Book Review—A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament

A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament
by Charles Lee Irons
Kregel | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the good folks at Kregel for this review copy!
Kregel continues to provide very helpful volumes on the many avenues of studying Greek—the various reader’s lexica (NT [Burer and Miller], Apostolic Fathers [Wallace], LXX [Jobes]), textual criticism (Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament), and now syntax of the GNT—enter the new volume by Charles Lee Irons. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate that this volume measures up identically to Comfort’s volume. Aesthetical considerations are always important to me—who among us doesn’t appreciate the visual bliss of seeing the Loeb Classical Library series arranged just so? However, as I’ve noted before, it’s what’s on the inside that makes most books worth your investment, so on to the content.

Irons states that the primary purpose of this book, obviously deduced from the title, is to “assist readers of the Greek New Testament by providing brief explanations of intermediate and advanced syntactical features of the Greek text” (7). He further states that this volume doesn’t merely duplicate other works, such as the aforementioned reader’s lexicon by Burer and Miller or the reader’s edition of the GNT (those by Zondervan and DBG), but rather to build upon them. The goal is to help readers “make sense of the Greek text at a level of linguistic communication one step higher than the word to the syntactical level of the phrase, clause, or sentence” (7). All of this is geared toward the ultimate goal of facilitating the regular reading of the Greek text, which in turn (it is hoped) will lead reading of larger sections of Greek text (8). So, the question then is, does this book accomplish the intended goal/s? In sum, yes—these goals are met (to varying degrees depending on the reader).

The book proceeds through the text canonically, so no genre-oriented groupings or other arrangement schemes. Each canonical book is likewise handled sequentially in terms of the verses addressed—Irons goes one verse at a time. This is expected since the goal is to provide information about syntactical features present in a particular text rather than offer commentary or extended exegetical discussions. Each verse, then, follows a standard format—location (book chapter and verse number), Greek text in which the element discussed if found, brief explanation of said element, and various parenthetical references (this depends of the nature of the element at hand). The entries vary in length and detail depending on the complexity of the particular element in question. For example, Irons notes in Matt 1:1 the following:

Matthew 1
1:1
| Βίβλος γενέσεως ’Ι. Χρ. – nom. abs. (W 49–50); allusion to “the book of the generations” (LXX Gen 2:4; 5:1)

Perhaps (roughly) half of the entries throughout the volume provide this level of detail (here the “W” refers to Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics). Other entries provide substantially more information, such as the notes on Matt 1:18:

1:18 | δέ = “now” (W 674) | οὕτως ἦν = “took place in this way” (ESV), “was as follows” (NASB), adv. functioning as adj. (BDF §434(1); BDAG οὕτως 2) | μνηστευθείσης … gen. abs. (“after his mother 1:18 Matthew 2 : 1 22 A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament Mary had been betrothed to Joseph”) | Subject of εὑρέθη is same as the noun of the gen. abs. (Mary), which is unusual (BDF §423(4)) | πρὶν ἤ = “before,” the Ionic/Koiné equivalent of πρίν in Attic (see BDAG); on πρίν + inf., see BDF §395; W 596 (cp. Matt 26:43, 75); “before they came together [in marriage]” (BDAG συνέρχομαι 3) | εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα = “she was found to be with child,” εὑρίσκω + supplementary ptc. (BDF §416(2))

This is the pattern throughout the entire book and, in my opinion, is a great plus for this volume. Irons’ organization of the material makes it as easy as possible for readers to find information on a particular text, but also is arranged (akin to the textual apparatus in the UBS5/NA28) in a manner that keeps one element distinguishable from another. It’s also worth noting the useful element found in the back matter—the subject index. Here, Irons provides a list of numerous syntactical elements, all arranged alphabetically. For example, under the group “DISCOURSE STRUCTURE,” Irons includes asyndeton, coordination for subordination, parenthesis, and period. For each of these examples, he provides a reference to a text in which that particular element appears. While obviously not an exhaustive list of syntactical examples, those listed are plentiful and will provide a most helpful guide to locating them in the Greek NT.

