Learn to Read New Testament Greek

Learn to Read New Testament Greek

by David Alan Black

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805463859
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/01/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 764,650
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

David Alan Black is professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. An avid horseman, he and his wife live on a 123-acre working farm in southern Virginia and are self-supporting missionaries to Mecklenburg County, Virginia, and Ethiopia.

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The Letters and Sounds of Greek

1. The Language of the New Testament

You are embarking on the study of one of the most significant languages in the world. Its importance lies not so much in its wealth of forms as in the fact that God used it as an instrument to communicate his Word (just as he had earlier used Hebrew and Aramaic). History tells us that the ancient Hellenes first settled in the Greek peninsula in the thirteenth century B.C. Their language consisted of several dialects, one of which — the Attic spoken in Athens — became the most prominent. It was largely a descendent of Attic Greek that was adopted as the official language of the Greek empire after the conquests of Alexander the Great, which accounts for its use in the New Testament. This new world language has been called the "Koine," or "common," Greek since it was the common language of everyday commerce and communication. In the city of Rome itself, Greek was used as much as Latin, and when Paul wrote his letter to the Roman Christians, he wrote it in Greek. This, then, is the language of the New Testament, a language belonging to the living stream of the historical development of Greek from the ancient Hellenes to the modern Athenians, a language spoken by common and cultured people alike, a language uniquely suited to the propagation of the gospel of Christ when it began to be proclaimed among the nations of the world.

2. The Greek Alphabet

The first step in studying Greek is learning its letters and sounds. This is not as hard as you might think. All the sounds are easy to make, and Greek almost always follows the phonetic values of its letters. We should mention that the pronunciation you are learning is something of a compromise between how the sounds were probably produced in ancient times and how they are spelled. This scheme of pronunciation has the practical advantage of assigning a sound to only one letter, so that if you can remember the pronunciation of a word, you will generally be able to remember its spelling.

Below you will find the Greek letters with their closest English equivalents. When you have studied them carefully, cover the fourth and fifth columns and try to pronounce each letter.

i. Note that gamma is pronounced as a hard g (as in gift), never as a soft g (as in gem). However, before κ, χ, or another γ, γ is pronounced as an n. Thus [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

("angel") is pronounced angelos, not aggelos.

ii. Did you notice that sigma has two forms? It is written ζ at the end of a word, and ? in all other positions (see [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] "apostle"). The "ζ" form is called final sigma.

iii. In ancient Greek, the letter χ was probably pronounced like the ch in Scottish loch or German Bach. Since this sound does not occur in English, the ch sound in chemist may be used instead (i.e., approximately the same sound as for k).

3. Greek Phonology and Morphology

The Greek sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet are called phonemes (from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], "sound"). Roughly speaking, phonemes are the smallest elements that contrast with each other in the phonological system of a language. In English, the words pig and big are distinguished from each other by the phonemes p and b. Likewise, κ and χ are different phonemes because they affect meaning: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] means "there," and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] means "he has." Similarly, in Romans 5:1 one phoneme makes the difference between "we have [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]] peace with God" and "let us have [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]] peace with God." Phonemes, then, are sounds that speakers of a language know to be meaningful parts of that language.

Phonemes generally combine to form what linguists call morphemes (from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], "form"). Morphemes may be defined as the minimal units of speech that convey a specific meaning. Examples of English morphemes include -s (occurring as a plural ending in dogs, cats, houses), -ed (occurring as a past-tense ending in loved, hoped, wanted), and ly (occurring as an adverbial ending in badly, nicely, hardly). Just as a knowledge of English morphemes enables us to understand the difference between friendship, friendliness, and unfriendly, so an understanding of Greek morphology will aid us in the knowledge of Greek word meanings. You are not expected to master Greek phonology and morphology in this course. Still, the benefits of implementing a linguistic approach, even at an introductory level, far outweigh the disadvantages of ignoring it altogether.

4. The Greek Vowels

As in English, the Greek letters may be divided into vowels and consonants. Vowels are produced by exhaling air from the lungs. Greek has seven vowels: α, ε, η, ι, o, v, ω. Two of these are always short (ε, o); two are always long (η, ω); and three may be either short or long (α, iota], v). Hence the tone value of α, ι, and v can be learned only by observing specific Greek words.

