Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O ’Donnell. Fundamentals of New Testament Greek. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. pp. 466, $40, Hardcover.
When one considers the quantity of elementary and advanced Greek grammars that have been published in the last hundred years, it is no surprise that the teaching of Greek has become such a refined art. No matter where someone goes to learn Biblical Greek, odds are they learned it through a similar methodology. What Porter, Reed, and O’Donnell set out to do in Fundamentals of New Testament Greek is continue to refine the advances made over the past hundred years. The very nature of Porter’s grammar is pedagogical. In his introduction he states that:
All beginning grammar books are incomplete in their coverage of the language they introduce. In fact, grammar books often present half-truths (even lies!) about the language that we have seen needed correcting in second-year classes. We trust that this text contains fewer such statements than others. In an effort to minimize incompleteness, we have included fuller and more comprehensive discussions, definitions, and presentation of material than are usually found in other beginning grammars. (p. xii)
Porter then lists the goals he sets out to accomplish such as: introducing morphology, elementary syntax, useful exercises, vocabulary in occurrence order, illustrating and fostering care for the language, and exemplifying good scholarly work in the Greek New Testament (GNT) as beneficial for “greater spiritual maturity and personal piety.” (p. xii) Porter and his fellow authors have executed this goal with excellence. Their sensitivity to the obvious learning curve in studying any language is apparent in each chapter. The vast vocabulary covered (950 words) and the concepts integrated into his grammar make it a tour de force of elementary Greek grammars. In my estimation, this grammar is underutilized and overlooked, but the vast quantity of material covered ought to ensure its more universal integration into seminary classes.
The grammar is laid out with great simplicity, and much like any grammar it has a helpful introduction attempting to distinguish it from other grammars already out there. The rest of the book is laid out in 30 chapters in order to fit into a normal 2 semester schedule. In overall structure there is little that is unique about the grammar, the only exception being a parsing guide in the beginning of the book and a “concepts” section in each chapter. The parsing guide is extremely helpful and if students work to put this section to memory, working through the grammar will be much easier. The concepts section defines terminology used within the chapter before the chapter begins, almost like a short glossary at the beginning of the chapter. He also lays out the vocabulary necessary for each chapter in order to integrate the vocabulary into the student’s learning more fluidly.
Observing the layout, the ordering of material within the grammar is very unique. The sequence the material is presented in is one of the most useful features of the grammar — it is what Porter finds most useful to group together. Chapter 1 is obviously the alphabet, but he integrates contract vowel rules and accent rules, two concepts that are typically taught much later in many grammars. In his discussion about prepositions he talks about verbless clauses, seeking a more holistic approach to sentence structure for his students. Porter’s method of teaching the verb is also worth mentioning. This may prove difficult for someone coming with a background in other grammars, but Porter stays true to his convictions and separates the verbs based on the aspectual identity. One of the more helpful aspects of Porter’s work in this grammar is the integration of syntax. This is beneficial for a number of reasons, but most importantly, students will not be blindsided by intermediate/advanced grammars after using this book. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from students is not seeing the immediate practicality and I believe this is because of all the hidden gems in Greek that are reserved for advanced classes/grammars. This is remedied by Porter in his grammar.
Although the integration of syntax and complex grammatical concepts is helpful to the student of New Testament Greek, the greatest deficiency I have found within Porter’s grammar is the amount of knowledge he assumes that the student has. For instance, in every chapter there is excursus information that is blocked off. In these sections the authors explain further syntactical issues, as per Systemic functional linguistics, or further incorporating verbal aspect, so much so that in these areas it gives a more intermediate feel to the grammar. Although, their intention to be more integrative is good, at times, this could be overwhelming for a student who has never learned another language, let alone a dead one. This is a pretty significant issue considering the purpose of the grammar is to make this an accessible and easy-to-use grammar. Many Greek professors bemoan the fact that most students do not know English grammar well enough to dig deep into Greek at the elementary level. If these are fair concerns, then Porter’s grammar is in need of simplifying the areas of linguistics and grammar. Even things like verbal aspect take diligent time and effort to integrate into one’s understanding. Therefore, greater attention will be necessary to understand where this is applied in his grammatical explanations.
This grammar has been out for a long time now and has been used by many students and scholars. This being said, Dr. Porter’s influence in Greek grammar and linguistics cannot be overstated, and this grammar’s task cannot go unappreciated. His grammar is one of the best and most comprehensive examinations of Greek grammar and linguistics written from the standpoint of an elementary grammar. Anyone seeking to either learn, relearn, or strengthen their study of Greek will benefit and grow in their study. This grammar will adequately prepare students to go further into the world of Greek, and enable them on their path to read the GNT with fluidity and ease. I would recommend this grammar to anyone seeking to learn Greek.
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton