Book Review: UBS5 Greek New Testament

The Greek New Testament, 5th Revised Edition w/dictionary

Hendrickson | CBD | Amazon

Many thanks to the kind folks at Hendrickson for this review copy! I received this book free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

Like many other students of Koine Greek, I have a small stack of Greek New Testaments, which may inevitably lead others to ask why in the world I need another one! For most students, there are two primary options for studying the Greek texts that comprise the NT—the UBS edition and/or the Nestle-Aland edition. Each edition has its own merits and users will usually decide which volume they prefer, which probably boils down to the task for which they consult the GNT in the first place. The most obvious dividing line between these volumes is the critical apparatus, which is the strong point of the NA edition. For text-critical study and work in the GNT, the NA28 is the preferred edition.

A number of changes have been introduced to this edition of the UBS. First, the readings from papyri 117–127 are now cited, thus providing students with access to the most recent discoveries in the manuscript evidence. Second, readings from the Editio Critica Maior are included in the Catholic Epistles, 33 to be exact. These readings are also included in NA28 and their inclusion in the UBS5 evens the playing field a bit between these two primary GNT editions. Third, the discourse segmentation apparatus has been thoroughly revised in this edition and now includes a number of GNT editions and modern translations cited that offer an alternative translation that agrees with the segmentation of the UBS and are noted at the end of the variant’s listing. Translations cited are English, French, German, and Spanish. Fourth, the textual apparatus has been redone using the Coherence-based Genealogical Method, a method that could very well provide new and useful insights into the history of the text.

Aside from matters of textual criticism, the UBS and NA editions stand fairly evenly in the grand scheme of things. However, I have always preferred the UBS text to the NA, primarily because it was more readable. While the UBS certainly has a critical apparatus, it’s not nearly as robust as that of the NA and this is part of what makes it more pleasing for the reader. Beyond that, the font choice of the UBS editions, especially the fourth and now fifth editions, is more readable. Though the NA28 is better than the NA27 in this regard, the UBS continues to be less crowded and thus slightly less distracting.

In sum, one’s preference for the UBS over the NA (or vice-versa) will ultimately come down to the task at hand and one’s own preferences for reading/translating the Greek. If text-critical issues are not at the fore of your work, then go with the UBS5.

Read a sample of the UBS5 here.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: The Devil: A New Biography

Cornell University Press | Amazon

Many thanks to the kind folks at Cornell University Press for this review copy!

The devil (or Devil if you prefer) is a common figure in modern Christianity. Though his presence in the Bible is comparatively minimal, he figures prominently in a few key points in the overarching narrative of Scripture. However, despite his minor role in the stories of Scripture, tradition and history have shaped and molded this antagonist into a creature quite different from his earliest portrayals (perhaps more so visually than anything). This evolution, we might say, is the object of Almond’s work. The subtitle, A New Biography, might suggest a totally new approach to understanding the devil or perhaps bringing to bear new research that yields new insights. Perhaps neither is purely presented in this volume, though that does not negate its usefulness in providing a valuable resource for those interested in the matter.

Almond claims that it was the story of Enoch’s watchers that birthed the notion of places beneath the earth as abodes for evil angels/demons (5). This conception of evil angels was nurtured by early Christian apologists and ultimately spawned the conception of the devil as a wholly evil being whose primary purpose was to thwart the work of God. Almond also suggests the book of Zechariah (composed around 500 bce) is a turning point in the history of the Devil (18) and traces the origins of Jewish (and ultimately Christian) demonology to Second Temple Jewish works such as the books of Enoch and Jubilees. Almond provides a brief discussion of early Christian writers’ perpetration of the devil as Satan, Lucifer, etc., or the bad guy.

Almond essentially argues that the devil’s place in Christian thought was borne out of a commitment “to the doctrine of one God who primary attribute was goodness” and could not accept that there was an opposing principle of evil that had existed from eternity or that God himself had created a being who by nature was evil. Thus, Satan became the fall guy—the explanation for evil in the world (47). It seems as though the Devil has been mistreated throughout history, being blamed for many things that could ultimately be explained naturalistically or by other means.

