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:
- A Introductory Koine Greek Grammar
For more information: Choosing an Introductory Greek Grammar
- A Greek New Testament
For more information: What Greek New Testament Should I Get?
- New Testament Greek Flash Cards
For more information: Memorize the Greek Vocabulary of the New Testament
- 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:
- Teach Yourself Biblical Greek: Introducing the Process
- Choosing an Introductory Greek Grammar
- What Greek New Testament Should I Get?
- Memorize the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament
- Koine Greek Pronunciation and Greek NT Audio Recordings