The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek, reviewed

Handy Guide to GNT

Recently my Greek reading has improved due to spending regular time refreshing my memory on verb paradigms, rules of syntax, and so on. The tool I’ve been using is Douglas S. Huffman’s Handy Guide to New Testament Greek (Kregel, 2012). Huffman’s Handy Guide consists of three parts:

  1. Grammar (“Greek Grammar Reminder: With Enough English to Be Manageable”)
  2. Syntax (“Greek Syntax Summaries: With a Few Helps to Be Memorable”)
  3. Diagramming (“Phrase Diagramming: With Enough Results to Be Motivating”)

“A Select Bibliography” concludes the guide and points beginning, intermediate, and advanced Greek readers to grammar texts, reading resources, diagramming helps, and more.

Handy Guide to New Testament Greek joins a number of similar little books already on the market for reviewing and retaining Koine Greek. There is Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide, a helpful and portable distillation of Mounce’s popular grammar. One might also consider Dale Russell Bowne’s Paradigms and Principal Parts for the Greek New Testament, Paul Fullmer and Robert H. Smith’s Greek at a Glance, and even the back of Kubo’s Reader’s Lexicon for its solid summary of Greek grammar with paradigm charts.

How does Huffman’s offering differ? Unlike Paradigms and Principal Parts or Greek at a Glance, the Handy Guide consists of more than simply verb paradigms or noun declension charts. It includes those, but with accompanying explanation along the way. In this regard it is similar to Mounce’s Compact Guide.

Different from Mounce, however, is the lack of any vocabulary-related helps in Huffman. It’s hard to imagine someone wanting a “handy guide” to “New Testament Greek” who doesn’t also want some treatment of vocabulary, which Mounce’s guide accomplishes nicely with its included brief lexicon. Huffman does include information about how words are formed, in his chart on comparative and superlative adjectives, for example:

Huffman Guide sample

But vocabulary is otherwise absent from the guide.

Part 1, “Greek Grammar Reminder,” covers everything from accents and breathing marks to nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verb declensions. (Verb paradigm charts take up the majority of part 1.)

Huffman’s “Verb Usage Guide” (from part 2) contains a refreshing amount of detail on Greek verbs for such a short guide. For example, he lists 20 categories of participles followed by a “Participle Usage Identification Guide” to help readers of Greek texts determine what kind of participle is at hand. Part 2 also explains noun case usage. His explanations of nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative cases are short, clear, and include plenty of examples with Scripture references.

Where Huffman is really unique (and what makes this guide desirable especially for a second-year Greek student or pastor) is in his part 3 on diagramming. He briefly treats “technical diagramming” (the kind some of us had to do for English in 5th grade–showing syntactical relationships at the word level) and arcing, then moves into a rich, 22-page description of “phrase diagramming,” which looks like this:

Huffman, p. 103 (1 Peter 1:3-4)
Huffman, p. 103 (1 Peter 1:3-4)

The goal of this kind of diagramming is “to grasp the writer’s general flow of thought and argument, which he has expressed in particular words and sentences” (85). Huffman’s eight steps to phrase diagramming explain the process so that even a beginner can understand it well. His “Special & Problem Issues” section is the icing on the cake of part 3.

The guide is truly “handy”; it fits nicely together with a Greek New Testament, so one can keep it close at hand. The color-coding in the paradigms is done well, so that verb endings stand out for an easy refresher course.

An unfortunate and fairly noticeable drawback to this guide, in my view, is in the layout and color scheme. The orange theme, as attractive as it looks on the cover (pictured above), gets to be an eyesore after looking at more than a page or two. It’s too bright to read comfortably, and there are charts with at least four different shades of orange.

When there is Greek in black font (in grammatical category explanations), it looks great. But the Greek in the charts in orange has a fuzzy or slightly blurry, pixelated appearance. There are also quite a few charts that are in landscape orientation (rather than the default portrait orientation), so that the reader has to flip the book sideways. That alone would not be a huge deal, but the orange was distracting to me.

