Book Review: Hellenistic and Biblical Greek

Review---Hellenistic-and-Biblical-GreekHellenistic and Biblical Greek: A Graduated Reader

by B. H. McLean

Cambridge University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

McLean adopts a “historical” Greek pronunciation scheme, which is quite similar to the modern way of pronunciation, but varies on several letters. This is hardly a criticism as it does not ultimately affect how one reads and retains the texts, but I thought it important to note.

This book includes a number of elements that are helpful for reading the texts therein. In the front matter, in addition to the groups of abbreviations, McLean includes a section on frequently occurring grammatical constructions, a nice touch considering the volume is designed for those who have had one of more years of Greek. Unless you read a lot of Greek on a regular basis, there are constructions that you just don’t see a lot and the inclusion of such an element will prove helpful for many. Each section also includes its own vocabulary list. McLean has in bold print those words he thinks necessary to memorize, a call which is obviously subjective, but could be helpful nonetheless. The vocabulary lists included in Part 1 (pp. 13–67, “basic level” texts) is built on the assumption that the reader has learned all the words in the Greek NT that occur fifty times or more—these words are not included in the glossary after each text. Each subsequent section then builds on the assumption that the reader has committed to memory the bold type vocab from the previous section. My assumption then is that these words are not repeated section to section, though I did not look into it. For those who may forget words as they work from section to section, there is a glossary in the back that includes all words that occur fifty times or more in the GNT as well as all vocabulary found in the texts. Additionally, McLean has included in the back additional helps, such as a summary of verbal paradigms, cardinal and ordinal numbers, alphabetic numerals, names of the months, Greek currency names and their monetary equivalents, and terms used to narrate the approval of decrees, all of which are immensely helpful, especially for those who don’t encounter these elements enough to immediately recognize them or simply have never memorized them.

This book reinforces an old dictum I heard when first learning Greek—mastery of vocabulary will make all the difference. As I worked through early sections of the book, I found that it wasn’t the syntax that was tricky, but simply vocabulary I either didn’t know or had forgotten along the way. Naturally, the biblical texts I knew better than non-biblical ones, but the vocabulary was definitely the sticking point for some sections. Overall, the graduation of difficulty will vary for each reader depending on their familiarity with the text at hand. As I mentioned, the biblical texts were a little easier for me because I was familiar with them and the particular author’s style, even though they were later in the book and thus were deemed more difficult than previous chapters. For example, in the intermediate-level section, Gal 1:1–2:20 is coupled along with a letter of introduction to Zenon, a family letter of an army recruit to his mother, and some other biblical and non-biblical texts. Again, familiarity can be a welcome help when dealing with syntax and vocabulary and these non-biblical texts were about the same level (inasmuch as I’m able to make such evaluations), but knowing the biblical passages enabled me to work much more quickly through them. At the same time, given that texts are grouped according to their grammatical and vocabulary similarities, being familiar with the biblical text did help work through the others.

There a couple of typos that stood out in the front matter, both involving font changes that escaped the typesetter’s eye. On p. xxx, the text reads “The days from 2 to 10 were counted as the ‘rising’ (iJstamevnou)”. Similarly, on p. xxxi, the text at the end of an example with a clause from Matt 5:20, after the last word Φαρισσαíων, reads “Farisaivwn (Matt 5:20)”.

Perhaps the most salient takeaway from this book is it enables the reader to experience the importance of reading outside of one particular corpus. For the majority of seminary students who take/took Greek, their exposure to the language is almost exclusively the Greek of the New Testament. Granted, the GNT exposes readers to a variety of literary styles and their inherent differences, but many students who take NT Greek do so with varying degrees of familiarity with the Bible. This can be an aid when translating, but it can also become a crutch. Thus, books like this fine work of McClean’s are essential, I think, to strengthening one’s grasp of the NT text in general, but also helps one gain a much better knowledge of how Greek of the period works. My only complaint about this book is not related to content, but a layout issue. There were a number of times when I would look at the sectional glossary for a term only to find that it was on the next page. I don’t know if this could have been avoided—perhaps there were spacing issues that prevented it—but I found this to be an annoyance. However, let me say that this minor issue in now way detracts from the overall quality and usefulness of the book. If I were teaching any class that required reading of Greek texts, this would be atop the list.

Take a look inside here or download a sample chapter here.