Almond takes the reader down a long historical road, along the way demonstrating the ways in which the Devil had morphed from an anonymous though testy adversary in the pages of the Hebrew Bible to the outright malevolent enemy of God in the Christian church. Along the way the Devil is gradually depicted in more overt gestures of evil and wickedness and linked to all manner of demonic and ungodly practices, e.g., magic, witchcraft, sorcery, possession, etc. Despite centuries of debate and research concerning the nature and activity of the devil, ultimately, according to Almond, the devil was relegated to the domain of credulity and superstition (205).

This book is similar to volumes that survey a history of interpretation of a particular text, theological problem, etc., only this concerns the development of Satan from tester and adversary in the Hebrew Bible to the malevolent antichrist enemy of God of the early church and beyond. This book also achieves two ends that are too frequently mutually exclusive—useful information and entertainment. That is not to say that Almond sacrifices historical detail for anecdotal tidbits all for the sake of entertaining the reader, but one cannot help but come away with at least a grin after reading some of the ways in which previous generations attempted to understand and explain the role of the devil in various practices and beliefs. Perhaps it is too much of a gesture to suggest that Almond is intentionally being humorous; rather, it is the historical data that is simply humorous at points.

There was a current than ran beneath the entirety of this book, a current that seemed to feed the vegetation atop the soil—the devil was an invention, a means by which to explain evil and to account in some way for its origin and continued presence in the world. This will be the primary point of departure for readers who believe in the existence and activity of the devil, regardless of the extent. However, despite this, Almond never writes in such a way that is critical (in a negative sense) of or in any way derogatory of those who hold this belief.

In sum, Almond’s book is indeed helpful and useful and is quite a feat considering the amount of material available for study. Though one could levy the criticism that Almond is minimally selective in his choice of texts and their interpreters to analyze, he does well and tackles many of the important voices in this long-debated subject.

Errata were minimal, the only noticeable error being his use of ὁσατανᾶς instead of ὁ Σατανᾶς (23).

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: HCSB Deluxe Ultrathin Reference Bible

HCSB Deluxe Ultrathin Reference Bible

Available at B&H

Many thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy!

I have a lot of bibles—I have no idea how many—and enjoy them all for different reasons. I certainly don’t consider myself a “collector” at all because, as I said, I use all my bibles for one purpose or another—I don’t just admire them on a shelf. The volume at hand will be added to the stack and will certainly be enjoyed for many years to come.

I now own four leather bibles and this is certainly the first I’ve had that is top grain cowhide. Having used it now for a little while, I can say that it is an exquisite binding! When I first opened the box, I noticed it was enveloped in black paper, presumably a protective measure. Before I even took it out of the box, I raised it to my nose and breathed in the intoxicating aroma of fine leather—I felt like I was in a boot shop! I love the smell of leather, so I lingered a moment before removing the bible from the box. As you might expect, the feel of this Bible is quite lovely. The cowhide cover is very soft and supple, almost a velvety smooth texture that feels good to hold. The top grain cowhide feels as luxurious as I hoped, better than even genuine leather. Being premium leather, I also expect that this cover will hold up for many years with the proper treatment and care.

 

12.11.2014_15.29.24Another feature that is requisite (or should be) for premium Bibles is a binding that is sewn, which this one has, of course. In fact, the box boasts that this particular Bible has a “hand-crafted deluxe binding.” I’m not totally sure what the difference between this kind and a non-deluxe sewn binding might be, but this one certainly feels sturdy.

