Classical Christian education programs are on the rise. I am heartened that so many parents want their children to get a strong education that draws upon all that is wonderful, winsome, and wise from the past. But Latin instead of Greek? Are you serious? Come on, teachers and parents. Feel free to add Latin later if you’re so inclined, but really you should start with Greek. Here are eight (well … sort-of eight) reasons why Greek ought to be the core language you teach in your Classical Christian education program instead of Latin.
- The Bible is in Greek, that is, the entire New Testament.
- The Bible is in Greek, that is, the Old Testament too. The entire Old Testament was translated into Greek (the Septuagint) from Hebrew and Aramaic before Jesus was born.
- The Bible is in Greek. Wait, didn’t I already write that? Honestly, would you rather have your children translating Virgil or the Gospel of John? Would you rather your children were meditating (thinking deeply) on Cicero or the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans? Many Classical Christian schools claim that their central focus is the Bible. OK … do what you’re claiming to do; and do it well by studying Greek as your first classical language instead of Latin.
- All the grammatical benefits you will accrue from studying Latin (e.g., inflection) will also come through the study of Greek.
- The landmark Greek Lexicon by Liddell and Scott comments on how much more Greek literature exists than Latin literature: “… the bulk of Greek literature, which is at least 10 times as great [as that of Latin] …” Ten times as great! And for years we’ve been choosing Latin over Greek. Hmmm …
- Granted, there is a slightly greater percentage of words in English that are derived from Latin roots than are derived from Greek roots. But the difference isn’t substantial. At one site that lists 350 Greek and Latin roots for English words, just over 40% are Greek roots. Since Latin roots are often easier for English speakers to guess anyway, it turns out that the Greek roots are often more valuable for deciphering the meaning of English words than are the Latin roots. But even before that consideration is taken into account, the value of roots for the understanding of English has frequently been overstated, as any linguist will tell you.
- Not only will you be able to read the New Testament if you learn Greek, you can read the earliest Christian authors after the period in which the New Testament was written (e.g., Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Justin Martyr). And if this weren’t enough, you also will be able to read most of the Jewish literature that was written between Malachi and the birth of Christ, which was also written in Greek.
- Are you convinced yet? Should I remind you again that the New Testament was written in Greek?
There is one thing you may want to keep in mind. Greek changed a bit over the years (as did Latin), which means you have to decide whether to start with Classical Greek or Hellenistic Greek. My recommendation is that your starting point be Hellenistic (Koine) Greek (the language of the New Testament) rather than Classical Greek (the language of Plato and Aristotle). Since Hellenistic Greek is situated chronologically in-between Classical Greek (earlier) and Byzantine Greek (later), the reader of Hellenistic Greek will have an easier time adjusting to either the earlier period or the later period than will readers who start with (the earlier) Classical Greek. And in case you somehow didn’t pick it up when I mentioned it earlier; you’ll be able to read the Bible in the original language in which it is written (in addition to many other classical works).
I would challenge some administrators of Classical Christian schools who are reading this post to bite the bullet and switch from Latin to Greek as the starting language for their programs. Latin certainly can be added with great benefit later. But the arguments for Greek are strong. I know, for some of you this means that you’ll have to learn another language (hmmm …), but think of the benefits that will accrue if you can read the New Testament in addition to lots of other useful literature in Greek.
Where to start: Purchase a good basic program, such as William Mounce’s Biblical Greek Grammar and Biblical Greek Workbook. In addition, let me recommend that you learn your endings (paradigms) using music. Pick up a copy of my Sing and Learn New Testament Greek (Zondervan) to make your learning easier and help you retain what you learn over the long haul.
So what about it? I for one think it is high time that Classical Christian students started their classical training by learning Greek. What do you think?