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.

Book Review: Daniel Zacharias, Biblical Greek Made Simple: All the Basics in One Semester

Zacharias, H. Daniel.  Biblical Greek Made Simple: All the Basics in One Semester. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. 329 pp.; Hb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

Danny Zacharias wrote this textbook to cover the basics of biblical Greek in one semester. In the conclusion to the book he says, “if you made it this far, your brain probably hurts” (p. 271). Anyone who has taken an intensive introduction to Greek or Hebrew knows this particular quality of pain.

There are two schools of thought on the “hell week” practice of teaching a biblical language. Since much of the first year of Greek is rote memorization of paradigms and vocabulary, some feel it is better to immerse as deeply into the language as possible in order to get to second year exegesis classes sooner. Sometimes the intensive is supplemented with a “how to use Bible software” seminar so that students can start exegesis right away. Others observe the students have trouble retaining the information that they have smashed into their heads in the intensive format, they need to be retaught basic concepts when they take an exegesis class. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Gone are the days with incoming college freshman have knowledge of English grammar (let alone two years of Latin!)

Another difference of opinion among people who teach biblical languages or write Greek textbooks is the amount of memorization required. For example, in Bill Mounce prefers to introduce concepts and rules and then observe how those play out in various paradigms and declensions. Several times in his Basics of Biblical Greek Mounce says something like “don’t memorize this yet.” Zacharias has the opposite approach: there are a number of occasions where he says, “memorize this.” He provides repeated drills and tools (apps or Quizlet) to help hammer vocabulary and paradigms into the heads of students and firmly embedded them in their memory. I’ve often thought of this is a difference in personality. As a student I preferred to memorize and reproduce charts and I loved making vocab cards by hand. But many of my students prefer to see the big picture and want to know the “whys” for various grammatical concepts and resist memorizing anything.

Zacharias’s textbook claims to cover “all the basics in one semester.” This is exactly what is delivered. Over eleven chapters Zacharias presents each major element of the Greek language.  After a chapter on the alphabet, pronunciation, and all the “jots and tittles,” Zacharias covers nouns in two chapters, first declensions and case endings, then case functions. These two chapters constitute more or less everything said about nouns in the whole textbook. Chapter 4 covers all tenses, voice in the indicative mood (chapter 10 deals with non-indicative moods, subjunctive, imperative and optative). Chapter 5 completes verbs by introducing principle parts, deponent, contract, compound, second aorist and -μι verbs. Although -μι verbs are not difficult, they usually are left until the end of a two-semester textbook. Chapters 7-8 deal with articles, pronouns, numbers, adverbs, prepositions and clauses. Chapters 9-10 cover participles, infinitives in chapter 11.

Each chapter begins with a short statement, “What’s the Point?” Here Zacharias gives a brief reason why it is important to master the grammar presented in the chapter. He is necessarily concise in their presentation of the grammatical topic given the goal of covering everything in a single chapter. For example, he covers the present, imperfect, future, aorist, perfect, and pluperfect tenses in about three pages. For most Greek introductions, each of these tenses require a chapter with exercises focused on just that tense.

The chapters include various tables and charts for paradigms and other concepts, there are 72 tables in the book not counting the appendices. One helpful feature of these charts is the use of colors to indicate roots and endings. Occasionally the grammatical lesson includes a link to a YouTube video to help reinforce the chapter’s concepts. Zacharias has a collection of videos on Greek syntax and many paradigms set to music (these also turn up without links).

Following the presentation is a section of exercises, including re-reading the text and memorize the vocab lists, followed by short phrases to parse, translate, identify grammatical function, etc. There is usually a learning activity using Bible software. Finally, each chapter includes this series of advanced exercises. Zacharias estimates the time required for each of these activities, usually about 10 hours total if one does the advanced exercises.  Some of the exercises introduce students to basic lexical resources such as the Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Greek (James Swanson, Logos Research Systems 1997, second edition Faithlife, 2001).  This lexicon is based on The Greek-English Lexicon by Louw & Nida and included in many Logos base packages; Zacharias gives instructions on using the lexicon along with Strong’s numbers and Louw and Nida’s numbers (p. 46-48). There is an appendix with instructions for using BDAG. Occasionally he refers students to an exegetical dictionary (NIDNTTE, EDNT, etc).

Each chapter ends with a section entitled “The Least You Need to Know.” This is a series of questions the student should be able to answer having completed the presentation of grammatical concepts. Zacharias includes a Quizlet link for these questions to help students review. There are brief sections entitled @Logos which seem to all refer the reader to Logos support. This is disappointing; I expected since Zacharias produces tutorials on how to use Logos. Finally, in each chapter is a section entitled “Second Time Around.” This provides further practice with the grammatical concepts in each chapter, including encouragements to re-read and memorize the paradigms. The sections also include translations of biblical texts with glosses.

There are several appendices. There are a vocabulary lists based on word frequency, principal part lists, a rubric for preparing sermons (essentially an exegetical method), a section on how to use BDAG, a glossary for Greek vocab in alphabetical order, and example of a syntax sheet based on the First John 1:1–14.

In the conclusion to the book, Zacharias offers for some advice on how to continue developing one’s Greek skills after completing a basic introduction. He says, “STOP using your Bible software and start the practice of reading.” I cannot agree more. Are usually recommend students begin carrying their Greek New Testament to church with them sometime during the first semester. Even though they don’t understand all of the words yet, students can pick out grammatical features and vocabulary words they know. He also recommends purchasing a Reader’s Greek New Testament. There are a number of these available from different publishers. These books usually print vocabulary that appears less than 40 times in the New Testament at the bottom of the page. This is very helpful since a first-year Greek students words used more than 40 times. These types of New Testament are crutches, but they can be tools to encourage newer students find success in daily reading.

Conclusion: Zacharias’s textbook covers the content of a typical two-semester Greek introductory course. It should be obvious this is an aggressive goal for most students given the necessary time to complete the work each week along with continual review of previous vocabulary and concepts. Even with apps and Quizlet to help review, it would be difficult for a student to complete a one semester class unless they were only working on Biblical Greek. However, for someone who intends to refresh their Greek or teach themselves without the constraints of a college semester, this textbook will be useful. The pedagogy reminds me of David Allen Black’s It’s Still Greek to Me (Baker 1998), a book I used as a third semester grammar review for several years.

NB: For additional material on this textbook, videos and links to mobile apps, visit Danny Zacharias’s website. Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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.