Taking Us to the Greek: a book review

I have a confession to make: my Greek is awful. In seminary, I was expected to be able to exegete the Greek (and I did) but I focused on Hebrew for my biblical languages credits. My Hebrew is much better than my Greek. Just like Jesus (I can’t back that up). However, Greek is the language of the New Testament (the Christian Scriptures) and if you want a handle on what the Bible said in its original context, it is helpful to be able to go back to the Greek.

9780801018916Chadwick Thornhill is the chair of theological studies and assistant professor of apologetics and biblical studies at Liberty University School of Divinity.  He wrote Greek For Everyone: Introductory Greek for Bible Study and Application to help students of the Bible understand how Greek works, so they could be ‘better students of the New Testament.’ He focuses on morphology, grammar, structural analysis, and introductory interpretive matters (introduction, xi). Unlike typical introductory Greek texts, there isn’t an emphasis on learning huge lists of Greek vocab. In all Thornhill instructs readers to memorize only about ninety-two Greek words, His eighteen chapters are focused on understanding the language and how words are put together.

There are commendable things about Thornhill’s approach. He walks through the basics of grammar—verbs and nominals, cases, articles, pronouns, adjectives and prepositions, verb moods, infinitives, and participles—comparing similarities between Greek and English sentence construction. If you get a handle on what Thornhill is saying, you will not only parse verbs correctly but be well on your way to reading the New Testament well. He imparts the tools to read words in context well.

I appreciate the fact that he leaves his discussion of word studies until near the end of the book. Too many Bible readers, armed with a Strong’s concordance and personal piety, strong-arm the Greek language, interpreting words anachronistically and in keeping with a preconceived theological grid. Thornhill demonstrates that there may be some real value to word studies, but this comes when we can read words in context: in sentences, verses and in wider passages. More helpful than knowing a Greek word, its root meaning, and various senses, is knowing how each word functions in a sentence, and overall argument to convey meaning.

So, I really appreciate Thornhill’s approach. Unfortunately, books on language learning lack whimsy. There are parts of this book I had to read and then re-read because my eyes glazed over. This isn’t Thornhill’s fault. It is an introductory text. You got to learn the building blocks of language before you hear its poetry. I just wish the process was more engaging.

This is a helpful book and I would recommend it especially as a resource for people who have had some Greek and want an at-a-glance refresher on the rudiments of Greek grammar. The chapters are easily navigable for quick reference and Thornhill does a good job of describing the fundamentals of Greek grammar. Secondly, readers who have had some language learning (beyond Koine Greek) will also readily make use of Thornhill’s. If readers have no previous language learning, Thornhill does define terms (like normative, vocative, infinitives, participles) but I wonder if a more conventional Greek text (which spends more time with each part of grammar) would be more helpful for the general reader. Thornhill assumes a conceptual framework that a true language novice does not possess. Then again, my imagined linguistic neophyte wouldn’t pick up a book on biblical Greek. I think it’s worth asking: is this Greek For Everyone? I give it four stars.

Note: I received a complimentary copy from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

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