Review: Mastering Greek Vocabulary, Thomas Robinson.

downloadOne of the goals of my just-completed New Testament Greek course was to build our Greek vocabulary.  Vocabulary has always been hard for me — I tend to think in big-picture terms and find flashcards and rote memorization dull.  Thankfully we used Robinson’s book, which is organized both by root and by frequency.

Robinson’s book has six main parts:

  1. Identical Greek/English Words: about 250 words that are identical in Greek and English: e.g., ἄβυσσος and abyss.
  2. Cognate Groups: this section, the heart of the book, lists Greek roots in order of their frequency of use, listing all words derived from each root.
  3. Derived English Words: English words derived from Greek with explanations of exactly how, e.g. glossolalia, surgery.
  4. Prefixes and Suffixes: Lists and explains common Greek prefixes and suffixes, e.g. the suffix -σις, meaning “action or something that results from action,” often “-tion” in English.
  5. Identical Prefixes and Suffixes: A short chart of prefixes and suffixes common to English and Greek, such as the alpha-privative in “agnostic” and “atheist.”
  6. Words Occurring 10-19 Times: Words worth memorizing from the New Testament that don’t have a room in common with other words.

In the past I have used Metzger’s Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek, a standard for Greek students.  However, I found its definitions to be sometimes idiosyncratic.  Robinson has far more information when it comes to etymologies and word roots.  For example, take their respective entries for the root αγγελ, “message.”  You can see which one gives more information!





I found Robinson’s book a really useful guide to taking apart Greek words and seeing how relations between words make a difference.  For example, the root παι/παιδ, “child/education,” gives us both παιδεια, “discipline, instruction,” and ἐμπαιγμός, “public ridicule.”  Putting too much stock in etymology can be dangerous — “understand” has nothing to do with standing under something — but sometimes one wonders what cultural assumptions underlie word relations.

Anyway, I found Robinson’s book useful, more so than Metzger’s.  Another book in the same vein is Van Voorst’s Building Your Biblical Greek Vocabulary.  I have not used Van Voorst’s book, but its counterpart, George M Landes’ Building Your Biblical Hebrew Vocabularyis superb.

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