Ezra Project
Learning Greek
Level 1 - Word Study
Level 2 - Grammar
Level 3 - Translation
About Us
To Order
Contact Us


The Ezra Project 
For the Serious Starter in New Testament Greek

Welcome to the Ezra Project!  Whether you're gearing up to take a seminary Greek course or looking for ways to go deeper in your personal Bible study, this site is your personal resource.  Our goal is simple:  to help you take your first steps in New Testament Greek - and do it right!
    I have been introducing students to New Testament Greek since 1972, and it's my delight to take the mystery out of the language for men and women who want to become serious students of Scripture.
                             -- Dr. John Bechtle 

The Ezra Project:  First Stop for Greek Beginners.

Archive Newer | Older

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Word Study - Stage One: Borrowing from Others

Every Greek word has multiple meanings.
But every Greek word has one meaning in a particular context.

That's why a Greek word study involves two steps:  (1)  Discovering all the possible shades of meaning; and (2) Discerning the meaning used in a specific verse.

Today, let's focus on the first stage:  surveying the whole range of meaning for a particular word.  You could slog through the process yourself, scrutinizing every place where a word is used.  But most of us seldom have time for such a thorough study.  And you may not feel confident about your abilities.

No problem!  You can borrow someone else's word study.  Find a Greek lexicon (dictionary) or some other word study book and look at the results of their research.

Sources in Print:

Here are some of the standard reference books that provide information about Greek words, starting with the simplest and moving to the more advanced.

        Vine's Expository Dictionary of the New Testament
        Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings
        Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged in One Volume)
        Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (3 volumes)

A typical entry in Vine's might be two or three inches long.  The same word in Brown's work might receive five pages of attention!

There are also a number of electronic sources for information on words, and that will be a survey for another day.


1.  Remember that your goal in this stage is the longest possible list of meanings.
2.  Pay attention to the difference between common meanings and rare meanings.
3.  Notice that many words have a literal meaning, which then serves as the springboard for a figurative meaning.

Once you have completed this step, you're ready to turn the microscope toward a specific verse.

1:50 pm est

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Greek Urban Myths: Aorist = Once for All, Never to be Repeated

It's not uncommon for Bible teachers to arrive at a passage like Romans 5:6 and announce, "When this verse says that Christ died, it uses the aorist tense.  The use of the aorist shows that Christ died once for all, and his death never has to be repeated!"

A similar argument sometimes shows up in discussions about sanctification.  For example, one Web site uses this grammatical principle as the foundation for a full-blown doctrinal treatise, arguing for a one-time "second work of grace" that moves a believer to a whole new level of spiritual life (lcoggt.org/Bible%20Proofs/bp22.htm).

Unfortunately, these statements leap beyond the realities of Greek grammar.

It is true that the aorist tense would be a natural choice for a New Testament writer who did want to describe an action that would settle some issue once and for all.  After all, many Greek grammar books use the word punctiliar to describe the aorist tense.  Such a description easiliy leads you to visualize an action that happens at a point in time, a one-shot incident.

But that's not the whole story.

1.  The aorist tense is not always used that way.  Examples:
          Matthew 15:32 -- At the feeding of the 5000, they all "ate and were filled" (aorist).
                 If this is never to be repeated, the crowd is enjoying their last meal!
          Romans 3:23 -- "All have sinned" (aorist).
                 Is this verse really talking about sin that is never to be repeated?

2.  The aorist tense is better described as simple action.  It tells you that an action has (or has not) happened, without any extra details about how long it took or whether it is still in process.

3.  The aorist tense does describe action that happens once for all, never to be repeated when there are clues in the context to support that idea
         In Romans 6:10, for instance, we read that "He died to sin, once for all."  The verb died is in the aorist tense, but that alone does not prove the point.  In this verse, however, Paul adds the word ephepax, which means "once for all."  There are other good clues in the context of Romans 5 and other passages to show that Christ's death really was a one-time-only act that paid for our sins so completely that He will never need to die again. 
        But we cannot prove it on the basis of the aorist tense.
        We can demonstrate it because of the aorist tense plus the clues in the context.

You can find fuller discussions of this point in:
       D. A. Carson.  Exegetical Fallacies.  2nd ed.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1996, pp. 68-73.
       Daniel Wallace.  Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing
              House, 1996, pp. 554/557.

