Despite the claims of some books, and the few people among us who find it easy to learn a new language, the grim reality is that learning a new language is hard. But what makes it hard? And is it hard for everyone? Here are 4 reasons it is hard to learn biblical Greek.
We don't understand how languages work
Maybe it's just me, but many of us don't actually understand well how language works. It's not always our fault. Even though we all have to take studies in our native language, the reality is we don't all take in that we're taught. There are a bunch of reasons why. It could because we had disengaged teachers, a bad curriculum or it may be the circumstances we were immersed in.
But there is one other thing that often makes it very difficult to learn how language works. We have nothing to compare with what we're learning. Sound weird? Think about it. Take the sentence "fox" in "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." What makes it the subject? Is it the relationship it has with other words? Is it the position in the sentence? Is it the word itself? I don't know about you, but questions like that used to mystify me – until I learned Greek.
When I started learning Greek, I was also taught how Greek grammar related to English, and in learning this, I learned more about English (and language generally) than I had ever learned before.
The gift of a second language
The reason for this is that the introduction of a second language gives you the ability to compare language systems. By comparing them with each other I could figure out how languages worked. I could see that a word is the subject because of its relationship with the verb, and in Greek I could tell that the form of the word showed how it related to the verb, and that in English the position of the word in the sentence generally determines how it is working.
If we don't understand how language works, there is an extra learning curve to climb. That makes it hard to learn biblical Greek, or at least more difficult than if we understood languages better.
We don't have the personal discipline
Another reason it is hard to learn Greek is that sin has a disorganizing effect. This is true of our attention span, our ability to stick at something, our ability to process information, and therefore our ability to learn new things. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to train himself for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim 4:7). Paul knew that unless we work at it, discipline and godliness eludes us.
Just like this is a major problem for godliness, it is also a major problem when we want to master something worthwhile. Further, it is compounded by our desire to get quick wins. Many people have the idea that if I can't learn Greek in 30 days or less, then it's just not worth bothering.
One of the reasons it is so hard to learn biblical Greek is that most of us haven't developed the discipline necessary to review vocabulary, spend consistent time each day and to keep moving forward. Many Christians don't even have routines that include regular Bible reading and prayer!
But discipline is something you can grow in, and learning to read biblical Greek will require you build your discipline. In other words, learning Greek can be good for your discipline and overall godliness. But if you don't have discipline when you start, it will be hard to learn biblical Greek.
We feel like we can't do it
Perhaps one of the biggest things that makes learning biblical Greek hard is that we feel like we're 10 year olds in school again. We're adults, but we feel like we're going back and learning stuff we should know. There is probably even some truth to it. We should know some of this language stuff. After all, they did teach it to us in school.
But don't let that feeling of "I suck at this" hold you back from achieving something worthwhile like reading the New Testament in the original language. Yes it feels a little humiliating, but as followers of Christ, we're supposed to be humbled by the circumstances around us (1 Peter 5:6). Not only that, everyone who has learned Greek has felt this way at some point. Learning biblical Greek builds character.
So, go ahead and feel stupid and remind yourself that this is exactly what sin does to us and this is why we need Christ. Then let the Holy Spirit work in you as you read. It is hard to learn biblical Greek when you feel like you can't do it. But ignore the feeling and just keep moving. Everyone else goes through exactly the same thing. The difference is those who master the language kept going and reaped the rewards.
We're not benefitting from what we're learning
Another reason it is hard to learn biblical Greek is that we don't feel the benefit of all the work we put in. We strive to learn nominatives and accusatives, but so what? We still can't read and there are all these other chapters still to go! This is true.
This is why it is important that you work with a Grammar that gives you exercises from the Bible. If your goal is to learn Greek so you can read the Bible in its original Greek, then you should start translating as soon as possible. Otherwise the connection between the effort you put in and the payback won't be as great and it will be hard to learn biblical Greek.
The same goes once you're outside of the basics. You want to learn vocabulary and then read the Greek New Testament using the vocabulary you just learned. This way the effort and the reward are tightly connected.
Why it is hard to learn biblical Greek
If you're finding it hard to learn biblical Greek, then here are some of the main reasons it's hard. None of these are impossible to overcome. In fact, as you learn these difficulties begin to fade. But acknowledge to yourself that it will be hard to start with and if you understand why, you'll be able to address specific areas you might want to work on.