Book Review: Advances in the Study of Greek

by | Feb 13, 2016 | Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Usually in a book review the reviewer summarises the book, provides both pros and cons, and then gives his or her opinion about the value of the book as it relates to its subject and whether or not it is worth reading.  In this case I am going to jump straight to the end and just say that this book is a MUST read!  Every seminary student, pastor, professor – anyone who deals with the New Testament text – ought to read this book.  Anyone who has taken a language class with me knows that at some point, though it doesn’t happen often, I disagree with the author of the text book we are using.  Those disagreements almost entirely correspond to one of the issues raised by Campbell in this book.


Campbell’s stated goal for the book is that it may function as an “accessible introduction for students, pastors, professors, and New Testament commentators to understand what are the current issues of interest in this period of paradigm shift(s) and why the matter” (20). It does not make the claim to be exhaustive in all areas discussed or to deal with the arguments and influence of every significant contributor to one or more of these fields.  It is a basic introduction to familiarise the reader with the issues in the hope that the reader will be interested in deeper study with the result that they too might contribute to the advancement of one of the issues.

The book is comprised of ten chapters.  Each chapter is sufficiently long to provide a general introduction to the issue at hand but short enough that is easily readable.  At the end of every chapter Campbell provides a “Further Reading” section which is extremely helpful for those who want to continue the study on their own.  Below is a brief summary of these ten chapters.

Chapter one provides a brief history of Greek studies beginning in the 19th century moving through to today.  In this section Campbell discusses scholars who have contributed to our understanding of Greek as well as linguists such as Ferdinand de Saussure, J. R. Firth, and Noam Chomsky.  While there could undoubtedly be other individuals and other linguistics schools that could have been mentioned, Campbell does an excellent job of providing a cursory overview of some key individuals and schools of thought.

Chapter two is on linguistic theories.  Many who deal with the Greek New Testament come at it without a conscious linguistic framework and methodology.  Campbell’s warning is appropriate – “Students and teachers of the Greek New Testament ignore linguistics at their own peril” (52).  This chapter provides a very basic overview of Generative Linguistics and Functional linguistics. Campbell does, however, give extra attention to one particular school within the field of functional linguistics – Systemic Functional Linguistics.

Chapter three deals with lexical semantics and lexicography, that is, the meaning of words and the making of lexicons.  Campbell draws heavily from Moisés Silva’s revised edition (1994) of his 1983 book Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics.

Chapter four was one of my favourite chapters, not least because I agree with the conclusions drawn, as it deals with the validity of deponency as a legitimate category for certain Greek verbs.  The conclusion of the chapter is that the category of deponency ought to be abandoned and we must seek to understand the middle voice for what it truly is.  This means that there is much work to be done in coming to a more robust understanding of the middle voice.

Chapter five is on verbal aspect and aktionsart.  This is one of the longer chapters, which should not be a surprise, since this is one of Campbell’s main areas of interest having written three books on the subject.  It is also probably the most well known of the issues in the book as well.  The discussion comes down to what is semantically encoded in the Greek indicative verb and what is a pragmatic implicature.  Traditionally, Greek indicative verbs have been understood to encode both time and aspect.  Stanley Porter, however, has argued that only aspect is semantically encoded and that temporal reference is in fact pragmatically determined.  Campbell himself follows Porter in arguing that temporal reference is found at the pragmatic level but he also argues that aside from aspect the spatial values of remoteness and proximity are semantically encoded in indicative verbs.  There is also an extremely brief but informative section on the debate surrounding the semantic nature of the perfect indicative which (rightly) challenges the traditional understanding of a completed past action with abiding results in the present (at least the present time of the author).  While I am not completely convinced by Campbell’s argument that the indicative mood semantically encodes spatial values, this chapter is nevertheless helpful in beginning to understand the debate and the different positions taken.

Chapter six deals with idiolect (the author’s personal dialect – what makes the author sound like the author regardless of the occasion for writing), genre (the different types of writing) , and register (“a configuration of meanings that is associated with a particular situation” [142]).

Chapters seven and eight both deal with discourse analysis.  In chapter seven Campbell describes Halliday and Hasan’s work in this area and what he identifies as their central concern of discourse analysis, namely, cohesion (“what makes a text a text rather than a collection of unrelated utterances” [153]).    Though their work was developed for the English language, some have tried to apply this approach to the Greek language.

Chapter eight summarises the linguistic framework and methodology of Stephen H. Levinsohn and Steven Runge, two names that ought to be very familiar to those who have taken any language class with me.  This chapter is basically a summary of what is contained in Levinsohn’s book Discourse Features of New Testament Greek and Runge’s book Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (I would encourage anyone who deals with the Greek NT text to get these two books as well).  While Campbell perhaps could have been more nuanced at certain points in his summary (i.e. Levinsohn/Runge hold to asymmetrical markedness, what they mean by “emphasis” and the different types of prominence a fronted constituent can have), it is, nevertheless, a good introduction to their books.

Chapter 9 discusses how we ought to pronounce Koine.  Campbell rejects the Erasmian system of pronunciation (the most commonly taught method of pronunciation) and instead argues that we should adopt the modern pronunciation of Greek as it is closer to the actual Koine pronunciation than the Erasmian system.

Chapter 10 examines teaching and learning Greek.  Campbell believes that the methods currently used are out-dated.  He speaks favourably of the immersion method designed by Randall Buth but the practicality of such an experience for most pastors/seminarians will remain to be seen.

Not everyone will agree with everything in this book but it will definitely make the reader more aware of the issues currently being raised in the study of New Testament Greek.  I highly encourage anyone who handles the Greek text of the New Testament to get this book and read it!

Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.  Pp. 7 – 259. ISBN 978-0-310-51595-1

Michael Emadi is the Professor of Biblical Languages for Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently serving our Lord as a missionary in Ireland.  

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