I used this Bible not long ago when I preached and found the dimensions to be suitable for the task. For many years I preached with two Bibles—a Thompson Chain Reference NIV and later an HCSB Minister’s Bible. The NIV was bonded leather and was as tough as a burlap sack. It was heavy and bulky, but I rather liked that since it sat on the pulpit most of sermon. The HCSB is genuine leather and is a very nice Bible, one I used for the latter days of my pastoral ministry. It, too, is a rather heavy Bible, but like the NIV it sat on the pulpit, so the weight was not an issue. When I preach these days, however, I prefer a smaller volume and this Bible was just right. Because it’s an ultrathin, it’s quite portable and its leaner build makes it easy to handle. Did I mention how nice the cowhide feels?

I also rather like the font choice for this edition. It’s more akin to an Arial-style font than Times, which makes it a littler easier on the eyes. The pages are also printed on fairly standard paper that results in ghosting, but surprisingly less so than most Bibles I own. That in concert with the font choice and the readability is a bit higher than average. This is especially so with sections in the OT that are poetic. Because the text is not a running narrative and the spacing is different, it restricts the layout on the page, thus eliminating some of the crowding that is evident elsewhere. This is a two-column format, so that makes for less space in which to cram the text, but nevertheless very readable. There are also center column references that don’t interfere because of their smaller font.

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I do have one complaint about this particular Bible. Those first couple of pages, one of which is opposite the inside cover, are glued together ¼ up from the binding. This is not only annoying visually, but practically—the Bible can’t rest fully opened to the front (or back) unless a few pages are laid on it first. The same is the case in the back, so I assume this is part of the design, perhaps for some measure of support for the heavier material lining that page (I’ve seen this my other Bibles as well).

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Assuming this is part of the design, I can live with it, especially since there would be no good reason for me to need it open to those parts anyway since they’re blank.

That one gripe aside, this is an excellent Bible. The size, readability, and lovely cowhide result in a lovely Bible, one that I will enjoy for the foreseeable future.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: HCSB Study Bible

HCSB Study Bible

B&H | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy!

This volume is like many others of its kind—big and bulky. As such I would expect most who use this bible (and study bibles in general) leave it in a particular place where they can read and take notes—it’s just a bit too bulky to lug around from place to place. This is not necessarily a bad thing as its necessarily large, but is a factor that users will have to weigh (pun intended!) when considering a study bible.

This copy is the hardcover with dust jacket, which I prefer in a study bible. Because I use study bibles in a very utilitarian manner and not just for reading, I prefer one that is heavier so that it stays open while I flip pages. If I want to read notes on verses in Genesis 12 or Revelation 17, I want to flip there and have the bible stay opened. Obviously that’s not problem with this volume—it weighs in at just over four pounds!

As I expected from this study bible, it is loaded with information designed to take the reader beyond the final translation before them. One of these features that I always find helpful is word studies, which number 290 in this particular volume. There is an inherent danger in word studies of this nature, primarily because they must be condensed and thus are essentially incomplete. Words, no matter to what language, culture, and time they belong, can drastically change meaning and therefore evade simplistic definitions. I’ll not quibble over subtle nuances that are present in the word studies in this volume because I find them to be helpful. Even if the information is incomplete or disagreeable to the reader, they are helpful because they help the reader have a better handle on the text at hand.

There are also a number of other requisite aids in this edition that assist the reader in digging just below the translation’s surface. There are numerous cross references, which like word studies can be helpful is used properly, but the danger is that sometimes readers assume that a cross-referenced text is actually related to another. Another interesting feature is the alternate/literal translation bar. It is a yellow-background insert between the translation and the study notes that provides additional translation information. The “literal” means just that—the translators provide a word’s literal meaning (though this can be misleading), but does not conform to good English style. The “alternate” option provides cases in which the translators considered rendering certain terms or phrases one way, but ultimately chose the option reflected in the text. This is helpful in helping readers gain a glimpse into the complex work of translating biblical texts.

