Scholar ‘helps people understand God’s word’

‘Basics of Biblical Greek’ author Bill Mounce ‘helps people better understand God’s word’ says pastor

Washougal resident Bill Mounce's book, "Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar," is the standard textbook for beginning Greek language students in seminaries. "(My) publisher estimates that 90 percent of the people learning Greek are reading my textbook," Mounce said. "I was shocked (to hear that). That's an amazing level." (Screenshot by Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

It’s all Greek to Bill Mounce.

The Washougal resident is using his mastery of an ancient Indo-European dialect as the foundation for a diverse, satisfying and successful career. He’s written 17 books, including the bestselling textbook “The Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar.” He serves on the New International Version (NIV) Committee for Bible Translation. He teaches online classes. He speaks and blogs regularly on issues pertaining to the Bible, Greek and spiritual growth. And he’s the president of a nonprofit that provides educational resources for discipleship in communities.

Mounce can’t always come up with a concise answer when people ask him what he does for a living, but concedes that the term “biblical scholar” is “probably an accurate label.”

“Part of me is an academic that teaches, part of me is an entrepreneur that runs ‘Biblical Training,’ part of me is an author writing books and part of me is a translator,” he said. “That’s kind of why it’s hard to say (what I am). I like doing a lot of things.”

Mounce earned degrees from Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky (bachelor of arts, biblical studies, 1975); Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (master of arts, biblical studies, 1977); and Aberdeen University in Aberdeen, Scotland (doctor of philosophy, New Testament, 1981).

He then worked as a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, and served as a pastor in Spokane before moving to Washougal in 2009.

“Bill is a brilliant, world-class scholar, trained at Aberdeen, one of the top schools in the world,” said Matt Smith, a pastor at Chapel Hill Bible Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “He’s also a driven, hard worker with a passion to create things that help people understand God’s word better. He’s a skilled communicator, both in his writing and speaking. And whatever he is creating, he’s able to look at things and answer the question of what will be most beneficial to people and what will help them to learn best — he’s always creating things with the end user in mind.”

Mounce is currently finishing his latest book, called “Why I Trust the Bible,” which will be released this summer. In it, he endeavors to answer what he views as the “the (major) question around the world.”

“I speak a lot at schools, mostly on translations,” he said. “People were asking, ‘Can I trust my Bible?’ so I ended up speaking a lot on that. I was certain (somebody had written something) about this topic, and I went through the catalog and I couldn’t find anything. So I called my editor and said, ‘How about I write a book about why I trust my Bible?’ I’ve never seen a book go through a publishing board that fast. I think I had a contract in two weeks. It’s really the topic of the day – did Jesus exist, are there contradictions in the Bible, are Greek manuscripts corrupt? All those kinds of questions.”

But most of Mounce’s published work has to do with biblical Greek (also known as New Testament Greek or ‘koine’ Greek), the common supraregional form of Greek spoken and written during the Hellenistic period and the reigns of the Roman and early Byzantine empires.

It evolved from the spread of the Greek language following the conquests of Alexander the Great in fourth-century BC and served as the bridge language for the vast majority of the residents of the Mediterranean and Middle East regions during the next several centuries.

“Greek, like any language, goes through changes,” Mounce said. “(biblical Greek) is just one era of the evolution of the Greek language, (lasting) about 500 or 600 years. It’s like German as opposed to English or Spanish. There’s a whole level of sophistication that has to be memorized. I think the fact that it’s inflected makes it quite a bit different from English.”

Mounce first encountered biblical Greek in college after he switched his major to biblical studies. He’s now considered to be one of the world’s leading experts in the language.

“I started developing my own way of thinking about it,” he said. “I knew there were better ways to arrange the data. I like to arrange things in ways that I think are helpful. Much of my method involves a minimal amount of memorization. If you know a couple of rules, you don’t need to memorize 100 paradigms.”

Mounce’s Greek expertise soon led him to other unique opportunities. He served as the New Testament chair for the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible for 10 years, then joined the NIV committee in 2009.

Mounce had “never really thought about translation work” before being asked to join the ESV, but now is “really glad that (he) did.”

“It was the right decision,” he said. “When you really get into serious translation work, that’s when you first start figuring out whether you really know the language or not. It’s not just a matter of knowing the vocabulary and the grammar. All of a sudden you have to deal with issues like, ‘How do I hear English words?’ vs. ‘How do you hear English words?'”

Mounce is a “a leading voice in contemporary Bible translation,” according to Bruce Ware, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

“There is no doubt that Bill has made a huge contribution to a whole generation of young Christian men and women through his excellent and clear book-form and computer-based lessons on the Greek New Testament,” said Ware, who has known Mounce since 1983. “Bill has a knack of making things clear, and he has the skill in the language computer mastery to put all this in a form easily accessible to students. … He has made Greek understandable and accessible.”

Bringing ‘world-class education back into the church’

Mounce is also focusing on his nonprofit organization, Bible Training, which offers free comprehensive biblical education from highly-regarded theological professors around the world. Its website currently features more than 100 recorded videos and 2,300 hours of instruction.

“My heart has always been to move world-class education back into the church,” Mounce said. “Because of my contacts through Greek and my translation work, I know almost all of the main teachers out there, so I just started going to them and said, ‘I’d like to record your classes, I’ll pay you an honorarium, the condition is I get to give it away free.’ Almost everyone has been ecstatic (to participate).”

Mounce “has used biblical Training to make a whole curriculum of Christian courses available to others,” according to Ware, who has provided several of his class sessions to the organization.

“When Bill asked me to participate in biblical Training, I was excited and eager to be a part (of it),” Ware said. “Bill loves seeing people benefit from the truth of God’s word, so he works to make as much of this truth accessible so many can profit. I’ve loved working with Bill and have always seen in him a true love for Christ and a longing to benefit Christian people with solid teaching of God’s word.”

Smith, who helped Mounce start biblical Training, said the organization’s potential is “unlimited.”

“Bill has faced a number of hurdles over the years,” Smith said, “but his tenacity and dedication to the original vision has remained consistent and has helped ‘Biblical Training’ overcome those challenges to become what it is today. I’m excited to see new classes developed and additional translations and resources made available that will facilitate church-based leadership and biblical training all around the world.”

Mounce would like to improve the organization’s marketing efforts, pointing to the fact that one website labeled it “the best-kept secret on the internet.” (“That’s not a good thing,” he said.) But it is showing signs of growth, with 250,000 user accounts downloading about 6.5 million lectures in 2020.

“We have good numbers, and they’re all going the right direction,” Mounce said. “We’ve got a ton of stuff, and we’ve got more stuff coming out. The organization is solid. We have a constant flood of testimonials coming in from literally everywhere in the world. Usually it’s along the lines of, ‘I need to learn the Bible better, and I’ve not found any way to do it. I can’t afford to go to seminary, and I found you guys. Thank you, it changed my life.’ That kind of thing. ”

Going forward, Mounce is going to concentrate more on Biblical Training’s secondary mission, which is to help churches develop effective leadership structures.

“Most churches say, ‘Hey, do you have time? Can you help?’ That’s one of the reasons that churches die. There’s so many people in leadership that really shouldn’t be there,” he said. “So we’re going to do a series of classes about what biblical leadership looks like, how to identify future leaders, how to prepare future leaders and how to nurture those who are in leadership. For me that’s the next big thing, how to walk people through that process. The challenge is that it needs to work in a church of 100 people or a church of 5,000 people.”