Increasing Your Fluency in Greek

As I think back to how I learned to read English...


Intensive Reading

A problem we have with reading the New Testament in Greek is that it is like starting out with Moby Dick, almost from day 1.  Even if we are novices, when we try to read a verse we engage with challenging, high level Greek that was not written for learners, but was written for first century people who—in many cases—were native speakers of Greek, and already highly literate.

We are forced into an intensive reading of the text—drilling down into each word individually.


Extensive Reading

This is a far cry from the sort of extensive reading I did when I was reading Hardy Boys mysteries.  I read those for fun.  If I ran into a word that I didn't know the meaning of, I did not go to a dictionary.  Rather, I made a guess at the meaning of the word from the context, and I kept on reading.

People who have specialized in the teaching of modern languages tell us that extensive reading such as I did with the Hardy Boys (and a decade later with Moby Dick) is a key strategy for language learning.


Extensive Reading and the Greek New Testament

It is beyond us to create actual "graded readers" of biblical books...readers that start out with a limited vocabulary and simplified grammar.** Schools use this kind of reading material all the time when people are learning to read English...but there is nothing similar for us in learning to read Koine Greek.

There is of course the Free Graded Reader of NT verses compiled by Greg Wolff, as well as Bill Mounce's Graded Reader.  Wolff's reader is fun and encouraging to read from...but is not what you would call extensive reading of whole passages. 

Mounce put some terrific work into his reader.  But I found myself wondering if I could build something a bit more linked to vocabulary levels, using flashcards set up in stacks of around 20 words each.

The Reader's Edition of the Greek New Testament is an effort at making it possible for us to read longer passages without always slowing down to look up words in BDAG.  It doesn't change the text of the NT in any way, but it provides a running vocabulary at the bottom of every page of words that are used less than 31 times in the NT.

But still, for a novice, it is a big jump from where they are now to being able to use a Reader's Edition GNT.


Building on the Reader's Edition Concept

Below are copies of the Gospel of John and of 1 John that you can download at different levels of fluency.

Dovetailing with the levels of these biblical books are flash cards that you can use to learn the new vocabulary that each level that the biblical book assumes.

About the Flash Cards

You can choose to use the flashcards in random order, or in a linear sort.  If you choose random, a given word may be presented to you two or even three times before another word is presented even once (this is what "random" means).

If you choose a linear sort, you will see all the words presented sequentially.  That is, all of the words used 98 times are shown to you before you see the first word that is used 97 times.

If you use random sort, you should cycle through the words a few times to make sure you get to see all of them.

Nobody is going to print out all these PDFs of the Gospel of John.  You will almost surely read from them on screen. 

However, it might also be that you print out a few favorite portions (e.g. Jesus meets the woman at the well in John 4), and you zero in on those particular passages at several different levels of fluency.


Flashcards for all words used in the NT...

Graded Readers

900+ times (random)

900+ times (sorted)

Gospel of John Chapter 1 (900+)

1 John (900+)
38 pages

Gospel of
John (900+)
509 pages

20 words, comprising 46.7% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.


450-899 times (random)

450-899 times (sorted)

Gospel of John Chapter 2 (450+)

1 John (450+)
32 pages

Gospel of
John (450+)
422 Pages

... + 21 = 41 words, comprising 55.8% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.


250-449 times (random)

250-449 times (sorted)

Gospel of John Chapter 3 (250+)

1 John (250+)
29 pages

Gospel of
John (250+)
367 pages

... + 21 = 62 words, comprising 61.0% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

200-249 times (random)

200-249 times (sorted)

Gospel of John Chapter 4 (200+)

1 John (200+)
27 pages

Gospel of
John (200+)
337 pages

... + 17 = 79 words, comprising 63.7% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

160-199 times (random)

160-199 times (sorted)

Gospel of John Chapter 5 (160+)

1 John (160+)
26 pages

Gospel of
John (160+)
312 pages

... + 20 = 99 words, comprising 66.3% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

140-159 times (random)

140-159 times (sorted)

Gospel of John Chapter 6 (140+)

1 John (140+)
34 pages

Gospel of
John (140+)
293 pages

... + 24 = 123 words, comprising 68.9% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

120-139 times (random)

120-139 times (sorted)


1 John (120+)
32 pages

Gospel of
John (120+)
275 pages

... + 15 = 138 words, comprising 70.3% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

110-119 times (random)

110-119 times (sorted)


1 John (110+)
30 pages

Gospel of
John (110+)
262 pages

... + 14 = 152 words, comprising 71.4% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

100-109 times (random)

100-109 times (sorted)


1 John (100+)
28 pages

Gospel of
John (100+)
249 pages

... + 20 = 172 words, comprising 72.9% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

Time for you to take a little break to be thankful! When you have learned your 158th word, you will have gotten a handle on 72.0% of the Greek New Testament. If you are trying to learn English from scratch, in order to read 72% of English novels and newspapers, you will need to learn 1,000 words.

