Monday, September 15, 2014

Interviews with Communicative Greek Teachers (6): Jason Weaver

Here now is the sixth in this series of interviews. I completed the first round of answers I received, and then put out a little call for more responses, and so was introducted to Jason Weaver, who has been working for some time as Biblical Languages and Exegesis Consultant for New Tribes Mission. Most excellent to hear from another respondent.

Earlier posts in this series may be read here (Parts OneTwoThreeFour, Five).

1. What has been your own academic background?

I entered the training program of New Tribes Mission at 18 years old and upon completion received a BA in Intercultural Studies.  Afterward, I taught at the 2 year Bible College ( for 10 years covering courses in Systematic Theology, Biblical Studies, and Greek.  During that time I also completed an MA in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

2. Specifically in relation to Greek, how did you first learn it? What was that learning experience like?

I began studying Greek on my own using The Basics of Biblical Greek by William Mounce.  Once I finished that, I began ‘reading’ (translating) portions of the NT and began reading through Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.  It was a couple of years before I took any official courses in Greek.  I liked grammar and was quite motivated so I pressed on through the grammar/translation method not knowing anything else.  I progressed in my familiarity with the portions of the NT that I ‘read’ regularly in Greek, but I wasn’t making any progress in my ability to read anything in Greek that I wasn’t already familiar with.  All my grammar study didn’t seem to increase my ease of reading, which is what I was really after. 

3. You're currently working as an Exegetical consultant with New Tribes, tell us a little about what that involves day to day.

The main goal of my job is to support Bible translators in interpreting the texts that they are translating.  I answer exegetical questions via email on a regular basis and I do overseas seminars once or twice a year that help train folks to translate epistles.  The other major aspect to my job is to teach Greek to current and potential translators.  This semester, for example, I have six students in Greek, and it runs full time for 6 ½ weeks.  Next year I’m scheduled to run Greek 3 times: 6 ½ weeks in the spring, 4 weeks in the summer, and another 6 ½ weeks in the fall.  Since I’m located at the Missionary Training Center (, I also teach a few other classes and help in the discipleship program.

4. What role do communicative methods play in your teaching? How did you come to utilise them?

I taught Greek for five years using the traditional grammar/translation approach with classes meeting one evening a week.  I don’t remember where I came across it first, but somehow I discovered Randall Buth’s Living Koine Greek materials.  Since I had been trained as a missionary in language acquisition, I understood the merit of the approach.  However, like many others, I wasn’t sure if it was worth all the effort since all I want to be able to do is read the NT.  After using Buth’s materials myself I became persuaded that the benefits of the approach far outweighed the work it would take to implement it. 

After trying the approach for a semester I realized that I needed some help to know what to do with class time, so I signed up for one of the Biblical Language Center’s 4 week courses in Israel (2009).  It was a great time.  The two teachers I had were Randall Buth and Jordash Kiffiak, both are very good.  I came back with better Greek and the tools to teach it in the classroom that still form the foundation for my course today.  I took a second course from the BLC in Israel (2010) and then was privileged to teach with them for two annual courses in Fresno CA (2011, 2012).  These experiences, along with substantial online interaction with Jordash, are what have brought me where I am today in teaching Greek.

Currently, the curriculum for my Greek course is all built around using communicative methods.  I’d say between 70%-80% of class time is devoted to TPR, TPRS, and other live language exercises.  Being at a training center instead of a college or seminary gives me the freedom to craft my course however I want.  The downside to this is that my course is the only Greek course available to them in our program, so I have to make it count!

I still find it difficult to know how much grammar/analysis to cover and when to do so.  Since we don’t have a year or more of full-time language learning, students don’t have time to fully learn the language before talking about such things (see my thoughts at the end).

5. What sort of responses do you get from students by using communicative methods? What impact has it had on your teaching?

As far as my teaching, it has completely transformed what I do.  My ultimate goal of students learning to read and understand the Greek NT remains the same, but almost every step on the way to reaching that goal has changed.  Specifically, I’m learning that it’s better to spend time gaining some competency with the most common forms in the language rather than flying through every possible way to form nouns and verbs in the first year.  By the end of the course, my students have been exposed to all the different moods and tenses of the verb, but we don’t spend time going over how to form all their endings.

