How to Sharpen and Strengthen Your Greek in 2023
A new reading plan that helps you to grow from reading the easiest Greek in the New Testament to translating the hardest portions of the New Testament
A language that you don’t use is a language you will lose—which is why so many pastors who labored so hard over Greek vocabulary and verb paradigms in seminary end up losing most of what they learned. The only way to maintain your knowledge of another language is to use that language regularly. My goal in this post is to provide you with a unique reading plan that will help you not only to keep your Greek but also to grow in your ability to read New Testament Greek fluently.
Keeping Your Greek
So what’s my plan for helping you to keep your Greek?
First off, if you have any interest at all in maintaining your knowledge of Greek, be sure to subscribe to Daily Dose of Greek, a free video series from my friend and colleague Rob Plummer.
Alongside Daily Dose of Greek, however, it’s crucial to read sections from the Greek New Testament every day.
What I want to give you is a supplementary tool to strengthen your daily reading of the Greek New Testament. For years, I used a reading plan developed by Lee Irons and reworked by Denny Burk that takes you through the New Testament in a year. Over the past year or so, I’ve been developing a different yearly plan, aimed at the needs of students who want to strengthen their Greek and keep it sharp.
A New Reading Plan for the Greek New Testament
Here’s what’s unique about the plan that I’ve developed: It begins with the easiest Greek in the New Testament and gradually progresses into more and more difficult Greek.
Stage 1: Starting Simply: In January, you’ll build speed and confidence by reading John’s Gospel, 1 John, and then the Gospel According to Mark. In March and April, the Gospel According to Matthew will begin to challenge you a bit. The grammar in Revelation will feel odd at first and you’ll run into some words you’ve never seen before, but it’s not particularly difficult.
Stage 2: Stepping Beyond Simplicity: By summer, you’ll be reading Luke’s Gospel and the early chapters of Acts, and your Greek will be reaching a new level. I save the latter chapters of Acts until later in the year, because Luke’s style grows more difficult when he begins describing Paul’s journeys.
Stage 3: Growing in Complexity: I’ve arranged Paul’s letters according to difficulty and chronology, but you’ll notice that 2 Corinthians 1–9 isn’t included quite yet. That’s because those chapters in 2 Corinthians are some of the hardest texts in the entire New Testament. And so, instead of translating those chapters, you’ll read James and the latter chapters of Acts, followed by three more epistles. Peter’s first letter is quite elegant Greek; his second letter is not. I don’t find translating the Greek in 2 Peter and Jude to be enjoyable at all, but these texts are no less inspired than John’s Gospel and you will profit from working through the oddities of these two epistles.
Stage 4: Progressing toward Mastery: Last of all in my reading plan, you’ll translate 2 Corinthians 1–9 and Hebrews. I’ve provided plenty of flex days to catch up, and the texts have been arranged in smaller segments. Even with these accommodations, you will almost certainly struggle. But don’t get discouraged! Even after earning straight A’s in six semesters of Greek and teaching Elementary Greek for two years, there are constructions in 2 Corinthians and Hebrews that I still can’t untangle without using outside resources.
In case you’re an overachiever and you don’t need to use the flex days to catch up, I’ve also included some recommended readings from the Septuagint. These readings have been curated from different spots in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to provide you with a sampling of the variegated styles found in the Septuagint.
If you want to join me in this reading plan, please download the PDF below and follow it throughout the upcoming year! You can print the document on both sides of one sheet, fold it, and fit it inside your Greek New Testament.
A Few Final Suggestions for Sharpening Your Greek and Using It Well
Here are a handful of other suggestions that may be helpful:
Read the text out loud every day, even if you’re in a coffee shop and other people think you’re insane. You will be amazed at how much more you remember when you read the text aloud.
Purchase a reader’s Greek New Testament. These editions of the Greek text provide definitions of less-frequent words at the bottom of every page. There are several reader’s editions available, but my favorite is The Greek New Testament: Reader’s Edition, published by Crossway using the Greek text from Tyndale House, Cambridge. The font is perfect, difficult verb forms are parsed, and the binding is sturdy enough to last for years.
One last reminder for all of us: Yes, this is about learning and retaining a language, but we learn this language so that we may be transformed by God’s inerrant and sufficient Word. Never allow your knowledge of Greek to putrefy into arrogance or mere academic achievement. If your increased knowledge of Greek does not correlate with increased humility and love, you’re doing it wrong.
This is exactly what I need. I have lost my ability to read freely, having relied too much on an interlinear. Its like I do these continual head slaps. Read along silently, get a word with the ending I don't immediately recognize, look at the interlinear translation and part of speech, slap my head, continue. I do read well enough the published english interlinear translations have me yelling into the air in certain passages. (I am starting my own substack focusing on evangelism for the developing post-secular world.)
Several years ago, I started doing extensive reading with the old Brenton parallel text LXX. By accident, I realized that a few repetitive sections (e.g. the gifts from the 12 tribes for the dedication of the tabernacle) had lead to me having good comprehension. I started doing my reading in multiple passes and including repetition of paragraphs or passages. My comprehension dramatically increased. I moved from targeting "pages per day" to "time put in per day" and adjusted my pace as to my comprehension level. The details are more than will fit here since I also included listening and following along and speaking along, etc. with audio and an interlinear. But I'm now at a point where I can comfortably read narrative genre materials with decent comprehension. The cool point was when I realized I couldn't recall where or when I learned many words. Over time, I'm finding my comprehension and accuracy are improving.
I've been researching non-traditional learning methods for a decade or so. In one sentence, it's about choosing methods and materials that create brain structures that do what we want. Most Greek students use methods and materials that create brain structures that analyze and translate while in essence thinking in English about Greek with a goal of perfect understanding and avoiding mistakes. It takes different methods to build different brain structures that directly react to Greek which is what reading is. Once I realized reading is not analyzing and translating in my head very quickly but something different, I was able to let go of perfectionism and allow myself to enjoy continuous improvement and the simple joy of seeing a phrase or passage in Greek that simply seemed familiar and made sense. Over time, more and more seems familiar and makes sense as I see it.
I'm not sure how well I explained this in this limited space, but there is much research in a handful of fields that suggests many people we consider prodigies (polyglots, computer gurus, jazz improvisors) are not so much talented and gifted but mavericks and pioneers showing us what is possible if we adopt methods that individually work for us.