Hopefully there will be demand for future printings, and hopefully future printings will make the layout and fonts more useable. And despite the omission of vocabulary, this guide has great content. Resources on sentence and phrase diagramming for Greek are few and far between, but Huffman’s guide covers that territory well, and having that coupled with quick-reference charts will help just about anyone seeking to retain and improve their biblical Greek.

Kregel sent me a copy of the book for review. Its product page is here, and it’s on Amazon here. The Table of Contents are here (pdf); read an excerpt here (pdf).

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, reviewed

Isaiah 53 is one of the clearest prophecies of Jesus the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. This chapter has changed the lives of thousands of people–both Jews and Gentiles–who have read the text and believed in the One who fulfilled these prophecies in glorious detail.

Thus begins Mitch Glaser’s Introduction in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology (affiliate link). In three parts the book expounds how the prophecies of Isaiah 53 relate to and are ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus. (The full passage the book treats is Isaiah 52:13-Isaiah 53.)

The first section, a sort of exegetical prelude, discusses “Christian interpretations” and “Jewish interpretations” of Isaiah 53. The second section is a biblical theology of Isaiah 53 (with particular attention to its use throughout Scripture). The third and concluding section speaks to “Isaiah 53 and Practical Theology,” with an emphasis on how to preach the passage, both from the pulpit and in conversation.

The book is “designed to enable pastors and lay leaders to deepen their understanding of Isaiah 53 and to better equip the saints for ministry among the Jewish people.”

The first thing I noticed about the book is that it’s just as much an apologetic for Jesus-as-suffering-servant as it is an academic study of Isaiah 53. It’s not that it lacks academic substance, though. This is a meaty book, and pleasingly so.

Regarding the book’s explicitly evangelistic intent–there may be some who are uncomfortable with the description of Chosen People Ministries’ “Isaiah 53 Campaign” (including 75,000 postcards to Jewish homes and 40,000 voice blasts=robo-calls?). I’ll admit that I question the potential efficacy of pre-recorded phone messages for reaching anyone with the Gospel (though God can use anything!). But see blogger Joel Watts for his helpful (refreshing!) take on the blending of the academic and evangelistic enterprises, especially in the context of this book.

You can find a full list of contributors in the table of contents here (pdf). A few names to highlight are Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Darrell L. Bock (one of the co-editors), Craig A. Evans, and Donald R. Sunukjian. I particularly appreciated the book’s treatment of the New Testament use of Isaiah 53. The chapter by Michael J. Wilkins lists the quotations of Isaiah 53 in the NT and additional allusions to it in the Gospels. (He makes a key point, that Jesus himself understood “his mission and death in the light of Isaiah 53.”) Darrell Bock goes in depth with a comparison of the Greek and Hebrew texts of Isaiah 53:7-8, highlighting its use in Acts 8 where Philip explains the passage to the Ethiopian eunuch.

Something to critique in this book is that there were a few generalizations of Jews that I found to be unfair, particularly in the chapter “Using Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism.” Mitch Glaser writes:

I think I can safely say that, in the United States, most Jewish people would recognize Isaiah as the first name of a professional athlete sooner than they would recognize the prophet of biblical literature.

Granted, he is operating from the assumption that “most Jewish people are not Lubavitch, Hasidic, or Orthodox,” but still…. What was more surprising to me: “Most Jewish people do not understand or believe in biblical prophecy” and, “Most Jewish people do not believe in sin.” Glaser does (only later) qualify these with, “We must note that all of the above does not apply to those who hold to traditional Jewish theological positions,” but he would have been better off saying something like “many secular or ethnic but non-religious Jews…” or at least supporting his statements with statistics from surveys rather than anecdotal evidence. Glaser himself is a converted Jew who has a compelling conversion story, but I still found those characterizations to be frustrating. I wonder how helpful such statements could be in advancing an evangelistic cause in conversation with another Jew.

This next thing to highlight may seem a small point to some, but as someone seeking to keep my Hebrew and Greek going, I appreciated the actual Hebrew and Greek fonts throughout the book (i.e., not just transliteration), which are clear and easy to read. I did think, however, about an intended audience of “pastors and lay leaders” who may have desired transliteration, too. (All Hebrew and Greek is translated into English.)

