by Hannah Hawkinson
I cried before my first Greek class. Horror stories and nuggets of advice divulged by my fellow seminarians raced through my mind.
Greek will take all your free time away. I studied for 14 hours a week and barely passed. It gets harder and harder and soon will spin out of control. There are so many questions on the midterm that guessing is the best use of your time. Don’t expect anything higher than a C. Just make sure you pass. It’s all about survival.
New Testament Greek–an ancient dialect called “koine”–has earned a reputation among seminary students as one of the most difficult courses of study you can take on. Languages had never been my strongest academic area; Greek wasn’t supposed to be in my wheelhouse.
So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I loved it.
On the most basic level, my deep-seated stubbornness met its match. I learned that there were no shortcuts; the only way to learn and retain information was through constant (and sometimes mind-numbing) practice. Those hours of repetition and memorization became a much-needed outlet for my bull-headed determination and problem-solving tendencies. So, too, did every class session bring new challenges, new perspectives and new puzzles to solve.
The joy of reading Scripture
I rediscovered the joy of reading Scripture, in all its intricacy and complexity, within a community. Throughout my internship with Women of the ELCA, the stories of women’s Bible study groups around the country have inspired me. You all have the right idea!
Scripture comes alive in community and discussion with others. Like those of you who take part in a Bible study group, I was one of many engaging the multitude of possibilities flowing from the text, presenting my ideas, encountering those of others and learning from my mistakes. My classmates and I were vulnerable together, rejoicing in our successes and laughing through our (many) failures. Over the course of the year, we learned to embrace our strengths and lean on one another in our weaknesses.
Of course, none of this means that New Testament Greek is easy–far from it! The steady stream of flashcards, quizzes and paradigms never seem to end. Frustration and stress often feel like parts of my daily routine, and I have hit the wall more times than I care to admit. My classmates and I are hardly immune to conflict and disagreement. I envy my friends and colleagues for whom the language seems easy.
Growing in community
But the study of New Testament Greek, at least for me, is also so much more. It’s growing alongside a diverse community of friends. It’s learning not to take myself too seriously. It’s failing boldly and trying, trying again. It’s worshipping with my mind as I work my way through a text.
And more than anything else, it’s rejoicing because, despite my best attempts, Scripture always seems to slip through my fingers just as I’m about to understand it. And this reality is a constant reminder of my total reliance on God’s goodness and grace.
Hannah Hawkinson served as an intern for Gather magazine this summer. She is a master of divinity candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.