Why You Need to Read Your Greek New Testament
Academic New Testament studies sits at the crossroads of an array of disciplines. History, rhetoric, social sciences, linguistics, lexicography, and textual criticism are just a few. Each of these disciplines has its own voluminous secondary literature. Even once you specialize into a particular New Testament book or corpus, the amount of secondary literature is still vast. Familiarity with that secondary literature is hugely important. But while working through it all, it can be all too easy to not work regularly through the New Testament itself.
There could be any number of reasons to work on countering this push. Some might pertain to reading the New Testament in translation. But I’d like to focus on three reasons you need to regularly read the New Testament in Greek—namely, to
Sharpen your Greek,
Observe the text more carefully, and
1. Sharpen Your Greek
Regularly reading the New Testament in Greek will help prevent all your hard work learning the language from going to rust. More than that, it will help you sharpen and improve your Greek.
Most basically, it will introduce you to new vocabulary or reintroduce you to vocabulary you only see infrequently. The same is true for grammatical constructions.
Of course, you can reinforce vocabulary by reviewing word lists or flash cards. Or you can cycle through grammars to stay abreast of syntactical material.
Both of these practices are also good. But continuing to internalize New Testament Greek by reading the New Testament has two advantages.
First, reading the New Testament gives you context. And that context can help trigger your memory when reading other texts in the future in ways that separate flash cards, word lists, or grammatical discussions won’t.
Second, reviewing lexical and grammatical study aids only ever gives you the information in those aids. But those aids derive from the New Testament and don’t determine it. So if study aids are all you regularly work with, they’ll put a cap on the level of expertise you’re able to develop with the New Testament’s original language.
2. Observe the Text More Carefully
To say the least, when you read a New Testament text in Greek, you don’t always find what you might have expected from the way that text is presented in the translations you’re familiar with.
Reading the Greek text itself will allow you to see connections—both at the word and at the phrase level—between different passages. It will also let you see when a connection might not actually be there.
For instance, the English Standard Version gives Rom 6:7 as “one who has died has been set free from sin.” Paul then later talks about “having been set free from sin” (Rom 6:18).
You could never suspect from the translation of v. 7 that one verb is in use there (δεδικαίωται) while an entirely different verb is in use in v. 18 (ἐλευθερωθέντες). Even if the two verses are talking about the same event, might they be talking about it in different ways? And if so, might that distinction be important?
These benefits can be even larger if you practice reading the text aloud as well and not just silently. Your ear will sometimes catch something that your eye will miss.
That “sounding wrong” can be a valuable prompt to consider the text more closely and notice some nuances you might otherwise have missed.
3. Decolonize Yourself
“All translation is colonization" (1). All translation, by definition, dresses up a text in clothes that aren’t native to it.
That reality can be helpful. It makes the New Testament accessible to billions of people who don’t speak and aren’t going to learn Greek.
That said, reading the New Testament in Greek has the upside of forcing readers to come to terms with it. The outcome might still be that you make your own translation, which would still be its own kind of colonization.
But the process of coming to terms with the Greek text itself forces you to reckon with what you find there. It puts you in a much readier position to have “the experience of being pulled up short by the text" (2).
And when the text does pull you up short—does break with what you expected of it—it’s there that it exercises its decolonizing counter force. It’s there that reckoning and wrestling with the text’s meaning helps loosen colonization’s grip on you and your encounter with the text.
If you’re ready to start (or start back) reading your Greek New Testament, I’ll be happy to send you my free Greek New Testament reading plan, along with a couple other related resources.
You can use the reading plan as-is. Or you can download it as a basic spreadsheet (a “CSV”) that you can import into your calendar.
Then, you can see your readings for the day there in your calendar along with any other appointments. The spreadsheet is specifically formatted to work with Google Calendar but may work with other calendar tools also.
These readings are the same ones that my students and I are doing this semester, and it would be wonderful to have you join us!
J. David Stark
Winnie and Cecil May Jr. Biblical Research Fellow, Faulkner University Kearley Graduate School of Theology
Allan Persinger, “Foxfire: The Selected Poems of Yosa Buson, a Translation” (PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, 2013), 11.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, ed. and trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed., Bloomsbury Revelations (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 280.