Doubtlessly, some will disagree with a particular categorization of one thing or another; however, I would be surprised if those disagreements numbered beyond the point at which the book is useful. If that’s the case, then certainly other volumes are available that will meet whatever needs this one does not. Suffice it to say, Irons has provided a most helpful resource for those looking for something to help them grapple with (and ultimately understand) various syntactical elements in the Greek NT. It will not supplant texts whose design is to be more thorough and exhaustive (e.g., Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics; BDF); it will, though, serve as a handy reference to the less intensive task of reading the text.

Read an excerpt here.

Αυτω η δοξα

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: James in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament

James (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament)

B&H | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Broadman & Holman for this review copy! I received this copy free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.

At first sight of this new series from B&H I wondered if this were simply going to be another commentary series. In part, it serves much of the same purpose as a commentary, though slightly different. While there are features present that you could certainly find in most commentaries, e.g., brief introductory discussions of date, authorship, structure, etc., there are a couple of primary differences that distinguish this series from a typical commentary.

First, these volumes are almost strictly exegetical in nature. As the series title suggests, each volume concerns the various elements that constitute exegesis of a text, though exegesis in reality involves a number of factors beyond what is presented in these volumes. The primary exegetical focus here is grammatical-syntactical and foregoes many of the elements found in traditional commentaries. Here, Vlachos discusses virtually every significant and/or difficult syntactical question, provides evidence for his interpretation, and surveys other sources to demonstrate how a particular clause, word, or other syntactical element is handled. There is little theological, historical, or other information provided, save for the instances in which historical usage helps explain a particular element.

Second, this volume (and each in the series presumably) also provides a short list of works one might consult for further study. While this is not uncommon in commentaries, these are slightly different because they are arranged thematically, rather than as simply a list of commentaries on the book of James. In addition, pastors and teachers will benefit somewhat from the inclusion of homiletical suggestions at the end of each section.

In sum, this is a very handy volume for those working through books of the NT. If you’re looking for a volume that discusses matters outside of grammar, you’ll need to look elsewhere; however, if syntax is your focus, this volume will be a handy addition to your library.

Read a sample here.

Αυτω η δοξα

Book Review: New Testament Greek Intermediate

New Testament Greek Intermediate: From Morphology to Translation by Gerald L. Stevens

Lutterworth Press | Amazon | CBD

Many thanks to the kind folks at Lutterworth Press for this review copy! I received this book in exchanged for an unbiased review.

This book is somewhat special to me, so let me explain. My foray into Koine Greek actually started with greater fondness for Hebrew. When I began my MDiv back in 2001, my first language class was Hebrew. Naturally, since it came first, I initially enjoyed studying it more than Greek. When I took my first Greek class, my schedule was such that I usually had to leave class a little early, so I always felt like I was rushing. My professor, though, was a wonderful instructor who usually had some imaginative rubric or associative gimmick to help us remember elements of Greek grammar. That prof was Dr. Gerald Stevens, who is also the author of this book. Dr. Stevens has also written an introductory grammar (here), the pre-published version of which he had us use as our first-year grammar text. It was a behemoth—spiral bound and rather unwieldy, yet I lugged it to and from and wore sections of it out. I remember as part of his proofreading process, he would pay us a dollar for every error we found. I found several along the way, but never reported them (I had forgotten by class time). All that to say, Dr. Stevens was instrumental is helping me “come around” to an interest in Greek, which would ultimately burgeon into my love for it today.

Now, on to the review at hand. Stevens states at the outset that the genesis of this work was “the need to bridge the gap between an initial foray into New Testament Greek by the beginning student and the full-blown analysis of advanced courses that focus primarily or exclusively on syntax” (xxi). Stevens provides four primary purposes for this work: this text is meant as a “leveler” for students of varying backgrounds and differing degrees of exposure to Greek. There is obviously an assumption of previous exposure to/work with Greek language—it is an intermediate after all. Second, Stevens desires that this text will help review all of Greek grammar (limited of course to the Hellenistic period and texts of the NT). Third, Stevens wishes to broaden the horizons of first-year or minimally-exposed students of Greek to more authors of the NT works and provide more contextual support for understanding the selections provided throughout. Fourth and finally, Stevens sets out to expand the student’s vocabulary. So, was Stevens successful in accomplishing these desired ends?

