It’s all Greek to me

Greek AlphabetI’m learning Greek.  To be more specific, New Testament Greek.  And boy does it make my brain hurt.

Thankfully I’m not doing this alone, Ellie is learning with me.  Or, to be precise, I’m learning with her.  Technically it’s her course, I’m just looking over her shoulder.  It’s a module from the distance learning course she’s doing from St John’s College Nottingham, teaching the basics of New Testament Greek using 1 John as a reference book.  It’s quite a challenge, what with the completely different alphabet and sentence structure and whatnot, so she decided it would be easier for her to learn if there was someone learning with her, so she had someone to talk about it with.

So I’m learning Greek.

The first challenge was of course that alphabet.  Ellie had a headstart on me, so I spent the first evening playing catch-up, trying to learn, recognise and memorise the entire alphabet it one sitting.  I had to take a break half way through to get a cup of tea, it was that hard work.  Part of the trouble was that I hadn’t expected to be learning the whole alphabet in one go, so I had only really glanced at the list on the first page, and spent the rest of the evening racking my brain to try to recall it again.   I likened the mental process to inexperienced circus performers trying to stack shelves at Tesco.  Because none of the information had been filed away properly the first time, I was having to chuck the letters around in my brain hoping that they’d organise themselves into some sort of long-term memory, with success determined as much by chance than design.  By the end of the evening, my brain was fit to explode.

By the second evening, though, things were beginning to come clearer, and we started putting the letters together into syllables and diphthongs, and building words out of them.  Since then we’ve tackled verbs and their various endings, had to master the basics of English grammar (so that we can understand it in Greek as well), looked at nouns and their various endings, and some of the connecting words in the middle.  I’m even managing to learn some of the vocab too.

What I find interesting is how a level of understanding has so quickly taken place in my mind.  I made a point of opening up the Greek New Testament right at the beginning of our study, looking over a page, and deliberately thinking “I have no idea what ANY of that means”.  Now, just a week or so in, that’s no longer the case.  I can recognise quite a bit of Greek now.  Even if I don’t know the words, I’m beginning to grasp the general sentence structure and pick out vague meanings.  I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve been impressed how easily it’s sunk in given how long it’s been since I last learnt another language…  GCSE German was a long time ago.

Having an understanding of New Testament Greek will undoubtedly prove useful eventually.  It’ll mean I’ll be able to settle arguments about the meaning of Bible texts.  It’ll mean I can “go back to the Greek” and impress everyone in the middle of a theological debate.  It’ll mean that when the JWs come a-knocking I’ll be able to put them straight on a few issues.  It’ll mean that if I suddenly and inexplicably get sucked through a wormhole and find myself in the Middle East roughly two thousand years ago I’ll be able to understand what people are saying.  Assuming they write everything down first.  And assuming they let me have a Greek-to-English dictionary.  And assuming they’re actually speaking Greek at the time.  And assuming they’re only speaking words found in the New Testament.  And assuming they don’t just lock me up for the inappropriate wearing of jeans and the ownership of a magical wrist-worn sundial that tells the time even in the dark.

Okay, that’s all seeming rather ridiculous now.  Maybe I’ll just stick to theological debate.

EDIT: Thank you Ellie for pointing out the spelling mistakes.  That’ll teach me to proof-read before pressing the go button…

One thought on “It’s all Greek to me

  1. Well done, Matthew. I expect this is something I will also have to do at some point and I’m not relishing the prospect, I must admit! Still, it definitely would be useful when studying the Bible to know NT Greek.

    And, of course, Hebrew is the language of the future: it has no vowels in it, which makes it perfect for texting…

    By the way, I’ve been thinking about applying to St John’s Nottingham, I am going to try and visit an open day there at some point 🙂

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