Greek for the Rest of Us: The Essentials of Biblical Greek

Greek for the Rest of Us: The Essentials of Biblical Greek

by William D. Mounce

If you’d love to learn Greek so you can study your Bible better, then this newly revised second edition of Greek for the Rest of Us is for you. Developed by renowned Greek teacher William Mounce, this revolutionary crash-course on “Greek for the rest of us” will acquaint you with the essentials of the language and deepen your

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If you’d love to learn Greek so you can study your Bible better, then this newly revised second edition of Greek for the Rest of Us is for you. Developed by renowned Greek teacher William Mounce, this revolutionary crash-course on “Greek for the rest of us” will acquaint you with the essentials of the language and deepen your understanding of God’s Word. You’ll gain a sound knowledge of Greek, and you’ll learn how to use tools that will add muscle to your Bible studies.

This book is divided into three major sections (Foundational Greek, Church Greek, and Functional Greek), each of which builds on the previous section and takes you to the next level. Depending on which levels you take, the book will teach you how to:

  • Read and pronounce Greek words
  • Learn the fundamentals of the Greek noun and verb system
  • Conduct effective Greek word studies
  • Learn the basics of Greek exegesis for biblical interpretation
  • Decipher why translations are different
  • Read better commentaries
  • Be comfortable using reverse and traditional interlinears
  • Understand the information displayed by biblical software

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Greek for the Rest of Us

the essentials of biblical Greek

By William D. Mounce


Copyright © 2013 William D. Mounce
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-27710-1

<h2>CHAPTER 1</h2>

<b>The Greek Language</b></p>

The Greek language has a long and rich history stretching all the way from the thirteenth century BC to the present. The earliest form of the language is called "Linear B" (13th century BC).</p>

The form of Greek used by writers from Homer (8th century BC) through Plato (4th century BC) is called "Classical Greek." It was a marvelous form of the language, capable of exact expression and subtle nuances. Its alphabet was derived from the Phoenicians. Classical Greek existed in many dialects of which three were primary: Doric, Aeolic, and Ionic (of which Attic was a branch).</p>

Athens was conquered in the fourth century BC by King Philip of Macedonia. Alexander the Great was Philip's son and was tutored by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He set out to conquer the world and spread Greek culture and language. Because Alexander spoke Attic Greek, it was this dialect that was spread. It was also the dialect spoken by the famous Athenian writers. This was the beginning of the Hellenistic Age.</p>

As the Greek language spread across the world and met other languages, it was altered (which would happen to any language). The dialects also interacted with each other. Eventually this adaptation resulted in what we call Koine Greek. "Koine" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) means "common" and was the common, everyday form of the language, used by everyday people. It was not considered a polished literary form of the language, and in fact some writers of this era purposefully imitated the older style of Greek (which is like someone today writing in King James English). Koine unfortunately lost many of the subtleties of classical Greek. For example, in classical Greek [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] meant "other" of the same kind while [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] meant "other" of a different kind. If you had an apple and you asked for [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], you would receive another apple. But if you asked for [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], you would be given perhaps an orange. Some of these subtleties come through in the New Testament but not often. It is this common, Koine Greek that is used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the New Testament, and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.</p>

For a long time Koine Greek confused many scholars because it was significantly different from Classical Greek. Some hypothesized that it was a combination of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Others attempted to explain it as a "Holy Ghost language," meaning that God created a special language just for the Bible. But studies of Greek papyri found in Egypt over the last one hundred years have shown that Koine Greek was the language of the everyday people used in the writings of wills, letters, receipts, shopping lists, etc.</p>

There are two lessons we can learn from this. As Paul says, "In the fullness of time God sent his Son" (Gal 4:4), and part of that fullness was a universal language. No matter where Paul traveled he could be understood.</p>

But there is another lesson here that is perhaps a little closer to the pastor's heart. God used the common language to communicate the gospel. The gospel does not belong to the erudite; it belongs to all people. It now becomes our task to learn this marvelous language so we can make the grace of God known to all people.</p>

By the way. I often hear that we should learn Latin because it is the basis of English. Not true. English is a Germanic language and Latin is a Romance language.</p>

Languages can be grouped into families. There is a hypothetical base language we call "Proto-Indo-European." It developed into four language groups.</p>

* Romance languages (Latin, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, and others)</p>

* Germanic languages (English, Danish, Dutch, English, German, Gothic, Norwegian, Swedish, and others). Technically the base language for this group is called "Proto-Germanic."</p>

* Old Greek (Linear B, Classical, Koine, Byzantine, Modern Greek)</p>

* Aryan (Iranian, Sanskrit)</p>

There was a lot of borrowing between Romance and Germanic languages (think where the countries are located), and both of these language groups borrowed from Greek. English especially was heavily influenced by other languages. This can be illustrated by words they have in common.</p>

* From Greek (didactic, apostle, theology)</p>

* From Latin (aquarium, name, volcano)</p>

* From French (closet, resume, prestige)</p>

On the other hand, Hebrew and Aramaic come from another family called the Semitic languages, and there was little borrowing between them and the Proto-Indo-European languages. Almost every Aramaic word would sound strange to you (and English to them).</p>

