Jan 5, 2017

Review of A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament

Charles Lee Irons, A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2016). 

A plethora of resources are available for students and potential students of the Greek New Testament, including books, software, videos, and apps. One can be thankful for the availability of these resources but the sheer volume and variety can be intimidating. The situation is further complicated by the differing levels of competency in potential users and different opinions on the perceived value of any given resource. One person’s helpful tool is viewed by others as a crutch. The availability of Bible software and its ability to parse and quickly access original language resources (e.g., lexicons, grammars) also has been somewhat of a game changer. It is in this context that Charles Lee Irons’ A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament, fairly or unfairly, needs to be considered.

But before we examine the contribution that Irons’ work might make, we should take note of what exactly Irons seeks to accomplish. This is easy enough, as he notes, “This Syntax Guide is intended to assist readers of the Greek New Testament by providing brief explanations of intermediate and advanced syntactical features of the Greek text. It also provides suggested translations to help the reader make sense of unusual phrases and difficult sentences” (p. 7). It is not intended to replace or supplant parsing guides, lexicons, reader’s editions of the Greek New Testament, or apparently commentaries. “Rather it picks up where these other tools leave off, presupposes their use, and moves on to more complex issues of syntax, translation, some textual criticism, and limited exegesis” (p. 7). One distinguishing feature of the work is its emphasis on recognizing “Hebraic constructions, Semitic interference, and Septuagentisms in the syntax” (p. 11). Irons’ goal is a noble one. Namely, “to encourage students, pastors, and others to devote themselves to reading large portions of the Greek New Testament, ideally all of it” (p. 8).

The layout of the book is simple. The notations are grouped by book and arranged in chapter and verse order. Not every verse is covered but the majority seems to be. The chapter/verse number is followed by the pertinent Greek word or phrase and an explanation which often, but not always, includes an English translation. Also often included are brief syntactical notes and references to the “Hebraic constructions, Semitic interference, and Septuagentisms” noted above. This volume also includes a brief but helpful index of subjects listed not by page number but by biblical reference (which is preferable for a work like this). The syntactical notes seem to reference most often in Blass, Debrunner, and Funk (BDF) and Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, and not surprisingly, many of the lexical references are to BDAG. 

There are a number of features that make this volume helpful and desirable. First, the packaging and presentation are user-friendly. The book is the same size as the two most commonly used editions of the Greek text (NA and UBS) making it easier to carry. The layout is also generous in white space when compared to two similar works that I cut my teeth on, namely, the more densely-packed The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament by Rogers and Rogers and A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament by Zerwick. Second, Iron’s work does a bit of the grammatical legwork for his readers by providing references to the pertinent discussions in some of the most frequently referenced intermediate grammars. The reader will still need to look at these grammars to read the full discussion but it can still be a time-saver. Third, the occasional references to the “Hebraic constructions, Semitic interference, and Septuagentisms” is a nice plus. Most of these can probably be found in technical commentaries, but again, to have a quick reference in one place is nice.

There is not much to say by way of criticism. One could disagree with Irons’ conclusions here or there and one might wish that he would have produced a more comprehensive treatment. But taken on its stated terms, Irons delivers what he promises. Probably the biggest challenge for this work will be finding a niche in the crowded field of New Testament Greek resources. There are already well-established and similar works like those by Rogers and Rogers and Zerwick and it will also need to compete with B&H Academic’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) and Baylor’s Handbook series. Perhaps its saving grace will be that it is a single volume packaged in a manageable-size that can easily be carried with a Greek New Testament. In any case, Irons’ work is a helpful, but not essential, resource that merits consideration by those seeking to become more proficient in reading their Greek texts.

You can read an excerpt here.

Thanks to Kregel for providing the copy used in this unbiased review.

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