Of course, ESL  (English as a Second Language) students don't need all the word-suffixes that Greek students need.  But once you learn those suffixes, the Greek NT opens before you like a flower in spring.

This is to say, ESL students must memorize over six times as many words as a student of the GNT, to be able to get a handle on 72% of what they read.

90-99 times (random)

90-99 times (sorted)


1 John (90+)
26 pages

Gospel of
John (90+)
238 pages

... + 22 = 194 words, comprising 74.4% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

80-89 times (random)

80-89 times (sorted)


1 John (80+)
26 pages

Gospel of
John (80+)
229 pages

... + 19 = 213 words, comprising 75.6% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

70-79 times (random)

70-79 times (sorted)


1 John (70+)
24 pages

Gospel of
John (70+)
210 pages

... + 25 = 238 words, comprising 76.9% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

65-69 times (random)

65-69 times (sorted)


1 John (65+)
23 pages

Gospel of
John (65+)
203 pages

... + 14 = 252 words, comprising 77.6% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

60-64 times (random)

60-64 times (sorted)


1 John (60+)
22 pages

Gospel of
John (60+)
194 pages

... + 23 = 275 words, comprising 78.7% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

55-59 times (random)

55-59 times (sorted)


1 John (55+)
21 pages

Gospel of
John (55+)
189 pages

... + 15 = 290 words, comprising 79.3% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

50-54 times (random)

50-54 times (sorted)


1 John (50+)
21 pages

Gospel of
John (50+)
186 pages

... + 21 = 311 words, comprising 80.1% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

46-49 times (random)

46-49 times (sorted)


1 John (46+)
20 pages

Gospel of
John (46+)
180 pages

... + 24 = 335 words, comprising 80.9% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

43-45 times (random)

43-45 times (sorted)


1 John (43+)
20 pages

Gospel of
John (43+)
177 pages

... + 19 = 354 words, comprising 81.5% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

40-42 times (random)

40-42 times (sorted)


1 John (40+)
19 pages

Gospel of
John (40+)
172 pages

... + 24 = 378 words, comprising 82.2% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

36-39 times (random)

36-39 times (sorted)


1 John (36+)
18 pages

Gospel of
John (36+)
166 pages

... + 33 = 411 words, comprising 83.1% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

34-35 times (random)

34-35 times (sorted)


1 John (34+)
18 pages

Gospel of
John (34+)
163 pages

... + 15 = 426 words, comprising 83.5% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.

31-33 times (random)

31-33 times (sorted)


1 John (31+)
17 pages

Gospel of
John (31+)
161 pages

... + 27 = 453 words, comprising 84.0% of the vocabulary in the Greek NT.


I recommend you stop your memorization efforts here. There are 5,393 different words used in the NT.

Rather than plowing through the remaining 4,932 words (462 of them are used only once; you could do a lot of memorization work for not much benefit!), I suggest that you purchase a copy of one or the other of these two editions:

      Greek New Testament Reader's Edition (NIV)

      Greek New Testament Reader's Edition (UBS)

These two editions are very much the same.  You can pick whichever is cheaper at the time you buy.

Each contains a running dictionary at the bottom of each page, defining all the words on that page that appear 30 times or less in the GNT. At the back of the volume is a dictionary of all the words used MORE than 30 times in the GNT.

Dear Students,

If you have any particular biblical books—or even individual passages—you want to really digest, tell me and I can produce a set of reader's versions for you.  Once I do this for you, it is something that both I and other students can use. 

Here are the other passages I that I have so far produced reader's versions for.

While reading Paul's writings are going to be challenging for us, each of us has already translated Acts 1 and 2.  So this is probably the best passage to read over repeatedly.  You already know the basic grammar and vocabulary.  Reading it again and again, at different fluency levels, will be like practicing a piece on the piano over and over, until you can go through it smoothly at a reasonable tempo.