Irons, Charles Lee. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2012. 608 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel
In the introduction to the volume, Irons distinguishes his syntax guide from a reader’s guide for the Greek New Testament. In a reader’s guide, vocabulary words under a certain frequency are listed verse-by-verse in order to assist the reader rare words. There are several stand-alone volumes such as Michael Burer’s A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Kregel, 2008) or Zondervan’s A Reader’s Greek New Testament (edited by Richard J. Goodrich, Albert L. Lukaszewski, 2007).
A typical page in this syntax guide will have brief entries highlighting idiomatic phrases, often using modern English Bibles (ESV, NASB, NIV). For example, in Acts 20:20 Irons glosses κατʼ οἴκους as “from house to house.” In Hebrews 10:12, εἰς τὸ διηνεκὲς is glossed as “for all time.”
Second, the guide occasionally identifies syntactical categories. For example, in τῆς πολιτείας is identified as a genitive of separation, citing Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics, 107-8. Not every syntactical category includes reference to a grammar. In Eph 3:8, πάντων ἁγίων is identified as a genitive of comparison without a citation. In John 19:22 γέγραφα is identified as an extensive perfect. In Romans 5:1 the circumstantial participle Δικαιωθέντες is identified as causal, although there are other options.
Fourth, there are occasional helps for identifying forms. In 1 Corinthians 5:13 κρινεῖ is identified as “future (note accent).” Perhaps called this a liquid future would have been helpful (there is a minor variant on this verse with a different accent making the form present).
Fifth, Irons comment on textual critical issues, although the goals of the book prevent the entry going into too much detail. In Romans 5:1 he mentions the famous variant for ἔχομεν (present indicative) vs. ἔχωμεν (hortatory subjunctive). He does not provide witnesses, but cites Metzger’s conclusion. His notes on Galatians 2:4-5 are more detailed, but limited to four options based on syntax rather than textual evidence. He does not mention textual variants for John 7:53-8:11, 1 John 5:8, or the longer ending of Mark.
Following the verse-by-verse syntactical guide are indices of syntactical elements identified in the guide. These include Septuagintisms, foreign words (Aramaic, Hebrew, Latinisms and Semiticisms), discourse structure (asyndeton, coordination, parenthesis and period), and figures of speech (16 varieties). Under “atypical constructions” Irons includes anacoluthon, mixed and difficult constructions, pregnant and rare constructions, solecisms and other “peculiar” constructions. These indices are valuable to teachers of the Greek New Testament for finding examples of various syntactical features.
There is always a danger with a tool like this that it will become a crutch for students rather than a helpful tool. When I took Greek as an undergraduate some students relied on Sakae Kubo’s A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon or The Analytical Greek Lexicon which parsed every verb and noun form in the New Testament. These tools have been largely replaced by Bible software which identifies all grammatical elements of words and can open BDAG with a simple click. What once was a crutch has become more like a mechanized robot suit! These tools enable people with a little Greek to comment on the text more intelligently, but run the risk of giving someone information without understanding. Just knowing a Greek word is in the aorist tense (for example) does not interpret the text. A student needs to be familiar with how an aorist tense verb can be used in a given context in order to shed light on a text.
Irons’s book does not strike me as a crutch, but a helpful guide to some of the syntactical problems a second year Greek student or busy pastor will encounter as they try to make sense of a particular verse in the Greek New Testament. Despite best intentions, most people do not keep up on their Greek after seminary, so a handy book like this will assist reading of the Greek without becoming a crutch.
The book is published to look like a companion to the UBS Greek New Testament. It is the same size and color, although published in hardback on bright white paper for easy reading. Although I would hesitate to recommend it for a student who is currently taking Greek, A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament should be a valuable help for reading the Greek New Testament for those seeking to hone their syntactical skills by reading the Greek Bible closely.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.