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.

Ironing Out Syntax: a book review

Most books are meant to be read. Other books, like this one, help you to read. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament is designed to “assist readers of the Greek new Testament by providing brief explanations of advanced  and intermediate syntactical features of the Greek text” (7). Charles Lee Irons, the current director of research administration at Charles Drew University and an ordained Presbyterian pastor, compiled this resource “to encourage students, pastors and others to devote themselves to reading large portions of Greek New Testament, and ideally, all of it” (8).

syntaxironsPicking up where parsing tools, readers editions, readers lexica, and Bible software leaves off, Irons aims to iron out difficult syntax and text critical issues. A Syntax Guide follows closely critical editions of the 27th and 28th Editions of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.

The guide is comprehensive with more than six-hundred pages of textual notes, plus indexes. Though it is not exhaustive, because Irons focuses solely on advanced issues. Some verses are skipped past without any comment and with other verses, Irons comments on a single word or phrase. Still there is enough here to give an intermediate student of Greek an at-a-glance aid to translating and understanding the passage before her. A mid level grammar (i.e. Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics), a critical apparatus and a good lexicon will unearth all the essential lexical issues with greater detail than this; however, what Irons has done is provide a quick resource for students and readers of the Greek New Testament, with references to the lexicons (most often BDAG),  grammars and other resources for those who want to dig deeper.

Most importantly, this is a small book–about the same size of your Greek New Testament. You can take this and your Nestle-Aland to Starbucks and make serious headway on the text, instead of bringing a whole library of heavy text books with you.   Anyone who has wrestled out a translation of Greek as sermon prep, for a paper or devotionally will benefit from this resource. I give it four stars.

Note: I received 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.