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
| 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