In many ways I feel like the ideal candidate for this book, I studied Greek in college and seminary, but most of my classes were a long time ago and very little touched on what Campbell describes as “modern.” In addition, unlike many Greek students, I also studied linguistics (both Functional and Generative) as well as discourse grammar, so I have a better background than most for judging Campbell’s conclusions in various areas. In short, his book is an incredibly helpful primer to get a basic understanding of where things stand currently in the Biblical Greek world. It will not go as deep as some would like it too, but it will definitely give you the lay of the land and point you in the right direction for further study.
The book is divided into ten chapters and it seems helpful to follow that division since each chapter, while interdependent, does stand on its own.
The first chapter is a survey of Greek studies from the 19th century to the present. He calls it a “short history” and you should take him at his word. Most people and developments receive a paragraph or two…if you are lucky you might get a page, but don’t expect more than that. I would have liked at little more information on A.T. Robertson. More information on Porter and Fanning would also have been nice, but a whole chapter is devoted to aspect theory so I can’t complain there.
In the second chapter Campbell spends more time than I would have expected on linguistic theories. Back when I first studied Greek and Linguistics there was very little crossover pollination between the two disciplines. Evidently a lot has changed in the last twenty years and I am greatly encouraged by the amount of time Campbell takes to explain Functional Grammar and show how it has practical implications for exegetical work especially the concepts of markedness and choice.
The third chapter deals with changes that have impacted our understandings of the words themselves. Here as elsewhere, Campbell gives a helpful but brief background of the theoretical aspects. So when it comes to lexical semantics one gets a nice brief survey of the field before discussing more concrete issues like BDAG and Louw and Nida’s semantic domain-based lexicon.
It is here in the fourth chapter (Deponency and the Middle Voice) that I was first made aware of a discussion that I wasn’t even aware had taken place. I had used Louw and Nida’s lexicon in Bible translation in North Africa and while pursuing further studies at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary I was made aware of Porter and Fanning’s work, but I had never even heard of this controversy. And that is one of the reasons why this book really is helpful for bringing people like me up to speed on the conversations that are taking place in the Biblical Greek world.
The fifth chapter was the one that I was most interested in before reading the book. As Campbell notes, “Verbal aspect has been the most controversial issue within Greek studies in the last twenty-five years.” For those like me who know a little about the controversy or perhaps even for those who know next to nothing about it…this chapter serves as an excellent introduction to the history of the controversy and a summary of the key issues and the people who are at the center of this discussion. Controversies about Greek can seem arcane at times, but this issue has significant practical implications concerning how the NT should be read at times and knowledge about this issue will enable one to read NT commentaries more critically especially those that don’t reference this issue at all. Most importantly, just like at the lexical level, the interpreter needs to be much more aware of the context than simply arguing that a specific contextless form means something. And like the other chapters, Campbell provides more than enough material for those who want to go further.
Chapter 6 deals with Idiolect (author style), Genre and Register. Although I would think these issues would be significant throughout the whole NT canon (for instance compare register differences between Galatians, I Corinthians and Romans), Campbell argues that these have been most fruitfully used in studying the Gospels. Noticing the differences in the use of the perfect indicative among the various Gospel writers should cause one to pause before drawing too many conclusions from the mere use of the form itself. Particularly in John, stylistic concerns may be trumping grammatical ones thus the macro context of the author needs to play a part in the the discussion as well as the micro context.
Chapter 7 deals with Discourse Analysis according to Halliday. Upon first receiving this book and looking through its table of contents I was very pleased to see that Greek studies had begun to take Discourse Grammar seriously. This is in significant contrast to the Greek grammar that I had been taught that rarely acknowledged anything above the level of a sentence. For Halliday, cohesion–how a text sticks together, is critical. Halliday mentions various means such as conjunctions (probably the most obvious one), reference (pay attention to the pronouns used), ellipsis, and lexical cohesion. While Halliday’s approach has much to offer, the fact that it was initially developed for English does limit it at times.
Chapter 8 continues looking at Discourse Analysis through the eyes of Levinsohn and Runge (a disciple of Levinsohn). Levinsohn’s approach is both Functional and eclectic (he’ll take useful concepts from anywhere). The fact his approach is Functional means that every linguistic choice has meaning (but, note that sometimes that choice has to do with idiolect, register and genre). Discourse grammar is especially important in narrative genres for the purpose of background and highlighting information or characters. This is impossible to deal grammatically at the sentence level and shows the importance and the added value that discourse grammar can bring to NT studies.
As a user of Logos, I was especially pleased to see Campbell take a look at Runge’s contributions to NT studies. Both his textbook Discourse Grammar and his Discourse Greek NT (which shows how he applies his principles to the complete NT text).
Chapter 9 deals with Pronunciation…your mileage will vary depending on your interest in this area. To be honest, I am of those who see the pronunciation of a “dead” language as basically irrelevant.
Chapter 10 deals with the preeminently practical topic of teaching and learning Greek. One of the new ways of teaching Greek is to do it through immersion. To be honest, I am not completely convinced that immersion is helpful for learning Greek. In my experience (I learned French through an immersion program of several months in Quebec), immersion is great when it comes to oral language…but it only takes you so far and then there is still the need for disciplined study of the grammar of a language.
In conclusion, this is a very helpful book for those like me that have studied Greek, but aren’t aware of all the latest developments. I could also see it being used in a second year Greek course as an introduction to movements that are taking place right now. Either way it is an excellent introduction and for those who desire, it gives you a map and the compass setting to go further in whatever area you would like to go.
Thanks to Zondervan and Net Galley for providing me a free electronic copy of this text for the purposes of this review.