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Entries in Greek (5)


It's all about the endings

He spoke the word.

Who is doing the speaking? If you're an English speaker, you know that it is "he" who is doing the speaking. That's the subject of the sentence. Generally, in English, the subject precedes the action of the verb. Now, if you're Yoda, you could say, "The word, he spoke," but you're taking a chance if you copy Yoda because someone could conclude that we're actually saying something like "The word which he spoke." Word order is really important in English. English is not an inflected language.

Koine Greek is an inflected language. That means word order doesn't matter. Αυτος ειπεν λογον, "he spoke the word" can also be written ειπεν λογον α­­υτος or we could move the words around again. What tells me what is the subject of the sentence is the ending of the word, in the case of "he," the pronoun αυτος, with its -ος ending indicates that the word is in the nominative case, and hence, the subject of the sentence. The word λογον with its -ον ending tells me that it is in the accusative case and that means in this sentence, it is the direct object, or the receiver of the action.

These endings are crucial for understanding what all the grammatical components of the sentence are. And what is more interesting is that when it comes to prepositions, the meaning can change, depending on what the ending of the noun is. Adjectives also have different endings, and the way one tells which adjective goes with which noun is the ending of the word. These endings are something students must learn. Once we learn what the endings are, it's just a matter of recognizing them in context. When we do translations in my Greek class, it's like putting puzzle pieces together. I've never been good at number puzzles, but so far, I'm good at this kind of puzzle. It does take time, though, and one has to be careful and pay attendion, because even the absence or prescence of an accent can make a difference in meaning.

This is probably mind-numbingly boring to most people, but it is fascinating to me to see how words work. And it is a great reminder to me that paying attending to little details as we learn to read Scripture is really important. Maybe you don't have any aspirations to learn Koine Greek, but if you're a Christian and you want to grow, you'll want to open your Bible up. It requires time and attending to read in English, too. Just why did the author use that particular word? What modifies what? Where is the main verb? Why did the writer draw that conclusion?

We are fast learning to become skimmers rather than readers. If you consume a diet of mostly online content, unless you're reading academic journals and abstracts, you can get by on skimming. But is skimming really the best approach to Bible reading? The art of reading slow needs to be preserved. Slower reading means more reflection, and that's a good thing.


Empty Nesters Love Greek

I love my Greek class. I knew I would, and I hope it stays that way. Even though we are not required to necessarily know why the language works as it does (we are only there to learn how to read it), I want to know the why's. I want to have a better understanding of the language in general. Theory and practice go together.

Not everyone needs to learn Greek. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for it. I recognize that for Bible study students, it isn't necessary. We have good English translations. Yet, having an understanding of the original language, especially if we are teachers, can only be a good thing. No, knowing Koine Greek does not make one more holy or more godly. You can know Koine Greek like a champ and yet be a total boor. But when one is teaching, and especially if one is expecting others to take her seriously, Greek isn't a bad use of her time. And the bonus is that our prof promises that knowing Greek will have an impact on our devotional life.

There are a lot of things that women can do when the nest empties; valuable things and not so valuable things. I want to do the valuable things. We all have our areas of strength. The point is to stay active and productive. I did not have a career to return to when my kids grew up, and for that I am thankful. I am glad my heart was not divided between my kids and a career. Some people may think that makes me "just a housewife," and hopelessly out of touch. Perhaps that is true, but I know that today, I have the time and opportunity to learn Koine Greek, and that's exciting. To know the original languages of the Bible is exciting to me. I'd rather be doing this than hanging around in a board room in a meeting or navigating the dog-eat-dog world of an office environment.

I have met my share of blank stares from others when saying I attend seminary. Saying I'm taking Greek is even more entertaining. There is often suspicion. Why would I need that? Am I involved in a theological coup? Some look at me as if I've just said that I like to kick puppies and kittens. I can't change someone's opinion of a woman learning Greek. I trust that, ultimately, I will be a better student of the Bible and a better teacher.

There are many ways now to learn biblical languages. Many seminaries offer online classes for students who want to learn. Bill Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek is very user friendly, and one can benefit from the online resources he provides at his website. We can all claim we are too busy. But if we look at how we spend our time, there may be way to make time. Cut back on television watching or social media time. Get up a little earlier every day. If you want to be inspired for learning Greek, check out Bill Mounce's Greek for the Rest of Us.

I won't say that having my children leave home and become independent has been easy. It's been five years since our last one left home, and I'm still adjusting. Adult kids have their own lives and are in the process of establishing their independence. They don't need us as much. Empty hours can be a bad thing. Why not fill it with something? For me, seminary is helping fill those hours. And Greek is contributing in a particularly exciting way. 


Old Lady Greek - Week 2

Well, technically, I'm not really an old lady, although the young guy who sits behind me in Greek probably thinks so. My Greek class is a mix of older and younger. I sit beside one of the other two women. She's a pastor's wife and has middle school kids. There are also a couple of gentlemen who are older.

