Studying the Languages

by on December 17, 2008

First, please let me introduce myself. My name is Jason Chamberlain and I am in my third year of working toward a MDiv at Shepherd’s Theological Seminary in Cary, NC. I have been reading GTS for months now and consider it an honor to be able to share some of my experiences from the four semesters of Greek and one of Hebrew I have under my belt.

The first thing we all need to wrestle with is our motive in taking the languages. At the most basic level, they are required for the degree we are pursuing. Is that where we stop or do we have a deeper desire? In other words, are we truly interested in mastering them or are we just trying to get through the classes so we can move on? Many say that they truly want to learn them, but their actions prove otherwise. However, if you truly want to learn them deeply I do have some advice.

The most important thing is to make language study a daily habit. This is difficult when starting out because it is impossible to read much of the original text. However, it is possible to review the lessons in the textbook daily. Plus, it is possible to review exercises in the textbook daily as well. And, perhaps most importantly, it is possible for vocabulary study to be a part of your life.

I have my flashcards with me everywhere because I use software on my PDA. Since I am in Hebrew I review all of that vocabulary daily. I still review my Greek flashcards weekly. This is a non-negotiable part of my day. The trick is that I am always looking for opportunities to review flashcards. I am never bored when waiting in line because I have my flashcards. I don’t bother with old magazines at the doctor’s office because I have my flashcards. I work in a large office and any time I need to traverse the building I review flashcards. They are a great way to redeem what would otherwise be idle time.

Approaching the assigned exercises properly is vital as well. It is typically not that hard just to get by with them. My professor doesn’t even collect the homework we do, so it’s up to us to decide what we are going to do with them. It is difficult, but I find that I get more out of them when I take the time to deeply understand what is going on with them. To be honest, I often just want to get through them, but then I am reminded of the need to study deeply if I am to truly understand the material. The great thing about this approach is that studying for a test becomes much easier because it is simply a matter of review and maybe memorizing some things that were not necessary to do the exercises.

Of course, all this study is merely a building block to the goal of reading the actual text. I use Zondervan’s A Reader’s Greek New Testament for my Greek reading and I hope to get the Hebrew version for Christmas this year. The Greek has footnotes with definitions for any word that appears less than 30 times in the New Testament. This is much easier than constantly flipping to the back of the UBS text to use the lexicon. UBS also makes a reader’s edition, but it also parses all the verbal forms. To me, having all the verbs parsed kind of defeats the purpose of the practice you get while reading the text for yourself.

Be sure to have your text with you when you go to class as well. I have my UBS text with me in my New Testament class and it is great practice. Take your original language texts to church too. The problem is that if you’re at all like me you’ll be somewhat self-conscious about that. I’m considering getting a Bible cover just so it is not so obvious. No matter how you do it, be sure to look for ways to keep practicing your reading of the original languages.

I realize that this all sounds like I’m pretty obsessive about my study of the languages. While I’m not to the level of John Calvin preaching from the languages with no notes, I do feel like I have done well with the material I have learned in class. I think that being a little bit obsessive has been a key to success for me. I don’t beat myself up if I can’t do my flashcards some days, but I don’t let that happen very often either. To me, it is like learning a musical instrument or improving at a sport. Time with a teacher or coach is valuable, but ultimately it is up to me to put in the hard work it takes to master the skill. I haven’t ever regretted the time I’ve put into it. I encourage you to do the same if at all possible.

Jason has been married to his wife Amanda for 10 years and they have two children, Lily (age 5) and Noah (18 months). You can read his musings at his blog at


The author of this post is noted above. and were created by Ryan Burns. He is currently on staff at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond, VA, and recently launched a site to help people find Seminary Scholarships and anther site to help people find Church Jobs. He also writes about his experiences doing GORUCK events on his hobby blog.


Thank you for this post, Jason. I wish it were three months ago, but it is great nonetheless.

I am actually taking the “language” track at my seminary because I have been personally convicted that being familiar with the original languages is what is most needed as we seek to exegete the text before us.

Thanks again for the excellent post, brother. Have a merry Christmas.

I struggled through Hebrew… I really wanted to learn it, but I was so buried in other classes, work, and family that I was doing good to simply memorize my vocab. I hope some day to be able to go back and give it proper attention. Thanks for the post and advice!