Beyond the Book with Dr. Merkle: “Exegetical Journeys in Biblical Greek”
Chad Burchett | November 14, 2023
Maintaining proficiency in New Testament Greek requires consistent effort, but as Benjamin Merkle demonstrates in his new book, “Exegetical Journeys in Biblical Greek: 90 Days of Guided Reading,” the journey of biblical language learning is not only manageable but also worthy of life-long investment.
Written to help readers develop a daily habit of studying the Greek New Testament, “Exegetical Journeys in Biblical Greek” offers daily readings and exercises on select New Testament passages as well as insightful reflections from Merkle, Southeastern Seminary’s M.O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament studies, research professor of New Testament and Greek, and editor of the “Southeastern Theological Review.”
In the following Q&A, Merkle takes time to answer a few questions about this new book:
What is the book about, and how is it structured?
This book consists of 90 days of guided reading from various passages of the New Testament, including selected readings from every New Testament author. These 90 days are subdivided into three 30-day journeys that get progressively more difficult (easy to intermediate to difficult), and those journeys are further subdivided into 5-10-day sections. Each day is expected to take 10-15 minutes and involves reading the text (usually 1–3 verses), parsing verbs, identifying nouns, and reading various exegetical insights. Finally, each day’s study ends with a devotional or reflective thought titled “For the Journey.”
Who is the target audience, and what motivated you to write the book?
This book is primarily designed for those who have completed an elementary grammar in biblical Greek. More generally, this book will be useful for those who are in the midst of their language studies, who have recently finished their language coursework, or who desire to resurrect or maintain their language skills.
How does “Exegetical Journeys in Biblical Greek” relate to your earlier book, “Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek”?
The books are similar and yet quite different. They are similar in that they both are designed to help students retain or continue in Greek. The goal is to have Greek for life and not just Greek for seminary. But they are different in that “Exegetical Gems” was designed as a way to (1) see the benefits of knowing New Testament Greek and at the same time (2) review the essentials of Greek syntax. “Exegetical Journeys” is a daily guide to help students stay in the New Testament text.
The goal is to have Greek for life and not just Greek for seminary.
Perhaps the most frequent question I get from students at the end of the semester or at the end of the year relates to their next step in learning biblical languages. Commonly, they ask: “What is the next step?” or “How can I continue to learn and not regress in my language skills?” My usual response is to tell students that the most important thing they can do is to stay in the text — that is, read a verse or two every day, at minimum. But opening the Bible to a random page or reading through a book is quite daunting to beginning students. They don’t know where to start, they struggle with uncommon words and forms, and they get frustrated and quit reading all too quickly. The purpose of “Exegetical Journeys” is to provide level-appropriate ways for Greek students to stay current with their Greek by guiding them through the green pastures of Scripture.
What factors commonly keep students from continuing their study of biblical Greek, and how can those factors be overcome?
There are several factors but perhaps the most common are: (1) busyness, (2) insufficient basic knowledge of Greek, and (3) lack of conviction that Greek is helpful. Everyone is busy (or at least thinks they are). But surely most people could devote 10-15 minutes a day to not lose the Greek they worked so hard to attain. Others may not continue in Greek because they failed to take enough Greek to allow them to progress on their own. That is, students need to be taught not only Greek grammar, but also the basics of Greek syntax. If most students only take two semesters of Greek in seminary, then it is incumbent upon professors to make certain students are sufficiently prepared. Finally, some are not convinced that Greek is necessary or helpful. Again, I think this is primarily the responsibility of the professor to show students how knowing Greek can be helpful to interpretation and thus to preaching and teaching God’s word.
What everyday practices have helped you retain and grow your proficiency in biblical Greek?
My everyday practice is to read 1–2 chapters from the Greek NT. It is difficult — even for a seminary professor — to be motivated to review vocabulary or read a Greek grammar. Will those help? Yes. But it is hard to stay motivated when we are only reading about the Bible. It is better to be in the Bible and read from the New Testament every day, which is the precise reason I wrote “Exegetical Journeys.”
It is hard to stay motivated when we are only reading about the Bible. It is better to be in the Bible and read from the New Testament every day.
What resources would you recommend to first- or second-year students who want to maintain or improve their proficiency in biblical Greek?
I have devoted much of my writing career to answer this question. Thus, the following books are authored or coauthored by me:
- “Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining and Reviving New Testament Greek” (Baker Academic, 2017, coauthored with Robert Plummer).
- “Exegetical Gems from the Biblical Greek: A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation” (Baker Academic, 2019).
- “Beginning with New Testament Greek: An Introductory Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament” (B&H Academic, 2020, coauthored with Robert Plummer).
- “Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament” (B&H Academic, 2020, coauthored with Robert Plummer).
- “1 John Reader: A New Testament Greek Reader” (B&H Academic, 2024, coauthored with Robert Plummer).
How does this book equip readers to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission?
God’s word is the foundation of all our lives and ministries. We believe that it is infallible and sufficient. If that is the case, and it is, then what could be more productive to our lives and ministries than being able to read the New Testament in the original (inspired) language?
God’s word is the foundation of all our lives and ministries. We believe that it is infallible and sufficient.
How has writing the book shaped you spiritually?
First, it is a great privilege to be able to write and publish books. This opportunity alone is cause for thanksgiving and gratitude. Second, working through the various texts in the book reminded me of the power of God’s word to change and shape lives. Finally, I was continually reminded of how Jesus is the heart and center of the Bible — it is about him.
Exegetical Journeys in Biblical Greek: 90 Days of Guided Reading
Often students want to maintain their Biblical Greek when they’re between courses, but they don’t know where to start. This book provides ninety days of guided reading and brief exercises to help students retain their knowledge and skill in reading and interpreting Biblical Greek.
Noted language expert Benjamin Merkle guides readers through level-appropriate texts selected from across the New Testament canon, encouraging them to read and analyze one or two verses a day. The book begins with easy texts and gradually increases in difficulty through the 90 days. Each reading ends with a section called “For the Journey,” which provides a practical application or reflection on the text, and an answer key so that students can check their work.
This follow-up to Merkle’s Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek is ideal for Greek language students after their first year of study and for those who want to revive their knowledge and love of Biblical Greek. A companion volume on Hebrew is forthcoming.
November 21, 2023
Paperback, 288 pages