Beyond the Book with Drs. Hardy and Merkle: Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew and Greek

Are you struggling to stay motivated in learning or retaining your knowledge of the biblical languages? Are you looking for an accessible and encouraging way to review concepts? As refreshing guides to grammar and interpretation, “Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew” and “Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek” help students of the biblical languages to stay motivated and to easily review Hebrew or Greek language concepts.

Students at any stage of proficiency in Hebrew or Greek will find encouragement in these accessible guides written by professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary — Dr. Hardy, Associate Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, and Dr. Merkle, M.O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament Studies and Professor of New Testament and Greek. Now three years after releasing these books, Hardy and Merkle reflect on their motivations for writing and their advice for Hebrew and Greek language learners. 

What motivated you to write these books, and how do you envision readers using them?

Hardy: The primary motivation came from our students. After finishing two semesters of Hebrew or Greek, they often ask, what’s next? For years I simply replied, read the Scriptures. Many students found this task desirable and important but overwhelming. They felt as if they were just feeling proficient to read Hebrew at the end of two semesters, then the training wheels were removed! Others, several years into ministry, would ask, how do I reengage the Scriptures in Hebrew or Greek? But I didn’t have a good solution besides simply pointing them back to their first-year textbook to review the grammar. In discussing these shared experiences, Merkle and I began considering what we could do to better encourage learning at these junctures. This project came from asking how we could make studying Hebrew and Greek desirable by refreshing some of the overwhelming bits of grammar while demonstrating their importance for interpreting the Bible. It’s all about finding Hebrew and Greek treasure, or should we say gems. 

Merkle: My desire is for students to use Greek for life, not Greek for seminary. I often tell them, “Just imagine what it would be like to be able to dig into the Greek New Testament for the next 40 years of ministry. What would that look like?” So, this book is just one more way to help students get to the place where they are competent to use Greek consistently in their personal devotions and in their teaching and preaching preparation. This book really has a two-fold purpose. First, in each of the 35 chapters I offer an example where knowledge of the Greek text can help us better interpret and understand the New Testament. Second, these 35 examples of “exegetical gems” are not merely a random collection of insights but systematically review the basic elements of Greek syntax. So, each chapter begins with an exegetical question related to a particular text. This is followed by a brief review of Greek syntax, and then I demonstrate how a particular feature of Greek grammar helps to answer the exegetical question posed at the beginning of the chapter. These books are designed to motivate students who are currently learning the languages and to help those who have drifted from the languages by offering a way to review that is both accessible and encouraging. 

These books are designed to motivate students who are currently learning the languages and to help those who have drifted from the languages by offering a way to review that is both accessible and encouraging.

What advice would you give students who are struggling to learn the biblical languages?

Hardy: Learning the biblical languages is tough. In fact, gaining reading fluency may be one of the hardest tasks students encounter in seminary or college. It takes tremendous motivation, focused concentration, and lots of time. Find ways to motivate yourself. Spend time on what you don’t know. Review every quiz and homework. Incentivize the difficult tasks. If you don’t like vocabulary, download an app on your phone and crush words instead of candy! Join with a classmate to discuss each new lesson. Practice the verb paradigms on a white board, erase, and do it again. Draw pictures, repeat aloud, and make connections. After completing each task, do something that you enjoy. Celebrate small and large accomplishments! 

What advice would you give students who are struggling to continue their study of the biblical languages after seminary?

Merkle: My basic advice is to stay in the text. Reading a Greek grammar is not edifying (for most people)—but reading the Bible in the original languages is. For the past several years, I have been writing books to help keep students and former students in the Greek text. I wrote “Greek for Life” (co-authored with Robert Plummer) to help students approach Greek with the right perspective, to learn Greek using helpful tools, and to offer a plan for them to reengage Greek if they have backslidden in their use of the language. I wrote “Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek” to provide students and former students a way to review the basics of Greek syntax without having to reread a Grammar textbook. And I’m currently working on “Exegetical Journeys from Biblical Greek” which will provide 90 days of guided reading of selected New Testament texts. In the end, the key is to make reading the Greek New Testament a part of your daily routine. 

What concepts or constructions in biblical Hebrew and biblical Greek are the easiest to misunderstand or the hardest to translate into English?

