Moulton Howard & Turner Greek Grammar Collection: A Review

Thank you Logos Bible Software for the opportunity to review this excellent Greek Grammar collection.

A Little Background first…

While Greek studies continue to progress each year, the study of the language of the New Testament has not seen the publication of a major advanced reference grammar for 32 years.[1] In fact, there are, for the most part, only four or so major references grammars for Koine Greek and one of those is rarely cited these days. So before we begin this review proper, let me run you down the chronological line…

In 1822, Dr. G. B. Winer published A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek (German: Grammatik des Neutestamentlichen Sprachidioms als sichere Grundlage der neutestamentlichen Exegese). This was a work on the leading edge of linguistic studies of the day and was continued to be used for some time. Its 1867  6th edition was translated and expanded by William F. Moulton in 1870 and then revised in 1877. With the discovery of the value of the Egyptian Greek Papyri, a revolution took place that transformed Greek grammar (Deissmann’s Bible Studies was a the major cause and deserve to go in publication for Logos). With this revolution, James H. Moulton was asked to take his father’s place in producing a new English edition of Winer’s grammar. The task became too great and in the end what James Moulton wrote was truly a new work. Moulton’s grammar the focus of this review.

In 1914, the first edition of A. T. Robertson’s famed “Big grammar” was published, Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. In five years it when through three editions. Today it is still extremely valuable, though often a dense read.

It was not until 1961 that the next major English reference grammar for the Greek language was published, the translation  and expansion of Blass & Debrunner’s German work on the Greek language by Robert Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. The perfect image of conciseness, BDF is often difficult to read. In fact, it has been said that the person who knows Greek well enough to use BDF, probably doesn’t need to use BDF. Nonetheless, this was and continues to be an essential reference for the study of Greek and is considered to be a high authority by the majority of NT scholars.

And now we pick up where we left off with Moulton and Winer. The work Moulton produced became only volume one of what we have today as a Grammar of New Testament Greek by Moulton, Howard, & Turner. Tragically, Dr. Moulton was killed in a submarine attack by the Germans in 1917 during World War I. Most of volume two had been written before his death: Accidence and Word Formation – the fields of study today referred to as phonology and morphology. The volume was completed by his colleague Wilbert F. Howard, who also died before the grammar was competed. Syntax and Style ended the set, written by Dr. Nigel Turner in 1963 and 1976, respectively. All four volumes together totaled 1498 pages.

The digital publication of Moulton, Howard & Turner’s Grammar of New Testament Greek is a rather significant moment both for Logos Bible Software and for New Testament studies in general. For one, the set seems to be, for all intents and purpose, practically out of print (see here). But what is more important is that with its digital publication, Logos has available the three most recent and most important reference grammars available for the study of Koine Greek. That means for NT Greek grammar, Logos is literally a one stop shop.

On to the Review…

There are a few things we look for when we’re examining books to purchase that we plan to use regularly for reference and study. For that most part, this is going to be a rather pragmatic review. I would hope that it is fairly obvious that content is always a key issue in purchasing books. And when it comes to digital books, such as those available from Logos Bible Software, the question of capability comes in. Finally, and for many people including myself, the most important question is price.

For the sake of time and space, when I refer to the entire four volume set, it will be abbreviated MHT. When I refer to a particular volume, it will be MHT1, 2, 3, or 4.

The Theoretical…

There are some scholars who would consider much of what Moulton wrote to be outdated now that what has become known as “Verbal Aspect Theory” has gained so much strength in recent years. But is this the case? I think not.

As I type this review, I have MHT1 pulled up in Logos. To my right is a copy of Stanley E. Porter’s Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament with Reference to Tense and Mood. Throughout much of Porter’s work, we find a rather critical view of “Aktionsart Theory,” which has been considered the traditional model. But the true problem is less one of “theories” and more one of terminology.

Aspectual studies originated with the examination of the Slavonic languages, such as Russian and then applied to the study of Indo-European. And much of this work was done in German. The result was that the German term Aktionsart tended to be used as a synonym of Aspect much of the time. Since then, as linguistic studies advanced eventually a distinction was made. Aktionsart is presently in linguistic circles used as a subset of Aspect. Thus, in David Crystal’s very handy Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics aktionsart is defined as “lexical aspect” rather than grammatical/morphological aspect. The definition that we often hear in NT studies, that aspect is the subjective perspective of action while aktionsart is the objective description of an action is one I have never heard outside of Biblical studies and neither had my advisor in my linguistic field methods class who had written his dissertation on Aspect.

These facts are crucial to our understanding of the grammars written in the last century, particularly those that had such a great impact such as Moulton & Robertson. The fact is that neither Moulton or Robertson necessarily intend to describe objective action by the term Aktionsart because it was the only term available to them. Whether this is true of Turner’s discussion in MHT3 is less than clear to me.