So why learrn Greek rather than Latin? I learned Latin and read Caesar's <i>Gallic Wars</i>; it was interesting. I learned Greek and read the Bible; it wwwwas life changing.</p> <h2>CHAPTER 2</h2>

<b>The Greek Alphabet</p>

In</b> this chapter we will learn the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet and the transliteration of each.</p>


2.1</b> A transliteration is the equivalent of a letter in another language. For example, the Greek "beta" (ß) is transliterated with the English "b." Because they have the same sound, it is said that the English "b" is the transliteration of the Greek "beta." It is common in modern texts to set off a transliterated word in italics.</p>

Jesus' last word from the cross was <i>tetelestai</i>.</p>

This does not mean that a similar combination of letters in one language has the same meaning as the same combination in another.</p>

kappa + alpha + tau ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) does not mean "cat."</p>

Some word study books and commentaries avoid the Greek form and give only the transliteration.</p>

<b>Alphabet Chart</p>

2.2</b> Below I have listed the letter's name, its transliteration, the small and capital Greek form, and its pronunciation. The website will help you with the pronunciation of the alphabet and the reading exercises in the following chapters.</p>

Learning the capital letters is not as critical right now, but they are easy and you might as well learn it all now.</p>


2.3</b> The vowels are α, ε, η, ι, o, ν, ω. The rest are consonants.</p>

<b>2.4</b> Sigma is written as ζ when it occurs at the end of the word, and as σ when it occurs elsewhere: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].</p>

<b>2.5</b> ν is transliterated as <i>"u"</i> if it is preceded by a vowel ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] -> <i>euangelion</i>), and <i>"y"</i> if it occurs as a single vowel ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] -> <i>mysterion</i>).</p>

<b>2.6</b> Do not confuse the η (eta) with the English "n," ν (nu) with "v," ρ (rho) with "p," χ (chi) with "x," or ω (omega) with "w."</p>

<b>2.7</b> Notice the many similarities among the Greek and English letters, not only in shape and sound but also in their respective order in the alphabet. The Greek alphabet can be broken down into sections. It will parallel the English for a while, differ, and then begin to parallel again. Try to find these natural divisions.</p>

<b>Pronouncing the alphabet</p>

2.8</b> In pronouncing the Greek letters, use the first sound of the name of the letter. Alpha is an "a" sound (there is no "pha" sound); lambda is an "l" sound (there is no "ambda" sound).</p>

<b>2.9</b> There is some disagreement among scholars on the pronunciation of a few letters, but I have chosen the most common. This is a different pronunciation scheme than is used by modern Greek, which is a much more beautiful pronunciation than the traditional suggests.</p>

<b>2.10</b> γ usually has a hard "g" sound, as in "get." However, when it is immediately followed by γ, κ, χ, or [xi], it is pronounced as "n." [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is pronounced "angelos" (from which we get our word "angel"). The γ pronounced like "n" is called a "<b>gamma nasal</b>" and is transliterated as "n" (<i>angelos</i>).</p>

<b>2.11</b> The ι can be either short or long, like the two i's in the English "intrigue." When you are memorizing vocabulary and not sure how to pronounce an , just listen to how your teacher pronounces the words (or to me on the website).</p>


2.12</b> Iota subscript. Sometimes an iota is written under the vowels α, η, or ω ([??], [??], [??]). This iota is not pronounced, but it does affect the word's meaning. It normally is not transliterated. The vowel combination is called an "improper diphthong."</p>

<b>2.13 Capitals.</b> Originally the Greek Testament was written in all capital letters without punctuation or spaces between the words. For example, John 1:1 began,</p>


The cursive script was created before the time of Christ but became popular in the ninth century. In cursive the letters are connected, like our present-day handwriting. Spaces were also added between words. In Greek texts today, John 1:1 begins,</p>


In our Greek texts today, capitals are used only for proper names, the first word in a quotation, and the first word in the paragraph.</p>


2.14</b> All the exercises are available on the class' website, at:</p> (or click on Greek for the Rest of Us)</p>

This is true for all chapters.</p> <h2>CHAPTER 3</h2>


Just</b> as it is important to learn how to pronounce the letters, it is also important to pronounce the words correctly. But in order to pronounce a Greek word you must be able to break it down into its syllables. This is called "syllabification." We will also learn about accents and punctuation.</p>


3.1</b> A <b>diphthong</b> is a combination of two vowels that produce one sound. The second vowel is always ι or ν. Be sure to listen to me pronounce the Greek words in the online class.</p>

<b>Breathing marks</p>

3.2</b> Greek has two <b>breathing marks</b>, "rough" and "smooth." Every word beginning with a vowel or ρ has a breathing mark. (I omitted them in the previous examples.)</p>

The <b>rough breathing mark</b> is a ' placed over the first vowel or initial rho, and adds an "h" sound to the word.</p>

As you can see, the rough breathing mark is transliterated as an <i>h</i> and is placed before the transliterated vowel (but after the initial ρ).</p>

The <b>smooth breathing mark</b> is a ' placed over the first vowel and is not pronounced or transliterated.</p>