4:07 pm est

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Where Do I Start?

Let's assume that you buy into the idea that the 80/20 principle applies to Greek:  you don't have to master every detail of the language before you start functioning.  Pour your energy into a slice of the most crucial pieces of Greek, and you will soon find that those funny squiggles are beginning to form themselves into words.

The question is, "How do I know which parts of Greek are part of that crucial slice?"

The short answer:  You don't!  That's why the Ezra Project site exists.  I plan to gradually gather all the information you will need for a fast launch toward competency in New Testament Greek.

Here are the kinds of items you should learn first:

1.    The most common things -- items that appear hundreds of times, not just 11 or 12 times.
             -- the present tense, not the pluperfect
             -- the indicative mood, not the optative
             -- ho, "the" in Greek (19,734 times), not milion, a Roman "mile," used only in Matt. 5:41

2,    The things we know for sure
             You can know some things with complete certainty because of the way that a word is spelled.  For instance, whenever the letter epsilon is added to the beginning of a verb, and the letter sigma is added between the base and the ending, you can know without dispute that the verb is in the aorist tense.
             A commentary might give a more detailed description like constative aorist or ingressive aorist.  That extra tag might very well be true, but you can't determine it by looking at the spelling; it's a matter of interpretation based on context and common sense.  There's room for disagreement.

            So start with the things you know for sure!

3.    The rules, not the exceptions
            The rules of Greek are relatively simple.  But Greek was spoken by real people who often had to communicate complex ideas that didn't fit neatly into the "rules."  For that reason, any time you read about a rule of grammer, you can assume that there is more to the story.  You can find all the intricacies in the standard grammar texts, but it will take forever to master all of those variations. 
            Start with the rules, then get acquainted with the exceptions.


When you have learned the first 20% of the Greek language, you will be amazed at how much you know!  But don't forget that there is another 80% that you don't know yet.  Even if you earn a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek, you'll just be scratching the surface.

Therefore, be humble.   Acknowledge your limitations and be willing to learn from those who have gone before you.   What you'll learn will be clear, but that clarity comes with the risk of oversimplification.  Remember that what you read here will be accurate (at least that's what we're aiming for) but it won't necessarily be complete. 

You will have the rest of your life to fill in the details . . . and all of eternity to fill in the gaps!

2:48 pm est

Archive Newer | Older


Multilevel Greek - How deep do you want to go?

When people say they want to study New Testament Greek, they don't all have the same picture in mind.  You can investigate Greek at several levels.  Some are relatively simple; others require a larger investment of time and effort.  Here are the most common choices:

Level 1 – Exploring Word Meanings

           Goal:  To understand the meaning of a Greek word.

Guidelines for Word Study" - Basic steps in Greek word study

              "Word Study Resources" - Links to online word study tools [in development]

Level 2 – Understanding Grammar Concepts

          Goal:  To learn how Greek grammar works, so you know what aorist or subjunctive really means.

Grammar Basics" – an overview of Greek grammar

   "Glossary of Grammar Terms" [in development]

Level 3 – Translating the Greek Text 

         Goal:  To sit down with a Greek New Testament and lexicon and translate a New Testament verse for yourself

Greek Behind the Prof’s Back – a self-instructional workbook

Level 4+ - Mastery and Beyond                   
You can continue to grow in your grasp of Greek for the rest of your life, going deeper and deeper into the Word of God.  Once you have mastered the basic content of the language, you can delve into the endless list of books and electronic resources available to you.  The Ezra Project provides you with a launching pad for a lifetime of study.


When you decide to dig a little deeper into the meaning of a Bible word, you should know that there are:

        Two facts about words

        Two stages to word study

        Two methods for doing each stage

Two facts about words

First, words have more than one meaning.  Take a simple English word such as run.  It can be a verb that means "to get from one place to another by moving your legs quickly."  Or it can mean "to keep the engine of your car operating" (even if it's just idling in the driveway).  When your watch runs, the hands go around.  When the lawnmower runs, it cuts grass.  When a stream runs, water flows over rocks.  When your nose runs, you grab a tissue.  Run can also be a noun, whether it refers to a point scored in a baseball game or a torn place in a stocking. 


Please get in touch to offer comments and ask questions about New Testament Greek!  You can e-mail us at:

Ezra Project * 9825 River Oak Lane N * Fishers * IN * 46038