Bible Review: Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine

Review---Novum-Testamentum-Graece-et-LatineNovum Testamentum Graece et Latine

Hendrickson | Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft | Amazon | CBD

First, I must confess—I do not know Latin like I know Greek. It is only very recently that I have begun to familiarize myself with it and I have only done so out of utilitarian interests. I do not know the history of the Latin NT like that of the Greek, so my review of this volume is from the perspective of an admitted novice, so take what you will from it! That being said, I’m sure those who have used the Novum Testamentum Graeca et Latine (hereafter NTGL) would agree—this is indeed a fine volume. Assuming that the attention given is commensurate with that given to the NA Greek texts, this will serve as a standard critical text of the Latin NT. As the title indicates, this is a diglot, which given my limited knowledge of Latin, this is a great help. With Greek and Latin on opposing pages, it is quite convenient to check the Latin against the Greek (or vice versa) without having to flip pages. My NET/NA27 diglot is that way and it’s not ideal.

As for the text itself, the NA28 is obviously the standard critical Greek text—but what about the Latin version included herein? It “corresponds” to the second edition of the Nova Vulgata. This volume has the usual accoutrements users of the NA have come to expect—a robust apparatus, marginal notes and references, and the various appendices that occupy the latter pages. The apparatus for the Latin text is substantially smaller than that for the Greek, so its usefulness may be slightly less than the Greek. However, perhaps the most beneficial aspect of this volume is having both Latin and Greek texts of the NT side by side. If this is your desire, then this would be a go-to volume. Add to that the text-critical elements and you have a text that will be your primary source for studying the scriptures in either language.

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Book Review: A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

Commentary-on-Manuscripts-and-Text-of-the-NT

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

by Philip Wesley Comfort

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

I’ll readily admit that textual criticism of the NT is an area of study I prefer not to travel (during my comps I dreaded it more than the rest!). I say this not because I think the practice is unimportant, but because I don’t particularly enjoy the actual work itself. I’ll also be the first to champion, however, the importance of textual criticism. After all, before we can interpret the text, we must know what comprises the text, and it is the brave textual critics who saunter down this troublesome path for this most noble cause. So, as with many other disciplines that are entangled in the study of the NT, I appreciate the fruits of others’ laborious efforts to produce works in areas in which I am inadequately skilled to navigate, Comfort’s work here a prime example.

I would think any student of the NT who has progressed beyond an introductory course on matters related to the NT have used with great benefit Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Comfort’s work could possibly be of equal value to those seeking to wrangle and tame the multitude of textual variants that decorate the many manuscripts behind our NT. I do not wish, however, to suggest that Comfort’s work is the same as Metzger’s—not at all—but that Comfort has provided for students and scholars a work that focuses on a smaller segment of the manuscript population, i.e., the papyri, which as Comfort states “are among the most important manuscripts because they get us closer to the autographs” (20).

This volume breaks down into essentially three sections: (1) Introduction to the manuscripts, text, and nomina sacra, (2) an annotated list of all the “most important” manuscripts of the NT, and (3) commentary on the text, which is divided along traditional lines (e.g., Gospels, Acts, Pauline letters, etc.). The first section orients the reader to the various papyrus collections, e.g., Oxyrhynchus, Bodmer, et al, and to the general process of evaluating manuscripts to determine what weight they might lend to particular readings. Comfort thankfully condenses this information into a few pages and devotes the majority of this opening section to the discussion of the nomina sacra (the abbreviation of a divine name or title—hereafter referred to as n. s.) This was one question that leapt out at me upon perusing the front matter—why the discussion of the n. s.? Comfort believes that the ubiquity of the n. s. merits attention and dedicates a significant number of pages discussing its various forms, potential provenances, and ultimately the significance (31–42, 419–43) This discussion is, from what I can recall, largely absent from most intro texts to TC, so Comfort’s inclusion of it in this volume will likely prove helpful for some. Section two, the manuscript list, is also quite helpful for those wishing to get an idea of a particular manuscript’s origin, age, textual affinities, etc. Comfort lists the earliest manuscripts—the papyri—which date to pre-300.

The real meat of this volume, not surprisingly, is section two—the commentary proper. Here Comfort discusses what he thinks is the original wording for particular verses, i.e., those for which there are variants in the papyri. In general, Comfort is fairly conservative in his handling of variants (if the designator “conservative” is even helpful), but does opt for readings occasionally that deviate from the majority. This section (and book) is most useful (obviously) when read in concert with work one may be doing on a particular variant rather than categorizing Comfort’s approach as more or less conservative—I only do so to be loosely descriptive. For some of the more prickly TC problems in the NT, Comfort provides decent discussion, such as the question of the ending of Mark’s Gospel (197–206) and the ending of Romans (312–16). For other issues, such as John’s Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53–8:11; pgs. 258–59), the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7–8; pg. 396–97), Eph 1:1 (340), and the number of the beast in Rev 13:18 (410–11) all receive decent discussion. For a volume that seeks to address as many variants as it does, the length of comment for these issues is commendable.

