Review: Linguistics of New Testament Greek

Author:

David Alan Black is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written extensively on the New Testament, but focuses on practical books that help ministers engage with Koine Greek as well as linguistics.

Overview:

Linguistics of New Testament Greek is a thorough overview of general linguistic concepts—phonetics, phonology, morphosyntax—as they are applied to Koine Greek.

Black usually explains new concepts, but this book would be most helpful to readers who are already beginner-to-intermediate in either linguistics or New Testament Greek. A true tenderfoot in both fields would be lost here.

The book is organized by the subfields of linguistics, including phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. Each chapter has a very useful bibliography so that if you were focusing on one topic, this book would be a starting point to going deeper.

David Alan Black’s writings pioneer in filling an important gap in biblical training: theologians and seminarians rarely have any training in the field of linguistics—or if they do, they become overseas Bible translators, and their skills do not serve the pulpit. (Louw and Nida are two other popular writers who cross over between linguistics and biblical languages.)

Biblical Languages: More Than Word Studies!

In this book, Black introduces readers to an array of tools for looking at the structure of biblical Greek. These tools are often overshadowed by the allure of lexicology, or “word studies” as they are often called in preaching. Black notes throughout what a small part word studies play in true linguistics.

“It is interesting to note that what was presumably the limited vocabulary of a small Hellenic community was adapted to the needs of a worldwide empire less by borrowing or by the introduction of new words than by the adaptation of existing words through the addition of affixes or through compounding.” (p. 76)

Later on, Black engages with famous scholars Louw and Barr, both of whom are highly critical of popular word studies. In p. 138-139, Black summarizes Louw’s position that “words do not have any meaning, but different usages. Sentences have meaning. This means that the entire text is instrumental.” (p. 139) Black qualifies Louw’s position somewhat, explaining that he was developing on the semantics work of James Barr. However, if most ministers have steered towards the Scylla of mere word-studies, Barr has aimed for the Charybdis at which any statement is inaccurate unless the entire book is quoted. As an example in Barr’s favor, Jeremiah 29:11 is a verse that, at the word, phrase, or sentence level, is not fully understandable, unless we place it in relation to Jeremiah’s history and prophecy, or rather the whole Divine Library. Louw is trying if anything to recover us to the middle-ground where word-studies retain their meaning and power in relation to the text.

“The distinctiveness of the Bible therefore is not to be found at the lexical or morphological level, but at the syntactic level.” (p. 138)

Note:

For reference, here are some key passages:

The section entitled “Word and Concept” (p. 123-124) summarizes important issues with the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), also related to the previous section of this review.

Important Greek figures of speech are listed and defined (p. 133-136).

Black also gives a nice overview of morphologically related words.


Note: I started this book in 2008 and later finished it in 2016. This review was published in 2021.

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