Keep your Greek (05)

27 01 2009

cebbcf85cf895. Practice your parsing.

If vocabulary is the main stumbling block for keeping your Greek, verb forms are probably close behind. All those paradigms! How will you stay on top?

My tip is this. When you do your 10-30 minutes of Greek reading each day, practice your parsing. One way to do this is to read through a verse or a few verses, then go back through the text and parse each verb therein. This may take a little time if your verb paradigms are rusty, but once you get them into shape it doesn’t take long. All you need to say to yourself is, for example, “Present Active Indicative 3rd person Plural, λέγω.” Do this for each verb (including participles and infinitives). Even if you know straight away what it is you’re looking at, by deliberately going through and parsing each form you will keep your recall sharp. You don’t want to end up sort of recognizing verb forms, but not being able to spell out what they are. That’s a sign of Un-keeping your Greek!

I have one other tip. This is not something I have done, but a retired minister who kept his Greek right to the end of his formal ministry shared it with me. Every year, he sets aside one whole day and re-learns his entire verb paradigms. He writes them out, practices the rusty ones, and reinforces the ones he remembers. For a whole day. Might be worth a try if you need a quick whipping into shape.

Posted by Con Campbell

An apology

24 01 2009

Sorry for my failure to post in recent weeks. I’m in Nigeria at the moment, teaching some Moore College correspondence courses. The internet connection there isn’t great, this is the first time I’ve managed to get through to this blog (too many graphics, etc, I think). I’m keeping a limited blog here:

Posted by Rick Creighton

Keep your Greek (04)

23 01 2009

03102692024. Make vocabulary your friend!

Clearly one of the hardest elements of keeping your Greek is vocabulary. You might remember your paradigms, and recall the syntax, but without knowing what the words mean, it is all for nought! Not only is vocabulary easily forgotten, there are many words that only appear once or twice in the New Testament. All of this means that vocabulary acquisition and retention can become a major hurdle for keeping your Greek.

Here are a few tips:

a. I’ve already posted about the risks of using software to help with vocabulary, though there are ways to resolve these issues. A favourite tool of mine, however, is Sakae Kubo’s A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. You need to learn all the vocabulary that occurs more than 50 times in the New Testament (most first year Greek students will achieve that, and I recommend learning all words above 20 times), and then the vocabulary that occurs less than 50 times is listed for each chapter in which the words appear. This means that you can open any chapter of the New Testament, open Kubo to the same chapter, and have all the vocabulary you need at your fingertips. Using this tool, you can know immediately whether you should already know a word or not, and those you don’t know are there for you to see.

b. You can use Kubo to acquire new vocabulary in a fun way. Before you read a particular passage, look up the section in Kubo that addresses that passage, and go through all the vocabulary that you don’t know. If you give yourself enough time, you can learn these words; it will only be a few if you are going to read Greek for 10 minutes or so. Then when you read the passage, you will know all its vocabulary. You will enjoy reading Greek like never before, since you will not need to look anything up.

c. A Reader’s Greek New Testament is a good tool. Only the rare vocab is provided, and it’s at the bottom of the page—rather than alongside the Greek—unlike interlinears. This will basically achieve the same thing as Kubo’s tool when seeking help with rare vocabulary. One possible drawback is that it might be more difficult to learn new vocab ahead of time, the way you can with Kubo. But if it works to do that (I don’t have one, so don’t really know), then great. Another possible drawback is that you will probably never learn the rarer words, because they are always there on the page. With Kubo, you can put it away after learning new words, so it doesn’t short-cut the learning process. But then, you’re probably thinking “who cares about the rare words, except geeks like you?” Point taken.

Posted by Con Campbell

Keep your Greek (03)

19 01 2009

apple-iphone-in-hand-thumb3. Use software tools wisely.

Software tools, such as Accordance, are amazing, and they can be used for great good. My doctorate would have taken 10 years without the aid of BibleWorks. But like many of God’s gifts, they can be abused, with terrible consequences.

Here are some tips for using software in order to keep your Greek.

a. When you’re doing your 10-30 minutes per day of Greek reading (see my first post), do not have an English translation open on the screen. Just have the Greek there. Feel free to check the English once you’ve done some reading (perhaps after each verse, or after a paragraph), but don’t look at it while you’re trying to read the Greek.

b. Be slow to move that cursor. The risk of using software is that you can short-cut the learning process, just as you will with an interlinear (see my second post). You need to struggle to remember words and grammar, rather than just get a quick answer (By the way, this need only apply to your ‘Greek reading time’, not every time you use the software). So, if you’re disciplined, go ahead and use the software for your Greek reading. But if you can’t be trusted not to cheat, then close your laptop, and get out a paper Greek New Testament. If you can find one.

c. A problem with software is that it doesn’t tell you which words you should already know. You think you don’t know a word, so you get the quick answer, then think, ‘oh yeah, I knew that’. A vocabulary tool like Sakae Kubo’s book is better in this regard, but I’ll address vocab revision/learning in a future post.

Posted by Con Campbell

Keep your Greek (02)

16 01 2009

Image by Catherine Jamieson, via Flickr

Image by Catherine Jamieson, via Flickr

2. Burn your interlinear

Interlinears are a tool of the devil, designed to make preachers stupid.

I’m kidding, of course—interlinears have their place. If you don’t know much Greek, and have no intention of getting good at it, then an interlinear can be useful to check a word here or there, and see what Greek word is lying behind an English translation.

But if you want to keep your Greek, if you want to develop your Greek, if you want to read the Greek New Testament, then take your interlinear outside, douse it with gasoline, and light a match.

