Brent Niedergall

A FEATHER IN YOUR THEOLOGICAL CAP

There’s something different about this one. John D. Schwandt’s An Introduction to Biblical Greek: A Grammar with Exercises is different from pretty much every other grammar I’ve ever seen before. Schwandt tells hopeful students they must learn to read and write in Greek if they want the best possible understanding of the language of the New Testament. This translates into a textbook that’s heavy on composition. And this is a modern rarity. Most introductory grammars don’t require the student to translate large amounts of English text into Greek. Most introductory grammars don’t require the student to accent their words either. But Schwandt’s grammar demands both. He’s gone “old school” on us because he’s confident his overall methodology works. He’s used it for decades in the classroom. And he’s building on some old school work—a 1913 textbook by H. P. V. Nunn called The Elements of New Testament Greek. Perhaps we have lost something by ignoring what seemed to work so well in the past. In this review, I’ll explain the general pattern followed in each of the 37 lessons in Schwandt’s new book and offer some analysis. 

In the average chapter, you can expect to find grammatical explanations with examples, helpful charts, and footnotes offering additional information. The exercises appear at the end of each chapter. Most begin with an assignment to memorize vocabulary and grammatical rules. Next comes composed Greek sentences that must be translated into English. Then the student is asked to translate a series of English sentences into Greek. Finally, the student is given Scripture to translate into English. The appendices at the end of the book include the vocabulary lists, answer key, a guide to accenting, a discussion of prepositions, reference tables, and glossaries. I like the idea of having the vocabulary lists at the end instead of dispersed throughout the book’s many chapters. 

This book bridges the old and the new. It uses the dated terminology of “uncial” instead of “majuscule,” while offering students the choice between the Erasmian or more-recently-popular Koine pronunciation. Is it up to date on advances in the study of New Testament Greek? The newest title I saw referenced in the footnotes was published in 1999. So what about stuff like deponency and verbal aspect?

Deponency

There is a brief introduction that simply defines the deponent verb and takes their existence for granted (95). A later chapter on the future tense notes some verbs have only future middle forms. These are deponents bearing the same meaning as if they were active (119). In short, those hoping to see deponency laid aside will be disappointed. 

Verbal Aspect

Schwandt holds that a verb tense conveys tense and time. He describes a system of “incomplete” and “complete” aspectual meaning, which would be more commonly labeled as imperfective and perfective respectively. The present and imperfect convey incomplete aspect. The future and aorist convey complete aspect. (I did not see a categorization for the perfect or pluperfect.) His explanation of why the future conveys complete aspect precedes his actual discussion of the subject, and it’s the closest he comes to actually explaining what verbal aspect is. If I understand him correctly, he says tense forms with incomplete aspect are described as “unfolding in real time.” Consequently, those with complete aspect are not (116). In short, those hoping to find a more sophisticated discussion will be disappointed. 

In the end, someone learning Greek from this text will most likely come out understanding the different tense forms through the recommended English translation equivalents the author suggests. 

  • Greek present: English present continuous (21)
  • Greek imperfect: English past continuous, but sometimes simple past (72)
  • Greek future: no English equivalent, but examples use a construction with the auxiliary verb “will” (115)
  • Greek aorist: English simple past (131)
  • Greek perfect: English perfect formed by the auxiliary verb “have,” but sometimes present (237)
  • Greek pluperfect: past tense of the perfect (237)

On a note related to verbs, the author distinguishes different “aspect meanings” under the incomplete and complete categories. Although he doesn’t use the term, he’s talking about aktionsart here. And, I would say to his credit, he rightly says that this “aspectual meaning” (i.e., aktionsart) is ascertained from lexical meaning and context (136). 

The bottom line, considering how Schwandt deals with deponency and aspect, is that instructors will probably want to augment and address his treatment of these topics. 

Conclusion

I once heard Rob Plummer say that the “ideal Greek grammar” is the one God sovereignly ordains for use in your life. Truly, this is a really good one to use with clear explanations and plenty of helpful exercises. It certainly demands much of the student. But its two unique emphases on composition and accentuation are probably needed. How can any of us claim facility in a language we can’t even write properly? At the same time, this text will demand much of the instructor who must ensure their own skills in these areas are up to snuff. This would also be a good resource for someone who wants to study Greek on their own, especially since Logos Mobile Education has created an affordable video course that can be used alongside this book called the Biblical Greek: Foundational Certificate Program. Finally, I would also strongly recommend this book to someone who has studied Greek in the past and wants to brush up on their skills while learning the neglected skills of accentuation and composition.  


Special thanks to Lexham Press for providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding this work.

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