The "Every possible answer game" : An Experiment in Koine Greek

Published: February 21, 2012

τότε ὁ διδάσκαλος ἀπέλυσε τὸν ὄχλον καὶ ὑπέστρεψεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ

When I was in undergrad, at Georgetown College, I had a curious relationship with the monster/fairy known as “foreign language”. Once upon a time, my mother helped me decide that I wanted to be an international business major with an emphasis in French. Ever capable of pretending I was smarter than was actually the case, I somehow tested into the third level of French. After realizing how much I disliked only being able to speak French at 9 am, my 17-year-old judgment led me to promptly drop the class. Then, I had somewhat of a Resurrection. Dr. Adela Borallo-Solis and Dr. Emily Stow taught me to love and to learn the Spanish language. I ended up receiving very good marks in three levels of Spanish and decided, after all, I do enjoy attempting a language that is not my own.

It was after this previous love affair with foreign language that I found out that I had to once more plunge into the depths of language when I entered the School of Divinity. If I once learned Spanish for the sake of a successful career as a high school English teacher, I now am able to learn Koine Greek for the sake of reading the New Testament like I know what I am doing.

One of the most readily apparent benefits of being a student in the School of Divinity is the excellence of the faculty, both inside and out of the School, who provide instruction for our various courses. There is much to be said about Old Testament with Dr. Neal Walls, Ethics with Dr. Kevin Jung, Church History with Dr. Bill Leonard and many more. But specifically I would like to comment here on the quality of my education in Greek, the midst of which I am currently exploring, under the instruction of one Dr. James Powell.

Dr. Powell is Most Knowledgeable Chair of the Department of Classical Languages and the manner in which he conducts his class is truly impressive. Somehow, our Greek class is simultaneously one of the most demanding and most enjoyable classes on my schedule for the year. On the one hand, it is extremely tedious to memorize paradigm after paradigm and vocabulary stack after vocabulary stack. On the other, it is quite enjoyable to play the “every possible answer game” as we translate sentences one by one each day in class. For those unfamiliar, the “every possible answer game” is currently being perfected by students Chris Hughes, Kolby Knight and I with regular occurrence. When Dr. Powell has us translate a passage, the game begins like this:

Dr. Powell: Mr. Dixon, sentence 598…

Me: ahem… “That man spoke concerning himself and not concerning the glory of God. Therefore you have not listened to him, nor have you followed.”

Dr. Powell: You said “glory”…

(This sentence form from Dr. Powell indicates that I have indeed said something, but that the something is incorrect. The game continues.)

Me: Um. Hand?

Dr. Powell: No.

Me: Favor.

Dr. Powell: Probably not best here.

Me: Oh. Well…exhortation?

Dr. Powell: No.

Me: Chair!…no…GRACE!.

Dr. Powell: Yes, I think that is most appropriate given the context (and vocabulary word).

Essentially, the game boils down to how many of the possible answers one can get through before arriving upon what is actually present in a given text. Think golf, where the lowest score is best, but amateurs tend to shoot in the 80s.

I imagine it must be humorous, if not a nuisance, for Dr. Powell to experience this game so often, but at times it seems inevitable. One notable highlight this season was Chris Hughes’ creation of a new case, which he dubbed, “DaNominative,” which we later determined has its origins in a mixture of both the Dative and Nominative cases.

Despite our best efforts, Dr. Powell is teaching us how to learn an ancient language methodically, efficiently and with purpose. It is quite surprising when I actually translate a sentence from the Septuagint correctly, something I never  imagined during my first classes in September. It is because of the obvious experience and excellence Dr. Powell has in the trade of teaching new students Koine Greek that I have become comfortable (somewhat) in a class some find to be utterly terrifying.

At once Dr. Powell’s class combines the best of what classes at Wake Forest University have to provide. Simultaneously we are being academically challenged, we are enjoying ourselves, and we are being prepared for whatever path we one day hope to take: ministry, further education or otherwise.

Reports from the “every possible answer game” may appear in the near future, as the Subjunctive tense looms this week.

Perry Dixon
First Year