Book Review: Laansma and Gauthier, The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs

Laansma, Jon C. and Randall X. Gauthier. The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs. Aids for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel Academic, 2017. 80 pgs; Pb. $13.99 Link to Kregel

Kregel Academic recently sent me a copy of their latest volume in the “Handy Guide” series of New Testament Greek tools. The first in the series was Douglas S. Huffman, The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek (reviewed here). Like this previous handbook, Laansma and Gauthier provide a user-friendly quick reference which will be an important supplement to any New Testament Greek course.

The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek VerbsThe goal of The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs is to provide a set of vocabulary aids not found in other vocabulary lists. Most beginning Greek students tend to think of the present active first singular forms as a kind of “default” for a Greek verb, but this is often an unfortunate assumption. The authors therefore define a “difficult or irregular verb” from the perspective of that first year Greek student: these are the verbs which have unusual principle parts and are therefore the most difficult to recognize while reading the New Testament.

My typical approach to principle parts has been to have students memorize the 25 most common irregular verbs in the second semester of Greek, and then another 15 in the third semester (reviewing the original 25). The problem with this method is some principle parts are so rare in the Greek New Testament it is not profitable to memorize them. Laansma and Gauthier point out that φέρω occurs 192x in various compound forms, but the second principle part οἴσω only appears three times. It is probably a waste of student effort to memorize the rare form, but it is important to memorize the third principle part, the aorist form ἤνεγκα since it more common and used in compound forms.

The best thing about this book is the four page list of irregular verbs ordered by frequency in the New Testament. Each block of 10-12 forms are assigned a letter (a-j). The list begins with δόντος (the aorist active participle, masculine genitive singular of δίδωμι). Although δίδωμι itself only appears 415x in the Greek New Testament, compound forms run that number closer to 600x. By learning this form, the student will recognize forms of παραδίδωμι and ἀποδίδωμι, for example.

Part 2 of the book is an alphabetical list of verbs with their compound forms. Taking φέρω as an example, they list the six principle parts, printing the most common in bold and indicating which of the lists in part 1 the form appeared. Only the aorist and aorist passive forms are common enough to appear on the lists in part 1, the future active appears online three times and the perfect middle/passive does not appear at all in the Greek New Testament.

The book has two appendices. The first prints the full paradigms of εἰμί and ἵημι in present and imperfect forms. The first is the extremely common to-be verb and appears in numerous compound forms and must be memorized if one is going to read Greek. This second form is not found in the New Testament, but compound forms are common (ἀφίημι for example). The second appendix deals with perfect and pluperfect middle/passive forms as well as the optative mood. Although many of these are formed regularly, they are rare enough to qualify as “difficult” forms in this handbook.

Conclusion. This book should be in the hands of every Greek student as they struggle to read the New Testament. This handbook should be a go-to reference for difficult verbal forms.

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

Book Review: Douglas S. Huffman, The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek

Huffman, Douglas S. The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2012, xvi + 112 pp., $16.99, paperback.  (Link to Kregel)

Douglas Huffman introduces his book as a “ready reference” for those who have finished their first year of Greek. This includes second year Greek students, but also pastors and teachers who are in need of a quick reference for reading the Greek New Testament.

Handy Guide to New Testament GreekThe book is divided into three parts. The first part (about half the book) summarizes the grammar of the Greek New Testament. This includes the sorts of things covered in a first year Greek class. He includes noun and verb charts, but also useful charts for on other elements of grammar. The section concludes with a chart of the principle parts for the most common irregular verbs. While most Greek students are required to memorize these unusual forms, the chart is a helpful reminder since principle parts are among the first things forgotten by first year Greek students!

In the second part of the Handy Guide Huffman summarizes syntactical categories, typically covered in a second year Greek Course. He treats nouns by listing various nuances of the cases, listing them, providing a brief definition, and a single biblical example. For students wading through Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, these single page summaries are very helpful. While Huffman does not use exact lists from Wallace or any other New Testament Grammar, he does include the major categories and the terminology is close enough that students should be able to use the Handy Guide to quickly find the most likely syntactical description before turning to the more complete, advanced grammars. I would love to see a guide book like this include page numbers to Wallace, BDF, or other intermediate grammars. However, this probably would move the book beyond the “handy guide” status. This section has brief summaries of conditional sentences and a nice section on identifying participles. Huffman has a “participle identification chart”(page 80), although it seems a bit complicated to me. (To be honest, I do not think I have seen anyone come up with a flowchart that makes identifying participles any easier.)

