Students in biblical exegesis courses sometimes defend their interpretations of a Scripture passage by citing a lexicon that allows them to define a key word in a particular way. They look over the lexicon’s definitional entries as if considering a menu, and they simply select the option most fitting to their tastes. This simplistic exegetical usage is not, of course, the intention of New Testament Greek lexicons. But can lexicons be constructed in such a way as to discourage this cafeteria-like utilization? Modern linguistic studies have much to offer in addressing this perennial problem, so says Todd Price in this revision of his London School of Theology PhD dissertation written under the supervision of Max Turner.
Price utilizes the overlapping disciplines of computational linguistics (applying computer technology to the study of language), computational lexicography (applying computer findings to dictionary writing), and corpus linguistics (collecting and grouping texts for linguistic research). While easily distinguishable (cf. pp. 2–3), these disciplines can be so intertwined in their application that Price simply uses “CL” to refer to any and all of them. Taking his cues from the extensive work of structural lexicology in English and from the initial work of Matthew Brook O’Donnell in New Testament Greek (Corpus Linguistics and the Greek of the New Testament, New Testament Monographs 6 [Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2005], see esp. 314–96), Price argues that the use of the CL disciplines will greatly improve accuracy in determining the sense of words in the Greek New Testament. A word or phrase can mean something different when it is present with certain other words (collocations), when it is used in certain grammatical structures (colligations), and/or when it is used with clusters of terms in the same domain (semantic preference) (p. 5). Price aims to demonstrate that New Testament exegetes can use CL to examine the structure of a given passage and how the word or phrase in question is used in other comparable literature so as to decide between competing word senses or at least to narrow down the possible word senses.
To illustrate this, Price takes his readers through the process of examining σύν and συνίστημι, investigating the nuances of their occurrences in the New Testament by way of comparison with their uses in a large body of other Greek literature. “CL is based upon the premise that careful, systematic investigation of a well-chosen corpus is essential for observing the behavior and sense of lexical items” (p. 24). So for examination of New Testament meanings, Prices begins with Greek texts dated between 200 BCE and 200 CE plus the Septuagint, amounting to 177 full texts. He expands this primary corpus of comparative texts with an additional 161 texts (mostly Plutarch’s) in a secondary corpus. These corpora are pulled together for electronic access using the texts from the Perseus Digital Library and Logos Bible Software. In laying out his comparative word studies on σύν and συνίστημι, Price demonstrates the value of his CL approach by discussing its exegetical significance for several New Testament passages (e.g., 1 Cor 5:4; 10:13; 2 Cor 4:14; 8:19; 13:4; Gal 5:24; Col 1:17; 3:9; 1 Pet 2:19). A website accompanying the book offers downloadable spreadsheets with all the concordance data for these sample word studies (see https://structurallexicology.wordpress.com).
At times Price seems somewhat conflicted about CL. He refers to it as a “new” or “novel” discipline (pp. 7, 15), and yet he traces its history back as far as the year 1262 (p. 7); he complains that CL “has yet to catch on in biblical studies” (p. 15; cf. pp. 17–18), and yet he notes that Cruden “seemed generally aware of the importance of collocations and phraseology” in his 1737 concordance of the English Bible. Of course, the invention and application of computers in the twentieth century has brought a whole new face to CL “in the modern sense of the word” (p. 9). While necessarily touched upon (cf. pp. 29–30), somewhat lacking is Price’s analysis of the computer resources currently available for CL approaches to biblical studies (see now Stanley E. Porter, “Analyzing the Computer Needs of New Testament Greek Exegetes,” in Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015], 29–46).
While laid out like a dissertation, this volume is more accessible than many in this genre; nevertheless, a general interest in linguistics is helpful for enduring the theoretical half (chs. 1–4). Conversely, the application of the method in the second half of the book (chs. 5–8) is so user-friendly that a reader could beneficially begin here. The book suffers from several typographical matters, a few layout issues, and a couple errors of fact, but these do not interfere with the main argument. Those who read footnotes may be frustrated that this volume departs from the guidelines of The SBL Handbook of Style and uses short-form bibliographic entries even for first-mention items.
In the end, this volume is a helpful introduction to the CL disciplines of corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, and computational lexicology. The vocabulary that CL provides is helpful for discussing word study methodology; indeed, having more precise vocabulary can improve a discipline. But it is important to note that “applying corpus linguistics for word sense possibility delimitation using collocational indicators” is really not all that new in biblical studies. Rather than introducing something new to New Testament investigation, this book demonstrates a computerized method for conducting word studies in the manner that has been responsibly engaged long before computers. Nevertheless, following Price’s advice will help scholars more quickly, more thoroughly, and more accurately—which are the advantages of computers—determine word and phrase meanings or at least (more modestly) narrow the possible meanings for particular terms in the New Testament. We can only hope that future New Testament Greek lexicons will find ways to encourage their users to follow this methodology.