When it was first announced I thought it was one of the best ideas I’d heard in a long time, and now that it’s a couple years into it I’m even more convinced. I’m Fred Zaspel, executive editor here at Books At a Glance, and I’m talking about the popular Daily Dose of Greek – a wonderful resource for all students of the Greek New Testament, and we’re talking today to the founder and host teacher himself, Dr. Rob Plummer. Dr. Plummer is professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and we should mention that along with Andreas Köstenberger and Ben Merkle he is also co-author of the new book, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek.
Rob, welcome, and thanks for talking to us today!
Thank you, Fred. Thank you for your interest in the Daily Dose and in the Greek grammar.
Daily Dose of Greek – tell us first what it is and then who exactly you’re aiming to help by it.
Yes. Just trying to boil it down into the simplest explanation, this is a daily two-minute video screencast; so you see a screen, a video, and the text and me writing on it and talking as I’m writing on it. I take one verse a day from the Greek New Testament. Currently we are going through the gospel of Mark. We read it in Greek; we translate it; comment on a few syntactical features; sometimes we comment on its theological point; try to remind people of something they may have forgotten in Greek, a paradigm or a rule; and we try to do that all in two minutes. We try to make it very tight, very manageable and we disperse that – you can sign up at dailydoseofgreek.com for an email, so you can get it in your email box. We also have a Twitter feed. We have a Facebook page. So we are trying to get that Greek daily in front of and help provide some accountability and some free instruction to keep people reading their Greek New Testaments for life.
I should mention that this resource is made available free of charge – no cost to the listener at all. Tell us how to subscribe and get started.
The easiest way is to just go to the website www.dailydoseofgreek.com. On there you will be asked to input your email and then just to make sure we’re not giving you spam you have to confirm. You will get an email from it. There is also on the website a way you can sign up with Twitter. I think the twitter feed is @dailygreek; and then if you search on Facebook, there is a Daily Dose of Greek on Facebook which you can have show up in your Facebook feed. I will mention again, it is Monday through Friday, two minutes a day, roughly, then on Saturday we have a little bit longer feature. Sometimes it’s three minutes, sometimes it’s eight minutes and it will be talking through a longer text.
I will often have guests on there. Will Ross from Cambridge, Todd Scacewater from Exegetical Tools, Will Varner from Masters College. Sometimes I use it to look at new Greek resources like the one coming up this weekend is going to be looking at the EGGNT volumes and the Baylor handbook volumes. These are two series that are basically exegesis courses in paperback. They are fantastic. So I compare and contrast what’s the difference between the Baylor handbook and the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. I have the Ephesians volume of both of those in PDF and I’m looking back and forth between them at one verse and just trying to help people understand what that resource is.
Another one that I taped with my daughter, which is going to come up soon, is a memory device for the imperfect of eimi; it’s a great little song that one of my students came up with that’s only 40 seconds. So that’s going to be one Saturday feature. It’s just a song to remember the imperfect of eimi. Another one is in John 2 where Jesus says to Mary, ti emoi kai soi (“what to me and to you?”). We look at all the various ways modern English translations have rendered that unusual question – eight or nine different ways, completely different – and then we look at the underlying Hebrew. It’s a very literal translation of a Hebrew expression, of a Semitic expression. And then talk about the semantic range of that within the Old Testament and which one of those is most likely in John 2. So it’s more than I can do in two minutes, but related to the Greek, and showing, hey, this really matters in understanding what the text means and then being able to explain it and teach it to others.
Okay, give us some practical advice. What’s a strategy to resurrect a pastor’s dead (or nearly dead) knowledge of Greek?
One reason I started the Daily Dose of Greek is to prevent more pastors, future pastors from having to answer that question. I’m trying to get the students now when they are in seminary to develop that habit now. It’s like flossing your teeth. Let’s start flossing your teeth now so when we’re 60 we don’t have gum disease. Let’s start reading the Greek New Testament now so we don’t have to later resurrect it. But the fact is lots of people slide away from the Greek and then they feel guilty about it, and then they feel like they can never get back. That’s not true.
