Why I’m learning Greek, and the global Christian community should too.

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

– John 17:14–15

Hebrew was a dead language, but was reconstructed and revived by the Jewish community in the 19th century. Islam requires its adherents to read Arabic. Western Christianity, for 1500 years, was maintained by an unbiblical clerical elite in a special language created by Rome until Luther and Tyndale tore down its linguistic barriers, spreading the Word to the German and English-speaking masses, with translations in hundreds of languages in its wake.

Unlike Hebrew, Greek never died. While the scriptures were preserved as they were written by scholars, Greek spread linguistically through the West while continuing to evolve in its native lands. Unfortunately, Western Greek scholarship, with its “reconstructed” pronunciations almost universally declared inaccurate but maintained for their academic distinctives, is almost entirely divorced from the peoples who speak Demotic Greek, resulting in virtually no communication between the groups. These differences can and should be mended in order to further the Christian faith, and for Protestants in particular to proselytize to native Greeks brought up with unbiblical Eastern Orthodoxy.

Believing Christianity is under attack, by radical Islamism in the third world and by radical Neo-Marxist unbelief in the first.  Being able to communicate with members of a believing in-group has obvious advantages for a people whose culture and beliefs are under siege. However, learning the language of scripture is seen as frivolous or solely in the realm of the seminary student, and if Christians can take their scriptural language as seriously as other faiths, we will reap serious benefits.

 Why you shouldn’t learn Greek: In the pursuit of some “hidden knowledge” of the scriptures. The Bible receives more scrutiny than nearly any other piece of text ever created. If you question the accuracy of a translation, you need only search for it online and you will find plenty of details. (Spoiler: NASB, ESV are the most textually accurate, and NIV is easiest to read. KJV was alright for the time it was created but has a handful of problems dealing with the source material.) In short: The English bible is still the bible.

Why you should learn Greek: A desire to learn Koine Greek, the language of scripture, is going to make one take scripture more seriously by necessity.  Learning Modern, or Demotic, Greek is going to connect you to the people of Greece, from which Hellenistic (Greek or Gentile) Christianity originally sprang, and to allow you to communicate in a practical way with other believers globally in this day and age. Demotic Greek has the potential to be a Lingua Franca for Christians with a direct historical connection to scripture, in the same way Modern Hebrew is for Jews.

How does Modern Greek compare to Koine Greek? This is a question I researched for quite a while before starting and never received a good answer to. A lot of this is probably due to the exclusivity between the study groups, as those interested in scripture and those interested in Greek culture typically have little in common. I offer you this LXX (Septuagint) vs TGV (Today’s Greek Version) vs ESV comparison of Genesis 1:2 as an example:

Η γη όμως ήταν έρημη και ασχημάτιστη· ήταν σκοτάδι πάνω από την άβυσσο, και πάνω στα νερά έπνεε Πνεύμα Θεού.
ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος καὶ σκότος ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου καὶ πνεῦμα θεοῦ ἐπεφέρετο ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

You will need to, at the very least, have a working knowledge of the Greek alphabet to appreciate the difference. At first, they look entirely different; however, you will notice the sentence length is basically the same, and if you look at the stems, you will see quite a few similarities in different places in the sentences. Demotic Greek removes a handful of cases from Koine Greek, but nearly every word does have a modern derivation or equivalent. This is different than, say, Old English, which is completely unintelligible to the modern speaker. The short answer is that Modern Greek is a simplified, partially transformed version of the language the scriptures came from. Greek native speakers can generally read and understand the Koine texts. However, they have a lifetime of immersion in the Greek language, reading and using uncommon words, and that does not mean you are going to pick it up as easily as they will. Learning Koine and Demotic is not like learning two languages; it is like learning 1.5 languages using the same alphabet and a few different pronunciations. 

Do I have time to learn Greek? Greek, like any other language, requires consistent practice. If you can spend an hour a night on it, while devoting a few minutes when you don’t have time for a full lesson, you can make real progress. If you are a homeschooler and you pass this language to your grade school children, you will impart the benefit of increased English comprehension as many, many English terms have Greek roots.

Which pronunciation system should I adopt? Learn modern pronunciations for Modern Greek, Erasmian for Koine Greek. The main advantage of Erasmian pronunciations is that they are much, much closer to the English cognates than the Modern pronunciations, making memorization significantly easier. It will be tricky at first, but American English speakers can understand Irish, British and Australian speakers despite their differences in pronunciation.

What about Hebrew and Aramaic? As the primary original language of the Old Testament, Hebrew is a beneficial language to learn; it’s true. However, the text that Christ and his Apostles referred to in his time was likely the Greek Septuagint and it is also older than the oldest complete Old Testament manuscripts we have (which are the Masoretic Texts, dating from 1000 AD, though older individual sources of Hebrew do exist, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls). If the Septuagint was good enough for the Apostles, it should be good enough for us. Aramaic scriptural sources are rare, inconsistent, and often date even later than the Hebrew and Greek texts, and learning resources are scarce.

Here are some resources I have used to get started.

Modern:

Duolingo http://www.duolingo.com

Greek, an Essential Grammar of the Modern Language https://www.routledge.com/Greek-An-Essential-Grammar-of-the-Modern-Language-2nd-Edition/Holton-Mackridge-Philippaki-Warburton/p/book/9781315680309

Koine:

Daily Dose of Greek https://dailydoseofgreek.com/

Reading Koine Greek, An Introduction and Integrated Workbook http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/reading-koine-greek/326720

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Writings https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/G/bo3622223.html