The students love it!  One very positive aspect to the approach is that it allows those who aren’t necessarily analytical or aren’t the best at grammar to begin to read the NT.  I’ve also had several students tell me that they did nothing with their Greek after class and picked it back up a year or more later.  When they did so, it came back quickly.  This is another strength of the approach.  It’s especially helpful since I train translators who will likely learn two more languages before they start getting back into their Greek for the purpose of translating.

6. If you could name one desideratum, a resource for communicative teaching that would appear 'overnight', what would that be?

I’d love to see a Koine version of Rosetta Stone!  While this wouldn’t directly help in the classroom, the potential for motivated students to learn on their own would be immense.  It would also provide a great source for homework.

Also, while not a physical resource, we need a place to go and spend a semester or more in Greek.  Such an experience would greatly increase a teacher’s ability in the language and eventually provide a great opportunity for students as well!  The problem, of course, is the organization and funding it would take to do something like this.

Some closing thoughts from me

I'd never corresponded with Jason before, as I mentioned. I'm not sure a Koine version of Rosetta Stone would be useful, simply because Rosetta Stone is a wildly over-priced, unsuccessful learning tool. While I am in theory very pro- using technology to facilitate language learning, I have yet to encounter much in the way of truly useful language learning software.

Meanwhile a 6-month Greek immersion school would be a wonderful thing. I expect it will remain a pipe dream for a little while yet.

I have some other thoughts on related topics, but they will need to await another day. I have at least one more interview slated to come in, but we're definitely open to hearing from anyone else teaching Greek communicatively, in whatever context; don't wait for me to e-mail you, e-mail me today.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

1 Cor 14:1-12 A translation

Pursue love, be zealous for things spiritual, especially that you prophesy. For the one speaking in a language does not speak to people but to God, for no one hears, but he speaks mysteries in the Spirit. But the one prophesying speaks edification and encouragement and consolation to people. The one speaking in a language edifies themselves; but the one prophesying edifies the assembly. I wish you all t speak in languages, but moreso that you prophesy: greater is the one prophesying than the one speaking in languages, unless someone translates, so that the assembly might receive edification.

Now brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in languages, what shall I benefit you, unless I shall speak to you either in a revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? Just as lifeless instruments give a noise, whether flute or guitar, if they do not give distinction between notes, how will it be known what is playing on flute or guitar? And if the horn sounds an unclear noise, who will prepare for war? In this way also if you do not give clear speech through your tongue, how it will be known what is spoken? for you will be speaking into the air. Perchance there are many kinds of noises in the world, and none meaningless. but if I do not know the meaning of the sound, I will be an alien to the one speaking, and the one speaking will be an alien to me. So in this way you also, since you are zealous the spiritual, be zealous for building up the assembly so that you might abound.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Love is a verb?

Yes, but that's not an argument.

It's a commonplace to state, "love is a verb", and then to say that therefore it's about actions, not about emotions. This is a common Christianesque argument. The problem is that saying "love is a verb" does not negate the fact that it is also a noun. It's a noun in every language that is likely in view (English, Koine Greek, Hebrew). Merely stating that it is a verb does not entail some essentialist view of it, no more than saying, "love is a noun" somehow desiccate it of its verbal notions.

If your argument is, "Love is a verb", my conclusion is, "you're a linguistic ignoramus."

Friday, September 05, 2014

Personal News

As this post goes live, I am at a conference in Japan.

We recently came to a firm decision that at the end of 2014 we will return from Mongolia.

It was not an easy decision, and in this post I am going to both explain and explore the reasons, the implications, and some of the attendant issues.

We first came to Mongolia in March of 2012, about 2.5 year ago. Our intention was to learn Mongolian well, and spend an open, but longish, number of years serving here, with an eye to theological education ministry. In 2013 I began teaching at UBTC, part time for one semester before switching to full-time. This present semester is my 4th, and the end of a second year. Overall this is a fairly 'short' time.