In general, yes—Stevens is nothing if not thorough. This book, like most grammars, is laden with tables, charts, and various other inserts designed to provide visuals for the information discussed throughout. As indicated by the book’s subtitle, this work incorporates a lot of information concerning morphology. I find morphology rather interesting, but not all students will find this information all that enjoyable. Nevertheless, I think it’s helpful to know how words are formed and why certain forms behave the way they do, so I appreciate this element. Some might note that Stevens’ discussion of case function is comparatively brief and that his categories of function are incomplete. Having cut my teeth on Wallace’s advanced grammar, I could sympathize with this initially. However, Wallace could just as easily be criticized for over-categorization of case functions. I do think that more functions of the cases could have been discussed. On the genitive case, for example, Stevens only lists subjective, objective, and ablative functions. Presumably this stems from the belief that many of the ablatival functions (separation, origin, source, etc.) are subsumed under that functional category and thus would be unnecessarily redundant to list them separately. The disadvantage here, of course, is that if you list them separately there is a risk the student could easily be overwhelmed by the number of potential options; on the other hand, the advantage is the opportunity to nuance functions more precisely, though attempts at precision can quickly get out of hand.

Stevens essentially devotes mostly equal amounts of space to non-verbal elements and the verbs themselves, both together comprising the bulk of the book. Appendixes include a glossary, noun and verb paradigms, principal parts, a list of lexical middle verbs, exercise answer key, vocab lists, a list of English words derived from Greek, and a subject index. Like other grammars (particularly those beyond introductory level), this work is data intensive, meaning that there is quite a lot of information to process. If I were a student who was only minimally knowledgeable of Greek grammar, this volume would be rather intimidating (as would Wallace and others). On the other hand, it’s helpful that Stevens provides practice sections at the end of each chapter to help the student review the knowledge presented in that chapter and to practice using that information to work through relevant exercises.

One minor criticism I will levy is while I find the charts and tables helpful, some of the discussions are a bit more cumbersome to work through, but I suppose any scholar is hard pressed to present grammar and morphology in a way that isn’t dry to some degree.

Another very minor issue is that the overall aesthetic of the book is not terribly appealing. The pages are off-white, which is perfectly fine and rather standard, but it just doesn’t look so great. With so many pages being table- and chart-heavy, it makes for a somewhat dull presentation. Also, the cover is bland—it looks computer generated and is not appealing. Obviously a book’s worth is measured in its contents and the reaction/response provoked in the reader and these minor criticisms concerning the aesthetics are perhaps a result of my own preferences, but something I thought I’d mention.

In sum, I do like Stevens’ book–it’s helpful, thorough, and readable enough that students would gain more benefit than they wouldn’t. Grammar texts are not novels and thus can’t be read as such. I think if this book is used as a reference tool, then the benefits will be reaped in due course. If I were a professor, would I use this text in a class? Probably not, but that is less a criticism of the book and more a reflection of my own preferences.

Αυτω η δοξα

Paul’s Revelation

I was reading/translating through Galatians this morning and I happened upon this little grammatical ambiguity in 1:12.

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου παρέλαβον αὐτὸ οὔτε ἐδιδάχθην, ἀλλὰ διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

The phrase in question is διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Does Paul mean that he received the gospel at his conversion on the road to Damascus (subjective genitive; by implication the time following that initial encounter) or is he referring to the gospel as it had been circulated throughout his neck of the woods (objective), so to speak? Could it be both? It’s been a long time since I’ve studied Galatians in any depth, so I don’t recall the discussions here. It’s only a minor point in the scheme of the letter, but I was curious how you all might interpret it. Thoughts?