Other features include numerous charts, maps (which I always find helpful), excellent illustrations, actual photographs (though somewhat muddled due to the paper are still crisp enough), timelines, and well-written introductions to each biblical book. These introductions are an asset to this volume. Though by necessity they are only cursory in their treatment, they are still helpful in orienting the reader to the various matters that lay behind the text, e.g., authorship, date, message, purpose, structure, and contribution to the Bible. It is in these introductions that you will also find the timelines mentioned earlier. The back matter consists of the HCSB bullet notes found throughout the text (essentially a glossary of key terms, e.g., atonement, Baal, Mount of Olives, Passover, etc.), a table of weights and measures, topical concordance, Bible reading plans (three-year and one-year plans), and a 52-week Scripture memory plan. In sum, the HCSB Study Bible will certainly provide the reader with ample tools to study the Scriptures in more depth and will hopefully serve as a boon for further research beyond the limitations of the information provided.

One of the things that I noticed while using this Bible was that some of the headings throughout were blurry. Looking at them closely, there appears to be a drop shadow behind them. The font is a burnt orange color and in these this shadow is yellow, which leads to a blurring effect. I suspect this is a printing issue because it’s found throughout and if you look at the sample PDF, there is no shadowing. However, despite this one particular flaw, it remains an aesthetically pleasing volume and I would heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a good study bible.

Αυτω η δοξα

 

Book Review: A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd Edition

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 10.26.00 AMA Survey of the Old Testament by Andrew Hill and John H. Walton

Zondervan | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

This book is now five years old, and though I’ve not had it quite that long, this review has been in the works for a while.

From the outset, Walton and Hill (hereafter W/H unless otherwise indicated) make it clear that their work reflects their convictions—they are evangelicals. For those for whom “evangelical” essentially amounts to insular theological positions and a reticence in gleaning from the fruits of higher criticism, let it be said that Walton and Hill do not quite fit that mold. They do believe that the OT is “God’s self-revelation” (21) and it is an authoritative work (26), yet those familiar with Walton’s work (I can’t speak for Hill) know that he does not toe the typical conservative line when it comes to interpreting the text. In Appendix A, W/H claim that “Evangelical is a term in vogue to describe those who acknowledge the authority of the Bible” and that it is a bit more precise, perhaps, than the label “conservative” (753). W/H also rightly notes that both “liberals” and “conservatives” employ the same critical methodologies, the primary difference between them ultimately coming down to presuppositions and how they interpret the evidence. So, as evangelicals, W/H will certainly interpret texts differently than would those who do not make “supernaturalistic claims,” yet to dismiss their work on these grounds would be most unfortunate.

As far as the content of the book, W/H cover a tremendous amount of ground, which is virtually impossible to avoid if one is going to survey the vast landscape that is the OT. Concerning their readership, those on both sides of the aisle (read conservative and liberal) will find parts with which they can wholeheartedly agree and strongly disagree. For those in the evangelical camp, a number of things will likely dishearten them. For one, W/H do not hold to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (79, 104, 165). Walton notes that there is good evidence for Moses as the editor/compiler, but it is lacking for Moses as author. Concerning the book of Deuteronomy, Walton suggests “Moses can be affirmed as the dominant, principal, and determinative voice in the book, and he is credited with at least some of the writing” (165). Authorship is a prickly issue anyway as those in the ancient world did not write books in the same way that moderns think about it, so W/H are simply following the evidence where it leads them. In sum, W/H have no issue with ascribing Mosaic authorship to sections of the Pentateuch, but not to the final form. Additionally, Walton’s take on the primeval history certainly differs from the opinion of many of his evangelical brethren. Walton has fleshed this out in much more detail in more recent works, so his treatment here is necessarily brief, though it remains informative. On the other hand, the evangelical audience will likely appreciate W/H’s take on other accounts, such as the Exodus.

Perhaps the most notable update in this volume is the amount of visuals included—they are found on nearly every other page! In addition to the numerous charts and excurses an abundance of photographs have been included. While some of them are rather run of the mill, the majority are quite stunning! As someone who benefits greatly from visual representation of data, photography is always welcome. Naturally such embellishments are not always suitable, but for a volume such as this they are and enhance the reading experience by providing visualization of the content matter. Another minor detail that I found helpful is indication of which author wrote which section, though a couple were unidentified.