Sometimes two different vowel sounds are combined in one syllable. This combination is called a diphthong (from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], "having two sounds"). Greek has seven common or "proper" diphthongs, four of which end in ι, and three of which end in v:

In some instances, the long vowels α, η, ω are combined with an ι. In this case the ι is written beneath the vowel ([??], [??], [??]) and is called an iota subscript. Since the ι is not pronounced, these combinations are often referred to as "improper diphthongs." Several words containing an iota subscript are found in the opening verses of the Gospel of John, which are used in the exercises to this lesson (see §11): [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.].

5. The Greek Consonants

Consonants are produced by interfering with the flow of air from the lungs. The Greek consonants can be classified according to (1) how one interferes with the flow (called the manner of articulation), (2) where one interferes with the flow (called the place of articulation), and (3) whether the vocal cords vibrate in producing the sound.

Manner of articulation involves either the complete interruption of the flow of air or the incomplete restriction of the flow. This distinction provides the basis for classifying consonants into stops (sometimes called mutes, as in β and δ) and continuants (sometimes called fricatives, as in φ and θ).

Place of articulation involves three basic possibilities: at the lips (producing bilabials, as in μ and π), at the teeth or just behind them (producing dentals or alveolars, as in δ and τ), or at the velum or palate (producing velars or palatals, as in γ and κ).

Finally, the vibration or lack of vibration of the vocal cords distinguishes voiced consonants from unvoiced consonants (note the difference between β and π).

Greek also contains four sibilants, or "s" sounds (ζ, [xi], σ, and ψ). Three of these are double letters, or combinations of a consonant with an "s" sound (ζ [dz], [xi] [ks], and ψ [ps]). In addition, Greek has three aspirates, or letters combined with an "h" (θ [th], φ [ph], and χ [ch]), and four nasals, so called because the breath passes through the nose (λ, μ, ν, and ρ). Acquaintance with these terms will simplify the introduction of certain concepts later in this text.

6. The Use and Formation of the Greek Letters

The Greek uppercase letters are the oldest forms of the Greek letters. They are found in ancient inscriptions and are used in modern printed books to begin proper nouns, paragraphs, and direct speech (where English would use quotation marks). Greek sentences do not, however, begin with capital letters. The lowercase letters are therefore of greater importance than the capitals and should be mastered first.

The following diagram shows you how to form the Greek lowercase letters. The arrows indicate the easiest place to begin when writing. Notice that many of the letters can be made without lifting pen from paper (e.g., β and ρ are formed with a single stroke, beginning at the bottom). Be very careful to distinguish the following pairs of letters: φ and ψ, ν and v, ν and γ, and o and σ.

7. Breathing Marks

Every Greek word beginning with a vowel or a diphthong has a symbol over it called a breathing mark. The rough breathing mark ( ' ) indicates that the word is to be pronounced with an initial "h" sound. The smooth breathing mark ( ' ) indicates that the word lacks this initial "h" sound. Thus [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] ("one") is pronounced hen, and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] ("in") is pronounced en. The breathing mark is always placed over the second vowel of a diphthong (e.g., [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], "blessed"). Initial ρ and v always have the rough breathing mark, as in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] ("word") and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] ("hypocrite"). When used with ρ, however, the rough breathing is generally not pronounced (cf. "rhetoric," "rhododendron"). When the initial vowel is a capital letter, the breathing mark is placed to the left of it, as in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] ("Abraham") and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] ("Hebrew").

8. Greek Punctuation

Although punctuation marks were not used in ancient Greek, they are found today in all printed editions of the Greek New Testament. Greek has four marks of punctuation. The comma ( , ) and the period ( . ) correspond in both form and function to the English comma and period. The colon ( · ) and the question mark ( ; ) correspond in function to the English colon and question mark but differ in form.

Since there is no punctuation in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, the punctuation of modern printed editions is often a matter of interpretation (e.g., John 1:3b–4). Moreover, because Greek has no quotation marks, in several New Testament passages it remains uncertain where direct speech begins and ends (e.g., Jesus' discourse with Nicodemus in John 3). These and other problems of punctuation are best treated when encountered in the New Testament.

