Strauss, Mark L. The Biblical Greek Companion for Bible Software Users. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, pp. 112, $18.99, paperback.
Mark Strauss (PhD, Aberdeen) is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary (San Diego). He has written extensively in New Testament studies, translation, hermeneutics, and application. His books include The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts; Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels; How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God’s Word Today, and Mark in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. His Biblical Greek Companion for Bible Software Users is a useful resource created to help pastors, teachers, and students engage the original languages.
Bible software programs have revolutionized the way students of the Bible access, study, and engage the Scriptures. They have also revolutionized the way schools are teaching the biblical languages. Many schools have modified language tracks, teaching the biblical languages while assuming the assistance of such programs. These courses or tracks do not expect memorization and mastery of forms and vocabulary because the information is readily available with a click through programs such as Logos, BibleWorks, and Accordance. It is for this new context that Strauss makes this contribution.
This companion is a tool for students and pastors providing quick-reference and user-friendly explanations of the grammatical information encountered when using Bible software programs. The book arranges its topics alphabetically and provides concise explanations of grammatical terms. Each entry covers the grammatical information provided by the Bible software programs in a concise two-page explanation of forms, primary functions, and exegetical insights. The exegetical insights provide an example of how the grammar is relevant to interpretation.
The book targets a few different categories of pastors, teachers, and students. These include those who have learned the languages in the past but struggle to use them consistently because of the demands of ministry. The book also targets students who are currently engaged in language courses, students who are in a program that does not require them to master the languages, and students who have not had the opportunity to learn the languages formally but want to gain deeper insight for their own studies.
As described above, the book treats grammatical terms alphabetically like a lexicon or dictionary (from Accusative to Vocative). Three additional appendices address less interpretively significant matters such as accents, breathing marks, pronunciation, and punctuation. In terms of strengths, Strauss has produced a very useful tool. Its simplicity and concise explanations provide for Greek readers what Strunk and White’s Elements of Style provides for English writers. Pastors and Bible students would do well to have it within arm’s reach. Bible Software users and students should use it as a go-to-resource for quick answers to grammatical questions they encounter in the work of translation and interpretation.
The exegetical insights provide helpful examples to highlight interpretive significance and model exegetical decision-making. For example, Strauss’ exegetical insight for the neuter gender clarifies the relationship between the masculine pronoun, ekeinos, and the neuter noun, pneuma (Spirit) in John 16:13. He provides a reasonable pause for the interpreter who sees grammatical evidence of Trinitarian personhood by pointing to the masculine antecedent, paraklētos, in 16:7 (p. 51). Another example is his insight for Ephesians 2:8 under the entry for the feminine gender. He helps the interpreter reason through the interpretive options and illustrates how gender is key to its interpretation (p. 31). One of my favorite exegetical insights came unexpectedly in his explanation of interjections. Here he offers examples of the challenges faced by translators and reason students must slow down when translating even seemingly insignificant parts of speech (p. 45).
Most of what I offer as critique is admittedly nit picking. However, the book’s primary advantage (i.e., its conciseness) also gives occasion to its primary challenge. For example, in his exegetical insight for the future tense, he gives an example of the imperatival future. In it, he claims this use of the future “provides a more solemn tone than a simple imperative” (p. 33). However, there is not sufficient explanation why this is so. Additionally, the book’s conciseness hurts the explanations of grammatical functions and certain structural indicators at times. For example, when explaining the three different uses of the adjective (i.e., attributive, substantive, and predicative), there is no explanation of the structural clues one may use to determine which to use in translation (pp. 14-15). The same is true for his explanation of infinitives and their use with articles and prepositions. Space does not allow an explanation for how articles and prepositions work with the infinitive (pp. 42-43).
Overall, Strauss has produced a very useful tool, and it expands Zondervan’s many excellent resources for students of biblical language. This tool is worth having within arm’s reach for pastors, teachers, and students learning Greek, coming back to Greek, or still working to towards fluency. For those schools and seminaries offering language courses or tracks that lean heavily on any of the Bible software programs, this book should be considered as part of the required or recommended resources. However, Strauss’ book will not be as helpful for the student without history with Greek or without a more complete grammar also on her or his shelf. This tool serves well to jog one’s memory but not to instruct the completely uninitiated; there is simply not enough detail and context to be useful for one untrained in Greek or biblical interpretation. Of course, this should not be taken as a critique since Strauss did not intend to provide a comprehensive grammar. Overall, I applaud and thank Professor Strauss and Zondervan for providing another great language tool.
Brett A. Berger
Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, AZ