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: An Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek: Analysis of Prepositions, Adverbs, Particles, Relative Pronouns, and Conjunctions

Beale, Gregory K., Daniel J. Brendsel, and William A. Ross. An Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek: Analysis of Prepositions, Adverbs, Particles, Relative Pronouns, and Conjunctions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2014. 96 p. Pb. $15.99. Link to Zondervan.

This short book combines a lexical analysis and exegetical syntax for the always troublesome “little words”: prepositions, adverbs, particles, relative pronouns and conjunctions. It joins Murray Harris’s Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 2012) and Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Zondervan, 1996) as a specialized tool for Greek exegesis focusing on logical relationships between propositions (p. 6).

Interpretive LexiconIn the introduction to the Interpretive Lexicon, the authors explain the need for a handy list of words that used in the Greek New Testament to indicate relationships between clauses. The book uses a series of abbreviations for the types of logical relationships possible. For example, Alt = Alternative, C-E = Cause and Effect, C?-E = Condition, T = Temporal, +/- = Negative-Positive, etc. The authors provide brief descriptions of these abbreviations and offer a short introduction on how to read the entries in the Lexicon.

The main purpose of the books is to help interpreters tease out the often subtle connections between phrases and clauses in order to shed light on the text. Because the book is a brief handbook, a student can quickly identify the types of logical relationships possible for any given preposition when working on a discourse analysis of a pericope.

The lexicon itself is only 69 pages. It includes mores prepositions, adverbs and particles, but it is not exhaustive. Each entry begins by providing the page numbers in either the second edition of Bauer (1979, BAGD) or the third edition (2000, BDAG). Entries also include page references to either Harris or Wallace. Each entry is subdivided into usage (preposition with the dative, adverb, etc.) and the entry is “tagged” with an abbreviation indicating the type of logical connection the word usually indicates. The word ἐκεῖ, for example, is an “adverb of place” in BDAG, the Interpretive Lexicon identifies it has an adverb, either L (location) or NLR (no logical relationship). Other entries are more complex, ἐν includes six logical relationships as well as references to Wallace and Harris, plus separate entries for ἐν τῷ + and infinitive and ἐν ᾧ.

There are other guides that are similar to this Lexicon, such Steven Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010) or Harris’s text used throughout this Interpretive Lexicon. Runge is far more detailed, which is to be expected in a monograph that runs over 400 pages. This Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek is therefore a valuable exegetical aid for the student reading the Greek New Testament. Considering the book low price of the book, it is an affordable addition to any student’s Greek reading aides. It will in a valuable handbook for those working on a discourse analysis of a text.

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