I’ve had students… I had a guy who is a pastor now in Wisconsin who said he had not touched Greek for 20 years, couldn’t even remember the alphabet. (If you go to the Daily Dose website, there are some instructional videos there as well – not a whole, fully-developed online course, but there are some basic videos that overview from the alphabet all the way through elementary Greek.) And he watched those; he had a friend work with him; he came and took our free Greek review class here on campus – it’s a one-week free class which, by the way, we are going to be advertising that big time through the Daily Dose. It’s January 9 – 13, 2017 if anyone wants to come on campus, I think there’s a $45 registration fee, but it’s basically nothing for five day class, all day, just trying to get Greek up to speed. And we would love to have anyone to come back to do that.
But I think the way to come back as a pastor is first just face reality. Just be like, “what do I know, what do I not know?” And then to develop a system. Just say, “I don’t have a lot of time but I have five minutes a day. I’m going to start by going back watching those basic videos. Or I’m going to pull out my elementary grammar…” Or whatever it is and then just like any other habit you have to have rewards and you have to have punishments. Self-inflicted punishments in place to help you do that. I tell my students as they head out for the summer, because I know… I’m looking at them, and I’m thinking, oh no, three months away from Greek. We just finished elementary Greek. They’re strong, but where are they going to be in three months? I advised them before they went away this summer, I said, Tell your wife – “I’m putting a little piece of paper on the refrigerator with all the days for the summer.” (I give this to them)
“every day I’m going to watch the Daily Dose of Greek” or whatever system I set up, “I’m going to spend five minutes in my Greek New Testament.” And tell your wife, “If I don’t do it for the week, if I don’t have those little boxes checked, then I’m going to clean all the bathrooms that weekend.” I guarantee your wife will ask you. She will look at the chart. You may fail once but you probably will fail again.
When I am under a heavy writing deadline I have to just write like a madman all day long and not be distracted, I’ve told my kids, when I get home you ask Daddy, did I waste any time? Did I look at the Wall Street Journal website? Did I go on Facebook? If you catch me wasting a minute in the day I owe you each five bucks. Well every day I come home they are so happy, they are like sharks with blood. All of them come running and saying, “Oh, he wasted time – give me five dollars.” And I’m cheap enough that I hate losing $15 so I’m not going to do it again. So having those strictures, those self-inflicted punishments in place… Tell yourself, I won’t drink a cup of coffee until I watched this, or I won’t eat breakfast unless I’m watching the Daily Dose of Greek or of studying my Greek New Testament.
The European Journal of Social Psychology published an article a few years ago. And in their study it took somewhere between 18 and 254 days for someone to develop the habit. The average was 66 days. So when we hear that we think that developing the habit is not easy. It’s not easy – people say I’m going to read the Greek and read the Hebrew and then day four or day seven, where did it go? It’s just like anything; it’s like exercising or flossing your teeth or having a quiet time. It’s very easy for that habit to not form well or to fall off, but there are ways to create incentives and to create this incentive to make it painful or joyful for you to make it more likely that you will for those habits.
What different advice would you have for …. a seminary student … a young pastor … a middle-aged pastor … an older pastor?
Well for the seminary student I would say… I am biased, I’m a Greek teacher, the New Testament professor… I might tell them to take as many Greek classes as they can. One of the reasons is that students for some reason pay a lot more attention to a subject in which they are graded, in a class which they are paying for. It’s one thing to say I’m going to keep up with that when I’m not taking the class. I’ve seen many times the tyranny of the urgent – whatever is graded, whatever class has been paid for and is going on their transcript, that’s what gets the attention. So one way you deal with that is to say I’m going to take Greek and Hebrew classes that have that external accountability to keep me in the language.
Never in your life are you going to have a time like this again when you’re building your skills; you’re in a community. So you’re trying to reach the point where you are sort of going in fourth gear. You’re moving at a good speed and it’s a lot easier to maintain that than it is to start again from zero or to speed up again from the slow speed. So for seminary student I say take lots of Greek classes, seize the moment, and work on developing a habit right out of seminary so you don’t have to be the guy that as a bag over his head and says I forgot all my Greek and now I’m confessing this or whatever.
For the middle aged and the older pastor, I would encourage them. They may feel like they’ve gone too far out, lost too much Greek. They have not. Never before has it been as easy as it is now to regain your Greek. Teaching Greek through technology where we can use screen cast and voiceover, I mean it’s really good. The technology makes teaching language in small online snippets really fun. It’s a real advance. I also plug-in my computer in the classroom and use a writable board like that on the data projector; and it’s just wonderful to be able to manipulate the text, zoom in, zoom out, use different colors. Also people who study online teaching say small doses are best and that’s one reason we are doing two minutes.
