Saturday, May 17, 2008

Would You Like to Sing New Testament Greek? An Interview with Ken Berding

(Many thanks to Jesse Hillman of Zondervan Academic for sending me a copy of this CD.)

Ken Berding, associate professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology of Biola University, has recently published his innovative method of learning New Testament Greek with Sing and Learn New Testament Greek: The Easiest Way to Learn Greek Grammar from Zondervan. As one who has some experience in teaching New Testament Greek and always concerned with ways in taking the rust off when reading my Greek NT, I was intrigued to get some thoughts from Ken about this publication. Here is the interview:

1) In my brief experience teaching Greek, the most often asked question was "Is there an easier way to learn this?" I always told the student to use all of their senses. Did that question or similar questions inspire you to put Greek paradigms to music?

Yes, ease of learning was one of my two main motivations in producing these songs. I wanted Greek students to be able to learn the necessary memorized portions of Greek grammar more easily. I won’t forget the agony I experienced during my first year of learning Greek. We had to rote-memorize more than 50 paradigms! I would pace back and forth, chant out loud, kick walls, and even once hit my head against a wall in the attempt to get those 50 paradigms to stick in my memory. So, yes, one of my main motivations was to make it easier to learn. But what drove me even harder was the hope that learners of Greek (myself included) would actually remember what they learned over the long haul. What good is it if you pass a class but end up not being able to actually read Greek and use it in your ministry?

2) Can you explain the advantage of learning this way compared to the traditional method of rote memorization?

First of all, learning grammar through music is much (much!) easier. And singing through the shorter songs a few dozen times is adequate for them to begin to stick in your head. The longer songs will take longer. But in all cases, the main thing you have to do with this method is simply to sing the songs. Furthermore, you can pop the CD into your CD player or your computer, or download the music onto your mp3 player and listen on the go. In this way you can maximize your time and learn while you are driving, walking, or even writing a term paper(!). But, again, the most important feature of using music-for-learning is that you will remember what you have learned for a very long time. Think of all the musical slogans that you can still remember from television commercials you heard during your childhood. Nothing (nothing!) sticks in your head better than material learned through music.

3) In the booklet of Sing and Learn New Testament Greek, you mention that learning the songs shortens the 'conceptual distance' when recognizing the
form(s) one is reading in the Greek New Testament (5). Can you elaborate on this point?

Let’s say that you are reading in your Greek New Testament and you encounter a word you think is a verb and thus decide to try to parse it (that is, you want to label its person, number, tense, voice, mood, and lexical form). Sing (or chant) quickly through the Indicative Verb Song—which takes about 10 seconds once you know it well—and correlate the ending you see on the verb with the ending you find as you sing or chant through the song. Contrast this with the paradigm approach in which you have to guess which paradigm is the appropriate paradigm and then try to think through it to find the ending. Then, if you have not chosen the correct paradigm, you have to try another…and then another…and then another until you happen upon the right one (that is, if you actually remember the needed paradigms!). But since all of this information is organized into a single short song, you can more easily move from what you see to your analysis and translation of what you see. And in the midst of the process, you actually remember the songs. Actually, these songs get so stuck in your head that you will sometimes wish you could get rid of them!

4) Talk about your experience of having to learn Greek twice and how this project has taken form over the years.

I earned a minor in Greek at Multnomah School of the Bible (now Multnomah University) in Portland, Oregon, a school which has always had a stellar reputation for its biblical language instruction. I worked hard, learned a lot of Greek, and graduated from the program with honors. (Actually, during one of my years in the program, we had to read through the entire New Testament in Greek—except for Matthew—all in a one year period….90 verses a class period, three days a week for a year!) The following year after I graduated, I read a second time through the entire NT in Greek on my own.

Shortly thereafter, my wife and I moved to Turkey and embarked on full-time study of modern Turkish. But Turkish is hard, and we had to put a lot of effort into learning it. Despite this, during my first year and a half of learning Turkish, I kept reading in Greek, and subsequently read through the entire NT for a third time. But I finally came a point where I had to stop reading Greek just so I could get over the hump of learning Turkish. I did get over that hump (and comfortably speak Turkish today), but I lost a lot of my basic Greek reading and parsing skills in the meantime. So a few years later—once Turkish was quite settled in my mind—I came back to Greek, determined this time to find a way through basic Greek grammar that I would not forget. Since I knew very well what lay ahead in Greek, I decided that as I relearned it I would develop a strategy that would both allow me to remember it myself and to teach others how to learn it as well. I spent the next fourteen years developing songs that would cover basic Greek grammar, with the aim of always making it simpler….simpler….simpler…

5) You stress in the booklet that this CD is not for the 'linguistically particular" (5). Have you faced opposition in the guild for your approach or has the support been more positive in nature?

So far I have faced only support from the New Testament guild for these grammar songs, though the product has just appeared on the market. Actually, I regularly receive encouraging notes and notes of appreciation for these songs from those in the “guild.”

