4 Stars Out Of 5
An Accessible Introduction to Biblical Greek
October 21, 2016
I am reviewing the work Greek for Everyone: Introductory Greek for Bible Study and Application by A. Chadwick Thornhill (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016). Dr. Thornhill is currently the chair of theological studies and assistant professor of apologetics and biblical studies at Liberty University School of Divinity. The parenthetical numbers below will constitute specific references to page numbers in his book.
Chapter 1 discusses overall language learning, and particularly what's involved in acquiring knowledge of ancient Koine Greek. Chapter 2 reviews the big picture of language. What does it take to do effective interpretation of biblical passages? Is "knowing Greek" enough? Maybe one needs to know the "big picture" first. Thornhill defines the "big picture of language" as "words do not have meaning" (11). For instance, the denotation of "cat" or "bank" is established by context. A cat could be a "four-legged feline" or just "a cool guy." The surrounding words, syntax, and literary setting of a term like "cat" will help to ascertain just what the term means. In a word, we need a context or usus loquendi to fill out the big picture of language.
Chapter 3 teaches new Greek students about phrases, clauses, and conjunctions. Thornhill defines the following terms: sentence, subject, predicate, preposition, and phrase. His explanation for prepositional phrases and their objects is brief, but helpful. The account in Greek that Thornhill summons forth to illustrate how prepositions function in Koine Greek is Romans 8:1, 2. To elucidate participial phrases (phrases that contain verbal adjectives), he employs Matthew 8:1 and John 4:10. Finally, to help readers understand infinitive phrases (phrases that contain verbal nouns), we find examples taken from Matthew 5:17 and Philippians 1:21. This chapter includes an enlightening distinction that's made between coordinating conjunctions (paratactic) and subordinating conjunctions (hypotactic).
Learning an ancient language normally takes resources in order to master one's study of the language. Chapter 4 of Greek for Everyone provides some tools that might be helpful, even though not all Greek teachers will agree with some of the recommendations outlined in the chapter. Thornhill appears to have no problem with students employing interlinears: he suggests a number of electronic resources to access free interlinears. John 1:1 is wielded in this case, to illustrate how an interlinear might look. Strong's Concordance numbers are even displayed and said to be "useful" (31). However, Greek purists will undoubtedly demur or look askance at this suggestion. His recommendation for lexicons will probably fare much better. I agree that serious students ought to buy BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature) and Louw-Nida (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains). Furthermore, a new Cambridge Greek-English Lexicon will be published in 2017/2018. Nonetheless, lexicons just like other resources must be utilized judiciously.
Other things that one needs to know about Greek are noun cases. Chapter 6 introduces the nominative accusative, and vocative cases. John 1:1c again finds its way into the discussion, and from the notable text, we learn that the passage has a Greek conjunction, a noun without an article (i.e., a noun used anarthrously and predicatively), a third-person singular stative verb, and a noun coupled with the article, which means that the nominative construction identifies the verb's subject (46).
Greek also has genitive and dative noun cases. Chapter 7 outlines different types of genitives: many examples are supplied to assist the nascent Greek student. What is the difference between subjective genitives and objective genitives? What is a dative of association or a dative of cause? This chapter offers clarifications on this subject, and Thornhill gives a healthy warning about understanding datives and other Greek cases.
There are more chapters that deal with Greek syntax. Chapter 8 covers Greek articles, pronouns, adjectives, and prepositions whereas Chapter 9 switches to (Independent) Indicative-Mood Verbs. Conversely, Chapter 9 reviews (Independent) Imperative-Mood Verbs; speakers employ imperatives to relay commands that could be general or emphasize "some aspect of duration" (87). The chapter, like some of the others, is fairly short by design.
Next comes (Dependent) Subjunctive-Mood Verbs (Chapter 11), (Dependent) Greek Infinitives in Chapter 12, and (Dependent) Greek Participles in Chapter 13. The last-mentioned chapter builds on earlier material regarding participles. Now the student learns about present participles, aorist participles, perfect participles, adjectival participle functions, adverbial participle functions, and verbal participle functions. See Acts 5:41; Ephesians 1:20; 1 Peter 2:18. This summary might sound overwhelming at first, but Greek for Everyone has a way of making complex subjects fairly understandable.
Since I've previously studied many books on Greek morphology and syntax, the part of the book that appealed to me was Chapters 14-18. On these pages, Thornhill returns to the "big picture," discloses how students might compare English translations, explains how to bridge contexts, and how to undertake word studies in a responsible manner. The final chapter attempts to synthesize all of the material presented hitherto. The book also contains appendices, notes, a glossary, and indices.
Greek for Everyone is simply written, accessible, and abstains from being too wordy. Additionally, the author does not fear treading new paths as he endeavors to help students and teachers of Koine Greek.
Baker Books provided my complimentary copy of Greek for Everyone, and they sent the book without expecting me to give a positive review.