Or if you go online for the more basic videos, 10 to 15 minutes a lot of the times. Small doses. Things that are manageable. I’m not asking people to sit down… Although the guy who came back after 20 years I think basically took a week or two of his life and all he did was Greek and was amazed at the resurrection that took place in his knowledge. So I would just say there’s nobody who is too far gone to start coming back and you’d be surprised at the stuff that is deep in the recesses of your memory, that is still there. And there’s so much joy in reading the inspired words of the Apostles. People intuitively know this, they don’t want to be distant, they don’t want to be separated by even the many good English translations. They differ sometimes, as we talked about in John 2 about how to translate ti emoi kai soi (“what to me and to you”). What does that mean? We want to get close, we want to be right there, touching the word of God. As the famous British poet said, “reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your bride to the veil.” We want to pull back the veil; we don’t want any distance between us and the inspired words of the Apostles.
Very good. Yes, the digital helps that you have, have brought us a long way from the blackboard, haven’t they?
Yes. If anyone has ever seen something like Kahn Academy where they teach kids math with voicing over and using the screen – similar to that, try to use a lot of colors and again, make it very brief. Try to use a lot of memory devices. For example, I did several weekend editions on, here I’ll teach you seven prepositions in 30 seconds or something like that, using little memory devices. I try to use a lot of mnemonic devices because we need help to memorize things. Students seem to respond very well, and even people who have been out for many years say, oh I remember that this way now. So I’m trying to help spread those and deepen people’s knowledge. Really, my mission with this – I think it’s probably clear by now – my mission with this is to keep pastors and other Christians reading their Greek New Testaments for life with increased knowledge and increased joy; and in that come to know God better and to love him and teach his word were faithfully.
Give us a sense of what all goes into producing Daily Dose of Greek – your own work, volunteers … what does it take?
Thank you. Daily Dose would not exist without many volunteers and the generosity and help of other people. First off I’m thankful for my seminary which has provided me with employment. The Daily Dose is not remuneratively beneficial to me; I received no income from it at all. So I have my job, my place of ministry at the seminary which provides me with a nice computer I use to do this and staff that helps me if the computer breaks and things like that. So I am very grateful for the generosity of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Also, this would not exist without by volunteer webmaster, Brad Clark, who is a full-time UPS pilot. Brad just came to me, he took my online Greek classes and has said multiple times, “What can I do to help you? How can I assist you?” God birthed this vision in me and then in him and it wouldn’t exist without what he has done to help me.
There are other students who have volunteered, too; many of them have volunteered many hours of their expertise to help us with web issues. There are other people who help financially. As I mentioned, we don’t receive any income from this but there are costs associated with it. Between the Daily Dose of Greek and Hebrew now we have over 12,000 people who receive it by email. And so just the email service on that alone I think is $120 or so a month. Then we have Dropbox fees and web hosting fees, and stuff like that.
So we have a donation button on the website. Everything is free, but we accept donations and the Lord moves on people’s hearts to give and so I’m so thankful for those who do give to help with that. And the Lord through that has covered all of our costs. When it first started, Brad and I were paying for it out of our pockets, but the Lord has provided so generously through people giving that we don’t have to pay for it anymore.
And we have the Daily Dose of Hebrew, too, which is the same thing as Greek – two minutes a day, but in Hebrew. Mark Futato at Reformed Theological Seminary is the main host of that. That came about by my knowing of his pedagogical skills and his expertise in technology and an online communication friendship blossomed there and he is graciously doing that. And that is also free, all volunteer, to help people stay in their Hebrew.
We’ve got another guy who’s coming on to help with that. Dr. Adam Howell is finishing recording through the entire book of Ruth. So, to your listeners, a Daily Dose of Hebrew, two minutes a day, is a great way to resurrect your Hebrew. Some of you may think, “if my Greek is dead, I don’t know what the Hebrew is.” It is true that Hebrew slips out of the brain a little quicker than Greek but you’d be surprised coming back, just listening to it pronounced, and having it translated, a few comments here and there, really starts to percolate in the brain and Hebrew itself is resurrected. There are some basic lessons on their that match Mark Futato’s grammar. We have had guest hosts on both Greek and Hebrew and I’m grateful for all of that.
