January 23, 2018

Book Review: Greek For Life

Reviewed by Wally Morris

Benjamin L. Merkle and Robert L. Plummer: Greek For Life: Stategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 2017

My undergraduate college study was at the University of Georgia where I majored in Political Science, intending to go to law school, become a lawyer in south Georgia and, eventually, become a judge to clean up all the corruption I saw growing up. Our county was so bad that 60 Minutes produced a story about it. So my first quarter of study during my freshman year (at the time, the University used the quarter system of classes instead of the semester system) I took Latin and eventually earned 20 quarter hours in Latin. That was my first exposure to a language other than English.

By the end of my sophomore year, I knew I was not going to be a lawyer but instead in pastoral ministry and going to seminary. I also knew that I would need to know Greek, so I began self-study in New Testament Greek, using Machen’s Elementary Grammar. During my senior year at Georgia, I had some electives to use, so I took a year of Hebrew. By the time I arrived at BJU, I knew some Hebrew and Greek, but, of course, took more Hebrew and Greek, eventually passing the Hebrew comprehensive.

I mention all of this to let you know that I know something about the difficulty of maintaining language proficiency after seminary. I made vocab cards on 3×5 cards, bought vocab books, various grammars, and now apps on my phone and computer. The “use it or lose it” cliché is very true.

Merkle (Southeastern Seminary) and Plummer (Southern Seminary) authored Greek for Life as an attempt to address the practical and common problem of maintaining proficiency in Greek. The authors intend the book for students, teachers, pastors or others who use Greek in their ministry, and for the one who studied Greek but has not used the language for a long time.

The book is not long (only 152 pages) and contains eight chapters. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection and a devotional using and explaining a Greek passage in the New Testament. The book begins with typical reasons for studying and using Greek and addresses common objections to learning and using Greek. Chapter Two focuses on the psychology of learning and time management, and Chapter Three focuses on the need for and strategies for reviewing Greek. Chapter Four gives various methods for memorization. Chapter Five focuses on improving your ability to read and understand the Greek New Testament, and Chapter Six reviews resources available such as software, lexicons, handbooks, and grammars. Chapter Seven focuses on accountability and goals, and Chapter Eight focuses on the person who had formal Greek courses but has not used Greek in so long that he has “lost” his ability in the language. Each chapter has several “featured quotations” in the margin from various teachers and pastors. The book also contains name, scripture, and subject indices.

This book is helpful for its discussion of updated resources for learning, retaining, and using Greek and for its efforts to motivate people to learn and appreciate Greek. The authors stress quite strongly and clearly the need for daily review and work in the Greek New Testament. One of the most helpful parts of the book are the footnotes, which reference online resources for maintaining Greek skills. Although I often find sidebars in books a distraction, the sidebars in this book contained excellent quotations from various pastors and theologians about the Greek language. The sources for these quotations are in a special endnote section. One feature I like in this book is placing footnotes at the bottom of the page. I find turning to the back of a book to read notes an inconvenience (admittedly, if the footnotes are copious, the back of the book is probably better). The footnotes in this book are usually brief. Chapter Four was not that helpful for me. I have found that using and memorizing the various memory techniques takes as much, if not more, time than the actual memorization.

Greek for Life is a helpful book for motivating someone who wants to gain back lost Greek skills. Robert Plummer also has a website, dailydoseofgreek.com, which offers many resources for learning Greek. In fact, I became aware of this book while looking at this website. The authors, along with Andreas Kostenberger, also have produced Going Deeper with New Testament Greek (an intermediate grammar) and laminated charts for grammar and syntax. With the new year coming soon, this book may encourage some to work on their Greek (and Hebrew too!).

The book is available in paperback and eBook.

Wally Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN. The church blogsite is amomentofcharity.blogspot.com. He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.

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