Αυτω η δοξα

The Grammatical Mess of 1 Cor. 5:3-5

If you’ve worked through the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, you know what a grammatical mess it is to sort out. Here’s the text:

3 ἐγὼ μὲν γάρ, ἀπὼν τῷ σώματι παρὼν δὲ τῷ πνεύματι, ἤδη κέκρικα ὡς παρὼν τὸν οὕτως τοῦτοκατεργασάμενον

4 ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου [ἡμῶν] Ἰησοῦ, συναχθέντων ὑμῶν καὶ τοῦ ἐμοῦ πνεύματος σὺν τῇ δυνάμειτοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ,

5 παραδοῦναι τὸν τοιοῦτον τῷ Σατανᾷ εἰς ὄλεθρον τῆς σαρκός, ἵνα τὸ πνεῦμα σωθῇ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦκυρίου.

The grammar of 1 Corinthians 3-5 is notoriously difficult. There are various suggestions as to how one should construct this text:

  1. ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι modifies συναχθέντων and σὺν τῇ δυνάμει modifies παραδοῦναι
  2. both ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι and σὺν τῇ δυνάμει go with συναχθέντων
  3. both ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι and σὺν τῇ δυνάμει go with παραδοῦναι
  4. ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι modifies παραδοῦναι and σὺν τῇ δυνάμει goes with συναχθέντων.

Construction one makes sense in that gathering together would naturally be so in the name of the Lord, but as Garland notes, when they did gather together it was always in the name of the Lord, thus such a construction would seem unnecessarily redundant.[1] This, of course, doesn’t preclude the unnecessary use of phrases for the sake of emphasis. Fee notes that this construction also suffers from the fact that σὺν rarely functions instrumentally, and never so in Paul.[2]

By sandwiching συναχθέντων with ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι and σὺν τῇ δυνάμει (as in construction two), the focus then seems to be on συναχθέντων.  While there is some emphasis on their gathering together, the primary focus is on their collective action regarding the man in question, not so much on the gathering itself.

Construction three makes sense conceptually, but seems unlikely because the prepositional phrases are so far from παραδοῦναι.

Construction four places ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι as the modifier of παραδοῦναι and συναχθέντων is modified by σὺν τῇ δυνάμει.  The problem here is again the prepositional phrase σὺν τῇ δυνάμει  is too far removed from παραδοῦναι, plus the noted objection that σὺν never occurs instrumentally in Paul.

I wonder if there is a possibility that the entire phrase συναχθέντων ὑμῶν καὶ τοῦ ἐμοῦ πνεύματος σὺν τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ could modify the infinitive παραδοῦναι.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason


[1] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 164. Garland notes the three other genitive absolutes in the letter, all of which include a prepositional phrase that comes after the participle and pronoun (4:18; 11:18, 20).

[2] Fee, Corinthians, 206, n.46.

Hebrew Grammar

Yesterday, I received my copy of Duane Garrett’s A Modern Grammar for Classical Hebrew. I have only used a handful of intro grammars for Hebrew (The First Hebrew Primer by Simon, Motzkin and Resnikoff; Biblical Hebrew: Step by Step by Menahem Mansoor; Biblical Hebrew Grammar by Bailey and Strange) and this is my favorite one thus far.

My initial positives of the book are its layout (typeset is not crowded, large pages) and the employment of what Garrett calls “diglot weaves.” These are sentences or clauses that have Hebrew words/phrases inserted into largely English sentences/clauses. They really are helpful for learning the language and especially for brushing up on forgotten vocabulary and verb/noun forms.

For what it’s worth, I recommend this grammar. As I stated here, I would have preferred to have the new edition, but was too impatient to wait for July!

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Hebrew Grammar

I decided to purchase a new Hebrew grammar so that I could shore up some weaknesses in my Hebrew skills. I narrowed the field to four volumes:

Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Second Edition by Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt

A Modern Grammar for Classical Hebrew by Duane Garrett.

Introducing Biblical Hebrew by Allen P. Ross

Learn Biblical Hebrew by John H. Dobson

After reading numerous reviews, I decided on Duane Garrett’s A Modern Grammar for Classical Hebrew. I wanted to purchase Brian Webster’s The Cambridge Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, but it will not be available until the summer, and I don’t want to wait that long.

Have you any thoughts on Garrett’s grammar?

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason