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6 Pieces of Practical Advice about Learning Biblical Languages

In a busy world, I find that most prefer to give me advice rather than help. “You should be doing X,” (not ecstasy, just X as in “blah” or “fill in the blank”). “You need to [read this book] [use this product] [learn this program] [start doing this thing every day].” As if I am not overwhelmed enough with all that I know I need to do and can’t manage, I get an endless supply of “you oughta’s.” I feel like people throw erector sets at me all day and say, “Put down the thousand things presently in your hands and build this.”

So, after publishing what is cumulatively 12 reasons every Christian leader should learn biblical languages, I thought it might help if I gave some practical aid in this regard. No, I can’t learn the languages for you, nor can I design a program that will download the data directly to your mind; that was my favorite thing about the matrix… though, if I must be honest, a world full of people with huge amounts of information without the corresponding discipline and character normally needed to get that information sounds a little hinky to me.

My own process of studying the Hebrew and Greek languages has been varied and long. I say this not to brag, but to emphasize what I deem the worth of the advice and steps I am about to give you about learning them.

1. The biggest issue will be self-discipline. Learning the languages will require diligence in studying book chapters, memorizing paradigms, learning vocabulary and doing homework.  Set aside about an hour a day minimum if you hope to get through a normal course of study in a year.

2. Self-discipline will be an even bigger issue if you try to learn the languages on your own. This is hard to do, even if you have good books and recordings of class lectures. Having an expert to question when you don’t understand something is a big plus in keeping motivated.

3. So, if you can afford it, find a school that is teaching Greek and Hebrew and take the courses. You can often audit if you don’t need the credits and minimize the cost. The learning environment, comradery, and external pressure will help you through those periods of boredom and frustration.

4. If you can’t afford courses, and want to study on your own, may I recommend the Basics series by Zondervan.

  • The Basics of Biblical Hebrew by Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt.
  • The Basics of Biblical Greek by Bill Mounce.
  • These grammars are user friendly, and written by experienced teachers who are expert grammarians.
  • Each chapter begins with conservative devotionals using original languages.
  • They have a wide variety of companion helps, all for a good price on amazon.com.
    • Workbooks give homework for each chapter.
    • There are online resources for tests & grading, homework answer sheets.
    • Each text comes with vocabulary and parsing computer programs that are easily crafted to a users individual needs.
    • There are memorization charts, and vocabulary cards.
    • There are also advanced materials connected to the series.
    • I’ve used a lot of texts and systems and have found this series a wonderful help in every way.

5. If you can afford it, The Ockenga Institute at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary offers through their Semlink program recorded courses for each of these texts. Gary Pratico teaches Hebrew I & II, and Scott Hafemann teaches New Testament Greek I & II. They are $100 for each set. This can go a long way toward giving the classroom feel of the language and getting a chance to absorb more than the written material can offer alone. http://www.gordonconwellstore.org/servlet/the-Semlink/Categories.

6. Learn as much as you can about language and translation from well crafted books like Biblical Words and Their Meaning by Moises Silva, and Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson. There is much more to learning a language than memorizing word forms. Oh, yeah! and keep following my blog.

I would love to have those who travel the YouTube world to comment further on solid online sites.

God Bless.  

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