Why Learn Greek? An Interview with Daniel Phillips

A big thanks to Daniel Phillips who graciously agreed to be interviewed here. I hope you enjoy and benefit from it.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m very old (53) and unremarkable — but my wife is remarkable! Together, we have four children, whom we love very much.

Astonishingly, the Lord loved me in eternity past, and visited me with salvation in early 1973 (fuller testimony here). From the day of my conversion, I was filled with ardor for God’s Word — that formerly dead and dull book — and a motivating desire to study it, understand it, do it, and communicate it to others (cf. Ezra 7:10). A pastor I knew identified that as the heart of a shepherd, and I began preparing for pastoral ministry just after my graduation from high school, in the same year as my conversion.

Over the decades, God has blessed me with opportunities to pastor, preach, teach in various institutions, hold conferences, and write. I’ve always seen the internet as a key way to reach a broad spectrum of people with the Word, and so I still do, with a web site, my own blog, a Greek blog (mostly inactive), and the Pyromaniacs team-blog.

2. What ministries are you involved in?

In church, I lead the Men’s Fellowship. I preach whenever I’m offered the pulpit at my home church; in addition, I’ve preached in about eight other area churches. I am looking for a way back into fulltime ministry of the Word. Additionally, God’s graciously given me international ministry by means of the blogs and my web site.

3. I understand that you taught yourself Greek. How did you go about doing that?

That’s not quite right. Before I was saved, I’d been a very undisciplined student. And here I was, going to begin studying Greek fresh out of High School, after an academic “career” in which I’d not made myself study anything hard. So, to get up to speed, I did teach myself the Greek alphabet, and began reading in the Greek New Testament on my own, even before I could understand anything. But then I took four years of Greek at that institution, followed by yet more Greek at Talbot during my M. Div. studies.

But I will say that the classes I took were mostly useful in supplementing the reading of the Greek New Testament that I began within months of my conversion. The most important element has been simply reading and preaching from the Greek New Testament. I’ve read it through many, many times in the last 36 years; and read portions many dozens of times. That has been the most valuable element in my education.

4. How has your knowing Greek benefited your Bible study and understanding?

Immeasurably. I am convinced that it is essential that a pastor be trained in Hebrew and Greek. Otherwise you can’t be a voice; you can merely be an echo. There is no real substitute for it. You say you believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture in its original manuscripts? Well, they were in Greek. That is what we’re called to teach and preach.

I do not think that it is essential that Christians know Greek; but I do think it essential that they have pastors who know Greek and Hebrew.

5. What resources do you recommend for someone who wants to learn Greek?

I learned initially from J. Gresham Machen’s old text. When I’ve tutored, I use J. W. Wenham’s Elements of New Testament Greek (which I think is out of print; there was a new edition with audio CD, that I’ve never checked out). If you were to get BibleWorks, you’d get a truckload of language tools included in the basic package. But it’s best if you can be taught or tutored.

The most essential element in learning Greek is loving God, and wanting to know and serve Him. To read the Hebrew and Greek texts is to hear His voice unfiltered. When I taught Hebrew, I always did (and tested on) a lecture titled “Why Learn Hebrew?” The answer: Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

My most important specific suggestion would be to learn the Greek alphabet, then start reading right away. Don’t wait. Read the passages you know. Read John 1, 1 John 1, Romans 1 or 3 or 8. It’s thrilling, and motivating. As you learn more Greek, you recognize more in what you’re reading. But every new-gained glimmer stokes the fires of motivation.

As a young single man, I took my Greek NT with me everywhere. If I waited at a doctor’s office or a bank, or if I had coffee somewhere, I had my Greek New Testament there, and I read it.

6. Any closing thoughts?

The single element that I think would bring reformation to the church would be if the people of God were to demand, and settle for nothing less than, solid, passionate expository Bible preaching based on a study of the Word in the original languages. God grant it, to His glory.

God bless you,
Dan Phillips

Be sure to visit my Biblical Christianity web page and blog, and Hellenisti ginoskeis: do you know Greek?, and Pyromaniacs!