My criticisms of the book are mostly due to editorial restrictions. For example, the opening section on geography is quite helpful, considering that the physical landscape is important throughout the Hebrew Scriptures; yet, there is a rather brief discussion of the land as a significant element of Jewish theology. Similarly, other sections of the book suffer a bit from comparatively shorter discussions than books/sections that are themselves shorter. For example, the sections on the major prophets are hardly longer than the sections dealing with each of the 12 individually. Again, I understand that there are restrictions on space—this book clocks in just shy of 800 pages—and authors have to be selective. I do wish that some of the sections were a bit longer and that others were a bit briefer.

There really is no comparison between the second and this newer third edition—it’s practically a complete overhaul. This updated volume is reminiscent of other visually-appealing books in Zondervan’s catalog. Expanded content and stunning visuals set this volume apart not only from its predecessors, but also from many other OT introductions available. While Walton and Hill may not win over everyone (primarily outside of more conservative circles), this work is certainly worthy of consideration and could easily be one of the more sought after OT introductions, especially for students just beginning the journey of study beyond an English translation.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: Toxic Spirituality

Toxic Spirituality: Four Enduring Temptations of Christian Faith by Eric Gritsch

Fortress | Amazon | CBD

Emeritus Professor of Church History at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary Eric Gritsch offers a “reality check” to the church at large concerning four strains of Christianity that have “weakened, indeed abused, the core of Christian tradition.”  Who are these four horsemen who have run roughshod over Christianity’s core and left it a trampled and disfigured mess?  Anti-Semitism, Fundamentalism, Triumphalism, and Moralism.  Gritsch takes on each rider (keeping with the theme) head on, mincing no words and pulling no punches.  The use of the word “toxic” in the title itself gives readers a glimpse of the book’s tone and readers will come away from this book with no doubt the author views these four “temptations” as having poisoned the well from which Christians throughout history have drunk.  At the outset, Gritsch acknowledges that there are other toxic expressions of Christianity that are dangerous (e.g. racism and sexism), but believes them to have their origins in “the cesspool of the four poisons that threaten historical Christianity” (6).

As stated above, Gritsch begins with the notion of anti-Semitism.  With each of these four, he begins with a historical analysis of the birth and development of each, which proves to be a great help, particularly for readers who are not so clear on the history through which the author moves. The author notes writes more of what he calls “anti-Judaism” than pure anti-Semitism, though obviously the former is inextricably bound to the latter. One thing that Gritsch does not do is white wash history–he lays it out in all its ugliness for inspection and interpretation. Gritsch tags such revered early churchmen as Chrysostom and Augustine for their role in at least creating an atmosphere of anti-Judaism and later leaders such as Luther do not escape criticism either. Gritsch also notes the role of supercessionism in the perpetuation of anti-Judaism in the middle ages and beyond. Nazi Germany and the Holocaust are perhaps obvious out-workings of anti-Judaism, but what may be somewhat surprising is the Catholic church’s rather unfortunate cooperation with the Nazis. Though their relationship was not indicative of full blown anti-Semitism, the mere reality of such a relationship is another chapter in the long history of misdeeds by the church. Of course, it wasn’t just the Catholic church that was tangled up in this dark era of European history, but the Protestants as well. The last part of the chapter Gritsch writes essentially that if the apostolic testimony about Christ had been heeded, anti-Judaism perhaps could have been far less prominent. He rightly notes that the NT contains plenty of polemics against particular aspects of first-century Judaism, but nothing that could be considered anti-Semitic (though I am sure plenty would disagree). Given his disavowal of supercessionism, Gritsch holds that the church hasn’t replaced Israel or in any way become the new Israel, but in some mysterious way Israel and the church are both of God’s people and will receive eschatological blessing.

