Getting Me to the Greek: a book review

Whenever I review a resource on New Testament Greek, I begin with the admission:  my Greek is terrible. In seminary I took two years of Hebrew and only learned enough Greek to scrape out an exegesis assignment. Greek was the language of philosophy. Hebrew was the language of poets and prophets. That is a huge difference.

9780825444791But of course Greek is also the language of the New Testament, and despite my linguistic preference, the words of Jesus are coded in Koine. So when I preach through a New Testament passage, I find myself struggling through translating it (often with assistance from Bible Software with its virtual stack of lexicons). I am no expert. I do little more than play in the language, but I have picked up a few things along the way about Greek verbs and syntax and how the language functions.

I don’t know much (♬but I know I love you . . . ♬) and to read New Testament Greek, I need help. All kinds of help.  Kregel Academic publishes a number of student aids designed to help people like me who struggle with Greek. I previously reviewed The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek (2012)  by Douglas Huffman. That book offered a nice beginners summary of Greek grammar, syntax and a good discussion of how to sentence diagram. Now a new ‘Handy Guide’ delves into deeper waters. The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs: Aids for Readers of the Greek New Testament is designed to help us strugglers to wrestle through difficult vocabulary. Jon C. Laansma and Randal Gauthier have compiled a resource to help students of Greek move beyond the basics and begin reading.

This is a ‘handy guide’ and short. It is an 80 page paperback booklet which you can put inside the cover of Nestle-Aland28 to use as a reader-aid on the go. The booklet divides into two parts. Part I lists difficult and irregular verbs (difficult & irregular, from the perspective of beginners) in (usually) their indicative forms from most frequent (>200x) to least frequent (>10x), with a brief translation. Part II, provides an alphabetical list of verbs with their compounds (including forms that only appear once or twice in the New Testament)(27).

Laansma and Gauthier aim at enabling readers to identify the principle parts of various verb forms: (1) present & imperfect, (2)future active & middle, (3) aorist active and middle, (4) perfect and pluperfect active, (5) perfect and pluperfect middle and passive, (6) aorist and future passive). So if you locate a verb in the list (in its indicative, dictionary form), you will discover each of the six forms (or the forms that appear in the NT), with most common tenses in bold font. So when you encounter a strange form (to our eyes), their Part II gives us an at-a-glance reference to the verb forms.

This is pretty useful little book for students, working pastors or those struggling through reading the New Testament devotionally. I give this four stars. – ★★★★

Notice of Material connection, I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

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.

Greek to Me: a book review

When I was in seminary  I focused on learning Hebrew because I wanted to make sure I knew one biblical  language  reasonably well. I didn’t actually take Greek, though I had to demonstrate some understanding of the Greek to finish some exegesis assignments, make judgments about variant readings from the Septuagint (Old Testament) and understand key New Testament passages. Which brings me to this grand confession: Greek to me is really hard. I know enough Greek to not quote a lexicon in a sermon. Grammar and syntax (and the linguistic and literary context) reveal shades of meaning and help determine which ‘sense’ of a word is best and preaching the dictionary rarely does any of that justice.  But I don’t know enough Greek to speak with confidence about  what a ‘phrase really means’ (just enough Greek to be suspicious when you are too confident).

The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming by Douglas Huffman

The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax and Diagramming is the sort of resource I love to have on hand when working through a Greek translation.  This is, as the title implies, a handy guide not the definitive resource.  At just 112 pages, it can easily be kept with your Greek New Testament and consulted as you parse your way through the text.  Author Douglas Huffman says that this  book is intended for second year Greek students and beyond (oops), pastors, teachers and preachers. As an occasional preacher, and pastor-hopeful I plan to use this when I work through my next sermon on a New Testament passage.

As the subtitle suggests, the book focuses on grammar, syntax and (sentence) diagramming.  In the section on grammar, Huffman reviews the Greek alphabet, breath marks,  and the various parts of speech (nouns, Adjectives, adverbs, the article, prepositions, and verbs). The table of contents makes each of these accessible at a glance.  The section on syntax discusses in more technical language: case usage, the use of the article and verb use (i.e. tense, mood, voice, infinitives, participles, conditional sentences).  In the final  section gives a good introduction and overview of sentence diagramming. Diagramming is  a method of making clear the author’s flow of thought.  This is especially helpful for non-narrative texts and helps you understand what the Greek (words) means in context.

Despite having read this book without the proper Greek background, I find it  very helpful. If you have learned another language as an adult,  you should be able to wade through the sections on grammar and syntax and get some use out of it. Sentence (or phrase) diagramming is one of the most helpful tools for exegeting a New Testament text and this is the section of the book I will most consult.  I have grammars on which examine  Greek syntax and grammar in much more detail, but I am not taking a stack of  Greek books to Starbucks with me to work on a sermon. This guide is enough to open up the text in a new way for me

So I recommend this book to Greek students, Pastors needing a review, and those, like me who putz around with Greek because we think it is valuable to delve into biblical languages. This is a short, understandable quick reference and well worth it!

Thank you to Kregel Academic for providing me a copy of this book through the Kregel Academic & Ministry Blog Review Program  in exchange for my fair and honest review.