What’s the best way to build and hone a skill? Daily practice. This is true with many skills in life, but especially true regarding the biblical languages. Students come to seminary, learn Greek and Hebrew, leave seminary, and then forget everything that they learned. From one vantage point, this is understandable—people are busy and it’s difficult to find a lot of time to invest in maintaining another language. Between counseling appointments, church administration, sermon prep, session meetings, and family life, how can a person spend much time in studying Greek and Hebrew?
Indeed, people do seem to be busier these days, but despite the tyranny of the urgent, there are still a few things that you can do to maintain your language proficiency. First, some may give sermon preparation as a reason as to why they can’t maintain their language knowledge. Ideally, a good sermon rests in the exegesis of the biblical text from the biblical languages! That means you should be getting into Greek or Hebrew (or perhaps both) on a regular weekly basis. On the other hand, there is something else that you can do in addition to this.
J. Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church once wrote that a daily small amount of time in the Greek New Testament was more valuable than an hour in the text once a week. Small daily doses of Greek, for example, can help dramatically improve your proficiency. A valuable resource in this vein is a new book published by WSC alum, Charles Lee Irons. His book is entitled, A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament. His book originally began life as a series of readers’ notes for those who sought to read through the New Testament in Greek over the course of a year. He gathered all of those notes and published them in book form. You can now take bite sized chunks of the Greek New Testament and read through it, and when you come across challenging portions, consult Irons’s work. It covers the New Testament verse-by-verse and chapter by chapter and provides helpful explanation of the Greek text all with the goal of improving your ability to read the text.
Don’t give up on trying to be proficient in Greek or Hebrew. Make it a goal to read at least a few verses each day. After a while, you’ll notice a cumulative effect—your knowledge and skill will improve. How do you eat the Greek elephant of the New Testament? One bite at a time!