In sum, Comfort has produced an immensely useful and handy guide to aid readers of the NT. While Comfort’s volume certainly will not supplant Metzger’s (not that such is even the aim), but will serve as a welcome companion to a work that is itself perhaps the go-to guide for variant commentary.

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Book Review: What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About, 2d Edition

Review--What-the-NT-Authors-Really-Cared-About

What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About, 2d Edition

Edited by Kenneth Berding and Matt Williams

Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the good folks at Kregel for this review copy!

Berding and Williams have taken a standard type of work (NT surveys) and have brought a slightly different approach to reading the books of the NT. A collaborative work of NT scholars (from a largely conservative approach), this project seeks to hone in on what the writers of the NT books were most concerned with. While the book’s contributors do address traditional introductory matters, e.g., authorship, date, provenance, etc., the bulk of their writing is devoted to an issue that sometimes receives comparatively less attention—the issue of the biblical book’s purpose. The end result is more discussion of prominent themes in each book. It is also important to note that the approach of the contributors is geared toward undergraduates, who presumably have had less exposure to the introductory matters of the NT.

In terms of features designed to assist those who are relatively new to the enterprise of NT interpretation, there are several. In addition to the items mentioned above (color photos, marginal captions, et al), each chapter concludes with a word bank of terms considered to be significant to that chapter and, presumably, chosen to prompt further study of the book’s key themes. Additionally, each chapter features a very brief bibliography to serve as starting points for additional readings on each section. These bibliographies consist of 2–3 titles, which is suitable for starting points for broader and more in-depth exploration.

I’d also like to comment on the design of this book. While Kregel’s volumes are always well done, the ones I’ve read have always been designed with a more utilitarian slant—they’re made to be read, not so much to be appreciated visually. However, this volume has been designed with much more attention to the aesthetics. Not only are the pages semi-glossed, but they also include numerous hi-resolution, full color photos, along with the various sidebars and info boxes. These elements make for a visually appealing work. This volume reminds me of many of Zondervan’s works—a compliment to be sure—with its visually intense layouts and eye-catching designs. One may also make comparisons to Elwell and Yarbrough’s Encountering the New Testament, now in its third edition.

Overall, this is a well-designed and helpful introduction to the NT. However, I think it’s important to note that this volume is written from a very conservative approach. I don’t necessarily mean that to be a criticism or a fault, but a point of note for those considering purchasing this volume. When it comes to conservative intros to the NT, they are legion, so this volume is certainly not breaking any new ground or vying for any top spots in that category. However, when compared to other standard intros from a conservative viewpoint, e.g., Carson/Moo, Köstenberger/Kellum/Quarles, this volume stands out as more overtly conservative and less inclined towards discussions with critical scholarships at which the various authors may be at odds. However, I must reiterate that the authors’ audience should be kept in mind—conservative Christian undergrads with minimal exposure to the world of higher criticism. As such, this volume will serve as a decent start on the path to seeing the primary themes in each canonical book. Also, as mentioned earlier, the limitations posed by the authors’ audience necessarily preclude lengthier discussions of matters considered to be of critical importance by scholarship. Controversial issues, e.g., Mark’s “messianic secret,” the ending of Mark’s Gospel, the New Perspective on Paul, various interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation, do not occupy a great deal of space.

As with any book, there are also a few negative points. First is the use of transliterated Greek. I continue to puzzle over why publishers employ transliteration. If you don’t know the language, it is of no real value. Just being able to haphazardly pronounce a particular word serves no purpose in the work of exegesis and thus is unnecessary. Second, a number of the captions in the margins are somewhat hokey. For example, in the opening chapter (which discusses the historical backgrounds of the NT) one caption (p. 26) reads “Those from Qumran spent a lot of time copying and reading the Word of God. They would ask us how much time we spend in the Word.” Now, let me say that this may not be wrong on its face, but comes across as overly simplified and presumptuous. Perhaps the scribes there would ask moderns that question, but I have my doubts it would be toward the top of the list. Another example is found in the chapter on Acts, which reads “Luke would be delighted to remind us that God uses people to fulfill his plan” (p. 109). Again, it’s not wrong per se, but seems simplistic and overtly obvious. Third, on p. 27, the writer claims that apocrypha means “unveiling.” Frankly, I find this surprising. The term apocrypha derives from the word αποκρυπτω, which means “to hide/conceal.” The term αποκαλυπτω means “to unveil”, so I’m not sure how this made it through editing.

In sum, I think this volume is helpful for its intended audience, but for those who are more familiar with the NT and its contexts, numerous other volumes are available for more in-depth study.

