The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Anything related to Biblical Greek that doesn't fit into the other forums.

Why are people go to seminary / Bible College convinced that

Postby Stephen Hughes » March 4th, 2014, 5:09 pm

Why are people going to seminary / Bible College convinced that Greek is going to be difficult?

Last Sunday I visited another parish and was talking to a Bible College student preparing for missions who had structured his whole study programme around NOT doing Greek. I don't think that is an uncommon sentiment. I couldn't imagine someone structuring their study around NOT studying Pastoral Studies, or NOT studying Church History. Why is Greek signalled out?

Within the scope of Classical Greek documents, the New Testament is one of the simplest documents to read. Being in the Attic Koine, the forms have been more or less regularised. The range of vocabulary is not great - and is in fact limited and definable. Simplified grammar and limited vocabulary suggest that it should not be considered too difficult, but it thought to be.

From the amount of work needed on assignments and essays, and the general difficulty of concepts, I would say that Patristic Christology, Trinitarian doctrines up to the Capadocian Fathers were the most difficult subjects that we were taught and required the most "thinking" to understand them. The Philosophy and history units I took required the most time for reading. But Greek has the reputation.

Are the observations that I have made true in other places too?
"αἴκα" (The Spartan Ephors' reply to Philip II of Macedon) is even better than "nuts" (General Anthony McAuliffe reply to General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz).
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Re: Why are people go to seminary / Bible College convinced

Postby cwconrad » March 4th, 2014, 5:36 pm

Stephen Hughes wrote:Why are people going to seminary / Bible College convinced that Greek is going to be difficult?

Last Sunday I visited another parish and was talking to a Bible College student preparing for missions who had structured his whole study programme around NOT doing Greek. I don't think that is an uncommon sentiment. I couldn't imagine someone structuring their study around NOT studying Pastoral Studies, or NOT studying Church History. Why is Greek signalled out?

Within the scope of Classical Greek documents, the New Testament is one of the simplest documents to read. Being in the Attic Koine, the forms have been more or less regularised. The range of vocabulary is not great - and is in fact limited and definable. Simplified grammar and limited vocabulary suggest that it should not be considered too difficult, but it thought to be.

From the amount of work needed on assignments and essays, and the general difficulty of concepts, I would say that Patristic Christology, Trinitarian doctrines up to the Capadocian Fathers were the most difficult subjects that we were taught and required the most "thinking" to understand them. The Philosophy and history units I took required the most time for reading. But Greek has the reputation.

Are the observations that I have made true in other places too?

I may be in error here (I would honestly be happy to be shown I'm wrong!), but I think the perception or anxiety that Biblical Greek is too difficult or not worth the effort to learn characterizes primarily U.S. schools and seminaries (or is it true also of other English-speaking countries -- you're talking about Australia, SH). In the U.S. I am inclined to think that the grammar-translation pedagogy for Biblical Greek is what has smothered the discipline, making it both unattractive as a study worthy of serious pursuit and unprofitable in terms of significant benefits gained from the study (i.e., the effort expended on learning Greek appears to those who have undertaken it and those to whom it is offered utterly incommensurate with the sense of applicable skill acquired from it). The experience is quite different, I've been told, in the case of those who have taken immersion courses -- either of the Buthian or Christophe Rico sort, on the one hand, or of the CUNY Intensive summer Greek course (is it still done at UCalBerkeley?). Students, by and large, are not going to pursue Greek seriously if they aren't convinced that their real gain is commensurate with the effort they will be asked to expend.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
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πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Shirley Rollinson » March 4th, 2014, 7:47 pm

As one who started Greek in seminary - too often it seems that whoever is the lowest on the faculty totem-pole gets the job of teaching "Beginning Greek" - whether or not hse is capable or interested. My first Greek professor was heard to say that he knew "how the Christian felt when thrown to the lions" (well,. we were rather an outspoken class, and his English grammar was not the best either). For the first year (all that was "required") - we did not read a single verse of the GNT in class, but flogged through Wenham (a good starter book, but not the most inspiring practice sentences). It was only when I decided to try reading the GNT for myself - outside of class - that I found that the GNT was accessible, I could read and understand, and it was a whole lot better than what we were doing in class.
I suspect that this is true of many seminaries - scare them off with grammar, give them a quizz every week (well, I do that myself now also), and never let them read for general comprehension and enjoyment.

BTW - one of my seminary professors may be lurking on this list - if so, you're not the one above, but you can probably work out who it was :-)
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Re: Why are people go to seminary / Bible College convinced

Postby Stirling Bartholomew » March 4th, 2014, 7:49 pm

Stephen Hughes wrote:Why are people going to seminary / Bible College convinced that Greek is going to be difficult?

Last Sunday I visited another parish and was talking to a Bible College student preparing for missions who had structured his whole study programme around NOT doing Greek. I don't think that is an uncommon sentiment. I couldn't imagine someone structuring their study around NOT studying Pastoral Studies, or NOT studying Church History. Why is Greek signalled out?



Hebrew is no fun either.

As someone who did exactly that, I can tell you that language studies at seminary had a horrible reputation for disrupting your studies of more captivating topics like dogmatics (theology) which was my focus. Didn't go there to become a linguist or a pastor for that matter. My college mentor (we didn't call them that) wanted to fix us up with a mentor in grad school. Chose the wrong prof, a Hebrew Language and Exegesis man. The first potential mentoree arrived for the interview, stated unambiguously that he would rather die than take biblical languages. He was told to take a hike. He ended up at Denver and was mentored by Vernon Grounds.