At the same time, beginning in March 2012, I commenced a PhD program. Although I am a fairly talented and resourceful individual, pursuing a doctorate in patristic theology while in Ulaanbaatar has proved challenging. The two great challenges are (a) availability of resources, and (b) undivided attention. Teaching a full-time load in a foreign language has proved enjoyable but taxing. While I have many resources, access to secondary literature is a major barrier.

Over this past summer I gave considerable thought, and prayer, to not only our immediate, but our long-term future. Although I have no prophetic 'word from the Lord', I've come to believe that returning to Australia at this time to pursue full-time studies will bring greater benefits and greater opportunities for life-long ministry in the future. Primarily this has to do with completing the PhD, and working in the related of fields NT studies, Church History, Patristics, and Greek (and Latin) language.

In many ways leaving the 'mission field' is very difficult especially when it's voluntary. I think within evangelical circles there is a simultaneous problem of making too much of missionaries, and too little of missionary life. That is, 'missionary' is a title with an unhelpful mystique and prestige, it's the highest rank you can achieve, short of martyrdom. To step back from that into other worlds, other ministries, can seem like, and for us feel like, a kind of 'failure'. This is simply not true, but that doesn't mean it doesn't feel true. However, I can honestly say that over these past almost-3 years, that we have "done good" in Mongolia. It wasn't a waste of time, it was a 'success', if you want to use that language. At the same time, we make too little of missionary life, because we think missionaries are so great, and fail to adequately appreciate the real difficulties and sacrifices involved in living in foreign cultures, ministering in strange lands. I would say that we have done pretty well, and been well supported, but it has been taxing.

It's also quite difficult because we are well aware that there are significant, great, gospel needs in Mongolia, and that we will leave some 'holes' here. Holes that God can fill, but holes nonetheless. This will be true at the college, at our international church, in our organisation's UB team, and in our personal relations. We are at a point where my language skills in particular are 'quite good', having been able to preach in Mongolian a few times over the summer.

Returning also comes with a financial cost for us. Perhaps ironically, to go from missionaries back to Australia takes us from a surprisingly financially stable situation, to an incredibly uncertain one. For my part, I am hoping to take up a scholarship as well as find some part-time work to support us. My wife, too, will be exploring employment possibilities. My assurance in this is that God's provision is not merely a 'special promise for missionaries', but his enduring character.

At present, we will continue here until the end of November, and I will see out the teaching semester. We will return to Sydney where I will pursue full-time doctoral studies for the next 1.5 years. During that time I am planning, Deo volente, to visit Mongolia at least three more times to teach some intensive courses. At that end of that year and a half, we will again re-assess what future possibilities there are for mission, ministry, work, and the Lord's Kingdom.

For those of you who pray, I would ask you to commit this time and our plans to the Lord.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

State of the Projects, September 2014

 I decided I would start writing monthly 'update' posts that just cover a range of things I'm working on, from major projects to minor tasks.


Was going well in early August, but has slowed right down with the start of school here. Not expecting to get a terrible lot done in the next two months either.

Greek Ørberg

Despite the (relatively) large interest, I have basically shelved this project for now. I send an e-mail to Domus Latina some months ago, and tried a few other indirect means to make contact, but without any real success. If I cannot even secure a permission for translation rights, there is little point in persevering with a project that could never legally see the light of day. So we're stalled at chapter 13.

Greek via a natural method Reader

I did however start a second, vaguely related, reader project this month, of which two chapters are available. I think this approach will give us more freedom, and hopefully avoid any possible issues of copyright, thus leading to a genuinely free product.

Patristic Readers

Getting the first reader done was an important milestone, just to have something 'finished'. I'm at work on a second text, and a little over half-way done. I expect it may see a pdf release in October sometime, before working on a third text before year's end.

Neo-Koine core vocab

A while ago I wrote about 'Developing the Neo-Koine vocabulary'. I have been at work on a core list of 600 odd words that would prove a useful base for anyone interested in a more active, contemporary usage of Ancient Greek. The Greek version of my list is at 220 words, and I add about 50 words a week. One I reach 620 I will publish a version of this for public use and critique, while continuing to add to it.