With this is mind, Moulton’s discussion in chapter six of MHT1 begins to appear quite modern and even more so when we realize that 1) Aktionsart means Aspect, 2) Punctiliar means Perfective, 3) Durative means Imperfective and so on. This is especially clear when we note that Moulton regularly uses the present aspectual terminology in reference to those verbs which are derived from the affixation of a preposition.[2]

The choice of the preposition which is to produce this perfective action depends upon conditions which vary with the meaning of the verbal root. Most of them are capable of “perfectivising” an imperfective verb, when the original adverb’s local sense has been sufficiently obscured (MHT1, 111).

So then when we combine Moulton’s understanding of lexical aspect with his understanding of morphological aspect, the result, rather than being archaic and outdated, actually begins to look like a blend of Porter’s work on Verbal Aspect as a morphological category and Moisés Silva’s work on Aspect as a lexical category (see for example chapter 1 of Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Methods).

All of this to say that the greatest gaps between modern grammatical and linguistic study has more to do with terminology than content. MHT continues to be a valuable and helpful work. Dare I say, it is even a necessary work for any advanced student.

The Practical…

But all of that is rather abstract grammar and linguistics. And as I said previously, I do my share of exegesis as well. And as most who frequent my blog know, I (try to) regularly post my studies of Ephesians. And every time I start working on another section of the Greek text, Logos and the Greek grammars available, now including MHT, are part of the process.

Right now, I’m working on Ephesians 4.20-23. Each time I begin a new section, I first copy the Greek text into Word and turn it into a block outline – no English yet. From these I write as much as I can on each clause describing what I seen in the syntactic relationships – still no English. Finally, I go to Logos. I pull up the Exegetical guide, punch in my passage and see what it spits out. Here’s Ephesians 4.21


Every single reference to 4.21 pops up right there. As much as I love physical books, digging through a scripture index is more work than I need. But with Logos, this is real service! It is here that I can doubt check any of the more unusual constructions that might appear as I go through the text. And because MHT is such a thorough and extensive resource more often than not there are one or two links to it in the grammar section of the exegetical guide for virtually every verse.

In terms of capability and practicality of the digital edition of MHT, my only significant disappointment was the lack of topical tagging. Below is a screen shot of MHT’s “About this Resource page” on the left and Robertson’s “Big Grammar” on the right.


You can see that while Robertson is tagged with Topic Indexes, MHT4 is not, and nor are the rest of the volumes. I found this to be rather strange since the subject indices are provided at the end of each volume. Hopefully at some point this unusual lapse will be rectified and we’ll be able to have complete integration of topic searches throughout all of the grammars available for Logos Bible Software.

The Very Practical…

And now we get down to the brass tacks. Is it worth the $99 price tag? I think it is if you’re intending on continuing to develop your knowledge of the Greek language – and especially if you’re able to take advantage of Logos’ generous Academic Discount Program. But even if you’re not. I’d still say it’s worth it to save up your pennies. Or perhaps if it’s not so much that you don’t have the money, but that you don’t have that much money at a given time to spend on books, Logos also has a decent payment plan available for the more expensive collections. Besides, it’s impossible to build this set in print for less than $99 unless you are extremely lucky. Continuum, the publisher presently charges over $100 for each of the volumes individually, though how available they are even from the publisher has been questioned, as I noted above.

So at $99, it is still a good deal. To summarize, these volumes are still hold their own in grammatical and linguistic description, they are incredibly helpful for the study of specific passages of the New Testament because of Logos’ incredible Exegetical Guide and you get Nigel Turner’s Grammatical Insights into the New Testament thrown it with it!

[1] The closest thing we have to an exception to this is Daniel B. Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the Greek New Testament (1996) and perhaps also Robert W. Funk’s A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek. But both of these are probably better considered intermediate grammars. Wallace lacks any discussion of phonology & morphology, which are necessary for a complete reference grammar and many believe does little to advance the discussion of Greek grammar in a holistic sense. And while Funk is comprehensive and surprisingly up-to-date for a book published in 1977, it lacks the references to the text one would expect from a reference grammar and is thirty-one years old.

[2] The reason behind this is simple. These are terms that originally were used to describe Russian aspect, where the only aspectual distinction was the derivational application of a preposition (and thus Lexical Aspect, i.e. Aktionsart). For that reason, one could just as easily say that Porter is wrong in using the terms perfective and imperfect since they historically referred to lexical rather than morphological aspect. To say that Moulton or any of ther grammarians of the early twentieth century were wrong because the used the work Aktionsart makes very little sense.