The second chapter concerns fundamentalism and was easily the one I most looked forward to. However, I was quite surprised that Gritsch does not define fundamentalism quite the way I might. I fully expected the discussion to center on KJV-onlyism. What I got was discussion of various evangelicals, their organizations, and the role they played in American church life and politics. Gritsch defines fundamentalism as “an excessive adherence to the literal interpretation of the Bible”, which he says is also know as “bibliolatry” (45). This extreme stance on the bible gave rise to fundamentalism in general and numerous offshoots along various trajectories. Fundamentalism of the evangelical variety prided itself on its desire to separate from the “liberal” wing of Christianity. One aspect of this was what Gritsch calls the “crusade against Darwinism,” a conflict that has been rekindled of late. Any perceived threat to the fundamentals of Christianity, whether Darwin’s theory of evolution or liberal Christianity, was fuel for the fire and fundamentalism thus sought to be wholly separate.

As I mentioned, I was quite surprised that the author did not discuss KJV-onlyism, perhaps one of the best known (or infamous) strains of fundamentalism in modern American Christianity. In addition to the evangelical-political fundamentalism of the 20th century, Gritsch devotes several pages to the discussion of traditionalism, which in turn gave rise to the papacy and Roman Catholic fundamentalism. Let the fun begin! As with evangelicals in the previous section, Gritsch does not tread lightly in his overview of Roman Catholic traditionalism. In Protestant eyes, particularly those of more conservative evangelicals, Roman Catholics are frequently (and unfairly) eyed as suspicious because of the authority given to tradition. Gritsch lasers in on a couple of aspects of RC traditionalism that stemmed from the church’s struggle to define tradition and its role in church governance—the authority of Rome and Marian devotion. The fusing of scripture and tradition by Second Vatican Council as the “single sacred deposit of the Word of God which is entrusted to the church” provokes some Gritsch’s harsher criticism. He claims that Catholic traditionalist fundamentalism gave birth to an unholy Trinity: tradition, Scripture, and the magisterium. Whether evangelical or Catholic, fundamentalism is “an attempt to claim authority over a sacred tradition as an antidote for a society that has strayed from its cultural moorings.” It is “marked by a continual drive for security among anxious believers who feel destined to preserve a certain way of life and thought, grounded in a preferred culture” (77).

Chapter three concerns triumphalism, which Gritsch traces back to the “unholy alliance” of the state and the church initiated under the rule of Constantine and perpetuated by his successors.  Gritsch astutely notes “It is an irony of history that the first political benefactor of Christianity used the title ‘Prince of Peace’ for his ambitious climb to the autocracy” (89). Gritsch continues with an overview of Constantine’s successors and their own quasi-theocratic desires. This breed of Christianity, at least in part, was as oppressive and murderous as extremist sects of Islam are today. Gritsch also give attention to such theocrats as Thomas Müntzer and groups of like-minded folk such as the Anabaptists. The less-theocratic also are discussed, e.g., Calvin, Puritans, Montanists, monastics, Hutterites, etc. Gritsch may be criticized for going after low-hanging fruit in some sections of this chapter; however, the sins committed by Christians throughout history have been fairly well documented and there is little here that will surprise students of Christian history and Gritsch is right to point out some of the more significant people and movements that exemplify what he calls “triumphalism.”

The next chapter concerns moralism, which Gritsch does not so much define as he describes with examples throughout church history, as in the previous chapters. From the seven deadly sins of Pope Gregory I and Dante’s The Divine Comedy to various church councils, from the Enlightenment to the rise of Fundamentalism, moralism is apparently an effort to bring about moral unity among Christians, which ironically enough, tends to happen along denominational or other exclusionary lines.

