Book Review: Douglas Mangum and Josh Westbury, eds. Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis

Mangum, Douglas and Josh Westbury, eds. Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis. Lexham Methods Series 2; Lexham Press, 2016. 262 pp. $24.99   Link to Lexham Press

The second volume of the Lexham Methods series surveys the often difficult field of linguistics. Since the essays in this volume are all aimed at students who are doing exegesis of the whole Bible, examples are given for both the Old and New Testaments. For this review I read the electronic version of the book on an iPad using the Logos app and occasionally referred to the full desktop version of Logos.

Wendy Widder begins her introduction to this volume with the observation “Language is remarkably simple and extraordinarily complex at the same time.” A short handbook like this volume cannot possibly cover all aspects of linguistics. This book is not a guide teaching the methods of linguistic analysis. Rather, Widder says the book will introduce readers to the “aspects of linguistics that most apply to biblical study” in assist students who are using modern commentaries and other resources which do linguistic analysis of the text of the Bible.

In chapter 2 Widder introduces four fundamental aspects of linguistic study: phonology (study of sounds and their organization in language), morphology (the study of how languages form their words), semantics (how a language creates meaning), and syntax (how a language arranges its words into phrases, clauses, and sentences).

Jeremy Thompson and Wendy Widder survey several areas of linguistics focused on language use (chapter 3). The focus of the chapter is studying how language is used in context, or language as it is “actually used in literary and social contexts.” This includes pragmatics (meaning in context, including relevance theory and speech-act theory), discourse analysis (study that focuses on analyzing strings of sentences connected in a discourse). Discourse grammar is used to describe “grammatical conventions based upon the discourse functions they accomplish” citing Runge. The chapter includes a short discussion of sociolinguistics (the interaction between language and society, or social context).

In chapter 4 Daniel Wilson and Michael Aubrey offer a concise overview of the more complicated linguistic topics relevant for analyzing the biblical languages, such as language universals (grammatical, syntactic and semantic patterns that extend across languages).   The chapter also introduces linguistic typology (the attempt to establish universals across languages based on the presence or absence of forms) and markedness (how linguistic elements relate to each other).  Although arcane, Wilson and Aubrey argue the syntactic application of markedness is “one of the most beneficial for biblical exegesis” because it emphasizes prominence of a particular word or phrase in a sentence. If an author “marked” a structure in a sentence, the exegete ought to explore why it was so marked.

Jeremy Thompson and Wendy Widder provide a brief introduction to the field of linguistics and the main schools of thought in linguistics (chapter 5). They begin with a short section on comparative philology, which studies historical written sources to identify relationships among languages. This includes diachronic methods illustrated the Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) lexicon. This section interacts with James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1987). Barr is well-known for his challenge to the diachronic method (and although this chapter does not mention it, he savaged TDNT). The chapter also includes sections on:

  • According to this chapter, the value of structuralism is seen at the lexical level. The authors cite several lexicons, including the valuable Louw and Nida.
  • Functionalism takes as its starting point that the end function of language is communication, and it works backward toward understanding language as a whole. With respect to biblical Greek, the influence of functionalism can be seen in approaches like Runge’s discourse grammar.
  • Generative grammar, following Noam Chomsky that posits a set of grammatical rules which generate surface structure sentences from deep structure sentences
  • Discourse analysis, a method which “approaches language at higher levels than the sentence.” The definition is more problematic since biblical studies has adopted some of the terminology and methods, but they do not always deploy them the way they were originally defined.
  • Cognitive linguistics applies cognitive science to language as a cognitive process continually affected by one’s experiences

Chapters six and seven focus on how linguistic methods are applied to the Bible. Both chapters cover the same four topics (Problems with the Data (in both cases, they are dead languages, although Greek has more Dara to work with); Verbal System, Semantics and Lexicography, and Word Order). Wendy Widder deals with linguistic issues in Biblical Hebrew (chapter 6). Widder observes that “establishing a chronology of the language in the Old Testament is infamously difficult because we lack firm dates for the composition of the biblical books” although some evidence from inscriptions and cognate languages “allows scholars to hypothesize patterns of development and thus the chronology of biblical Hebrew.” With respect to the New Testament, Michael Aubrey laments the fact papyri has not yet been sufficiently integrated into lexicons. “Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary of the Greek Testament was a grand attempt at the integration of the papyri into the lexicographical work of the era, but it never went beyond being a supplement to other lexicons.”

Finally, Michael Aubrey contributes an essay on the value of “linguistically informed Exegesis.” He argues a linguistically informed exegesis will enhance the “precision and explanatory power” of exegesis.

Each essay concludes with a short “Importance for Biblical Languages.”  These will be most useful to biblical studies students brushing up on linguistic. Following each essay is a brief, annotated “Resources for Further Study.” These often cite chapters in textbooks on linguistics. The annotations briefly point out the connections to the present topic. Some of these resources are substantive, but others less so. This should not surprise readers, but this guide is on the conservative side of the theological spectrum. Many of the linguistic resources recommended are conservative (for example, David Alan Black; Robert D. Bergen 1987 JETS article, “Text as a Guide to Authorial Intention: An Introduction to Discourse Criticism”.

For the Logos Library version, there are inks to the glossary for key terms and scholars and movements. Float over the name Ferdinand de Saussure or the Prague School and Logos will show the entry for the glossary for the term. This is extremely helpful when reading the book on an iPad or desktop installation of Logos. As with other contributions to this series, Lexham could convert this glossary in a flash card format Study Blue, Quizlet, Cerego) or create a test-bank for professors. This would make the book more useful to students, especially of the book is adopted as a textbook.

I noticed a few typos (Rung for Runge, page 60), some malformed Greek, and a few formatting problems which may only appear in the electronic format for example. More critical is a citation of Stanley Porter on page 82. The quote has a footnote indicating it is from the second edition of Idioms of the Greek New Testament, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999), 55–56. This is actually from Porter’s essay “Prominence: An Overview” in The Linguist as Pedagogue, pages 55-56 (the book does not appear in this volume).

I assume all these will be reported, corrected, and updated copies will be pushed out to Logos users. I find the lack of page numbers in the iPad annoying, but the book has a detailed numbering system 5.4.1, and this numbering system appears in the upper right hand of the iPad version.

This brings me to a slight criticism. In the section on discourse analysis several works are recommended which are other Lexham products. Are these really the best resources? In this particular example it may be the case since there is nothing quite like The Lexham High Definition Old and New Testament. As for the influence of structuralism on lexicons, they cite A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, the Semantic Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, and the Bible Sense Lexicon. The last is a Faithlife production. There is nothing wrong with the Bible Sense Lexicon, but would it be cited along with Louw and Nida in another introduction to linguistics?

 

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: Paul N. Jackson, Devotions on the Greek New Testament, Volume Two

Jackson, Paul N. Devotions on the Greek New Testament, Volume Two. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2017. 189 pp. Pb; $18.99.  Link to Zondervan

This new volume of devotionals from the Greek New Testament follows the first volume edited by J. Scott Duvall and Verlyn Verbrugge (Zondervan, 2012). The idea of Greek devotionals rose out of the Exegetical Insights in Bill Mounce’s popular Basics of Biblical Greek. Each chapter of this introductory grammar began with a short illustration of why the grammatical lesson of the chapter plays out in Greek exegesis.

9780310529354The fifty-two devotionals in this small book are drawn from every New Testament book and focus on the details of a particular Greek text. After the title of the devotion and reference, the Greek text is provided. Occasionally the author provides a syntactical display (Paul Jackson on Mark 9:42-50; Dean Pinter on 1 Timothy 1:15-16). The author then offers two or three pages focusing on how Greek grammar can be used to illuminate the meaning of a text.

Most of the devotions have some comment on the syntax of the verses. For example, David McCabe’s comments on Romans 5:6 explains the genitive absolute in verse 6 as well as the textual variant generated by this difficult grammar. Holly Beers deals with several options for the use of the present tense in Luke 19:8. The authors sometimes provide a short word-study when necessary. Susan Mathew provides some important details on weakness and boasting in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Nijay Gupta’s essay on “Christian regard for the other” in Philippians 2:3-4 pints out Paul’s clever use of language to invert Roman cultural values. A few times the authors read the text in the light of the Septuagint, as in Christopher Beetham’s contribution on “Greek and the Echoes of Scripture” (“foreskin of your flesh” in Colossians 2:13). Occasionally a chapter deals with text critical issues (Todd Still on the “dislocated doxology” of Romans 16:25-27) and Peter Davids explains the NA27 and NA28 for 2 Peter 3:10.

