It seems today everyone wants to learn a language. But the problem is that many people don't actually define what they mean by "learn a language." In this article, I'll provide you with two main options to help you decide what you mean by learn biblical Greek and some estimates of how long it will take.
What do you mean by "learn"?
If someone was to tell you they want to learn Spanish, you might ask why. Perhaps they tell you that they're going to take a holiday in Spain. So you can expect that they probably want to learn how to say basic greetings, ask for directions, and perhaps order food or barter over prices in Spanish. You probably wouldn't expect them to tell you that they want native fluency by the time they go on their trip. Why not? Because the effort they will expend learning is directly connected to the anticipated value they will get from the effort they spend.
When it comes to biblical Greek, nobody speaks Greek today. So few learn biblical Greek to speak the language. That means there are largely two reasons to learn biblical Greek. Either you can learn to do basic exegesis in the Greek New Testament or you can learn to read the New Testament fluently.
Learn Biblical Greek for basic exegesis
What is exegesis? Exegesis is the process of identifying the way grammar and words within a given context contribute to understanding what that text says and means. The process typically consists of word-studies, syntactical analysis and some form of synthesis where you bring what you've learned together. Historically, exegesis is the level of knowledge of New Testament Greek you would acquire from a seminary.
However, today many seminaries don't even teach this level of Greek. Increasingly students are only taught how to use software to look up words and connect with commentaries and other secondary literature. In other words, you're not studying the Bible so much as studying what people say about the Bible. This is a loss for the church as a whole.
Getting to exegetical competency
To get to exegetical competency, you'd probably take a couple of years of Greek in a college or seminary. This would consist of two semesters of basic Greek, during which time you'd learn the basic Grammar, the common vocabulary and take your first steps translating the text.
Once you've completed the first two semesters, you'd likely next want to take at least one semester of Greek exegesis, but more likely two. During this class you'd work through a book such as Andreas K. Köstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer's Going Deeper with New Testament Greek or Daniel Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Some classes will have you go through the book in class working through exercises, others will have you read the book on your own and give you different exercises (normally learning the exegetical process). Beyond this intermediate level, some seminaries offer exegetical classes on specific books, which are helpful to continue to build out exegetical skill. At the end of 3-4 semesters, you should be competent and confident with biblical exegesis from the Greek text.
If you're working on your own, then the question of how long it will take will depend on how much time you spend each day. If you can spend an hour each day for 5 days each week working on your Greek, you should be able to finish beginning Greek in about 36 weeks. Having the right tools will help, so see this article for the key variables. Getting intermediate Greek training outside of seminary is difficult, but it is built into Master New Testament Greek.
Learn biblical Greek to reading fluency
If you want to acquire a natural understanding of the language of the biblical authors and to read their thoughts in their own words, then you'll want to get to reading fluency. At this level, you'll learn every word and understand every Greek construction. At the same time, you'll dramatically improve your ability to exegete (not to mention understand) the text. There are all sorts of benefits of learning to read fluently. But this approach takes a little longer.
The key factor: vocabulary
Often students who finish Greek exegesis classes, or even beginning Greek, will have a desire to continue to learn the language. Generally, they continue using the approach they learned at seminary, which is to continue learning the most common vocabulary.
In one regard, this makes sense. After learning words that occur 50 times or more during first year Greek, many exegesis classes require students to learn words that occur 20 times or more, or in some cases 15 or 10 times or more. Many students at this point see this method as a viable way to continue their growth and look for free vocabulary decks or purchase vocabulary books. Often, they'll learn vocabulary down to 5 or 10 occurrences.
There are two problems with this. Often students run into limitations in flashcards apps, and the process of gaining fluency this way can be slow and tedious, getting harder as the occurrence frequency goes down. They know there should be a better way, so they're always looking for a better app, and most get frustrated and give up. This is one reason so many people settle for exegetical competency. It's not because they don't want to learn, but that the approach they learned limits them.
The secret: work smarter
If your goal is to learn biblical Greek to the fluency level, then vocabulary acquisition is key. There is no way to get around the need to build your vocabulary. Just as it is not sufficient for a four year old child to no longer build his vocabulary because he can get what he wants with the vocabulary he knows, neither should we give up on vocabulary acquisition because we know the most common words. Vocabulary acquisition needs to become a part of our daily lives if we want to read biblical Greek fluently.
But, you need a smarter way to learn the vocabulary. You need a method that will reward you quickly for the work you put into vocabulary acquisition so that you can use the words you learned immediately. You need a method that won't have you unnecessarily reviewing words you know well. You need a method that will scale to the entire Greek New Testament. This is exactly how Master New Testament Greek is designed.
How long it takes to learn biblical Greek depends on what you mean by "learn." Learning basic Greek is necessary either way, and it will take a couple more semesters (or at least a year) to get a basic overview of Greek syntax. To really be able to understand the language, you'll want to learn to the level of fluency, and that will take a couple of additional years, and a different approach. But fluency is by far the better approach in my experience.