Brent Niedergall

A FEATHER IN YOUR THEOLOGICAL CAP

Every Sunday, more preachers than we would like to think stand behind pulpits and incorrectly explain various features of the Greek language in the New Testament. Grammatical misunderstandings of the aorist tense form and the present active imperative have been carefully passed down from generation to generation along with lexical misconceptions of words like ἀγαπάω and ἐκκλησία. Bible-believing, orthodox preachers, who love God are feeding their congregation linguistic lies out of an ignorance of the Greek language. That’s too bad. But it’s also too bad that where a knowledge of biblical Greek can actually bring so much to the table in our preaching and teaching, it is often ignored. Steve Runge has done preachers and teachers a great service by writing High Definition Commentary: Galatians, a resource that uses Greek correctly so preachers and teachers can improve what they’re bringing to the table when feeding their congregations. 

Once upon a time, Steve Runge jumpstarted Greek exegesis with a book every pastor should own called Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. With this book and his Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament, He showed us the value of understanding the function of connectives, and how information structure works, and what NT authors did to highlight their theme, and all kinds of other helpful Greek linguistics stuff. Then, amidst other publications, he started writing these entry-level commentaries that explain different books of the New Testament in light of his Discourse Grammar. In this one, Runge shares his interpretation of the Greek text of Galatians based on his analysis of the linguistic data. Sure, advanced Greek students will be able to do much of this on their own, without the need of a commentary like this one. But if we’re being honest, most of us aren’t that advanced. So this commentary does the advanced legwork for you. You won’t have to remember the difference between a right dislocation and a left dislocation. You won’t need to chart out the differences between καί, δέ, and asyndeton. Runge does it for you. And Bible students, pastors, and Sunday school teachers—especially those who lack an advanced knowledge of Greek—stand to benefit from his work.  

To begin with, here’s a sampling of the different kinds of discourse features you can expect to come across—I’ve selected a single one from each of the first three chapters of Galatians. My purpose is to simply show how Runge offers a simplified explanation in this commentary of what more advanced students might understand from reading Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament

First, commenting on Gal. 1:3–5, Runge points out how Paul gives “extra information about Jesus” and the effect this achieves. If you’ve read Discourse Grammar of the GNT, you might recognize this as an instance of overspecification. This feature serves the purpose of thematic highlighting. It’s “where a writer wants you to think about a particular participant in a particular way” (322). From this example and those that follow, you can see how Runge offers simple explanations of what Paul was working to achieve with how he wrote Galatians. 

Second, in Gal. 2:14, Runge notes “the word connecting verse 14 to what precedes signals a turning of the tide, a redirection of the current state of affairs.” The word connecting verse 14 to what precedes is ἀλλά. Consult Discourse Grammar of the GNT on this particle and you will find, “Although there are several contrastive or adversative particles, ἀλλά adds the unique constraint of correcting some aspect of what precedes” (93). I’m not aware of a commentary outside of this series that’s written for a popular audience and yet offers this kind of linguistic depth.

And third, in his discussion of Gal. 3:17, there’s a comment about how the forward-pointing reference “this I say” in verse 17 attracts attention to Paul’s point derived from the groundwork laid in verses 15–16.” This forward-pointing reference includes the demonstrative pronoun τοῦτο, which according to Discourse Grammar of the GNT “can accomplish the task of attracting extra information to a target” (66). Simple and helpful explanations like these form the basis for this book.

That should give you some idea of how this commentary can assist your Bible study. Just know upfront that this is not an exhaustive exegetical treatment of Galatians. Textual criticism, Greco-Roman historical and cultural backgrounds, lexical analysis—you’re going to need other books and commentaries to get all that. Look elsewhere to settle the North Galatia/South Galatia debate. The focus here is on tracing Paul’s argument. Paul had a reason for structuring this epistle the way he did. And the purpose of this commentary is to help readers understand what Paul was trying to accomplish. And it serves that purpose well. This commentary is easy to follow; you don’t need to know a thing about Greek to use it. It includes helpful down-to-earth illustrations and personal anecdotes to express the abstract in the concrete. That said, if you’ve used any of the earlier volumes in this series covering Philippians, James, and Romans, you’ll notice the helpful graphics are sadly no more. Runge’s word picture illustrations have replaced the colorful infographics. I liked the pictures and kind of viewed them as a staple of the series. They were nice to throw up on the screen if you were teaching a group, especially for the sake of all those visual learners out there. Since I’m offering some criticism here, I’ll add that an outline of Galatians and an overall conclusion would also have been helpful additions to this resource. 

Despite the lack of infographics, Runge still gets his point across to the reader. And one of the ways he does this is by using pop culture references to make his point. On the plus side, these are instantly relatable to many. They will give the reader an “Ah-ha” moment. The potential drawback, though, is the questionable length of their shelf life. A few years down the road, GIFs and memes might very well join other fond memories such as AOL Instant Messenger and dancing baby videos that the next generation won’t understand. Speaking of relatability, Runge writes with an undeniably approachable voice. He writes informal yet intelligent prose, throwing in terminology such as “late-to-the-party,” “no-brainer,’ “zinger,” and “dissing.” He says “Throw the bums out” and talks about how Paul “throws [something] under the bus.” Sometimes he even does this to make a point such as in his comment on Gal. 3:15, “The expression translated ‘brothers (and sisters’ is akin to our modern use of ‘dude’: it can accomplish a variety of functions depending upon the context.” Runge writes with his audience in mind. 

In conclusion, this commentary is readable and useful. Runge doesn’t oversell. He’s careful to point out that discourse analysis doesn’t answer all our questions or even provide ironclad answers in every case. But the underlying linguistic data, inaccessible to many Bible students, can greatly enhance our understanding of the text. The beauty of this book is that it makes that linguistic data accessible so readers can better understand the book of Galatians for personal study and teaching. 

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


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