Volume 43 - Issue 2

Reading Biblical Greek: A Grammar for Students

by Richard J. Gibson and Constantine R. Campbell

One of the newest additions to the expanding market of Greek grammars is Reading Biblical Greek, an innovative first-year grammar written by Richard Gibson and Constantine Campbell. The main hallmarks of the textbook, Gibson explains, are “clarity, convenience, and currency…. The quest for clarity is reflected in the visual layout…. Convenience accounts for the apparent minimalism of the material…. In terms of currency, the material also seeks to reflect the latest developments in verbal aspect, middle lexical forms, and other issues without burdening the beginner with detailed discussions better suited to intermediate-level study” (p. vii).

In addition to the textbook, Zondervan has also published a corresponding DVD set containing a brief overview of each lesson as well as a workbook designed to be used alongside of the grammar. Rather than students translating an eclectic assortment of New Testament passages or sentences that have been invented by the authors, the workbook divides the Greek text of Mark 1–4 into small units which students systematically translate as they make their way through the main textbook. In addition to the text of a portion of Mark’s Gospel, each section in the workbook provides grammatical helps and a list of vocabulary words that have not been previously introduced.

The volume is organized in a noticeably different fashion than the majority of grammars currently in print. Rather than a single chapter designated for each major grammatical subject, Gibson and Campbell divide the material into 83 short lessons, the majority of which are placed on a single, extra-wide page (some lessons are divided and placed on two pages). For most lessons, the material is divided into three columns, though some contain only two. In the first column the authors introduce the selected subject with a short explanation of key concepts and the fundamental grammatical rules. The objective of this column is to provide the reader with essential information relating to a specific grammatical topic (e.g., periphrastic participles) rather than a general subject (e.g., participles). The second column includes information that should be memorized such as essential grammatical rules or the paradigms of verbs and nouns. The third column contains example sentences designed to illustrate the selected topic and/or exercises intended to improve comprehension. The exercises are varied but often include brief translation assignments, parsing, or the formation of various word forms.

Roughly 450 vocabulary words are introduced and divided into 30 lists designed to be introduced at specific points in the book. Because the textbook is structured in such a way so as to enable students to begin translating the text of Mark 1–4 as quickly as possible, much of the vocabulary was selected due to its placement in Mark’s Gospel or because it relates in one way or another to a particular grammatical subject. Rather than interspersing the vocabulary throughout the main text, the vocabulary lists are placed in one section at the end of the book along with answer keys to the exercises and several helpful tables that contain summaries of the pertinent grammatical information introduced throughout the volume.

What might be considered the strengths and weaknesses of the textbook is of course a matter of personal perspective. The book’s innovative approach, layout, and organization, however, should be apparent to all readers. The work is clearly not a simple repackaging of existing grammars. Rather, Gibson and Campbell have produced a unique grammar that allows students to engage with the Greek text at an impressively early stage in their studies. Each lesson is clearly-written, well-organized, and user-friendly. Another strength of the volume is that it is up-to-date on current debates relating to linguistic and grammatical matters within the field of Greek studies (e.g., verbal aspect and the middle voice).

Although the volume is perhaps less intimidating than many other first-year grammars, some may find that at times it could have offered a more substantive explanation of a given topic or that it could have provided more example sentences. In several lessons, only a few example sentences were offered to illustrate grammatical subjects that are foundational and/or known for their complexity. Instructors, of course, may certainly supplement the material found in the textbook during classroom sessions. However, some readers, particularly those studying independently, may find the number of illustrations and examples to be a bit limited.

One of the more unique features of the volume is the large number of chapter divisions, or what the textbook refers to as lessons. Most introductory grammars tend to contain between 20–35 chapters, far fewer than the 83 individual lessons in this volume. Some readers may find this feature of the book to be helpful, given that it makes each lesson more manageable and less formidable. Others, however, may conclude that it is more effective and/or efficient to introduce major grammatical subjects in a single chapter, given that it allows the reader to learn a new topic in a less fragmented manner. Rather than a single dedicated chapter on a particular subject such as infinitives or the subjunctive mood, the volume introduces specific components of the subject as they become pertinent to the student’s study of Mark 1–4. Participles, for example, are introduced in Lesson 40 and are developed more fully in Lessons 54, 59, 78, and 79.

Although the structure and methodology of the volume may not appeal to all readers, many will undoubtedly find Reading Biblical Greek to be a helpful and valuable introduction to the study of the Greek language. The authors are to be commended for developing a unique approach that allows students to engage the text of the New Testament remarkably early in their studies while learning the various components of the language in an accessible format.

Benjamin Laird

Benjamin Laird
Liberty University
Lynchburg, Virginia, USA

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