9. Greek Diacritical Marks

Modern printed editions of the Greek New Testament employ three different diacritical marks. The apostrophe ( ' ) indicates the omission of a final short vowel before a word that begins with a vowel or diphthong, as in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] ("through him") for [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (John 1:3). This process is called elision (from Lat. elido, "I leave out"). The diaeresis (") occurs where two vowels that normally combine to form a diphthong are to be pronounced separately, as in [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (the Greek form of "Isaiah"; John 1:23). Notice that this word consists of four syllables ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), not three ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]). Finally, the coronis ( ' ) indicates the combination of two words with the loss of an intermediate letter or letters. This process of merging two words is known as crasis (from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], "a mingling") and is found in such English forms as "I'm," "you're," and "don't." In the New Testament, crasis occurs in a number of specific combinations, the most common of which include [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (for [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], "and I"; John 1:31) and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (for [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], "and he"; John 6:57).

10. The Greek Accents

Printed editions of the Greek New Testament use three accent marks: the acute ('), the grave ('), and the circumflex (?). The importance of accents for the study of Greek is twofold: (1) accents occasionally distinguish between words that are otherwise identical (e.g., [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] means "if," but [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] means "you are"); and (2) accents serve to indicate which syllable in a Greek word is to be stressed in pronunciation. Otherwise, it is possible to read New Testament Greek without knowing any more about accents. In subsequent lessons, accents will be treated where relevant. For those with a special interest in learning the rules of Greek accentuation, Appendix 1 provides a detailed summary.

The Greek accents were invented about 200 B.C. as an aid to the correct pronunciation of Greek among foreigners. The accents originally indicated pitch rather than stress. The acute marked a rise in the voice, and the circumflex marked a rise followed by a fall. The grave accent was not usually used. Accents were not regularly employed in texts until after the fifth century A.D.

11. Exercises

a. Study the pronunciation of the Greek letters and diphthongs, and practice saying each sound aloud. It is exceedingly important to be able to read the characters accurately and quickly before proceeding further. An incorrect pronunciation will hamper the learning process and easily mislead you into a confusion about words and forms. For the Greek alphabet set to a traditional tune, see Appendix 2: "The Greek Alphabet Song."

b. Pronounce the following Greek words. Notice their similarity to English words.

c. Practice writing the Greek lowercase letters in proper order, aiming at simplicity and ease of recognition. It is helpful to pronounce the name of each letter while writing, since the name contains the sound of the letter.

d. The following passage from John 1:1–5 contains all but three letters of the Greek alphabet (only μ, [xi], and ψ are absent). Read these verses aloud with proper accentuation, striving for fluency in pronunciation. Remember that there are no silent letters in Greek except for the iota subscript.


e. It is important to know something of the history and development of the Greek language. Try to read the article "Language of the New Testament" in a reference book or Bible encyclopedia. For some suggestions, see the bibliography given in the Epilogue (§181).


The Greek Verb System

A Bird's Eye View

12. Inflection

Greek, unlike English, is a highly inflected language. Inflection refers to the changes words undergo in accordance with their grammatical function in a sentence. Although Greek contains numerous uninflected words, most Greek words undergo inflection. These words — verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, participles, and the article "the" — have different forms to indicate such matters as gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), number (singular or plural), and case (nominative, accusative, etc.).


Excerpted from "Learn to Read New Testament Greek"
by .
Copyright © 2009 David Alan Black.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
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.

Table of Contents

About This Book,
From Author to Reader,
Preface to Expanded Edition,
Preface to Third Edition,
1. The Letters and Sounds of Greek,
2. The Greek Verb System,
3. Present and Future Active Indicative,
4. Nouns of the Second Declension,
5. Nouns of the First Declension,
6. Adjectives of the First and Second Declensions,
7. Imperfect and Aorist Active Indicative,
8. Additional Prepositions,
9. Personal Pronouns,
10. Perfect and Pluperfect Active Indicative,
11. Demonstrative Pronouns,
12. Present Middle and Passive Indicative,
13. Perfect Middle and Passive, Future Middle Indicative,
14. Imperfect Middle and Passive, Aorist Middle, and Pluperfect Middle and Passive Indicative,
15. Aorist and Future Passive Indicative,
16. Review of the Indicative Mood,
17. Nouns of the Third Declension,
18. Adjectives, Pronouns, and Numerals of the First and Third Declensions,
19. Contract and Liquid Verbs,
20. Participles (Verbal Adjectives),
21. Infinitives (Verbal Nouns),
22. Additional Pronouns,
23. The Subjunctive Mood,
24. The Imperative and Optative Moods,
25. The Conjugation of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] Verbs,
26. Reading Your Greek New Testament,
Epilogue: The Next Step,
Appendix 1: The Greek Accents,
Appendix 2: The Greek Alphabet Song,
Appendix 3: Key to the Exercises,
Appendix 4: Noun Paradigms,
Appendix 5: Case-Number Suffixes,
Appendix 6: Person-Number Suffixes,
Appendix 7: Summary of Prepositions,
Appendix 8: Words Differing in Accentuation or Breathing,
Appendix 9: Principal Parts of Selected Verbs,
Greek-English Vocabulary,
Subject Index,