Either breathing mark is placed before an initial capital letter.</p>

Either breathing mark is placed over the second vowel of an initial diphthong.</p>

John 1:1 looks like this with breathing marks.</p>


3.3</b> Greek words syllabify basically the same way as English words do. Therefore, if you "go with your feelings," you will syllabify Greek words almost automatically. If you practice reading the examples below and listen to the reading exercises in the online class, you should pick it up. I will mark the syllables below with a space. The two most basic rules are:</p>

* There is one vowel or diphthong per syllable (just like in English).</p>


I included the interlinear translation for the fun of it.</p>


3.4</b> Almost every Greek word has an accent mark. It is placed over a vowel and shows which syllable receives the emphasis when you say the word.</p>

Originally the accent was a pitch accent, the voice rising ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), falling ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), or rising and falling ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) on the accented syllable. A few centuries after the writing of the New Testament, most believe the pitch accent was shifted to stress, like Modern English.</p>

Here is John 1:1 as it actually is written in modern texts.</p>

The point here is to be consistent. If you do not consistently stress the correct syllable, it will be difficult to communicate with others.</p>

<b>3.5</b> Here are the verses we saw earlier but now with accents. Read them, this time paying attention to which syllable receives the stress.</p>


3.6</b> The comma and period are the same in Greek as they are in English. However, a period above the line is the Greek semicolon, and an English semicolon is the Greek question mark.</p>


3.7</b> There is vocabulary for this chapter at the online class.</p>

<b>Advanced Information: Syllabification Rules</p>

3.8</b> Some people prefer to learn the actual rules for syllabification instead of trusting their instincts. Here are the basic rules.</p>

1. There is one vowel (or diphthong) per syllable. (Therefore, there are as many syllables as there are vowels/diphthongs.)</p>


2. Two consecutive vowels that do not form a diphthong are divided.</p>


3. A single consonant goes with the following vowel.</p>


By "single consonant" I mean that the following letter is not a consonant. (The ρ, κ, and μ in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] are single consonants.) If you find two or more consonants in a row that form a single sound, they are called a "consonant cluster." (The [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] form a consonant cluster.)</p>

If the consonant is the final letter in the word, it goes with the preceding vowel.</p>


4. A consonant cluster that does not form a single sound is divided, and the first consonant goes with the preceding vowel.</p>


5. A consonant cluster that forms a single sound goes with the following vowel.</p>


6. Double consonants are divided. (A "double consonant" is when the same consonant occurs twice in a row.)</p>


7. Compound words are divided where joined.</p>


<b>English Grammar: Noun Inflection</b></p>

We will learn the causes of inflection in the English word system: case, number, gender.</p>

<b>4.1</b> Sometimes the form of a word changes, such as when it performs different functions in a sentence or when it changes its meaning. This is called "inflection."</p>

For example, the personal pronoun is "he" if it refers to a male and "she" if it refers to a female. It is "she" when it is the subject of the sentence (e.g., "<i>She</i> is my wife."), but inflects to "her" when it is the direct object (e.g., "The teacher flunked <i>her</i>.") If the king and queen have one son, he is the "prince," but if they have two, they are "princes." If their child is a girl, she is a "princess." All these changes are examples of inflection.</p>

The third-person pronoun is one of the most inflected words in English. (I will discuss the labels for this chart later in the chapter.)</p>

<b>4.2 Noun.</b> A noun is a word that stands for someone or something (i.e., a person, place, or thing).</p>

<i>Bill</i> threw his big black <i>book</i> at the strange <i>teacher</i>.</p>

<b>Causes of Inflection</p>

4.3</b> The following grammatical concepts can affect the form of an English noun.</p>

<b>4.4</b> Nouns perform different functions in a sentence. These different functions are categorized in "cases." In English there are three cases: subjective, possessive, and objective.</p>

<b>4.5</b> If a word is the <i>subject</i> of a verb, it is in the <b>subjective</b> case.</p>

<i>He</i> is my brother.</p>

The subject is what does the action of an active verb and usually precedes the verb in word order.</p>

<i>Bill</i> ran to the store.</p>

The <i>ball</i> broke the window.</p>

Word order shows that both "Bill" and "ball" are the subjects of their verbs. If it is difficult to determine the subject, ask the question "who?" or "what?" For example, Who ran to the store? Bill. What broke the window? The ball.</p>

<b>4.6</b> If a word shows <i>possession</i>, it is in the <b>possessive</b> case.</p>

<i>His</i> Greek Bible is always by <i>his</i> bed.</p>

You can put "of" in front of the word, an apostrophe s after the word, or just an apostrophe if the word ends in "s."

Excerpted from Greek for the Rest of Us by William D. Mounce. Copyright © 2013 William D. Mounce. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

William D Mounce (Ph.D., Aberdeen University) lives as a writer in Washougal, Washington. He is the President of, a non-profit organization offering world-class educational resources for discipleship in the local church. See for more information. Formerly he was a preaching pastor, and prior to that a professor of New Testament and director of the Greek Program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestselling Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other resources. He was the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, and is serving on the NIV translation committee. See for more information.

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