Darrell Bock’s conclusion summarizes all the essays of the book, with key quotations. Having this there was a big help in piecing everything together again. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 will not be far from my reach in coming months and years. I expect I will often reference this compendium of biblical scholarship on a vital text. My hesitations about the characterizations of Jews above notwithstanding, there is a good deal here that can be useful for Christian-Jewish conversations about the Suffering Servant.

I received a free copy of The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 with the only expectations of providing an (unbiased and honest) review on this blog. Its publisher’s product page is here. It’s on Amazon here (affiliate link).

A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Reviewed

Unfamiliar vocabulary proves to be an enduring challenge for students of New Testament Greek. Even students who understand the rules of the language get bogged down having to look up uncommon words while translating. Nevertheless the correct interpretation of many passages of Scripture hinges on the meaning of its rare words.

–Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller, Preface

Vocabulary acquisition is key to being able to read any language, but so is just reading a text straight through. A “reader’s lexicon” or “reader’s Bible” seeks to bridge the gap so students can both improve their vocabulary and engage in a continuous reading of the text. To that end, Kregel Academic and Professional has published A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament by Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller.

But why a new reader’s lexicon when the old one (by Kubo) has been useful to students of the Greek New Testament for so long? That’s been the primary question before me as I’ve reviewed the New Reader’s Lexicon (NRL). Daniel B. Wallace in the preface gives the reasons for this new lexicon:

But as helpful as Kubo was, there were weaknesses. First, it was not updated to the glosses found in the third edition of the Bauer Lexicon (BDAG). Second, there were numerous errors (involving word frequency numbers, omissions of words, inappropriate glosses, etc.) that went uncorrected. Third, the special vocabulary section at the beginning of each book, involving all the words that occurred more than five times in that book but less than fifty times in the New Testament, created its own problems: designed for efficiency of space, it did not prove helpful for efficiency in learning.

While I think Wallace has it right on the first two points, I (sort of) disagree with the third–that list that Kubo offers at the beginning has actually been helpful to me for learning a given book’s vocabulary, since it groups some of that book’s common words together. However, it does mean that words in that beginning list don’t then appear in Kubo’s lexicon throughout the rest of the book. To overcome this, I would make a copy of the list and use it as a bookmark, referring to it often so I didn’t have to keep flipping pages.

Herein lies one area of strength for the New Reader’s Lexicon. There is no common vocabulary list at the beginning of each book (users now can generate those easily enough through Bible software), but it means that every word that occurs less than 50 times in the New Testament is in this lexicon… in the verse in which it appears. So as I’m beginning my way through Mark 6, I can look in the NRL to quickly see that ἐκεῖθεν in verse 1 means “from there.”

To Wallace’s first two points, that the NRL uses the updated BDAG is a great relief–readers now don’t have to guess whether recent advances in lexicography or discoveries of new papyri mean that the word in front of them actually has a slightly different nuance. The NRL updates Kubo here well.

In addition to “concisely defin[ing] in context” each word, the NRL gives statistics for how many times that word appears. (Names and proper nouns are included.) There are up to three numbers listed:

  • How many times the word appears in that given book of the New Testament
  • How many times that word appears “in all canonical works by the traditional author of the book at hand”
  • How many times the word appears in the whole NT

Kubo had the first and third numbers. This second statistic now allows me to see not only how many times ἀνάθεμα appears in 1 Corinthians (twice) and in the NT (six times), but it tells me that five of the six uses of this word in the NT are with Paul.

And here’s where the lexicon is unique and really stands out–in the instance of such a rarely occurring word, it lists cross references, so I can quickly see that the other use of ἀνάθεμα in I Corinthians is at 16:22and that Paul also uses the word in Romans 9:3, Galatians 1:8,9, and that the only non-Pauline NT occurrence of the word is at Acts 23:14.

The NRL truly does improve upon Kubo’s lexicon. It accomplishes its mission quite well.

