said, you can pick a used copy on Amazon quite inexpensively. Available online for this textbook includes some supplementary material from the publisher, a vocabulary reference chart, and free notes.

Free Beginning Greek Grammars Online

Basic Grammar of the Greek New Testament by John Pappas
A Brief Introduction to New Testament Greek by Samuel G. Green
A Grammar of New Testament Greek by James Moulton (Vol. 1, Vol. 2)
Hellenistic Greek by Michael Palmer
Learning New Testament Greek
Mastering New Testament Greek Textbook by Ted Hildebrandt (Free lesson videos)
The Online Greek Textbook by Dr. Shirley
Teach Yourself New Testament Greek by D.F. Hudson

Now that you know about your options for Biblical Greek grammars, why don’t you check out my other posts that give some helpful tips to help you read the New Testament in its original language?

Teach Yourself Biblical Greek Series:

  1. Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Introducing the Process
  2. Choosing an Introductory Greek Grammar
  3. What Greek New Testament Should I Get?
  4. Memorize the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament
  5. Koine Greek Pronunciation and Greek NT Audio Recordings

Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Introducing the Process

If you want to learn to read your New Testament in its original language, Koine Greek, this post is for you. The most difficult aspect of learning something new, is you don’t know what you don’t know. You end up learning the hard way, as with most things in life. Learning biblical Greek is no different.

My goal here is to share some advice and hopefully ease some of your pain as you begin your studies. The focus is going to be on learning to read the Bible, primarily the Greek New Testament, but it also will help reading the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament (known as Septuagint or LXX).  As you grow in knowledge, you will be able to analyze the Greek more closely for exegetical study, but for now I just want to get you reading at a basic level.

First of all, I am self-taught when it comes to biblical Greek. Consequently, my advice is specifically geared towards those who want to learn and aren’t able to take actual classes. Fortunately, there has never been a more advantageous time to teach yourself. We have a world of information at our fingertips, the only thing that is stopping most of us from learning is plain old hard work and discipline.

There are four absolute must-haves if you want to learn to read the New Testament in Greek.  You need:

  1. A Introductory Koine Greek Grammar
    For more information: Choosing an Introductory Greek Grammar
  2. A Greek New Testament
    For more information: What Greek New Testament Should I Get?
  3. New Testament Greek Flash Cards
    For more information: Memorize the Greek Vocabulary of the New Testament
  4. Audio of the Greek New Testament
    For more information: Koine Greek Pronunciation and Greek NT Audio Recordings

Once you have these resources, you need to know how to use them. What’s the process? How do you go from knowing practically nothing, to being able to read the New Testament in Greek?  Here’s the simple break-down:

1. Learn the Greek alphabet.  You need to be able to recite and write the entire alphabet from memory. Just as importantly, you need to become intimately familiar with the sounds the letters make.  All you need for this stage is your grammar, and perhaps audio files of the alphabet being pronounced.

2. Practice proper pronunciation. If you know the alphabet and how to pronounce each letter, you’re off to a good start.  Now you must begin sight reading words. Your grammar should explain the various pronunciation systems to choose from. You’ll want to decide up front what pronunciation system to use, and keep that consistent as you learn. In addition to the individual letters, you’ll also need to learn the sounds that diphthongs make (this is when two vowels are combined). The pronunciation of the diphthongs will differ depending on what pronunciation style you’re using.

If you’ve found an GNT audio recording, listen to a verse, pause, and then read the same passage out loud to yourself. Don’t worry about not understanding what you’re reading at this point. You need to internalize the sounds of the language. Once you get comfortable with this, begin reading several verses out loud without the help of the audio recording. After you read a verse or two, listen to the audio recording to check your pronunciation. When you’re driving around town, play the recordings to further reinforce the pronunciation.

3. Develop a solid vocabulary base. Now that you can actually recognize letters and pronounce words, you need to solidify this knowledge. A good way to practice is to memorize vocabulary. You’ll want to use your Greek New Testament flashcards, starting with the most common words occurring in the NT.  Focus on memorizing small increments, let’s say ten at a time.  At first, it will be difficult, but the more you memorize, the easier it will become. You’re brain will adapt and you’ll be able to memorize much quicker.  Spend some time every day at this. It’s about consistency, not just memorizing 100 words that you immediately forget.

4. Begin learning the basics of Koine Greek grammar. As you memorize vocabulary words, you’ll want to begin working your way through the grammar. At first it will be daunting. There will seem to be a lot to learn. Don’t worry. Master the basics and review hard portions repeatedly over the course of weeks or months. It will start to sink in.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, keep reinforcing the pronunciation and vocabulary. Until you see Greek words as actual pronounceable words and not a bunch of random symbols, you won’t be able to learn the intricacies of the grammar.

You’ll probably want to begin with nouns, learning the different cases and their endings. The basic verb forms are not a bad idea either. Grammars break down the concepts well in an organized manner, so I’m not going to tell you what to study here.  Just read your grammar and decide what makes sense for you.

5. Read easy portions in the Greek New Testament. As you progress with the steps listed above, you’ll want to begin attempting to read from your Greek New Testament. I would suggest with starting with one of the easier books, such as 1 John or the gospel of John. Attempt to read a paragraph or two.  Once you’ve given it your best shot, lookup the verses you struggled with in a Greek-English interlinear, or in your English bible.  The point is you need to be working out your brain by consistently trying to read a portion of the NT. Try to get to at least one chapter per day. You don’t need to understand every grammatical nuance, but strive for general comprehension. As you learn, you will be able to fill in the knowledge gaps.

6. Continue to memorize vocabulary, study your grammar, and read the Greek New Testament every single day. The key is consistency. You need to be reviewing vocab words already memorized, and learning new words as you’re able. Every day open up your Greek NT and read something. The only way to really learn to read is to just do it, even if it’s hard. Aim to get up to a chapter a day. As you attempt to read, you’ll realize you don’t know everything you need to know and you’ll be motivated to study the particulars of the grammar.  And the grammar you learn will make your reading easier. And so it becomes a self-reinforcing cycle.

This is the method I took, but each person have their own learning style. Feel free to change up how you approach learning to best fit your personality. Some people love memorizing grammar rules. If that’s you, go for it. You need to assess how you learn best, and then apply that to learning Greek.

Regardless of your approach, you need to be determined, disciplined, consistent, and willing to work hard. There will be times when you get frustrated.  Don’t worry, keep studying. Your work will begin to pay off, and the rewards will begin to overcome the pain. As you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the joys of Koine Greek will become more evident and you’ll want to keep learning.

If you have to the motivation and discipline, you can be reading at a basic level the Greek New Testament in under a year’s time. So go for it!

Now that you know how to begin teaching yourself Biblical Greek, why don’t you check out my other posts that give some helpful tips to help you read the New Testament in its original language.

Teach Yourself Biblical Greek Series:

  1. Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Introducing the Process
  2. Choosing an Introductory Greek Grammar
  3. What Greek New Testament Should I Get?
  4. Memorize the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament
  5. Koine Greek Pronunciation and Greek NT Audio Recordings