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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On Grief and Eschatology

Concerning Paul’s words in 1 Thess 4:13–18, Linda Bridges says “Paul’s words are intended to create a space for comfort for his grieving friends, not a millennial event chart for eager sky watchers.”1

  1. Linda McKinnish Bridges, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 118.

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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.

Book Review: The Romans and Their World

Review---The-Romans-and-Their-World
The Romans and Their World: A Short Introduction

by Brian Campbell

Yale University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

So much can be and has been said about one of history’s most formidable entities. Thankfully, Brian Campbell has distilled some of the critical times and personas that comprise historical Rome into a relatively brief (248 pages) introductory text that not only provides a chronological accounting of the beginnings of Rome, nor merely a discussion of the powers that built, sustained, and ultimately destroyed her, but provides a glimpse into the lives of its people. This was perhaps my favorite element of the book. I enjoy reading purely historical texts for the sake of learning about people, places, and events of the past, but it’s the stories and accounts of the people that make it most interesting—after all, what is history without people? Campbell provides ample references to the primary sources, though some sections are more amply noted than others. There are also a number of diagrams (mostly related to military issues; some are geographical) interspersed and a handful of photographs that illustrate some aspect of Roman life and culture (these are black and white).

This has served as an immensely helpful text, not only for getting a bird’s-eye view of the Romans, but also as a quick reference guide. Many times I would reach for this volume while reading something else that made a reference to some aspect of ancient Rome so that I could read a little more about it. Campbell’s book is great for such use—it’s not a cumbersome encyclopedia, but neither is it a miniscule handbook. It finds a middle ground between these two and is a perfect reference for those who need a slightly more detailed account or description than provided in a few general sentences. Also, as a student of the NT and its contexts, I found this book to be quite informative about the various exploits of Rome that had immediate impact upon the world of the NT.

In sum, Campbell’s volume will be a great introductory text for readers who want a foray into the illustrious history of Rome—deep enough to inform yet succinct enough to be accessible.

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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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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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New Testament Introductions

As part of preparing for my exams (upcoming next month), I’ve been reading through various NT introductory texts (to the point I’ve grown weary of it!). I don’t know that I’ve read any of them cover to cover, but I’ve read a fair amount of them and have come to like some more than others. Of these many I’ve pored over, such as The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Ehrman, sixth edition), Introducing the New Testament (Drane), New Testament Introduction (Guthrie), The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Metzger), The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles), The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction (Hagner), Into the World of the New Testament: Greco-Roman and Jewish Texts and Contexts by Daniel Lynwood Smith, and Encounter with the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Pregeant), I have to give the nod to The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. While some may balk at this choice for its more conservative bent, it really is a superb volume. Even if you disagree with some of the authors’ interpretations or particular stance on an issue, they have provided fairly substantial arguments for their take on some of the more contentious matters, e.g., Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, apostolic authorship of Matthew, and have made a great effort to treat each book in light of its various contexts. If you haven’t picked up a copy and are looking for a solid NT intro, grab this one (or the abridged version The Lion and the Lamb: New Testament Essentials from the Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown). Read my glowing review of it here.

I’ve also begun reading Kregel’s latest NT intro edited by Berding and Williams–What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About–and it’s looking promising so far. It’s not the same type of intro as those mentioned above, but looks to be quite useful for its intended audience.

What are some of your go-to intros?

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