But don’t take my word for it. I’ve found that what original language resources to own and invest in is often a matter of personal preference and what works best for an individual. If you’re still on the fence about this resource, download a free sample of the lexicon for Colossians here (pdf). Read through Colossians with it in hand and see how it goes. Personally I’ve found this to be an indispensable resource for making my way through the Greek New Testament.

One huge bonus: the book is designed well. The pages are smooth and thick and bright. The font is clear and easy to read. And the binding is sewn! This means it will stand the test of time well, which you’d hope a reference work like this would.

My thanks to Kregel Academic for providing me with a review copy of this book. Find out more about the book at Kregel’s site or look inside on Amazon.

Magnificent Monograph Monday: Review of The Post-Racial Church

Kenneth A. Mathews (Old Testament) and M. Sydney Park (New Testament), professors at Beeson Divinity School, attempt in The Post-Racial Church to “better equip the church in answering why Christians claim that the gospel and the Christian church are the first and last best hope for peace in a racially diverse world” (25).

To help readers understand how churches can more faithfully reflect “the wonder of God’s human kaleidoscope,” they work their way through the arc of the Old and New Testaments to reveal God’s plan for reconciliation. Reconciliation, they believe, “can only be fully and finally achieved by a Savior who redeems and transforms the human state” (57). Their call to racial/ethnic unity in the church is an unabashedly Biblical program. They write, “Genuine unity must be predicated upon a commitment to the Lord God, not based on anything or anyone else. Otherwise, the unity is circumstantial, which means that it is superficial and fragile” (72-73). They ground their call for ethnic unity in the Church firmly in Scripture.

Mathews writes the introduction and chapters 1-4 on the Old Testament, addressing God’s design in creation, his covenant with Noah and then with Abram to bless all nations, as well as God’s heart and provision for the immigrant among the people of Israel. Park traces the New Testament development of the theme of the inclusion of all people in God’s covenant. She explores Jesus’ stories concerning reconciliation, as well as how Biblical characters like James, Peter, and Paul came to grips with a deeper understanding of God’s desire for trans-ethnic unity in the Church.  (Park’s interpretation and application of the Prodigal Son parable opened up new understandings of that story that I had never considered—despite having already heard and read it many times.)

The Post-Racial Church is excellent in the thoroughness with which it treats Biblical texts that have to do with multiethnic reconciliation (and reconciliation more generally). In this sense, it greatly succeeds in being what the book’s subtitle claims it will be: A Biblical Framework for Multiethnic Reconciliation. Even though the introductory chapter clarifies what the authors mean by various terms they use, the phrase “post-racial church” as such is not really explored in the book itself. “Kaleidoscopic Church” or “The Post-Racist Church” would have been more fitting titles for the book. (So if you, like me, express skepticism at a Church or any institution being “post-racial,” don’t let that stop you from checking out this book. The authors don’t actually advance that we be “color-blind” or “ignore race” as part of their thesis.)

On the one hand the book at times felt a bit over-dense (especially the first half). But on the other hand, other books I’ve read about multiethnic church-building or racial reconciliation often give what feels like too short a treatment of Biblical texts on the topic. Mathews’ and Park’s detailed exegesis was in the end refreshing in this sense, and makes a unique contribution to the genre of book into which The Post-Racial Church fits. I also appreciated that they drew on the original Hebrew and Greek to further illuminate the texts they expounded. This made their work even more compelling.

Each chapter concludes with “Thought Provoker” questions, a high point of the book. For example, one question (p. 171) asks,

If loving our neighbors is a critical factor in our discipleship, and if loving our neighbors self-sacrificially serves as the litmus test for our discipleship, does the test prove positive for you and your church?

One could easily use this book in a small group discussion to great effect.

The reader who takes the time to work carefully through the authors’ guided exegetical tour through the Scriptures will be greatly rewarded. If indeed, as Park claims, “the proper understanding of racial reconciliation is possible only in light of God’s saving activity throughout human history,” then those who desire to join God in drawing all people to himself will want to avail themselves to the solid Biblical exposition that the authors provide.

(Per FTC guidelines, I note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for an unbiased review.)