‘Never been easier’ to improve Greek skills, profs say at SBTS Alumni Academy

Communications Staff — January 27, 2017

Everyone who has studied New Testament Greek has experienced some degradation of their skills with the language. But whether a student needs a brush-up after a month of winter break or a full makeover after years of neglect, there are plenty of resources to help the Greek student get back on track, said Robert L. Plummer, professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at the 2017 Alumni Academy, Jan. 13-14.

Robert L. Plummer encourages students to improve their Greek at Winter Alumni Academy.
Robert L. Plummer encourages students to improve their Greek at Winter Alumni Academy.

“It’s never been easier to both maintain and to grow in your Greek skills,” said Plummer, co-author of Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek, which releases in August 2017. “Whatever state you are coming [into your study], you can gain it back.”

There are generally two different kinds of former Greek students, Plummer said: those who are maintaining and want to improve their Greek, and those who need their Greek miraculously “resurrected.” Both groups can benefit from regular, consistent diligence, according to Plummer.

Any students who want to commit themselves to improving their Greek, he said, should write down a commitment to do so before leaving campus. According to an article in the European Journal of Social Psychology, he said, it generally takes approximately 66 days to form a habit, so those hoping to regain their familiarity with the language need to keep at it.

“Greek is like the neighborhood cat,” Plummer said, “If we don’t feed it, eventually it will leave.”

Students should be willing to radically intervene in their lives to reverse the degradation of their Greek skills, even removing apps from their phone that could be distracting. They should analyze and study where their time is wasted, and then take major steps to address the problem.

Plummer, who co-authored the intermediate textbook Going Deeper with New Testament Greek and started the Daily Dose of Greek website, said former Greek students should take advantage of the many resources surrounding them and labor to improve their language skills a little bit each day. Even reading or translating one verse of Greek a day can grow into a long-term habit.

Those who attended the Alumni Academy events were given one book from the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, a series of volumes exploring the grammatical and lexical issues of the Greek text in a single book of the New Testament. The series contains nine volumes so far, and students registered for Alumni Academy each received the volume on Ephesians from B&H Academic.

“This is like a Greek exegesis course in a paperback,” Plummer said. “This is like having a Greek scholar sit down with you and phrase-by-phrase explain difficult forms and constructions. It starts with a phrase outline and ends with a suggested preaching outline.”

Students should set goals for their Greek that are both realistic and measurable, Plummer said. While many students will set overambitious expectations for themselves, the ones who succeed in maintaining their Greek are those who arrange attainable daily standards for themselves and improve over time.

“We’re presenting lots of different stuff today. You’re not going to do all this — this is overwhelming, don’t do all of this. But pick one of these things and do it,” said Plummer, describing one person who wrote out a verse of the New Testament in Greek each morning and studied that one verse.

The weekend’s events also featured intermediate and advanced seminars for Greek students further along in their studies, including a plenary session on the Greek verb by Steven Runge, scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software and author of Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament.

Steven Runge, scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software, talks about the Greek verbal system at Winter Alumni Academy.
Steven Runge, scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software, talks about the Greek verbal system at Winter Alumni Academy.

During the session, Runge sketched a “toxic” history of debates among grammarians and scholars, who have grappled with the complexity of the Greek verbal system. He then suggested a way forward, offering a definition of “verbal aspect” in Greek and potential implications for reading the New Testament.

Also speaking at the event were several SBTS professors who gave breakout sessions — Jonathan T. Pennington, associate professor of New Testament interpretation, on deponency; Brian J. Vickers, professor of biblical interpretation and biblical theology, on Greek word studies; Peter J. Gentry, Donald L. Williams Professor of Old Testament, on the putative citation of Enoch in the Epistle of Jude; and Tyler Flatt, assistant professor of humanities at Boyce College, who taught about Erasmus’ study of Greek.

Alumni Academy provides free ongoing instruction for alumni and prospective students of Southern Seminary. To find out more about the program, visit sbts.edu/alumni. Plummer’s Daily Dose of Greek website, which posts two-minute videos translating a part of the Greek New Testament every day, can be accessed here.

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