I was second victim of the same scenario. After a three hour drive, arrived on time for my interview. Announced that I was going to "read dogmatics" for an MA in theology (no language requirement). Hebrew Language and Exegesis man told me you can't study dogmatics without the languages. I was unimpressed by the argument. Within two weeks I was in my first class, hermeneutics taught by the president of the seminary. Graduated 9 quarters later without a mentor.

Became interested in languages later on.
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 5th, 2014, 2:23 am

The fact of the matter is that a lot of people find learning languages really difficult, like learning math. For me, it's highly enjoyable, but for many, language learning is a chore.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Barry Hofstetter » March 5th, 2014, 5:52 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:The fact of the matter is that a lot of people find learning languages really difficult, like learning math. For me, it's highly enjoyable, but for many, language learning is a chore.


It really doesn't help that Greek classes are not only taught using the grammar-translation method, but not even for the most part effective grammar-translation classes. It takes years using this approach to produce reading proficiency in students, and for a student to have three or four semesters of three or 4 hours per week of instruction simply cannot produce anything resembling competency. For many it produces only frustration and the desire to be out of it as quickly as possible. Now, one can continue on and continue practicing, but how many actually can do so effectively in the midst of busy ministries and lives?
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 5th, 2014, 7:08 am

Well, Barry, some of these students have this attitude before they take any Greek classes. Perhaps it's bad experiences with high school Spanish or something.

Also, there are seminaries who only offer two semesters of 2.5 hours of instruction a week in Greek.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Barry Hofstetter » March 5th, 2014, 10:31 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:Well, Barry, some of these students have this attitude before they take any Greek classes. Perhaps it's bad experiences with high school Spanish or something.

Also, there are seminaries who only offer two semesters of 2.5 hours of instruction a week in Greek.


2.5 hours per week? Miserable. I suppose such students may have heard stories or had bad experiences, as you suggest, but for too many of them, those stories are confirmed and those bad experiences compounded. There is also the problem of schools for whom the original languages are taught for apologetical purposes, to reinforce the particular theological outlook of the school and reproduce it in the lives of the students ("if you knew what the Greek really said you'd certainly be a Slaboofian like me..."). They learn that the aorist in this particular context is punctiliar and therefore supports their interpretation of the passage. While exegetical "gold" is a goal, it should come from a foundation of really having learned the language, not from using the secret parsing decoder ring...

But I suspect I'm preaching to the choir here. Preaching? Venting...
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Re: The perceived authority, role and difficulty of Greek

Postby Shirley Rollinson » March 5th, 2014, 8:46 pm

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
Stephen Carlson wrote:The fact of the matter is that a lot of people find learning languages really difficult, like learning math. For me, it's highly enjoyable, but for many, language learning is a chore.


It really doesn't help that Greek classes are not only taught using the grammar-translation method, but not even for the most part effective grammar-translation classes. It takes years using this approach to produce reading proficiency in students, and for a student to have three or four semesters of three or 4 hours per week of instruction simply cannot produce anything resembling competency. For many it produces only frustration and the desire to be out of it as quickly as possible. Now, one can continue on and continue practicing, but how many actually can do so effectively in the midst of busy ministries and lives?

Some do indeed keep going after seminary (I am one), and I'd encourage those with even a bit of Greek to get into, or start, a local weekly Pastors' Bible study where one works as much as possible with the Greek and Hebrew texts. Or find an e-group, though those lack the personal fellowship and encouragment.
Given the time constraints the best thing for Seminaries to do would be to give students a "taste" of and for Greek (and Hebrew), get them started reading, and give them the tools to take them further.
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The basics needed for future self-study.

Postby Stephen Hughes » March 5th, 2014, 9:18 pm

Shirley Rollinson wrote:Given the time constraints the best thing for Seminaries to do would be to give students a "taste" of and for Greek (and Hebrew), get them started reading, and give them the tools to take them further.

My view is similar to this.

I think that there are two or three competing aims at present and not enough time to carry any one of them out to a point where they could go on.

Vocabulary learning is a relatively easy thing to do on one's own. Reading practice is what is expected will continue after graduation. Learning the forms and structures of the language is what the best thing to spend the limited face to face time on.

With a very limited vocabulary - limited to a certain topic - most of the language could be covered. By language, I mean ὁ, καί, genitive absolutes, sequence of tenses, etc. Knowing a language is different knowing vocabulary, it is knowing how things work together to make communication possible.

A very young child can communicate well, and knows most of the simpler structures of the language, but doesn't have a wide range of vocabulary outside of their daily life - household, travel, etc. - but they very soon acquire the new vocabulary in whatever new circumstances they find themselves in.

I think that pushing to make Greek workable and useful for reading and doing exegesis on the New Testament right from the beginning is the beginning of the end. A model of sustainable exploitation needs to include upkeep and development. I think that extension and support services for learning are the future of Greek education, not cramming things into a course.
"αἴκα" (The Spartan Ephors' reply to Philip II of Macedon) is even better than "nuts" (General Anthony McAuliffe reply to General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz).
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