There are three features at the end of this new volume not included in the earlier volume. First, there is a Scripture index for every text in the devotions rather than just the main text of the devotion. Second, there is a very useful subject index. In addition to the usual subjects one expects to find, the index include the grammatical concepts illustrated in the devotionals. For example, there are references to various uses of the participle, types of genitives datives, etc. This will help a professor illustrate the exegetical traction of a partitive genitive or a periphrastic participle. (I cannot be the only one looking for a devotional based on a deliberative subjunctive?) The third index covers Greek words, phrases and idioms. In some cases these are lexical forms, others are inflected forms.

When the first volume of Greek Devotions was published, I assigned my students to select one chapter and present it as a class devotion. I did this twice during the second semester of Greek, with the grand intention of having my fourth semester Greek students create their own devotions to share with the first year Greeks. For a variety of reasons this did not happen quite the way I had planned, but most of the students found the devotionals encouraging since they demonstrated how the syntactical categories they were learning could be used in exegesis, but also in support of a preachable point in a sermon.

Every Greek professor struggles to make the syntactical nuances of Greek practical to their students, these fifty-two Devotions on the Greek New Testament will be a valuable tool to achieve this goal.  For those looking to keep up with their Greek after seminary, both volumes of this series will encourage the busy pastor to continue reading their Greek New Testament.

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

Book Review: Keep Your Greek and Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide

I received two recent books from Zondervan in the mail this week.  Both are valuable tools for studying the Greek New Testament.

Constantine R. Campbell, Keep Your Greek: Strategies for Busy People, 90 pages, $9.95.

This little book is an answer to the most common question a Greek teacher is asked: “What should I do to keep up on my Greek after seminary?” As sad as it is to admit, even the best students of Greek in college or seminary find it nearly impossible to improve their Greek once they are in ministry.  While most pastors want to use Greek in sermon preparation, the realities of  a busy Pastor’s life prevent careful exegesis of the Greek New Testament, most are forced to rely on commentaries and inter-linear Bibles.

For the most part, Campbell’s strategy for keeping one’s Greek sharp is to read the Greek New Testament every day, slowly and without the use of the typical crutches on which pastors rely too heavily.  This is the same sort of advice I give, and probably every teacher of Greek gives.  But Campbell points out that it is important to set a reachable goal, 15 minutes a day, or perhaps even as little as a verse a day.  This is excellent advice, since most who set out to sharpen their Greek try to do more than they are capable of, and end up failing.  As far as crutches, Campbell recommends you “burn your Interlinear.”  All Greek teachers will agree here, although we might ask why you bought it in the first place!  Similar advice applies to computer aids, since it is so very easy to read Greek when Logos or Accordance is glossing and parsing every word for you as you scroll.  To improve your Greek, computer tools have to be used judiciously.

The book is written in a very light style with good illustrations and stories to make the point.  Occasionally quite funny, the advice in the book ought to inspire a pastor toward re-viving their Greek skills.  At a mere $10 retail, there is no reason not to buy this little book.  Much of the material in this book originated on Campbell’s blog, Read Better, Preach Better.  In fact, each chapter ends with a comment section drawn from the original discussion on the blog.  A Senior Lecturer at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, Campbell is the author of Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek (Zondervan, 2008).  Based on the samples on his website, he is a pretty good Jazz saxophonist.

William D. Mounce, Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide, 212 pages, $19.95.

This little volume is a handy summary of Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek (BBG).  It contains a basic summary of most major grammatical issues and a nice section containing paradigms and noun charts.  He includes principle parts for verbs occurring 50 or more times in the Greek New Testament as well as a mini-lexicon (glossary) for words appearing 50 or more times.  Of course all of this is available in his regular BBG, but Zondervan has published this material in a handy format (4.2 x 6.5 inches) with a heavy-duty plastic cover.  I passed the book around my second year Greek students and most thought this little book would be a great help to their reading of the New Testament.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is trying to keep up with their Greek using Campbell’s book.  If there is any drawback, it is the retail price of $19.95, since all of the material appears in Mounce’s Basic Grammar.  My guess is that the reinforced binding and plastic cover added to the cost of the book.  The handy size and usefulness of the contents make this a good addition to the busy pastor’s library.