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Ten Best Books for Studying New Testament Greek

 David Alan Black  

For what it's worth, I offer here a list of a few of my favorite books on New Testament Greek grammar. I hope this listing may stir some reader to an ambition to learn the language and learn it well. I fully realize that this catalog will be outdated as soon as it is published. I also exclude from it my own publications in the field, not because I believe them to be badly written, but because their author is hopelessly biased.

On, then, to the Ten Best Books for Studying New Testament Greek (in no particular order):

1. William Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek.

Mounce's beginning grammar remains perhaps the most widely used introductory textbook of New Testament Greek. Speaking as an author of a beginning Greek textbook, I am glad that Mounce's grammar has had the recognition it so richly deserves and offer my best wishes for its continuance, since the book is a great service to students everywhere. No matter which beginning textbook you used, you will need to own this grammar as well.

2. Dan Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.

Wallace's intermediate grammar is a tour de force. It is absolutely impossible to describe the profundity of this book. I prefer to recommend it to you and then let you discover its treasures. The pedagogical implications, however, are such that I cannot agree to them without compromising what is dearest to me as a teacher -- simplicity. It would do good service if one day the book could be rewritten and placed on a slightly lower shelf. Oh wait -- this has already been done!

3. A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research.

I seldom felt so pitifully incompetent as when I first picked up this book. It almost counts as a "mental autobiography." Robertson tried to show the effect, upon a growing new science, of the profound transformation that modern linguistics had brought in the way scholars approached the Greek of the New Testament. Most modern teachers of Greek give the book faint praise, then promptly ignore it. In my opinion, that is a huge mistake. I require the book in my Advanced Greek Grammar course, but even intermediate level students who are willing to work will benefit from it.

4. Robert Funk, Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.

At the Amazon site, Dan Wallace writes:

BDF is still the standard Greek grammar of the New Testament even after four decades. It is in the process of being revised (by a revision committee of eight members), but the revision will take several more years to complete. We felt it needed revision because BDF presupposes that the average reader has had much exposure to classical Greek prior to working in the New Testament. This is part of the reason that BDF is so hard to use: most NT students have not had exposure to classical Greek nowadays. Another reason is its cryptic nature, Teutonic abbreviations, and omission of 'normal' grammar. Nevertheless, even with these shortcomings, every responsible exegete of the New Testament must own a copy of this goldmine of information.

Enough said.

5. Peter Cotterell and Max Turner, Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation. In a sense this book could be called a popularization. It seeks to bring linguistics within the grasp of educated people in general rather than leave it in the possession of a closed and mysterious community. The authors have selected the thinkers in the field who have good judgment, and their own comments are accurate and clear as well.

6. Moisés Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning. This book is a retreat from the radicalism of an earlier generation of New Testament teachers that believed in "Holy Ghost" Greek. Silva's exegetical acumen fitted him well for writing a book on lexicography. This book inveighed me into actually delving into linguistics myself, and when eventually I produced my own book on linguistics it was Silva who agreed to write the preface.

7. Stanley Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood. This book, which suffers from gigantism, deserves a prominent place in my list because it opened an important can of worms known today as the verbal aspect debate. You mustn't expect clarity from Dr. Porter, but you must read this book. Porter impresses me as one who has his finger on the heartbeat of the problem, though I disagree with many of his conclusions.

8. Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek. When I was in seminary I was introduced to this book and lived with it night and day. Despite its recklessly ambitious preface the book largely accomplishes what it sets out to do: introduce the reader to all the categories of New Testament Greek grammar in an understandable way. It really is a first-rate piece of work.

9.  Neal Windham, New Testament Greek for Preachers and Teachers. What a pleasant surprise when I first laid eyes on this book! It covers six different areas of reading one's Greek New Testament, including morphology and the Greek cases. Why it has not attracted more attention is beyond me. I feel it is one of the most underrated books of our generation, and I'd dearly like to see it read by every student of New Testament Greek.

10. Rodney Decker, Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers. Having taught Greek for 34 years I can say with conviction that nothing is more important to the mastery of New Testament Greek than keeping our students in the text. Decker's book is simply the best reader available today. The readings are all engaging, and the notes are both accurate and helpful. Decker will stretch your students without breaking them. The book is also very user-friendly for the independent learner.  

Obviously, by composing this list of what I believe to be essential books for students of New Testament Greek grammar, I have no intention of imposing upon them harsh punishment. I can only speak personally, and -- speaking personally -- I have found each of these books to be a fascinating and helpful read. I surmise you will too. Like all books, they contain unforgivable omissions, and many pay far too little attention to English style. But they all have one thing in common: they will destroy your smugness. The sin of many seminarians is what the ancient Greeks called hubris -- arrogance in the midst of prosperity. I am partly to blame if my students graduate with a head full of knowledge and a heart full of pride. I know of nothing that will dispel our inflated egos quite like seeing how much we don't know. We are all imperfect teachers, but we may be forgiven if we have at least tried to warn our students against self-satisfied complacency.

At any rate: Happy Reading!

November 24, 2010

David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.

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