The problem with an interlinear is that it shortcuts the learning process. Since an English word is right there under each Greek word, you don’t stand a chance. Of course, if you don’t know a word, you’ll need some help (I’ll come to the issue of vocab in a later post), but your brain won’t even get a chance to work out if it knows a word or not when you use an interlinear. You won’t struggle to make sense of the Greek sentence. You won’t practice your Greek—and without practice, your Greek will die.

P.S. – this issue relates to the use of software tools, which I’ll address shortly.

Posted by Con Campbell

Keep your Greek (01)

13 01 2009
Image by ~Shari~, via Flickr

Image by ~Shari~, via Flickr

Students, and more often pastors, occasionally ask me for advice about how to keep their Greek (and Hebrew) at a good level, while in the midst of demanding ministry work. They’ve spent hundreds of hours at college or seminary getting the biblical languages under their belt, so it’s a crying shame to then lose that hard-earned ability and knowledge through lack of use. This problem also applies to academics who may have a couple of other languages, such as French and German, that they want to remain proficient in. So, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts in this new little series.

Here’s my first tip:

1. Read every day.

From my background in music, I’m absolutely convinced that a little time practicing every day is much more beneficial than large chunks of practice interspersed by large chunks of inactivity. A little bit every day keeps it all ticking along. And it really only has to be a little. Half an hour a day reading Greek would be terrific, but even 10 minutes would be good. I know some guys who just aim to read one sentence of Greek a day. It doesn’t have to involve a big time commitment, just do a little every day. You’d be amazed at how much that achieves over the long term when keeping a language up. This wouldn’t work for learning new a language—you need more time than that—but for languages you just want to keep ticking over, this is my most important piece of advice.

Posted by Con Campbell

What preachers can learn from Lincoln

8 01 2009
Image by Believe Collective, via Flickr

Image by Believe Collective, via Flickr

It’s the most famous speech in American history. School children learn it word for word. And it is indeed a powerful word; or, rather, words—just 272 of them (depending on the version you use to count). Yes, it’s Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, of November 19, 1863.

‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’

What can preachers learn from Lincoln? Others have suggested some things already (see Justin’s thoughts here), but I thought I’d mention a few things that strike me. (I’ve previously posted on what preachers can learn from Obama, and since Obama self-consciously styles himself on Lincoln, this seemed appropriate. Also, it’s the 200 year anniversary of Lincoln’s birth this year. Also, I’m a huge Lincoln fan.)

1. Obviously, the speech is SHORT. At two minutes’ length, most preachers are barely into their introduction, or have yet to finish adjusting the microphone, saying hello to their congregation, welcoming visitors, or throwing in some joke. Actually, I don’t think the length is particularly instructive for preachers, except to say that Lincoln achieved incredible heights and profound insight with so few words. It is simple, but carefully crafted (mirroring Pericles’ Funeral Oration in Thucydides’ Pelopennesian War). It does not waste a single word. Edward Everett, on the other hand, preached for two hours before Lincoln spoke, but who remembers what he said? In fact, Everett himself perhaps said it best, when he commented to Lincoln, ‘I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.’

2. While being short, the speech encapsulated the spirit of America, by invoking the Declaration of Independence (‘all men are created equal’), by casting the civil war as a struggle for a ‘new birth of freedom’, and by the closing words, ‘that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth’. I would love to see preachers tap into the spirit of the family of God. Not so much with explicit descriptions of what the kingdom is like, but by conveying the aesthetic of that reality. Take them there.

3. As did Obama, Lincoln spoke of the past (the birth of the nation, and the blood spilt at Gettysburg), the present (‘we are to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us’), and the future (‘this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom’). The effect of this is that his hearers were reminded of who they are and where they came from, and where they are going. Lincoln even makes an ‘eternity’ statement: ‘that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth’. Preachers would do well to remind their hearers of similar things: who and where they were before God called them, the challenges that confront us in the present age, and the glorious future, which is, indeed, eternity.

4. Lincoln cast the civil war in the light of fulfilling the catch-cry of the Declaration of Independence, ‘all men are created equal’. While the war had been about preserving the union, the nation needed to know that all this bloodshed was for a higher purpose, which it really was. The war was noble because the real issue was that of slavery. All men are created equal, and government is of the people, by the people, and for the people—whatever the colour of their skin. The practice of slavery, rather, was a form of tyranny. Gettysburg created a vision of the noble struggle for freedom and equality.

Preachers need to cast suffering and struggle in light of the greater good to which it contributes. We know that suffering produces character and hope, but it also contributes to that grand vision of the eschaton, in which God will bring an end to suffering, and we will know that the struggle against the opposing forces of evil has not only been endured to the end, but has been the work of God for our good, and for his glory.

5. The address was not considered a success at the time. The Chicago Times was scathing in its review, though there were some positive reviews as well. And yet the speech has endured, in spite of Lincoln’s prediction within the speech itself: ‘The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here’. It has not only endured, but has shaped nations—and not just the U.S. The Constitution of the Republic of France is based on the principle of Lincoln’s words, and contains a direct translation of the speech’s most famous phrase: ‘gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple et pour le peuple’.

What may preachers learn from this? I am struck by the fact that the popularity, or otherwise, of a message is no necessary indication of its long-term effect, nor of its poignant truth or profundity. But if the message is remembered, if the spirit of the family of God is made known through it, and if the grand vision of the glory of God is impressed upon its hearers, then we might thank God that it was not a ‘total failure’, as Lincoln had worried his might have been.

Posted by Con Campbell