I have taken Koine Greek before. It was over 25 years ago, and I suppose, if I had tried, I could have asked to take some sort of proficiency exam to test what I remember, but I know I would have easily failed. I just don't remember a lot. Besides, the point isn't to simply get the credit; the point is to become proficient in reading Greek. I have not really used Greek since finishing my previous studies, and you can't retain what you don't use. My prof shared a story yesterday about how he had Scot McKnight as a prof once and McKnight said even seven minutes a day would keep it fresh. I guess I'll find out if that's true next summer when there is four months between Greek II and Greek Exegesis.

I wasn't sure how much my previous learning would help, but as we went through some exercises yesterday and then broke into pairs to do some others, I realized how much I remembered. Something as simple as automatic recognition of the letters and their sounds has been cemented into my head. Of course, being able to say Koine isn't really the point, but when learning language, it really is better to associate what we see with what we hear; get all the senses going, so to speak.

In this class, we will not be going from English to Greek, but simply Greek to English. I think that is a shame. When I took Koine before, we had to do both. I believe it helps to do both. I'm not a linguist or language theorist, but it seems to me that translating in both directions helps our brains. Constructing our own sentences in another language means we must be more intimate with the way the language works.

I'm really grateful for Dr Koöistra, my first Greek professor. He clearly did a good job if I can remember as much as I have even after all this time.


Conviction, attitude, and strategy

I had my first Greek class yesterday. It was a full class. I felt bad for the guy who came last and had to find a seat. This is why one shows up early: a good seat. I prefer the back, in a corner preferably.

The lecture focused on the content of the syllabus and some introductory words about the value of studying Greek. I really like the prof, because he said something I hoped he would say: studying Greek is more than just an academic exercise; it wil help us devotionally. It will help us become better teachers (and for some, preachers), but it will also affect us on a personal, devotional level. One of the books we will be using is Zondervan's Devotions on the Greek New Testament.

There were three things he emphasized that will help us: conviction, attitude, and strategy. The conviction we must have is that we are going to learn. We need to see this as a valuable pursuit. Secondly, we must have a proper attitiude, an attitude of worship. Worship is holistic; we worship with our heads, hands, and heart. Worshiping God with our minds involves learning. If someone is given the ability to use his mind, he ought to use it for God. And thirdly, the strategy we employ is to review frequently. I liked his comment about avoding the "binge" approach. Language learning doesn't work well with the binge approach. It may work for getting through a course which, ultimately, we will never use again, but a language requires constant review.

Something which made me really pleased was what he shared about Logos software. I've got a very basic, bare bones version of Logos 7, which was available for free. I have purchased a couple of things and I've taken advantage of the free book of the month, but I don't have anything beyond the basics. It was my intention to purchase something this year. I learned that in the third installment of Greek, which is Greek Exegesis, a Logos Bronze package is a required resource. So, the students who take Greek Exegesis have that added to their tuition payment and then are given the software; and it's half price. It's still not cheap, but half price is a very good deal. Lord willing, I hope to take Greek Exegesis in September 2018; that is when I'll make my purchase of a package which contains many of the resources that help a student stay reading Greek.


My kind of problem solving

I always hated word problems in math. I was never good at them. I suspect my underlying dislike arose out of an inability to do them, and that arose from a third grade teacher, who when I had struggles and questions, sent me to the library to organize the card catalogue. For anyone reading who does not know what a card catalogue is, Google it.

When I took calculus in university, I was engaged to my math major hubby, and I had excellent tutoring. I had a glimpse into what fun math problems could be. However, it wasn't until I met Koine Greek that I realized that there are other kinds of problems to solve which are a whole lot more fun. Translating Greek sentences feels like problem solving to me.

I dragged out my Basics of Biblical Greek recently and began re-acquainting myself with what I studied so many years ago. I have also been listening to Bill Mounce's lectures. When I studied Koine Greek, we began with verbs, and Mounce begins with nouns. I don't know why, but in any case, I find myself remembering quite a lot, and realizing that I didn't understand a lot, either. 

Yesterday, I did some exercises in the study guide to his book. I've just finished the unit on adjectives. If you want to learn English grammar, study another language. Being forced to evaluate the grammatical structure of one language means you have to understand it in your own language. When you translate a Greek sentence, you must account for every word. The article (or its absence) is crucial for determining meaning in many cases, as well as indicating when you must rely on context. As I go through these exercises, I am forced to slow down and concentrate; that can only be good in the long run.

The teacher I had in university for Koine Greek, Dr. Kooistra, was a lovely old gentleman, and he loved the language. The fact that I can remember so much now is a testimony to his teaching. However, he was not a translator; he was a professor and a pastor. What I like about Bill Mounce's material is that he speaks as a translator as well and addresses translation issues, which makes learning more interesting.

This is my kind of problem solving, and it almost makes up for being a mathematical dunce. Almost.