Semester has started and I'm teaching New Testament Theology as well as Greek Exegesis of John's Gospel. I have some thoughts on writing some exegetical notes on John, but we shall have to see. I also have an idea for an article.

Productivity prospects for September:

Are low, as I am in Japan for two weeks and will not be able to get as much done in these areas. Still, there will be a solid 2.5 weeks after I return and hopefully we will see some more progress.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

1 Peter 5:12-14 Exegetical Notes


12 Διὰ Σιλουανοῦ ὑμῖν τοῦ πιστοῦ ἀδελφοῦ, ὡς λογίζομαι, διʼ ὀλίγων ἔγραψα, παρακαλῶν καὶ ἐπιμαρτυρῶν ταύτην εἶναι ἀληθῆ χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰς ἣν στῆτε. 13 ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς ἐν Βαβυλῶνι συνεκλεκτὴ καὶ Μᾶρκος υἱός μου. 14 ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἀγάπης. εἰρήνη ὑμῖν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ.


v 13 Βαβυλῶνι / Ῥώμῃ
The latter reading found only in a few miniscules, and likely secondary

v14 ἀγάπης / ἁγίῳ
The latter likely an accommodation to the familiar expression of Paul

v14 Χριστῷ / Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ / κυίῳ Ἰησοῦ
The shorter reading to be preferred, as also supported by different text-types

v15 ἀμήν / omit
Several texts have a concluding ἀμήν. But this may be understood as a scribal impulse.


Through Silvanus, to you, a faithful brother, as I reckon, I have written briefly, exhorting and attesting this to be the true grace of God: Stand in it. The co-elect in Babylon, and Markus my son, greet you. Greet each other with a holy kiss. Peace to you all that are in Christ.


The text of 5:12-14 parallels the structure of 1:1-2. In both cases it is Peter who sends the letter, there is mention of ‘the chosen’, in chapter 1 it is a reference to the recipients, while in 5 the church wherever Peter is is also ‘chosen’. Chapter 1 addresses the Diaspora, while 5 locates the source as ‘Babylon’, in both cases recontextualises Old Testament references for New Testament contexts, and both provide a greeting of peace.

Two main questions arise, (1) the role of Silvanus, and (2) the meaning of ‘Babylon’.
If the letter is genuinely Peter’s, and if the Greek is ‘too good for him’, then the traditional understanidng is that Silvanus, presumably a Roman citizen, served as amanuensis. However, διά + person is more commonly used of the person who carries the letter, i.e. a courier (so Achtemeir, Cloeney, Grudem, Elliot, inter aliis). Furthermore, in Acts 15:23 a Silvanus acts as a courier for the Apostles’ letter from Jerusalem to Antioch.

However the fact that Silvanus was probably the courier does not rule out he, or Mark, acting as amanuensis. The affirmation of him as a faithful brother may suggest that the recipients knew him by reputation, but not personally.

Silvanus is mentioned in 2 Cor 1:19 as a companion of Paul, is listed as co-author of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and is the Latin version of Silas, who is listed as Paul’s companion in Acts. In Acts 15:22 he is among the trusted leaders of the Jerusalem church, and in 16:37 he holds Roman citizenship.

What about Babylon? Who is “she”? Does it refer to an individual woman, or a collective group? Traditionally two elided nouns have been suggested, ἐκκλησία or ἀδελφότης. While the first is unattested in the context, the second is used in 5:9 and might form a suitable antecedent. The meaning differs little, as it would refer to the Christian community there. Almost all modern interpreters understand ‘Babylon’ to refer to Rome. However, with what significance? We should avoid imputing apocalyptic references such as those found in Revelation, since 1 Peter is not such a book and is not obviously dealing with imperial ideology.

Rather, along the lines of Michaels, Davids, Achtemeier, and Kelly, “Babylon” forms an inclusio with “Diaspora” and indicates “a place of exile”, “not home”. While Rome may indeed by theh place, it is not certain. Peter is in a city of exile, just as much as his readers. Interestingly the Oriental churches have long taken it at face value - that Peter was indeed in Babylon and wrote from there.