So without other people helping, other people’s skills, this would not exist. I see it as God’s gracious leadership of me and provision of what I need, of what I don’t have, the technological skills and resources… It’s been a lot of fun. Instead of like climbing a mountain, it’s been like rolling down a hill. Everything is just continued to fall into place, and I feel this must be pleasing to the Lord in what we are trying to do.
If someone would like to help out with this service, what can they do?
Yes, the best way to do it is to go on the website at www.dailydoseofgreek.com. There is a little button, I think it is in the upper right – Donate. When you click on that, it will take you to a webpage for ministry called Global Service Network, which is an umbrella for other ministries. That way I don’t have to go through all of the paperwork to have a 503c3 or whatever that is to get tax-deductible donations. I am able to go under their umbrella and they keep me accountable. I send reports to them for any expenses, and send out newsletters and that sort of thing. It is set up so that none of the people participating can actually receive any income. It is only set up to cover expenses. So it covers our various expenses that we submit reimbursements for to GSN, and all of these donations are tax-deductible. I know to some people that is important so we’re glad that we can provide that.
I send out a newsletter to the people who give to us and say, “this is how many subscribers we have,” or, “right now we’ve got people watching the Daily Dose in 80 different countries.” And I will include some emails or things that we have received from them. And I try to encourage them, like, “I don’t think you’re going to be able to find a ministry where your money will do more than what you are giving here. If you look at what it’s covering and how we are reaching people, there’s not any waste in here.” I could compare it to certain scandals currently in the public political sphere where money goes, but we won’t do that. We will say that it’s not going into overhead – it’s going right out there to bring the Greek and the Hebrew to thousands of people around the globe and it’s a lot of fun to do.
In fact, the teaching that you give, the influence just grows exponentially because you are helping people who, in turn, teach others to teach more effectively.
It is very rewarding, Fred, and I feel very honored to be able to do it.
Before we sign off we should mention that you and some colleagues have recently come out with a wonderful new textbook on intermediate Greek, along with many helpful resources. Tell us about that briefly – and then, with that, how a pastor might use it to beef up his working abilities with Greek.
Yes, thank you. Andreas Köstenberger, Ben Merkle and I just recently came out with an intermediate Greek textbook, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek. We wrote this with the desire to have a readable textbook that is geared to the classroom. It’s teacher friendly, student friendly; each chapter starts with a “hey, here’s how much you’re going to learn really makes a difference in the meaning of the text.” It’s geared to be read and understood. Then there’s these really clear summary charts; there’s reading notes on a passage at the end of the chapter that tries to apply and reinforce what’s been learned.
I’ll mention as well – we just came out with a set of laminated charts that summarize the entire book, too. It’s entitled, Charts for Intermediate Greek Grammar and Syntax and Amazon has it for $6.99. It is six laminated, folding pages and it takes all of the different syntactical categories and different possibilities, for example, of translating participles or present tense, aorist tense, these sorts of things. It gives a Greek example, an English example, and puts in bold the matching Greek and English feature that is being focused on. I am excited for both of those. I am hopeful for the way they will help pastors and students to read the Greek New Testament more carefully. I have received emails and Facebook communications from people who just bought the book and read it, not used it in a classroom, and it seems like it is very usable in that way and digestible. I will mention – there’s a website, www.deepergreek.com that has tons of free resources geared to the book. There are multiple different ways of having vocabulary reviews, vocabulary apps, that either are purchasable or free where it has all the vocabulary and syntactical information to be reviewed. There is a flash card app. There are PowerPoint presentations on there that you can view.
Also, for professors (this is not posted on the website) but professors can click on there and request quizzes and exams, materials like that that B&H Academic will mail directly to a legitimate professor so that the book can be plugged into the professor’s class structure. I know sometimes that’s a negative in adopting new textbook so there are several different syllabi available on there for use with lower or higher levels or as an intensive course, and then various sets of quizzes and exams to match those. We want to make it as user-friendly as possible and we’re grateful for the good reception that it’s had so far.
We’re talking to Dr. Rob Plummer, host of the Daily Dose of Greek. We encourage you to subscribe to this wonderful service … and just watch your ability to study the Greek New Testament improve in just two minutes daily. Go there right now – type in www.dailydoseofgreek.com. Rob is the gold standard in language teaching – you’ll love it.
Rob, thanks so much – it’s a really great service at the Daily Dose of Greek and the Daily Dose of Hebrew. And thanks for talking to us about it here today.
Thank you, Fred, I appreciate your interest.