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Learn to Read New Testament Greek 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've heard the argument for years about which is the better version of the Bible. I still have some folks in my church that think it is sacrilegious to read anything but KJV. Personally I had trouble understanding KJV, and embraced other translations. Now in my later years, I have had the desire to go back to the Greek (and Hebrew) and decide for myself what the scriptures say. Our pastor is teaching a 14 week class in Greek, with this as the text. The author obviously understands the subject matter. Black dives into all of the ways that the Greeks twist around wording and the endings that go with the base Greek words. However for a beginner, like myself, I feel this book is written on a 20,000 foot level. It would be fine as a refresher for someone who has learned Greek in the past, but quite difficult as a beginner's text. It's not a bad book, but any means, just difficult for this beginner. I feel that the beginner needs more exercises and maybe an answer key located elsewhere in the book. I have had some issues with the Greek text, on the Nook you can increase the English text size, but the Greek can not, thus making it hard to see. I really wish I had purchased the hardback version. To earn a 5 star rating from me, the Greek text needs to be able to be easily increased. I feel there needs to be more exercises with lower difficulty, and answer keys. Don't take out the hard exercises, just add some more simplier exercises to what he has.
Zach995 More than 1 year ago
This book is a study of koine Greek, the Greek used in the writing of the New Testament. This is a different type of Greek than Ancient Greek that was used by the philosophers. This form of Greek is also not a spoken language, it exists solely in writing. This is a language that is studied by scholars and used in the translation ancient texts, such as the New Testament. Learn to read new testament Greek by David Allen black is suited to the beginner in new testament Greek. The book consists of twenty chapters beginning with the letters and sounds of Greek and ending with participles (verbal adjectives). The material in this book is presented in a simplified way that speaks to the general idea with precision and clarity. This book includes a number of helpful exercises throughout that prepare you for the lessons ahead. Also, this book has many helpful charts and grammatical examples to help with your memorization. I really like this book and would highly recommend it. This book is clearly written and very helpful. If you’re looking for an introductory to koine Greek to get you started, then Learn to Read New Testament Greek (3rd edition) by David Alan Black is a very excellent resource to start with. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
theChristianReviewer More than 1 year ago
See my full review here: https://thechristianreviewer.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/read-biblical-greek/ As a person who does training quite often in my professional IT career, I am usually paying very close attention to the style in which someone does any kind of training. When I am training or teaching certain things, I gear my training to start with the basics and make sure it is very clear as to definitions and understanding of the core concepts. Then slowly adding in more and more complexity until the trainee has the full picture. I tip my hat to B&H Academic and David Alan Black on the Learn to Read New Testament Greek Third Edition. The style in which this book is written is clearly done from someone who can take a pretty complex thing such as learning a new language and breaking it down to the basics and then building upon that. Much like how you slowly build an intricate construction by adding one Lego at a time. Excellent examples and exercises flow into each other building your understanding more strong as you progress through each of the lessons. Excellent resource and highly recommended for anyone that wants to learn Biblical Greek. Please note, that this will take time to accomplish - it is NOT something for you if you aren't willing or want to put some effort into this. I received a copy of this book from B&H Academic for me to do a review on it. In full disclosure, I was not required or requested by B&H Academic to write a positive review.
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Michael3168 More than 1 year ago
The greek fonts are way to small to see in fact on my Nook you cannot make some of them out period. Publisher needs to fix this, Barnes and Noble needs to refund my money.
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andy fordham More than 1 year ago
Beside mounce basics of biblical greek.this is the best greek grammar