Book Review: Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek

linguistics22Thanks to Dave Black for this complementary (and autographed) copy of Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Surevey of Basic Concepts and Applications (Baker Books, 1995).   

Dave Black is professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina and is also a farmer!  Here is his blog if you want to learn more. 

You can find some more of Dave Black books here

You can go to my initial postabout the book when I recieved to to see a portion from the introduction on what we can gain from learning about linguistics as it relates to learning NT Greek. 

Reading this book has reinforced in my mind the importance of having even a basic sense of lingusitic principles as they relate to language learning and acqusition.  Language is more than just words and concpets and ideas – it is communication– without it, no one would understand anyone else and perhaps there would not be much understanding of anything really.  Knowing or understanding aspects of lingustics will help in this area.  And to the language student, it will help in understanding the natue of the biblical languages and how they work, which in turn will help one understand the Bible in more profound ways than before.

The purpose of the book was to “concentrate on a linguistic approach to New Testament Greek, weaving together literary, grammatical, and linguistic concerns” (ix).  Black avers “More than ever before, lingusitics is becoming an indispensible element in the theory and practice of New Testament interpretation” (ix).  So this book is his contribution to the discussion of the interrelations between linguistics and New Testament Greek grammar” (xiv). 

The breakdown of the book is as follows: there is an introductiondiscussing the value of linguistics and NT Greek (1-22) where the reader learns that lingusitics isn’t just for that person who is looking to translate Bibles in some remote far away jungle but its also for every person interested in better understanding language and also NT Greek.  

Next we learn about phonology (23-52) (that branch of linguistics dealing with speech sounds) where you learn about plosives, fricatives, glides, and continuants, which are names for the kinds of sounds made.  From there one learns of phonemes, allophones and the suprasegmental features of sounds.   All this can, in some facet, help one catch on to the various literary features of the Greek New Testamentsuch as the use of alliterations, rhythms for poetic and rhetorical analysis of the NT such as the Christ hymn of Philppians 2:6-11 (p.51).  

After phonology comes morphology, the study of words (or units of meaning) (53-94).  Morphology has to do with the derivation of words or how they are formed to create meaning.  Here we learn parts of a word: prefixes; roots; affixes and suffixes.  We learn of derivational and inflectional affixes along with allomorphs.  In addition, there are additive morphemes, prefixed morphemes, and even zero morphemes!   When one can engage in the morphological analysis of nouns and verbs we better understand how words are formed and what their patters are, which in turn can aid in vocabulary acquisition.  This way we are not limited to just rote memorization as most of us are.  You’ll know how a word is formed and whythus easing memorization of the word and others like it (same word class).   In addition, we now know the real usefulness of Bruce Metzger’s Lexical aides for Students of New Testament Greek (1974).

Moving on, the next chapter is on syntax which focuses on how words are combined to form phrases, clauses and sentences. Here we learn the differences between structural and lexical meanings to get to the total linguistic meaning of an utterance (97).  We also learn of structure and content words and how they help build sentences.  If we say “ship sails today” it make no sense, but if we add a structure word such as “the” we can get “The ship sails today” or “Ship the sails today” to help make sense of the words (98).   In this chapter we also learn about immediate consituent analysis, and transformational grammar along with the nature of the Greek sentence and its patterns.  All this will help us know how to analyze a sentence so we know what it is saying to get at its meaning.  

One of the more intriguing chapters for me was the next chapter on semantics (120-141).  Semantics deals with determining the meaning of individual words.  Words have meaning but they need context to help supply that meaning.  If we use the word “turkey” lots of meanings come to mind, a kind of meat, a country, a kind of bird, a score in bowling, an obnoxious child, etc.  Lots of possibilities.  But soon as I say “I had turkey for lunch,” we know which meaning of “turkey” is referred to, though then we may want to know if it was deli meat turkey or the meat right from the bird, but still, words need context to have meaning

So, in this chapter we learn about etemology, whether a word is found in it’s nature or through convention and usage (121).  The thing we have to be careful about here is etemologizing, or as Gordon Fee advises, “don’t get derivation happy.”   This is when we insist that the meaning of a word is based on its derivation.  The all too famous word people do this with is “εκκλησια.” 

Often folks take εκ (a preposition meaning “out of”) and the root καλ (to call) and combine them to think εκκλησια means the church is a group of “the called out ones.”  Then we go off theologizing about how special the church is as a called out people, a separate people, separate from the world (after all we are not to be of it, right?) and go on and on, when this is classic etemologizing.  The reality is, in the NT εκκλησια simply refers to an assembly of people defined by membership, as opposed to οχλος (the crowd).  So, meaning is most often based on useage and not derivation per se (sometimes, but very rarely – form and meaning are not always directly connected). 

So, one has to be careful not to confuse historial information with contemporary usage – historial information can help provide comparison and background information but not the meaning of a word – so becareful on that one (122).  So enough about that – want more?  Get the book! 

The rest of the chapter gets into words and concepts, sematic meanings, rhetorical language.  You learn about synonyms, hyponymns, opposites, and so on.  It’s all good stuff and by the way, the book is meant to be read and not consulted – you need to read it from beginning to end to understand how it all works together

There is a chapter on the history of Greek and here you get a rundown on how it all developed.  See my recent post about linguistics and translation where I reflect on part of this chapter in relation to Greek itself – it may not be quite what Dr. Black was intending but it’s a connection I made. 

The final chapter is on discourse analysis (170-197) and here you get a great quick overview of the book of Philippians through the use of discourse analysis.  What is discourse analysis?  Much of what goes on up to this point is analyzing the smaller parts of language: sounds, words, phrases, sentences.  Now, we analyze the larger parts, the whole unit in which the smaller parts fit.   Whereas syntax analyzes prhases and sentences, discourse analysis anlyzes whole paragraphs and books.  What are we looking for?  Cohesion and Coherence.  We want to know how the sentences link together into larger syntactical units (171) and also make sense of that unit or text. 

That about sums it up!  This is a great book and quite useful!  Please consider getting and reading it!  Thank you Dr. Black for allowing me a copy to reivew – it was a great pleasure!  Be Blessed!

2 responses to “Book Review: Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek

  1. Pingback: Reading Material Recently Mentioned In The Blogosphere - Christian Books and Dissertations | Scripture Zealot

  2. Thanks for this… I read this book a few years ago and found it incredibly helpful, and your review has reminded me that I always meant to give it another read!

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