Book Review: John D. Schwandt, An Introduction to Biblical Greek

Schwandt, John D.  An Introduction to Biblical Greek: A Grammar with Exercises (Revised Edition). Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 497 pp.; Hb.  $23.99  Link to Lexham Press

This new Introduction to Biblical Greek is in many ways not new. Schwandt bases his introduction on H. P. V. Nunn, The Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913). This has been done before: J. W. Wenham published an update of The Elements of New Testament Greek in 1965 for Cambridge University Press. Elements is now in its third edition by Jeremy Duff (with a forward by David Wenham, J. W. Wenham’s son) in 2004. The third edition is considerably different in sequence than Nunn’s original text, compressing the original thirty-seven lessons into twenty chapters. Although the new edition included a few composition exercises, these exercises are greatly reduced from Nunn’s Elements.

Schwandt’s Introduction is a return to the original spirit of Nunn’s Elements. Schwandt says in his introduction that the structure of his book is essentially the same as Nunn’s Elements, as are the vocabulary lists and exercises. He was attracted to Nunn because of its diachronic approach and emphasis on composition. Schwandt believes composition will help the student master the “grammatical fountainheads” like spelling and grammar. In fact, Schwandt argues passionately for composition of Greek sentences as essential for mastering New Testament Greek. Although this method was standard in Greek primers a hundred years ago, few modern introductions to New Testament Greek include composition. Even if a primer does include composition exercises, most Greek professors skip them if they are included (mea culpa).

For comparison purposes, I used the 1923 edition of Nunn’s Elements since it is included my Logos Library. Lesson titles have been updated. For example, lesson 10 on adjectives is now entitled “2-1-2 pattern adjectives” rather than “adjectives of the second declension.” Schwandt calls the second aorist the “thematic aorist” rather than the second aorist. Other lessons are re-titled to better reflect the content. Paradigm charts are clearer in Schwandt’s text, with effective headings and shading. The book has a brief summary of paragraphs in wide margins. These modernizing features are more than just cosmetic updates, the will enhances the student’s ability to navigate the textbook.

In almost every case Schwandt’s explanations follow Nunn’s basic outline but are greatly expanded. For example, he has an expanded discussion of deponent verbs and verbal aspect. In most cases, what Nunn explained in a single line, Schwandt explains in a paragraph. This further explanation will help students grasp the details of Greek grammar. As most Greek professors know, most New Testament Greek students do not have a good grasp of English grammar. Nunn’s original textbook assumed mastery of English grammar (and likely several years of Latin). Schwandt offers more explanation of English grammar than Nunn, and often provides a footnote for details or further discussion in other grammars. The exercises are taken from Nunn, with the slight modification dropping the use of “thou” for the second person pronouns.

One frustration with many older grammars is the use of made-up Greek sentences. On the one hand, creating a sentence in order to give a clear example of a grammatical concept makes sense, especially at the beginning of a Greek class since the student does not know enough to read the New Testament yet. But on the other hand, reading the New Testament from the beginning is encouraging for a student since they see the exegetical payoff for all their hard work. Schwandt therefore adds grammar exercises and biblical translation exercises with footnotes for vocabulary and unusual grammar.

Schwandt introduces the present active indicative verb in lesson 3 using λύω rather than λέγω, Nunn’s paradigm word. This was an unfortunate choice because λέγω is so different in the future, aorist, and perfect tenses. For anyone teaching Greek with Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek, introducing the verb this early is shocking since Mounce holds off on the verb until lesson 16. However, this is the way Greek grammars were written in 1913. By introducing the verb early students are able to work on full sentences from the very beginning of their Greek studies.

One observation: despite the association of Lexham with Faithlife and Logos Bible Software, there is nothing in the book on using Logos as an aid for reading the Greek New Testament. Schwandt himself was Executive Director of Mobile Education for Faithlife. Schwandt wrote a Biblical Greek course for Logos Mobile Education as well as two exegesis courses based on 1 John (both exegesis courses are still on pre-order at this time). I would have expected more connection to the Logos ecosystem, but that is not the case at all.

The book has seven appendices: All vocabulary lists appear in the first appendix and the answer key for all exercises in the second. Schwandt has a short appendix on both accents and prepositions, followed by morphological reference tables, an English-to-Greek glossary, and a Greek-to-English glossary.

Conclusion: Schwandt has indeed revived the original Elements and modernized aspects of the book for use in college and seminary New Testament Greek classes. If a return to the old-school style represented by Nunn (or Machen, Summers, or even Chase and Phillips) is desired, then Schwandt’s An Introduction to Biblical Greek will be a welcome addition to the classroom. For many Greek professors, they might want all the bells and whistles (and teaching aids) found in Mounce’s ubiquitous Basics of Biblical Greek (fourth edition).

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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