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Book Review: A Reader’s Greek New Testament (3d ed)

Review--RGNT-(3d-ed)A Reader’s Greek New Testament, 3d Edition

Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski

Zondervan | CBD | Amazon

Many thanks to the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

A Reader’s Greek New Testament

I picked up my first reader’s Greek New Testament some years ago now. It was Zondervan’s iteration, A Reader’s Greek New Testament (hereafter RGNT), the second edition, and I used it with great benefit. When the UBS reader’s edition was released (hereafter UBS-RE), I did not buy one since I already had the RGNT. However, when the UBS-RE including UBS5 was released, I got a copy and have been using it ever since. In fact, since I’ve received the UBS-RE second edition, I haven’t used the RGNT edition much at all. As I noted in that review, one of the reason’s I prefer the UBS-RE over the RGNT is aesthetic—the UBS-RE simply looks nicer and is easier on my eyes as I read. A primary factor contributing to this is the layout of the UBS-RE. Below the Greek text, the running dictionary is in a two-column format, whereas the RGNT is a single paragraph and is less conducive to following the words easily.

However, Zondervan has recently released the third edition of its Reader’s Greek New Testament and I will say, having used it for a little while now, it is a noticeable improvement over the previous edition. On the one hand, there are no drastic changes. The same eclectic Greek text still underlies this edition, the same lexicon and the same maps are included in the back, and the same disappointing layout for the definitions below the Greek text, etc. The most obvious difference in this third edition is the aesthetic change, namely a different font was used. While this may seem a small matter, it makes a noticeable difference in the appearance of the text and the difference is much better. I’m not sure what font was used in the second edition, but it was too narrow and the paper used for bibles already thin, this font made it more difficult to read, thus in a sense undermining the volume’s ultimate purpose. The font choice in this edition is much better!

We all know that a book’s contents are its most important element, but aesthetics matter, particularly for a volume that is designed to foster reading of the Greek text.  Thankfully, this edition of the RGNT has improved in this regard.  I might also add that the RGNT is significantly slimmer than the UBS-RE, a factor that will sway some towards this volume over the UBS-RE. The authors simply wanted to provide a resource that will foster the reading of the Greek text and to that end they have succeeded.

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Obedience to the Gospel?

For many years I’ve been enamored with Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9, in which he claims that those who have been troubling the Thessalonians would be dealt with at the return of Jesus

with/in flaming fire, meting out retribution to those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty–everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power (translation mine).

There are a number of issues that surface here, but I’ve puzzled over the phrase μὴ ὑπακούουσιν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ–how does one not obey the gospel? This question stems from the assumption that the whole concept of εὐαγγέλιον is less a body of commands and/or directives, such as the Torah, and more the general base meaning of the word–good news. However, in Paul’s writings, the gospel seems to be more than just an announcement of good news (it certainly retains that meaning), but more a collective of truths (though not necessarily codified or written down at this point), perhaps the ever-growing body of traditions about Jesus that were seen as authoritative. In Gal 1:6–9, for example, Paul speaks of the gospel as more than merely an announcement, but rather as a collective of propositions (?) that one must embrace in order to be justified by God–this seems to be the typical Pauline usage. The question remains, then, how does one not obey the gospel if Paul is speaking in terms of accepting and embracing certain tenets about Jesus? The idea of obedience could easily indicate that it was Jesus’ ethical teachings in mind, but we don’t know to what extent Paul knew Jesus’ teachings (though he certainly would have known much of what Jesus taught). Presumably whatever Paul received from the risen Christ on the road to Damascus informs his conception of εὐαγγέλιον.

So what does it mean to disobey the gospel? Likely it means to refuse the message that Jesus is the Christ and is the only way to the Father. It’s not about following rules, as the English term “obedience” may imply, but rather being subject to what was prescribed as the gospel by Paul and the other apostles–that Jesus was Lord and there was no other means by which one could be made righteous before God. cf. Rom 10:9–10

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A Most Useful Volume

I received this volume several years ago, but I wanted to tout its usefulness for those who may not have picked up a copy. The book is James Ware’s Synopsis of the Pauline Letters in Greek and English, published by Baker in 2010. For those who may not know, Ware has taken the Pauline texts and grouped them thematically, except for those sections are stylistically similar, e.g., greetings, conclusions, etc. Every turn of the page follows the same format–Greek on one side and English on the other–and allows ease of access to the texts one is reading. Arranging the texts in the way Ware has enables one to read multiple passages/verses on a particular idea or theme in Paul without having to locate them in a Greek or English text.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 11.17.40 AM

I’ve consulted this volume periodically over the years, but have found it to be most useful lately in preparing for exams because, as I mentioned, it allows me to read multiple texts that address similar topics without having to thumb through the GNT.

So, for what it’s worth, I’d recommend you get a copy of this fine volume if you haven’t–it’s a most useful work!

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