An ability to use the Greek of the New Testament is a great help in studying the Bible. Most pastors are required to study the Koine' Greek common during the First Century when the New Testament was first set down on vellum and papyrus. Many lay people have a desire to learn Greek so they can study the Bible more deeply.
Below is the Greek text of John 15:1-7
I did not mention the Old Testament because it was first written in Hebrew, and learning it is another subject.
Step 1: Learn Greek or Use Some Greek Language Tools?
What do you really want to do and how much time do you want to invest? You may be able to satisfy your needs by learning to use some available tools that do not require actually learning Greek.
Below is a screen shot from a Wikipedia article on James Strong and Strong's Concordance. Strong assigned a number to each Greek and Hebrew word used in the Bible. He listed passages from the Bible grouped according to the English word used in the King James Translation, but he also attached the number key for the word in the original text of each passage listed. Users do not need to know how to read the Greek or Hebrew alphabets, nor how to pronounce the original words. They need only find all entries with the same number and compare those. Since the advent of computers, there are many programs that help you do this electronically. What took hours with a bound paper concordance now takes minutes with a computer program.
Step 2: I Recommend E-Sword.
e-Sword is a very fine piece of free Bible software available at www.e-sword.net. Click on Downloads at the top of the page (lime green hotlink as shown at the top of the graphic). Download the basic module for Windows. (e-Sword is not available for Macintosh or for Linux.)
Step 3: Using E-Sword--Step 1
This is a screen shot of e-Sword once it has been installed on your computer. You can see KJV+ is highlighted in gray. I have additional versions installed, and that is why you see tabs with DRB, ESV, GLB, GNB, etc. in addition to the KJV+. Most additional modules are free, although some require a payment to cover applicable copyright royalties. The NIV (New International Version) would require a copyright royalty.
You see an additional box in the screen headed by G2814. "G" means Greek as opposed to "H" for Hebrew, which would be the case if you were working in the Old Testament. "2814" is the number James Strong assigned to the word translated as "branch" in John 15:2. If you move your cursor over the green superscript hotlink for a Strong's number, a box appears with basic information about the original language word. In addition to pronunciation and spelling information, you are told it derives from a related word, G2806, which you can also check. And, it tells you the basic meaning, as well as all of the words used to translate it in the King James Version. In this case there is only one word used: branch.
Step 4: Using E-Sword--Step 2
Dictionary definitions are a first step. But, words mean what they mean because of the way they are used in context. You really want to see all of the occurrences of a word as the New Testament uses it so you can compare them.
In John 15:2 move your cursor over the green superscript hotlink number for "branch" and right click. The boxes you see in the screen shot appear. Click on "New Testament" to generate a list of all passages in the New Testament using the Greek root word translated "branch" in John 15:2. If there were apt to be many, many hits; you may want to limit yourself to all occurrences in the Gospel of John. In that case, you would move the cursor down and left-click on "John" rather than on "New Testament."
Step 5: The Search Results
A box appears with a list of all occurrences in the parameters you set. "Branch" is used only four times in the New Testament. Click on "Accept."
Step 6: Using the Search Results
After clicking on "Accept" the results of your search appear in the small drop down menu at the top of the screen located below the word "Dictionary." Notice that I have also switched versions and the ESV (English Standard Version) tab is active. Clicking on an entry in the drop down window would change the Bible screen to that reference. Or, notice the very small binoculars to the left and right of the drop down window. Each has a forward or backward arrow under it. Left-click on a very small binocular to move the Bible display forward to the next verse or backward to the previous verse in the search.
There is not much controversial about the word "branch" and its meaning. Other words are the subject of much discussion. Examine their use asking questions about who does what to whom under what circumstances, and what are the results of that. This is a type of detective work in which experience brings an awareness that helps you make better and better deductions. Check commentaries and other resources to see if people with more knowledge and experience concur with you.
Step 7: So, You Really Want to Learn the Language...
Either what has been presented thus far satisfies your curiosity, or you are more eager than ever and you really, really want to learn the language. This Instructable will point you to a free course in New Testament Greek available for download at iTunesU. The first step is to download iTunes at www.itunes.com if you do not already have it. Then install iTunes and open it. Click on the iTunes Store. Wait for it to load. Then click on iTunesU. This may seem so very elementary, as in "Hey, Dude, everybody knows that!" But, I meet a lot of people who have never even heard of iTunes.
Step 8: Where to Go in ITunesU for Your Greek Course
The extent of the offerings in iTunesU is overwhelming. After accessing iTunesU, click on "Humanities" in the "Categories" box. Then click on "Universities and Colleges" in the "Find Educational Prov(iders)" box below.
When the new screen appears with the list of educational institutions, scroll down to the "C" listings and click on "Concordia Seminary."
Step 9: Select Elementary Greek
One of the Featured Content Items is "Elementary Greek" with Dr. James Voelz. Click on it and download the lessons in the series to a folder in iTunes. You will have your choice of downloading video or audio only.
