I’ve known Carl Conrad a long time online, and I sense that he may have said something like this before — but the remarks that jps reports put the finger exactly at a dangerous soft spot of theological education. The vast preponderance of seminarians and divinity students learn Greek in order to decode the hidden message concealed in those ominously different-looking letters (be they Hebrew or Greek), not to learn how to read well the texts written in those languages. Indeed, that sensibility of decoding a cryptogram often carries over into further dimensions of the interpretive task, so that students (and some teachers) suppose that there’s a single hidden “correct answer” to each of our interpretive problems.
It ain’t so, it can’t be so, and in order to recuperate from the delusional hope/need that reading work this way, we have to learn first of all to read rather than to decode. It ought not be too hard; we read most of the texts we encounter and interpret. Unfortunately, years of decoding-thinking (structured into the ways biblical languages are taught and into the ways Scripture is deployed in theological argument) have saturated the imaginations of at least a generation’s prominent theological spokespeople, and any recognition that reading well entails more than decoding risks being shouted down as “relativism” or “postmodernism” (in the derogatory sense).
Deep Weeds has it right: “The basic goal — improved reading aloud — seems to be coming along. More and more, I think I will begin next year’s class with at least 6 hours of mimicry, memorization, and simple commands, before getting into the written language at all.” (I think Randall Buth teaches Greek this way at the Biblical Language Center in Jerusalem, and I expect that Baruch will teach future Greek classes on that basis.) I know that the “decoding” approach to learning Greek has hampered my appreciation of that language over the years, and I wish I hadn’t written my Greek textbook before I came to the full conviction of how pernicious the conventional way of teaching and learning Greek could be. (By the way, read and appreciate Baruch’s acrostic, too.)