Book Review: Daniel Zacharias, Biblical Greek Made Simple: All the Basics in One Semester

Zacharias, H. Daniel.  Biblical Greek Made Simple: All the Basics in One Semester. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 329 pp.; Hb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

Danny Zacharias wrote this textbook to cover the basics of biblical Greek in one semester. In the conclusion to the book he says, “if you made it this far, your brain probably hurts” (p. 271). Anyone who has taken an intensive introduction to Greek or Hebrew knows this particular quality of pain.

There are two schools of thought on the “hell week” practice of teaching a biblical language. Since much of the first year of Greek is rote memorization of paradigms and vocabulary, some feel it is better to immerse as deeply into the language as possible in order to get to second year exegesis classes sooner. Sometimes the intensive is supplemented with a “how to use Bible software” seminar so that students can start exegesis right away. Others observe the students have trouble retaining the information that they have smashed into their heads in the intensive format, they need to be retaught basic concepts when they take an exegesis class. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Gone are the days with incoming college freshman have knowledge of English grammar (let alone two years of Latin!)

Another difference of opinion among people who teach biblical languages or write Greek textbooks is the amount of memorization required. For example, in Bill Mounce prefers to introduce concepts and rules and then observe how those play out in various paradigms and declensions. Several times in his Basics of Biblical Greek Mounce says something like “don’t memorize this yet.” Zacharias has the opposite approach: there are a number of occasions where he says, “memorize this.” He provides repeated drills and tools (apps or Quizlet) to help hammer vocabulary and paradigms into the heads of students and firmly embedded them in their memory. I’ve often thought of this is a difference in personality. As a student I preferred to memorize and reproduce charts and I loved making vocab cards by hand. But many of my students prefer to see the big picture and want to know the “whys” for various grammatical concepts and resist memorizing anything.

Zacharias’s textbook claims to cover “all the basics in one semester.” This is exactly what is delivered. Over eleven chapters Zacharias presents each major element of the Greek language.  After a chapter on the alphabet, pronunciation, and all the “jots and tittles,” Zacharias covers nouns in two chapters, first declensions and case endings, then case functions. These two chapters constitute more or less everything said about nouns in the whole textbook. Chapter 4 covers all tenses, voice in the indicative mood (chapter 10 deals with non-indicative moods, subjunctive, imperative and optative). Chapter 5 completes verbs by introducing principle parts, deponent, contract, compound, second aorist and -μι verbs. Although -μι verbs are not difficult, they usually are left until the end of a two-semester textbook. Chapters 7-8 deal with articles, pronouns, numbers, adverbs, prepositions and clauses. Chapters 9-10 cover participles, infinitives in chapter 11.

Each chapter begins with a short statement, “What’s the Point?” Here Zacharias gives a brief reason why it is important to master the grammar presented in the chapter. He is necessarily concise in their presentation of the grammatical topic given the goal of covering everything in a single chapter. For example, he covers the present, imperfect, future, aorist, perfect, and pluperfect tenses in about three pages. For most Greek introductions, each of these tenses require a chapter with exercises focused on just that tense.

The chapters include various tables and charts for paradigms and other concepts, there are 72 tables in the book not counting the appendices. One helpful feature of these charts is the use of colors to indicate roots and endings. Occasionally the grammatical lesson includes a link to a YouTube video to help reinforce the chapter’s concepts. Zacharias has a collection of videos on Greek syntax and many paradigms set to music (these also turn up without links).

Following the presentation is a section of exercises, including re-reading the text and memorize the vocab lists, followed by short phrases to parse, translate, identify grammatical function, etc. There is usually a learning activity using Bible software. Finally, each chapter includes this series of advanced exercises. Zacharias estimates the time required for each of these activities, usually about 10 hours total if one does the advanced exercises.  Some of the exercises introduce students to basic lexical resources such as the Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Greek (James Swanson, Logos Research Systems 1997, second edition Faithlife, 2001).  This lexicon is based on The Greek-English Lexicon by Louw & Nida and included in many Logos base packages; Zacharias gives instructions on using the lexicon along with Strong’s numbers and Louw and Nida’s numbers (p. 46-48). There is an appendix with instructions for using BDAG. Occasionally he refers students to an exegetical dictionary (NIDNTTE, EDNT, etc).

Each chapter ends with a section entitled “The Least You Need to Know.” This is a series of questions the student should be able to answer having completed the presentation of grammatical concepts. Zacharias includes a Quizlet link for these questions to help students review. There are brief sections entitled @Logos which seem to all refer the reader to Logos support. This is disappointing; I expected since Zacharias produces tutorials on how to use Logos. Finally, in each chapter is a section entitled “Second Time Around.” This provides further practice with the grammatical concepts in each chapter, including encouragements to re-read and memorize the paradigms. The sections also include translations of biblical texts with glosses.

There are several appendices. There are a vocabulary lists based on word frequency, principal part lists, a rubric for preparing sermons (essentially an exegetical method), a section on how to use BDAG, a glossary for Greek vocab in alphabetical order, and example of a syntax sheet based on the First John 1:1–14.

In the conclusion to the book, Zacharias offers for some advice on how to continue developing one’s Greek skills after completing a basic introduction. He says, “STOP using your Bible software and start the practice of reading.” I cannot agree more. Are usually recommend students begin carrying their Greek New Testament to church with them sometime during the first semester. Even though they don’t understand all of the words yet, students can pick out grammatical features and vocabulary words they know. He also recommends purchasing a Reader’s Greek New Testament. There are a number of these available from different publishers. These books usually print vocabulary that appears less than 40 times in the New Testament at the bottom of the page. This is very helpful since a first-year Greek students words used more than 40 times. These types of New Testament are crutches, but they can be tools to encourage newer students find success in daily reading.

Conclusion: Zacharias’s textbook covers the content of a typical two-semester Greek introductory course. It should be obvious this is an aggressive goal for most students given the necessary time to complete the work each week along with continual review of previous vocabulary and concepts. Even with apps and Quizlet to help review, it would be difficult for a student to complete a one semester class unless they were only working on Biblical Greek. However, for someone who intends to refresh their Greek or teach themselves without the constraints of a college semester, this textbook will be useful. The pedagogy reminds me of David Allen Black’s It’s Still Greek to Me (Baker 1998), a book I used as a third semester grammar review for several years.

NB: For additional material on this textbook, videos and links to mobile apps, visit Danny Zacharias’s website. Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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