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Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament (Zondervan; 2015).


[I am grateful to Zondervan for providing me a digital review copy of the book through Netgalley]


If you are at all serious about exegesis and serious study of the Word, then this book is a worthwhile read, no matter how rusty or limited your knowledge of NT Greek is. Dr. Campbell does a commendable job of bringing the reader up-to-date on recent scholarly advances in Koine Greek in a manner that is informative, engaging and accessible.


The book begins with a helpful historical survey of Greek scholarship from the 19th century to the present. If this introductory chapter is any indication of the rest of the book, the reader can be assured that Campbell is a reliable guide to the different topics that are surveyed in the remainder of the book. Furthermore, given the important role that linguistics has played in contemporary scholarship, he also provides the reader with a fascinating historical introduction to major developments in the field of linguistics. For example, he surmises that the lack of progress in Greek studies seems to correlate with the “rise of modern linguistics”. He explains that prior to Saussure, the approach was based on “comparative and historical philology”; after Saussure, a synchronic, rather than diachronic approach carried the day in linguistics, “thus making the direction of nineteenth-century Greek philology suddenly almost irrelevant.” (p. 39).

As the survey comes to a close with the modern period, Dr. Campbell cites the contributions of key figures such as James Barr (The Semantics of Biblical Language), Kenneth McKay, Kenneth Pike (one of the early SIL scholars), Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida (for their ground-breaking work, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains), Stanley Porter (perhaps the most prolific Greek scholar today) and others. The chapter closes with a nod to a major resource recently published, the three volume Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics (Georgios K. Giannakis, editor).

Chapter 2 offers a brief but excellent introduction to linguistics, a field that is foreign to most people. Campbell’s interesting and informative survey serves to highlight the importance of linguistics and its impact on Koine Greek studies. After outlining the various branches of linguistics, there follows a discussion of the two major schools of linguistic theories: generative linguistics, largely originating from the work of Noam Chomsky and “characterized by the core assumption that all languages are shaped by a universal grammar, or universals of linguistic structure” (58-59); and functional linguistics (and in particular, the Prague school and Systemic Functional Linguistics) which seeks to “account for how language is used, and how the use of language informs us as to its structures” (60). The chapter closes with an illustration of how one’s adherence to a particular linguistic methodology can colour one’s view of, in this case, of temporal reference in Greek verbs.

In the same vein, the following chapter provides a helpful survey of lexical semantics and lexicography. I appreciate that Campbell gives examples from the NT to highlight the practical importance of the lexical principles under discussion. In particular, he discusses the complexities and challenges of applying these principles to NT Greek lexicography.  I really came away with a renewed appreciation of the difficulties entailed in producing a work such as the standard Greek lexicon of the Greek NT, BDAG, as well as the innovations introduced by Louw and Nida in their Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains.

As I am but a novice student of NT Greek and have been away from the Christian scene for awhile, I was not aware of the paradigm shift “taking place in our understanding of Greek voice, with particular reference to the concept of deponency” (91). In chapter 4, Campbell presents arguments from scholars as early as James Hope Moulton and A.T. Robertson questioning the usefulness or legitimacy of deponency. In an appendix to The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Neva Miller concluded that “if the verbs in the above classes are understood as true middles—and if active forms could not have expressed such concepts—then it may be that categorizing such verbs as deponent is no longer relevant” (93). Other scholars followed suit in their criticism of the standard treatment of deponency, culminating in the 2010 SBL Conference (Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics Unit) where Stanley Porter, Bernard Taylor, Jonathan Pennington and Campbell called for the abandonment of deponency. Campbell concludes by highlighting some of the outstanding issues and outlining a path forward, noting that there at least 2 recent NT Greek grammars that teach voice without using deponency.

Chapter 5 deals with a major and controversial topic, verbal aspect. After introducing the concept and helpfully distinguishing tense, Aktionsart and aspect, Campbell moves on to give the reader a history lesson on how the concept developed. In the modern era, Kenneth L. McKay’s contributions must be mentioned, but it was really Stanley Porter’s dissertation, published as Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, that really set things in motion. This was followed shortly  by the independent research of Buist Fanning, whose dissertation was published as Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, in which he adopts a more moderate route. This has led to “one of the best-known debates regarding verbal aspect … whether Greek tense-forms semantically encode temporal reference alongside aspect” (114). Of more interest to most readers, including myself, was the helpful section on how verbal aspect can enhance exegesis, and here, Campbell does not disappoint. Granted, the examples are necessarily brief, so he refers the reader to his introductory volume, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek.

Chapter 6 is entitled “Idiolect, Genre and Register” and as the title implies, deals with issues relating to style and genre. According to Campbell, “[s]ome of the points of interest in observing idiolect are vocabulary, syntactical constructions, patterns of verbal usage, and more macro features, such as those observed through discourse analysis” (136). To be honest, I found this chapter a bit of a tough slog, not so much because it is not well written, but because the concepts were largely new to me.

The following two chapters deal with the important topic of discourse analysis, “one of the most exciting new areas of research related to Greek exegesis” (148), which he defines as a “interdisciplinary approach to understanding how units of text relate to one another in order to create the theme, message and structure of a text” (148, 149).  Campbell highlights the benefit of discourse analysis as providing a robust methodology for assessing the exegetical conclusions obtained through traditional exegesis. In Chapter 7 he begins by outlining the four major schools of thought, then proceeds to survey the influential work of M.A.K. Halliday. This is followed in Chapter 8 with a review of the work of Stephen Levinsohn and Steven Runge; in both chapters, Campbell offers a brief but helpful evaluation of each approach as well as its implications for NT exegesis.

I found Chapter 9 on pronunciation rather fascinating, and from the onset of the chapter, Campbell states his position that “[a]ccurate pronunciation is a sign of respect for the Greek language, is people and its history. It also has implications for one’s enjoyment and mastery of Greek” (192). Based on recent research, it is argued that the common (Erasmusian) pronunciation scheme for Koine Greek is incorrect and that it should pronounced in a similar fashion to modern Greek, for which Campbell provides a helpful pronunciation chart. Interestingly, Daniel Wallace, NT scholar and author of the popular textbook, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, defends the traditional Erasmusian pronunciation, primarily on pedagogical grounds.

Speaking of pedagogy, the book’s final chapter is in fact, all about teaching and learning Greek. Campbell notes that in many introductory grammars, students are rarely asked to actually begin reading the Greek NT, and translation exercises typically deal only with short fragments instead of entire paragraphs or sections. He does cite one recent grammar as an exception, Rodney Decker’s Reading Koine Greek, where by chapter two, students are already asked to read significant portions of John’s Gospel. There is also a brief discussion on the use of software tools such as Accordance, BibleWorks, and Logos, and how they can enhance the study of Greek. Finally, the chapter closes with a review of immersion learning and advice for how to retain one’s proficiency at the language once it has been acquired.

In conclusion, Campbell’s book offers an excellent, engaging tour of the latest in NT Greek research and is highly recommended!

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