You can find the folder with your Greek lessons by opening My Computer (Windows) and going to My Documents. Then go to My Music. An iTunes folder will be inside it. You will find your Greek lessons inside another folder titled "iTunes Music." I do not have experience with Macintosh to know where you will find your downloaded files.
Play the files on your computer or move them to your MP3 player.
Step 10: You Need a Textbook, Too.
Language courses, even on-line courses, require a textbook for effective learning. Dr. Voelz has a textbook he authored as a companion for his course. It is "Fundamentals of Greek Grammar" and is available at Amazon and from other sources, too.
Step 11: Additional Resources
Eventually you will want a Greek text of the New Testament. Various editions are available through Amazon and also through local Christian bookstores or seminary bookstores. But, e-Sword also has free modules containing a couple of different editions of the Greek New Testament. One of the more helpful for a beginning student is the Westcott-Hort with Strong's numbers (GNT-WH+). As a companion to it download the Strong's Dictionary module and install both.
In the graphic notice the version tab now shows "GNT-WH+." That is Greek New Testament--Westcott-Hort with Strong's numbers.
In the window below the Bible text window is the Dictionary window. "Strong" is highlighted in gray. It is the Strong's dictionary. Note the two red boxes I made to draw your attention to specific pieces of information. The upper one shows the word translated in English as "branch" with its Strong's hotlink number: 2814. Also following it are some letters: N-ASN. The next steps will discuss what those can do for you. Hold that for the moment.
In the area outlined by the red box below I typed G2814 and the Strong's dictionary information appears in the main portion of the Dictionary window. For someone learning to read New Testament Greek while taking a basic grammar course like that offered by Dr. Voelz, using these two windows provides a ready vocabulary definition of an unknown word. (Update: I had updated the basic module for e-Sword, but did not update any of the modules with Strong's numbers. Strong's dictionary information is supposed to pop up when the cursor moves over a Strong's number in all such modules. I learned I needed to download updated Bible modules and install them. That makes using the Dictionary window for vocabulary purposes unnecessary.)
Step 12: Parsing Words
Parsing words here does not mean cleverly hiding the real meaning in order to walk through a verbal land mine. Rather, it means identifying the various aspects related to the parts of speech involved in a grammatical construction. Is the word a noun or a verb? If a noun, what gender, number, and case? If a verb, what tense, person, number, mood, and voice? All of these play an important part in understanding the meaning of a passage. If you learn Greek, you will become very familiar with all of these.
The Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament module (with Strong's numbers) in e-Sword parses every word of the Greek New Testament for you. Normally, you must buy a separate volume and look up each unknown word in it. To use the parsing feature in this module, pull down the Bible menu and select "Information."
Step 13: Decode the Parsing Information
In Step 11 I mentioned the N-ASN parsing code following the word translated "branch" in John 15:2. Below is the Information box for the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament module. Scroll down through the categories and you learn the first "N" means the word is a noun. After the dash comes other information. "A" means it is in the accusative case, which means it is used as a direct object of the main verb, just like "ball" is the direct object in the sentence, "The boy threw the ball at second base." "S" means it is singular rather than plural. The final "N" means it is a neuter noun, not a masculine or feminine noun. While providing a lot of detail that may seem unnecessary, these things all become important when determining which pronouns refer to which nouns, and that becomes very important for understanding what refers to what in the text of the New Testament.
The parsing guide is easier to use if you can have a copy of it open in a second window, or if you can have a printed copy in front of you. Open the GNT-WH+ Information window. Click the cursor within the window. Press Ctrl + A to block highlight it. Press Ctrl + C to copy it. Then paste it into your word processor and save it.
Step 14: Final Things
A language requires practice. A little practice every day will mean big progress over time.
When I was freshly out of school I decided I would go to my Greek text first whenever I needed to look up something in the New Testament. If I could not grasp the meaning, I would match up words with a a fairly literal English text. Then I would read the Greek text again and again until it began to fit together and make sense. Eventually, I read the entire Greek New Testament through cover to cover a number of times.
When you are beginning you will look at a word and begin the meticulous process of parsing all aspects of it as a part of speech. After you work with the Greek text for a good while you will just immediately recognize the meaning of a word in all aspects of its grammatical details without thinking, "Oh, it is accusative singular and a neuter." just as you do with your native tongue.
Finally, there are those who imagine that the versions, whether English or in another language, are not really telling us the true meaning of the text. But, those who have learned Greek now know the TRUE meaning kept from the rest of us. Such suspicions are so very false. The English versions really are generally quite good and accurate. Still, at times a translator must make a choice that impacts subtle aspects of the meaning. The advantage of learning some Greek is that you can evaluate those choices for yourself. It is also the difference between watching a travelogue about a place and actually visiting the place, yourself. The firsthand experience is always richer.