My comment about the “linguistically particular” was a nod to the purists who spend their time figuring out the particularities of how certain forms developed in the history of the Greek language. We owe a debt of gratitude to those scholars who spend years in their studies figuring out the intricacies of the Greek language. But the reality is that most of us (that is, we mere mortals) are learning Hellenistic Greek because we want to be able to read the New Testament. We don’t really care how a word got into the form in which it appears in the NT; we just want to recognize it when we see it. So the forms that I employed in these songs only include the forms as they appear in the words of the NT.

6) What is a realistic time frame for the student to be able to memorize these songs?

I think it is realistic to think that a student can learn the shortest songs (like the Article Song, the Infinitive Song, or the Imperative Song) by repeatedly singing them a few dozen times. That is, a person should know his or her way around the shorter charts within a half-hour of beginning to memorize them. The longer songs like the Participles Song or the Indicative Verb Endings Song may take a hundred or more repetitions to really get down. (Plus, you have to learn the non-Greek material that is on the chart to be able to use it for parsing.) Still, after a couple hours of work on even the longest song, you will know a majority of what you need to know for a given area of Greek grammar. Again, the most important thing is not simply that you learn some material for a quiz you may be facing the next day, but that you still know what you have learned three months—or three years—later. These songs are a huge step toward that goal.

7) How do you foresee your CD being used in seminaries, universities, and even churches?

Since this approach simplifies the process considerably, my hope is that it will increase people’s interest in learning Greek. I anticipate that non-biblical studies majors in colleges and universities will increasingly choose to study biblical Greek as their foreign language. I anticipate that the dread that so often accompanies learning Greek at seminaries around the world will be lessened as students discover that they can learn grammar through music. I anticipate that there will be more smiles on seminarians’ faces, and that regular laughing will emerge from the classrooms in which these songs are sung. (Some of these songs will definitely make you laugh! But who ever said that language learning can’t be fun?) Finally, I anticipate that increasing numbers of churches will begin teaching Greek to their members since finally(!) there is a simpler way for people to make their way through the traditionally daunting Black Forest known as Greek grammar.

8) Finally, tell us about some other current/future projects you have lined up.

I have two more large projects coming out this year. I am co-editor (and author of chapters) for both projects.

What The New Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Their Writings (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008). Co-editor with Matt Williams.

Matt Williams and I have gathered together fifteen of the finest undergraduate New Testament professors from twelve Christian colleges and universities across North America to write sections in a New Testament introduction that focuses on the central concerns of the New Testament authors. It will be out early in the summer of 2008.


Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). Co-editor with Jonathan Lunde.

One of the hottest areas of discussion in the New Testament right now is the way in which New Testament authors use the Old Testament. My co-editor and I have discerned three distinct evangelical approaches to the question of how the New Testament authors employ the Old Testament. We are blessed to have three leading biblical scholars contributing chapters (and responses to each other) on this topic. Walter Kaiser, Jr. represents the “Single Meaning, Unified Referents” approach; Darrell Bock represents the “Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents” approach; and Peter Enns represents the “Fuller Meaning, Single Goal” approach. This book will come out in the Fall of 2008.


Byron said...


A great interview. I may incorporate these songs in my class for those who find this way of learning helpful.


Andy Rowell said...

This was great. Tell him though that he needs to get this interview or something like it on I think there is something that says "are you the author?" Or at least a product description so people without the benefit of this interview can hear about it.

H/T Justin Taylor

Sing and Learn NT Greek

Matthew Montonini interviews Ken Berding, associate professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology of Biola University, who has recently published (through Zondervan) New Testament Greek with Sing and Learn New Testament Greek: The Easiest Way to Learn Greek Grammar.
posted by JT at Tuesday, May 20, 2008

all the best,

Andy Rowell
Th.D. Student
Duke Divinity School

Carrie Allen said...

Thanks so much for putting this interview up!

I also want to brag about how blessed I am to have had Dr. Berding, Dr. Williams, and Dr. Lunde as professors during my time in undergraduate studies at Biola. The undergraduate bible program here is top notch.

T said...

That's an interesting approach and probably very appealing to younger students. Do you think the endless variety of elementary texts is a good thing? It seems like the phenomenon of different approaches often causes problems when a student switches instructors or texts.

Matthew D. Montonini said...


I think Zondervan will be incorporating this interview unto their website, at least that is my understanding. The idea of putting it on Amazon is a good idea as well.

Carrie Marie, I am glad you enjoyed the interview. Biola does indeed look like a great place to study.


Your point is well taken. I think these various tools are more suited for those like myself who are out of grad school or seminary and need a way to keep their language acquistion sharp.

Thanks you all for visiting, and I am glad you enjoyed the interview.

Matthew R. Malcolm said...

I am intrigued - I'm going to have to get one. I find I can read the NT okay, and my vocab isn't bad - but I'm sometimes tempted to fudge things in terms of grammatical precision... looks like this could be good for sharpening things up.