Books, Greek, Reviews

Book Review—Keep Up Your Biblical Greek

Keep Up Your Biblical Greek in Two Minutes a Day
Compiled and edited by Jonathan G. Kline
Published by Hendrickson
Hendrickson | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Hendrickson for this review copy! I received this free copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

One of the biggest challenges facing students of Greek (and I have in mind primarily students of NT Greek in seminaries) is retaining even a fraction of the information that is heaped upon them in first- and second-year Greek classes (and beyond). This is a very real struggle and I would venture that many students probably lose most of what they “learned” soon after the class is over. While we could lay most of this blame at the feet of those who rigidly adhere to impractical and ineffective pedagogies, the fact remains that language that isn’t used regularly will be lost, regardless of the method by which it was attained.

Hendrickson has provided students with yet another tool to aid them in their quest for Greek retention, what I will call the “two minute” series—Keep Up Your Biblical Greek in Two Minutes a Day: 365 Selections for Easy Review. The premise is right there in the title—spend a minimum of two minutes every day reading through the selections and you’ll improve your vocabulary base and thereby improve your ability to read the Greek NT.

The approach taken in this series is simple: provide a single biblical text (either a full verse or at least a full sentence), target specific words, and show them in the original context (of that verse) and in translation. Basically, the page layout is as follows (using the selection from my birthday, March 10):

John answered (ποκριθεὶς), “Master, we saw someone (τινα) casting out demons in your name (νματ), and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” (NRSV)

νομα                    name, reputation                                                   229x
onoma                                                                                                                S3686

τὶς, τι    >    Day 35                           ἀποκρίνομαι      >    Day 68

ποκριθεὶς δὲ Ἰωάννης εἶπεν· ἐπιστάτα, εἴδομέν τινα ἐν τῷ νματ σου ἐκβάλλοντα δαιμόνια καὶ ἐκωλύομεν αὐτόν, ὅτι οὐκ ἀκολουθεῖ μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν.

John answered ποκριθεὶς δὲ Ἰωάννης εἶπεν
Master Ἐπιστάτα
we saw someone εἴδομέν τινα
casting out demons ἐκβάλλοντα δαιμόνια
in your name ἐν τῷ νματ
and we tried to stop him καὶ ἐκωλύομεν αὐτόν
because he does not follow ὅτι οὐκ ἀκολουθεῖ
with us μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν

I think what I like most about this series is its simplicity—it’s easier to drink from a fountain than a fire hose. Each day’s selection provides a minimal amount of Greek to focus on, thus allowing a slow immersion into the pool rather than diving from a cliff. The downside, of course, is that if you limit yourself to one page per day, your rate of retention will correspond. However, you don’t have to do one day at a time (sweet Jesus!). The corresponding calendar days are meant as a guide, to help you keep up with readings in a systematic manner. The selections vary in length and difficulty, so there’s no gradation. You could easily find a difficult verse/clause in the first third of the book as you could the last. So, overall, I think this is a useful tool to help readers of the GNT shore up their skills that may have waned.

There are a couple of elements, however, that I don’t care for, and they are elements that I spurn when found in any work. The first is the use of transliteration for Greek terms. Perhaps they’re included to aid in pronunciation—the author doesn’t say—but I find them to be an unnecessary addition to any work. Knowing how to pronounce a word is important, but if you can’t read and pronounce the Greek text, then exegesis is still far in your future. Knowing how to pronounce a word is barely the beginning of understanding and unpacking all of the information encoded in a word/phrase/clause and I view transliterations as ultimately unhelpful.

The other primary negative I would point out is the use of Strong’s numbering system. If you’re beholden to Strong’s, then obviously this will help you. However, the pitfalls of relying on Strong’s have been long discussed in the biblical studies community and I have personally avoided using it since, well, long ago. I’m always surprised that Strong’s still shows up in modern works. I’m willing to assume, as I mentioned, that its inclusion here is to provide a component many users may be comfortable with, so it’s not a deal breaker by any stretch and it doesn’t really detract from the book’s/series’ usefulness. If you have an aversion to Strong’s, do as I do—ignore it.

Is the Two Minutes series a magic bullet that will propel you to new-found heights of retention? Certainly not. What it will help you do, should you use it regularly, is help you regain your handle on NT Greek and, hopefully, push you to deeper, more advanced studies.

 

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