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My Language Friends: Greek

Hill of the Muses

Although I was passively exposed to Spanish growing up in Texas, the first language I started learning was Greek—koine Greek to be precise. My father had “taken” it in college, and while he didn’t retain much of it even over summer break, he wanted to spark my interest in it at an early age. He taught me the alphabet and a few key words, and he even made a little quiz for me, to test my rudimentary Greek knowledge.

I was proud of my accomplishments, and soon began studying Greek as part of my schoolwork, going through the series of workbooks called Hey Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! (That’s the beauty of homeschooling—your study options are limitless!) The Hey Andrew! books were good, but went along at a dreadfully slow pace. I felt like it would be forever before I got to learn about adjectives! But by the time I went through the whole series, I had a good knowledge of Greek grammar. I think they may have even added another level since I finished.

At university, I wanted to minor in Greek New Testament, but I was afraid that the first basic classes would just be a boring review of things I already knew. So I had a talk with the Bible faculty, and arranged to take a special test to see if I was ready for second-year Greek classes. I brushed up on my Greek skills, and easily passed the test. So it was that I was taking Greek 3 as a freshman! From there I took all the Greek classes that my university offered, and quite enjoyed it.

But back to the language itself. I know beauty is subjective, especially when it comes to languages. But of the languages I speak and am familiar with, I find Greek to be most beautiful in the way it sounds and flows. I also love Greek because of its rich history, stretching back to prehistoric times and still spoken today.

That brings me to a point that I would like to stress about this language. Greek is not a dead language. Whenever I hear a comment in a sermon or Bible class about Greek being a dead language, I feel a bit offended! Greek is my friend, and I use it to interact with the holy scripture. Plus, I’ve been to Greece, spoken to Greek people, and they certainly don’t think it’s dead, since they communicate in it every day!

To be sure, Greek has changed, but not as dramatically as some languages. Greek people have always held on to the continuity of their history, and whereas the Roman Empire is dead and gone, and new nations risen in its stead, Greece remains Greece, and its people Greek. I believe this is part of the reason why Greek people today can still read texts written in Koine Greek, and with some extra study, even classical works of literature. Greek has changed, but it is the same language, alive and well.

Having been acquainted with Greek for so long, it is a dear and familiar friend to me. It’s a joy to read the sacred texts of scripture as they were originally written, and I also branch out sometimes and read other koine literature. That’s not to say I don’t have to pause and look up words every now and then, but I can read fluently for the most part.

Now, the thing that is missing is speaking. And, granted, I don’t have any friends here in Georgia to talk to in Greek. But one of these days, I would really like to learn to speak modern Greek. I can read it to a certain extent—I’ve learned a lot of the differences between it and koine, and when I travelled through Greece 6 years ago I communicated a little. But I would love to be able to speak this beautiful language fluently in addition to reading it.

I could go on and on about Greek, how it is challenging but not impossible to learn, how it is related to English, and how many of our words are derived from Greek. But this is a good introduction, I think, and I will conclude by giving you a little snippet of what Greek sounds like. The audio below is Colossians 3:1-4.

κολοσσαεις

(The awesome uncial font above is from Paleographic Fonts by Juan José Marcos. Check it out!)