Saturday, December 4, 2010

Initial Take on Fundamentals of New Testament Greek

Yesterday, to my surprise, I received a package from Eerdmans containing Fundamentals of New Testament Greek Grammar and Workbook by Stan Porter, Jeffrey Reed and Matthew Brook O'Donnell.

One caveat before I begin: I have only spent about an hour looking through the grammar, but here is my initial reaction. This grammar will scare away many a beginning Greek student! To be fair, here is what the authors say in the Preface:

We know that this is a very full, comprehensive, and perhaps even challenging grammar (x).

Part of what makes this grammar different from others is the pace it intends to set in introducing material to the beginning student. One, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, this grammar introduces all Greek words that occur 12x or more, 950 in all. Second, the authors include and introduce the student to a parsing guide before chapter one. For example, word classes such as adjectives (ADJ), article (ART), nouns (NON), particles (PAR), pronouns (PRO), and verbs (VRB) are delineated  followed by a discussion of the particular features of the word classes. In the case of an adjective, the reader is alerted that it belongs to one of four declension patterns, including the elements of comparison (c=comparative, s=superlative). One difficulty with this approach is the fact that most beginning students will not have the faintest idea what a declension is! This is then followed up by examples such as πάντες [1/3ADJ-MNP], " 'all' is the masculine nominative plural form of the adjective form of πᾶς, πᾶσα, πᾶν, which takes the endings of the first and third declensions." (xvii)  Again, if I am a beginning Greek student my head is probably already spinning! The authors may have been better off including these within each chapter when a particular word class is introduced.

Moving on to chapter one, like all Greek grammars we are given the alphabet with both Erasmian and Modern Greek pronunciation cues.  Discussions on breathing marks, vowels, iota subscripts, vowel lengthening and compensation, contraction, crasis, elision, diaeresis follow along with some discussions of consonants, accent rules, enclitic and proclitic words, and finally, punctuation, round out a dense first chapter (1-15).

By no means does the brief glance represent my final judgment on the usefulness of this volume. In fact, I rather like the emphases on an expanded vocabulary, the extended discussion on accent rules (11-14). The authors are well aware of the difficulties this grammar may present the beginning student as the quote above demonstrates. I am not in favor of "dumbing down" the approach to Biblical Greek, but I am concerned that the authors of this volume take care to explain difficult concepts clearly and with appropriate timing, something I am not convinced is accomplished from what I have read thus far.


Nick Norelli said...

I just started flipping through mine minutes before reading your post. I was surprised with some of the early exercises in the workbook. I'm used to Mounce's approach which seems more logical to me (probably because his is what I first encountered) so seeing their exercises threw me for a loop.

Matthew D. Montonini said...

Hey Nick.

I know what you mean. They don't exactly "ease" the student into it. Seems more like a feet to the fire approach to me. They would probably argue that they are proceeding this way in order to raise the bar.

Most students who take Greek are not doing it for the expressed purpose of PhD work. The majority of the students when I was in seminary were MDiv students going into the pastorate. I believe an approach like this runs the risk of scaring the beginning student away even if they are eager to learn Greek.