Did you take any Greek in seminary or Bible college? Perhaps you teach it. If so, then I suspect you’ll know what I mean when I say that my second-year Greek class has entered that time in the semester when I’ve got to start talking about Heinrich Bizter or posting something Luther said about the importance of the original languages. Otherwise that poor fellow with the full-time job, growing family, and regular teaching post at his church—to say nothing of other classes—might actually perish in a fantastic pile of flashcards and paradigm charts. His smoldering wick is perilously close to extinguishing. In any case, I’d better tread carefully when mentioning the final exam!
One of the ways I’m tempted to encourage these exhausted souls is with the prospect of summer break—that artificial nirvana of semester-organized lives. And, of course, there is some wisdom in this approach. These are human beings after all and things, generally, do let up May–August. Still, there’s a bit of danger here too, especially since these are seminary students. I’ve got to be careful not to give the impression that Greek is simply a course a student passes along the way to summer break and, eventually, graduation. All this is merely scaffolding. Greek and—I have to say it—Hebrew are not simply courses one passes but habits one begins to shoulder in seminary; they are disciplines ministers-in-training develop so that they can spend their lives listening to and speaking for God with penetrating clarity. (For the unconvinced or under-motivated, see the recent apology by Jason S. DeRouchie, “The Profit of Employing the Biblical Languages: Scriptural and Historical Reflections,” Themelios 37/1 :32–50.)
Relief, therefore, isn’t to be found by discarding the habit—whether for the summer or, worse, for life—but by making the habit less onerous. One of the ways we’re trying to do this around here is by reading more Greek together. The idea is fairly simple: the more comfortable one feels with the language, the more likely he’ll actually use it long-term—for reasons other than passing an exam. So this summer we’re offering a Greek refresher “course” for our students and anyone else in the area who might be interested in joining with us. The 15-week course, which I’ll be leading, will meet once a week, beginning in mid-May, and will work through the first six chapters of John’s gospel (a total of 284 vv.). The chapters have been divided up into 15 one-hour readings and we’re encouraging participating students to spend 15 or so minutes four times a week completing the translations—the sort of manageable habit that could continue beyond the summer. Then, each Friday we’ll meet for an hour (7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.) to talk through the reading and discuss any particularly difficult (or interesting) parts. We’ve also divvied up Mounce’s elementary grammar amongst the 15 weeks and are encouraging students to spend 15-minutes per week skimming the assigned chapters (usually two), paying special attention to paradigms and vocabulary.
If you’re interested in starting your own summer reading group and following our schedule, you can find it here. In fact, if you’re in the area, why not consider joining us? It’ll be pretty informal: there’s no cost, credit, attendance requirements, or grades. You don’t even have to complete the homework! I suspect this might be an especially helpful refresher for those in ministry who’ve had Greek in the (distant) past but for one reason or another have let things slide. Whether you join us or start your own reading group, you’ll find this site helpful as you work through the NT text (click on any Greek word for parsing information). If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.