However it may be, verse 12b ends with a clear and resounding exhortation: state firm in this truth grace of God. Peter has expounded throughout this letter the grace of God in Christ, and in the light of suffering, Jesus’ victory, and Jesus’ example, believers should stand firm to the end, secure in the vindication of Christ.

v13-14 then end with the final greetings, as we have discussed before.


Thus concludes my exegetical notes on 1 Peter. I hope you have enjoyed reading. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Some reflections from the FSI

Recently I was linked to a paper, "Lessons learned from fifty years of theory and practice in government language teaching", by Jackson and Kaplan from the FSI. It was a very interesting read and I direct your attention to it. I want to share just two personal points of reflection.

Lesson 4 deals with 'time on task'. The experience of FSI in training is that a great deal of time is required in class, and relatively intensively. 4 class hours a day, 5 days a week, plus 3 or more hours of individual study. that is a truly intensive environment. They also not that they have tried to shorten programs, but unsuccessfully. There is just a minimum that must be done.

They also discuss class size, and suggest that for lower level groups in relatively cognate languages, 6 is a maximum, while more disparate languages and advanced groups, 4 is a working maximum.

Those are pretty small classes. Far removed from the settings of a lot of classical language instruction.

I've written before about estimates of hours to fluency. Let's assume that ancient Greek falls into Category II, requiring 44 weeks, and 1100 class hours, to achieve FSI graduating standards. That would be 44 weeks of 5 class hours, 5 days a week. Not a program anyone is running in the classics.

If you compute that out at a standard 3 hrs a week, 14 week semester, it would take a theoretical 26 semesters to come close to that kind of fluency. This is why we have so few scholars in Greek with a genuine command of the language.

If you quadrupled class hours to 12, you could reduce semesters to 6. That, perhaps, would be workable in a university setting.

Since I'm engaged in a bit of hyperbole, perhaps I will clarify. Generally most institutions aren't trying to produce this kind of competency. We don't need diplomats and spies with Ancient Greek fluency. For a seminary, this goal is probably too high. However, if you look at that recent interview with Christophe Rico, about the outcomes of his students, that is a reasonable goal for a well-designed seminary program. For the seminary, then, I concede that you could run a 2 year foundational program that would produce students communicatively competent to read the Scriptures and discuss them in their original languages.

For classics departments, and for graduate studies, the goals need to be different, and they need to be higher. It's quite frankly bizarre and embarrassing that a NT professor could not be able to speak Koine. It's bizarre and embarrassing that we don't think it's bizarre and embarrassing. A 4-year university classics program ought to produce students communicatively proficient, to a high degree, in Latin and Greek. They don't need to be Demosthenes, but they should be able to understand Demosthenes by listening to a recording/performance. That is a high standard. I concede, it seems unrealistically high, but is it really? I would want a modern languages major to come out of their program able to listen to contemporary political dialogue and to read a wide variety of technical texts. I don't think expecting any less from a classics major is unreasonable.

You know, one of the reasons this occurred, for Latin, was simply the displacement of Latin for the vernaculars in the realm of academic discourse. Trace the history of Latin and Philology, and you'll see that once Latin is no longer the medium of discourse, and becomes only the object of study, actual ability in Latin declines rapidly. Is it necessary to discourse about Latin in Latin? No. But the necessity of doing so imposed a burden on the student that they couldn't merely read snippets of text and function in their vernacular: if they wanted to engage in academic society, there was no other choice but to master the language of the conversation.

I was also quite interested in their Lesson 10, that Conversation, while appearing easy, is actually a very hard skill to master. Informal, and especially multiparty, conversation is in fact exceedingly difficult. This echoes my own experiences.

"Many officers report that they would much rather give a speech or conduct an interview than be the only non-native speaker surrounded by native speakers art a social engagement such as a dinner arty or reception".

I can preach competently in Mongolian, but I can sit at a table of native speakers and be entirely lost