Chapter five is a concluding section in which the author offers some measure of synthesis and analysis of these dreaded four horsemen whose rampant plodding through Church history have left not only real casualties in the paths they’ve trod, but a damaged witness to those who examine, however briefly, the history of the Church. Gritsch says “Anti-Semitism, Fundamentalism, Triumphalism, and Moralism embody sin in their direct, or indirect, rejection of Christian life as penultimate, and they fall victim to a realized eschatology—as if the hope for the ultimate, eternal life with God in Christ had already been fulfilled. This historical perversion is the most visible symptom of spiritual poisoning” (160).

This being my first read of Gritsch, I must say it was quite good work—astute, brutally honest, and fascinating. Though not without its faults (e.g., I don’t know that I’d quite say that evangelizing Jews is representative of anti-Judaism), Gritsch is spot-on in his analysis of these four elements of Christian history. While other aspects of Christian praxis have likewise morphed into damaging offshoots, Gritsch ably demonstrates the dangers of these four. A great read—plenty of food for thought and prayer here.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: Learn to Read New Testament Greek

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, 3d edition by David Alan Black

B&H | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy!

Of the making of Greek grammars there is no end! Thankfully, as with the seemingly endless production of commentaries, each grammar has the potential to offer unique insights and strategies for learning the language of the New Testament. David Black is an experienced teacher of Greek and the fact that his primer is now in its third edition is a testament to its usefulness for learning the Koine of the NT. Though this update is now five years old, its usefulness has hardly subsided.

One of the most debated elements concerning ancient dialects of Greek is pronunciation. Thanks to Erasmus of Rotterdam, most students learning Greek (at least in the West) adopt the pronunciation scheme he conceived and which was perpetuated by his academic descendants. I myself learned Greek this way and still default to it for the most part; however, I have modified that approach a bit (whether for ill or gain). Black confesses that the scheme adopted in his book (Erasmian) is a compromise between how the letters were probably pronounced and the way they are spelled (2). His approach is largely pragmatic—students will learn each letter with a distinct sound rather than shared sounds (e.g., ο and ω are pronounced with short and long “o” sounds respectively).

Every Greek grammar I’ve read through over the years takes a slightly different path on the way to introducing the various elements of Greek. Once the alphabet is covered, what comes next will depend on the strategy of the book’s author. Here, Black offers a “bird’s-eye” view of the Greek verbal system and introduces the present and future indicatives first, arguably the simplest of Greek forms to learn. Expectedly, he does not delve much into matters of morphology, except when it is necessary to explain changes in form that might be unexpected. Following this brief discussion of present and future active verbs, Black introduces nouns, beginning with the second then first declensions. Following that is adjectives which are then proceeded by remaining verb forms and other primary components necessary to build a foundation upon which more complex matters of syntax and exegesis may be learned. Black’s linguistic knowledge also shows throughout the book, though he keeps such references to a minimum and only includes them when it helps explain. Another helpful element included here is the last chapter in which Black offers helpful suggestions for reading the GNT. After all, the book’s approach is not learning to speak Greek, but to read and understand it and this short chapter is helpful toward that end.

One thing I like about this volume more than others is that it is rather concise. Black provides enough information for the reader to understand the very basics of learning to read Koine Greek and doesn’t belabor points, neither are his pages festooned with sidebars, charts, and other informational tidbits. Looking at Mounce’s third edition, it comes near to information overload. While all is intended to reinforce the section’s most important points, Mounce’s book is distracting at times; Black’s is not—it is simple and to the point. Presumably Black’s volume is intended for classroom use primarily as such brevity throughout is likely meant to complemented by the instruction of a prof/teacher to answer questions not explicitly answered in the book. This could also serve as the book’s primary weakness. If someone interested in learning Greek picked up this volume, I am confident that it would serve them well as a foray into the language, but without supplementary instruction and/or discussion, concision could work against them.

In sum, I think Black’s volume will continue to be a helpful and accessible guide to learning NT Greek. The essential elements of the language coupled with a straightforward presentation without gimmicks and unnecessary verbiage make this an excellent starting point for learning the language of the NT, to which its to which a third edition attests.

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