Review of "Greek for Life" by Plummer and Merkle

Just as our national quarantine was starting back in March, I picked up this book. I figured that, with a little extra time on my hands, why not read a boring little book about Greek? I kid, because, for those of you who know me, you know that I LOVE Greek and study it just for fun, so reading this was fun reading. It turns out, that this little book was a goldmine. If that seems to be an overstatement, then read on.


Greek for Life, co-written by Benjamin Merkle and Robert Plummer (Baker Academic, 2017), is not so much a book about Greek as it is a book about “Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek.” It features eight chapters with catchy titles like “Go to the Ant, You Sluggard” and “Review, Review, Review.” In the first chapter, Merkle and Plummer overview the reasons for learning Greek, while answering the common objections. They point out that the goal of learning Greek is to be able to read and understand God’s Word in the original language in which it was written. The second chapter, “Go to the Ant, You Sluggard,” both emphasizes the need for diligence in the learning of Greek and gives practical strategies for staying disciplined. It calls for focus and the elimination of distractions. Chapter 3 preaches the necessity of constant review. It calls for regular, brief, numerous, and focused review sessions, involving reading, speaking, writing, hearing, and even singing Greek. The fourth chapter deals with effect memorization. Once again, Plummer and Merkle provide practical suggestions for memorization, such as using association, substitution, acronyms, and silly stories. Chapter 5, entitled, “Use Greek Daily,” calls for the reading of Greek every day, even if it is for just a few brief minutes. Chapter 6 calls readers to “Use Resources Wisely,” complete with recommendations regarding electronic resources, lexicons, grammars, and commentaries. “Don’t Waste Your Breaks,” chapter 7, encourages students of Greek to effectively use their breaks between semesters to keep up with their Greek. Plummer and Merkle suggest implementing accountability, following a plan, setting goals, promoting enjoyment, encouraging competition, and fostering community as important strategies for Greek students to employ during their breaks. The final chapter, “How to Get it Back,” is written to encourage those who perhaps feel as though they have lost their Greek due to disuse. 


I found this book to be both enjoyable, practical, and inspiring. Each chapter includes personal anecdotes and fascinating sidebars regarding the importance of Greek. Plummer and Merkle write with an obvious passion for the language and an eagerness to instill that passion into their readers and students. What makes this book so helpful is that it is written by teachers with a heart for teaching. Although both men are highly credentialed academics, more than anything, they are passionate pedagogues. Indeed, the strategies they suggest in this book are useful for learning any discipline. Practical suggestions like limiting smart phone usage, establishing rituals, and using memory techniques make this an incredibly use book. As I read this book, I found myself regularly interrupting my wife to share the interesting tidbits that peppered its pages. The authors made good use of outside quotes, filling the pages with insights from men like J. Gresham Machen, Dan Wallace, John Piper, Jim Elliot, Philip Melanchthon, and Martin Luther. Inspiring anecdotes about individuals learning Greek on their own, or re-learning Greek after years away (or, in the case of Dan Wallace, after completely losing it to encephalitis), help motivate the reader to do the same. The authors did such good job providing motivation that there were several points that I wanted to put the book down and just dive into a little extra Greek study for the day. 

At the heart of the book is a call to read the Greek New Testament every day. There is even a cheesy-looking certificate at the end of the book for the reader to sign, pledging to read the Greek New Testament every day. Cheesiness aside, the authors certainly made a compelling case for this, not simply by appealing to guilt, but by making such an action appear appealing and useful. As an outcome of reading this book, I made a commitment to read my Greek Testament devotionally every day, not to analyze the text, but to enjoy it. And I can tell you, as of today, I’ve been faithfully doing so most mornings since March. 

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone with an interest in learning, retaining, or using Greek. Whether you are a first-year Greek student or a pastoral veteran, you will be greatly served by reading Greek for Life and, more importantly, using your Greek. As a pastor and former Greek teacher, I have long made it my habit to regularly expose myself to the Greek New Testament, translating and diagramming every text that I preach. Doing so has been of immense value to me, and hopefully, to my preaching. Although I quite enjoy analyzing the text (it’s amazing!), I confess that I had not spent much just enjoying the text. I was like the man Tozer mentions who is in danger of losing God in the wonders of Scripture. As a result of reading this book, my love for the Word of God and more importantly, for the God of the Word, has increased.  

Note: For those who are interested, I read in a leather-bound Reader’s New Testament (it’s unfortunately out of print now). I paid some really good money to acquire it a few years ago, but it has been well worth it. I didn’t want to do my devotions out of a Greek New Testament that felt like a textbook, much less do it using my computer or smart phone. There’s something about settling down into the same chair early in the morning with a good cup of coffee and a beautiful leather-bound copy of God’s Word to help you focus and slow down. I read first thing in the morning and go for about 15-20 minutes. I’m currently about halfway through Luke. 

And yes. That is my dog in the background.


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