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.

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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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Behold?

Just a quick question for those who take joy and pleasure in the art/science of translating–how do you typically translate ἰδού? I’ve been working through Matthew and it shows up frequently (as it does in the other synoptics) and my tendency is to default to the age-old “behold.” Do any of you translate it differently? I like “Look!”, but I’m not beholden (see what I did there?) to either. In English it’s a strange stylistic thing for me and maybe that’s why I get hung up on it, but I guess for the Gospel writers, it was part of the lingo.

Thoughts?

On Pronouncing Greek

Like the majority of NT Greek students who began their journey with Koine Greek in a theological seminary, I was introduced and reared on the Erasmian scheme of pronunciation. I learned it, practiced it, and reinforced it over the years since I first cracked open Mounce’s intro text. However, more recently, I’ve made it a point to move to a modern scheme of pronunciation and now that I’ve been doing this for a little while now, I can hardly bear to listen to Greek fed through an Erasmian meat grinder. It’s been challenging to unlearn the way I “spoke” Greek for all these years, but it has been a rewarding practice and I can read more fluidly than I could several months ago. Admittedly, it’s hard to let go of something that was in place for so long and I still lapse back into it when I encounter particular diphthongs and the like.

I know there is considerable back and forth about which one is more correct, but it seems much more plausible that the modern scheme would be more akin to the ancient way rather than what Erasmus came up with. Nevertheless, I can think of one useful aspect of Erasmian Greek pronunciation—it can be helpful for more technical analysis of grammar, morphology, etc. For example, if a morphological change involves an ω and an ο (can’t think of an example right off hand), the Erasmian way would make an noticeable distinction in pronunciation between these vowels whereas the modern way would not. In such cases, this is helpful because the difference is one that we can hear and, presumably, this would help in identifying the change that has occurred. The same goes for the various Greek letters and diphthongs that have a long “e” sound. Now, this is easily countered by arguing that if one truly knows the language, phonological similarity would be less important because one would know the changes that occurred. I would think that in most cases, a vowel change would be accompanied with other changes since Greek is a highly inflected language.

Despite what pedagogical value Erasmian pronunciation may have, the most appealing factor for me in adopting the modern pronunciation is the way it sounds. Even listening to Erasmian Greek from someone who is very proficient sounds much clunkier and labored than modern.

The one thing that concerns me about all of this is entering the teaching side of things (which I ultimately plan to do). As far as I’ve seen, many seminaries employ Erasmus’ scheme, so what would I do in that case? What if other profs in the department teach pronunciation this way and I go the other? I could see where this would cause problems for students. I suppose in this scenario, I would go with whatever the others do for the sake of continuity.

Have any of you encountered this? What did you do?

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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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