The third part of the Handy Guide is perhaps the most useful to my students, although the section is a mere 23 pages. Huffman offers a simple overview of how to do sentence diagrams, including technical, phrase, semantic, and “arcing” diagrams. He steps through the basics of phrasing in two pages, then provides some examples from the Greek New Testament. His method looks a lot like what Mounce does in his Graded Reader, but I found his brief presentation quite helpful.  I would have liked more in this section, but what Huffman does provide a good introduction / reminder for students.

There is nothing new in this little book, but anyone who have done some Greek work will find it a “handy guide” indeed. The book is convenient and logically arranged. I appreciate both the high quality paper and binding of the book. Since it is the sort of book which will be consulted frequently, the higher quality will not wear out as fast. For example, I have been through three copies of Trenchard’s New Testament Vocabulary now, and my original Old Testament Hebrew vocab lists (published in the 80s) has completely disintegrated. Huffman’s Handy Guide is both useful and built to last.

My first thought when receiving this book was to compare it to William Mounce’s Biblical Greek, A Compact Guide (Zondervan, 2011), which I reviewed when it was released in 2011. Students who used Mounce in their first year may be more attracted to the Compact Guide, and it has a bit more material that Huffman’s Handy Guide, including a short lexicon and more principle parts.

Huffman’s Handy Guide to New Testament Greek delivers exactly what it promises, a handy summary of the things a first year Greek student ought to have learned, but may need a little refreshing.

Thanks to Kregel for providing a copy of this book to review.

More on Quality Exegesis

I had my Greek students read D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies. This is usually a popular assignment since the book is an easy read and interesting. There is something amusing about reading about other people’s mistakes, for some reason.

One of my students made several excellent observations based on his reading of the book. Jon Austin claimed in his review that “…there is a moral responsibility of pastors, professors, and myself to present the exegesis of the gospel with integrity.” I think this is an interesting way to put the problem. It is a moral responsibility to do good exegesis for sermons and Bible studies. I do not think the opposite of “good exegesis” is necessarily “bad exegesis,” but “lazy exegesis.” Most pastors have a very busy schedule and more likely than not do not get to spend quality time “doing exegesis” of the Bible for their sermons. I understand this and experience this regularly myself.

At best, most pastors have to struggle along with the commentaries rather than doing genuine exegesis. Hopefully they are able to use more than one commentary, but likely as not a single favorite source is all that informs the reading of a text. Hopefully the pastor is able to purchase a few new resources when they begin a new series, but I am afraid that some are content with the old standards they had in college or seminary.

This Pulpit is Plagiarized.

What I fear is that many pastors limp along with the worst form of preparation: surfing the internet for ideas which they can cut and paste into their sermons. If the pastor’s moral responsibility is good exegesis, then the pastor’s moral failure is using sources without critical evaluation or worse yet, plagiarizing sermon elements from blog posts or considering Wikipedia “sufficient preparation.” This is just as much of a moral failing as plagiarizing a paper in college or lying on a resume. My guess is that there are too many pastors who do not agree and continue reading things they got in an email that week as part of their sermons.

Another factor is reliance on topical sermons rather than exegetical ones. I have commented on this before, but I am strongly in favor of expositional preaching, usually through books. Part of the reason for this is that it allows the preacher / teacher to address topics as the arise out of the text, rather than using the Bible as a proof text to support and already-assumed premise. Again, Jon was insightful in his paper: “When we are teaching our congregations topically, we tend to manipulate meanings of words and sentences to our advantage.” I am sure most pastors do not think they are “manipulating” the Bible, but it usually turns out that way when proof-texts are offered. When someone actually reads the proof-text in context and finds that it does not say what the preacher claimed, credibility is lost.

I think that more pastors need to take seriously their high-calling to present the Word of God powerfully by immersing themselves in the Scripture they intended to preach. Since we are dealing with the most precious thing imaginable, God’s Word, legitimate, quality preparation is absolutely essential.