Hardy: The easiest concepts to misunderstand are those that we assume to be correct. While human experience is similar in many ways through time and space, many of our conceptual assumptions are dramatically different. Simply ask a few people why they hold certain religious or political beliefs, and you will discover wide variability in their understanding of the world, even if they share certain commitments or backgrounds. If this is the case for modern Western people (say in the United States) who are mostly monolithic linguistically and culturally, how much more would we expect ancient, Middle Eastern people to understand the world in different ways? 

Merkle: Participles are challenging for many reasons. Not only do they possess an incredible number of different forms, but also their particular use can be challenging. One of the examples I use in the book relates to 1 Peter 5:6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” But precisely what does it mean to humble ourselves? Well, the next verse tells us—and it does so by using an adverbial participle. We humble ourselves “by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Unfortunately, some English versions put a period at the end of verse 6 and then start a new sentence with verse 7. The participle (which here communicates the means by which something is accomplished) is rendered as an imperative (i.e., Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you”). But by doing this, the connection between humbling ourselves and casting our cares on God is lost. Peter is not simply offering a second command (humble yourselves and cast your cares), he is telling us precisely how to humble ourselves—it is by casting our cares on him. Consequently, bearing worry and anxiety ourselves is a form of pride. 

What recent insight from your study of biblical Hebrew and biblical Greek has particularly shaped you spiritually?

Hardy: I’m continually amazed at how beautifully the Scriptures relate to the experiences of those suffering and on the margins of society, and they provide purpose and hope for even the most difficult realities of our lives. 

I’m continually amazed at how beautifully the Scriptures relate to the experiences of those suffering and on the margins of society, and they provide purpose and hope for even the most difficult realities of our lives.

Merkle: As I was reading and meditating on the Greek New Testament recently, I noticed a stark contrast between the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18–23) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10). Both men were very wealthy and both had an encounter with Jesus. But because the rich young ruler was clinging to his possessions, when Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor, he left “very sad” (Luke 18: 23). Matthew’s version states, “he went way grieving” (Matt. 19:22). In contrast, when Jesus told Zacchaeus that he must stay at his house, Zacchaeus “welcomed him rejoicing” (Luke 19:6). Although the two men were both very rich and had an encounter with Jesus, one valued his money more than following Jesus and one willingly gave away a large portion of his money. Consequently, one went home “grieving” and one welcomed Jesus into his home “rejoicing.” These two verbs (participles in Greek!) portray an eternal contrast, all related to how we respond to Jesus. 

From your perspective as a Hebrew scholar, why should someone read “Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek” and commit to learning biblical Greek?

Hardy: Our most accessible and direct witness to the person and work of Jesus the Messiah is found in the Greek New Testament. Why wouldn’t we engage meaningfully with those texts in the language that we have them? Merkle’s volume provides the encouragement and guiding that we need to do just that! Cancel your Netflix account for a month, log off TikTok, put down your zombie romance novel, and dive into the Scriptures with the help of your friendly personal Greek tutor, Professor Ben Merkle! 

From your perspective as a Greek scholar, why should someone read “Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew” and commit to learning biblical Hebrew?

Merkle: All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable — and yes, that includes the Old Testament, most of which was written in Hebrew. As one Jewish poet aptly quipped, “Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your new bride through a veil” (Haim Nachman Bialik). The ability to lift the veil and read in the original languages is exciting. Furthermore, Dr. Hardy is not only a brilliant Hebrew scholar, but a master teacher. His Exegetical Gems will instruct and inspire all who pick up and read that volume. What could be more important than better understanding the holy Scriptures given first to ancient Israel and now embraced by the Christian Church?


Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew: A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation

After spending countless hours studying Hebrew vocabulary, paradigms, and grammar, students may wonder how they can begin to reap the rewards of their hard work. H. H. Hardy II presents thirty grammatical concepts and their exegetical payoff to demonstrate the importance of learning Hebrew for interpreting the Old Testament. In the process, students will realize the practical value of what they have learned.

July 16, 2019

paperback, 224 pages

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Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek: A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation

Learning Greek is a difficult task, and the payoff may not be readily apparent. To demonstrate the insight that knowing Greek grammar can bring, Benjamin Merkle, a recognized expert in Greek, summarizes thirty-five key Greek grammatical issues and their significance for interpreting the New Testament. As Merkle presents exegetical insights from the Greek New Testament, he offers a strategic and refreshing way to review the essentials of Greek grammar.

July 16, 2019

paperback, 192 pages

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