Nearly thirty years on I still remember the sense of excitement I felt when I first read, even without much understanding, the very words which the early Christian community in Corinth would have read, or heard, as correspondence from Saint Paul. With a little effort the world of the New Testament in its original language, and of the Old Testament in Greek and Hebrew, can be available – at least to some extent – to you.
Greek is the preferred original language for almost the entire Bible. The New Testament was written exclusively in Kione Greek whilst, in the third century BCE, the Hebrew Bible had been translated into Greek as the Septuagint. This Greek version of the Old Testament was the version used by the church fathers (who, largely, did not read Hebrew). It formed the basis for a number of interpretative decisions and remains the authoritative text of the OT in the Orthodox tradition. Here is an article giving some good reasons to read it.
The New Testament in Greek
The Greek of the NT is, on the whole, a relatively simple and straightforward version of the Greek language. It is, however, not easy to access. Useful books include Wenham, Zerwick and Grosvenor, Bauer and an interlinear Greek-English New Testament. Even with these, translation from the ‘ground up’ is demanding.
A responsive interlinear text, available online, offers an essential first – and perhaps second – step along the way. However, the major down-side to this approach is that it gives you the answer too immediately, which removes the need for you as the reader to work out why a particular construction is used, or what is (or is not) being said.
On the other hand, you could spend a long time mastering the theory an drarely put it into practice. A combination of understanding the theory, along with seeing a passage translated and understanding in greater measure how to get from Greek to English, is perhaps a useful middle route.
Biblehub.com is a place to start to get the answer-first approach. Within the range of abbreviations in two horizontal sections near the top, select INT (short for Interlinear). Then select the book, chapter, and verse from the drop-down menus at the top of the page and you will be taken to the relevant verse. You’re now into the world of New Testament Greek, with some kind of guide by your side
The Greek text is in black in the middle. I’d recommend learning the Greek alphabet – which you’ll find surprisingly familiar – so that you can enjoy saying the Greek to yourself. There’s even a song to help you learn it! Above each Greek word in Biblehub there’s an English equivalent vocalisation. It might not make you sound like a native of Corinth, but right from the start you can hear, even roughly, your own voice reading in Greek.
The English equivalent of each Greek word appears immediately below the Greek. You’ll see immediately where word order comes close to, and diverges greatly from, English. The translation is a somewhat generic and literalistic one – there is no attempt here to provide any dynamic equivalent.
Zerwick and Grosvenor is, then, still crucially important in assisting a deep understanding of the phrases as well as giving a helpful guide to each phrase. The Biblehub website gives the clues which Zerwick and Grosveonor omit for space reasons, and the combination of on-screen text and insight from the printed page is hard to beat.
But there is more: there is depth and breadth. First, the depth. The blue abbreviations below the English translation take you ‘under the bonnet’ (hood for American readers) to let you see the workings of Greek grammar. Every word is parsed into its grammatical constituents so that you can see what it is.
You’ll want to go further, though, and begin to learn both the vocabulary and the rules of grammar. Many other websites offer help with determining the part of speech of each word, and the Institute of Biblical Greek has a useful list.
You may find at this point that your difficulty is not with the Greek but with the English, particularly if your native learning of English did not include formal grammar. Websites such as the grammar section of English Club provide valuable insight into the grammatical terms and concepts used, and can support your use of Wenham or equivalents to obtain a good grasp of key grammatical concepts. Some of these, such as verb tenses which are unique to Greek, require particular attention, but Wenham is, again, your friend here.
Then there’s the breadth. Bauer is an remarkably useful resource to determine the uses of New Testament vocabulary in other literature, and in the new revised edition with definitions too; the little numbers above each Greek word in BibleHub perform a similar function on a much more limited scale. They link to Strong’s Greek Concordance where different translations of the same Greek word across the New Testament are catalogued, and other helpful material broadening your understanding of each word is provided. The Biblehub [e] does a similar job to connect to the Englishman’s Concordance. They certainly don’t replace Bauer, but they do get you started.
The icons on the Biblehub website give much more: parallel versions of the Greek text; the ability to read sections in Greek with a hover-over facility to parse and translate each word; and a lexicon which tabulates each word and provides roots, too. It’s well worth exploring the site; using the features from the top of the page downwards is, though, an important technique.
Bible Hub is a product of the Online Parallel Bible Project, a privately-owned enterprise which has a statement of reasonably conservative (from a European standpoint) Christian theology. However its stated aim is to help anyone who’s interested to learn more about the Bible. If you’re particularly keen you can contact the site developers.
I’d encourage you to have a look and give this a try. At the beginning it might be particularly helpful to get some guidance and support from someone who knows just a little New Testament Greek, and this sort of study is most likely best done by a small enthusiastic group who can keep each other motivated and help out. If you’d like more help or to start a group in south Glasgow or the surrounding area, get in touch and let’s see what we can organize!
The Old Testament in Greek
The introduction made a brief case for reading the Old Testament in Greek, too. Online resources are fewer than for the NT, but still exist.
The Berean Study Bible offers a range of tools for introducing the Greek OT and NT. This literal translation intends to take readers to the core of the meanings in the original languages and is therefore a helpful place to start.
One of the more accessible online interlinear Greek-English Septuagint texts comes from Elpenor’s Home of the Greek Word. This is not as interactive or as full as Biblehub for the Greek NT but still offers both Greek and English in parallel columns.
The Old Testament in Hebrew
Biblehub is the most helpful single site, with the wealth of functions available in the Greek NT mirrored here. However, it is for Hebrew only and therefore delves into another world entirely.
Ministry Formation Task
Translate a favourite New Testament verse or two from the Greek using the tools above. Draw out three insights from it which you were unaware of before, or less clear about. Write a short reflection of around 300 words on your experience to help answer the question: Will you go to the Greek again?