A Revolutionary Greek Grammar

Now this is the kind of book that should have been written years ago, but never was.

Historically, Greek grammars are based on a translational approach. How do we translate this work, this construction, this clause, etc. Most grammars teach you how to translate rather than how to understand.

What is needed is a grammar that teaching linguistically. That doesn’t mean a whole lot of jargon and terminology that nobody can follow except for the initiated. What I mean is that we need a grammar that teaches cross-linguistically. When we look at Greek writing, the language seems so far away and very strange.

But there are so many universals that all languages express. Probably more amazing than how different languages are is how similar they are.

And there has been no grammar that starts with that point. Before asking what Greek does, no grammar has asked, “What does langauge do?” The result is some embarrassing claims about Greek, claims that should not have seen the light of day. For example Some have claimed that its possible to begin a paragraph with an verbal ellipsis, basing their evidence on nominal clauses. But nominal clauses are not ellipsis. They are verbless existentials – a “to be” clause. Many languages can do this, including Greek. Elliptical clauses cannot begin a new paragraph or pericope because they require an antecedent. Nominal clauses do not. Ephesians 5.22 does not fit into the nominal clause category. Its just as connected with what procedes as it is with what follows.

But the bigger problem of Greek grammars is their focus on words – to the expense of larger units of meaning, especially discourse. There is meaning beyond the sentence. Langauges structure their paragraphs by grammar just like they structure their clauses by grammar. Few grammar go beyond words and those that do can be rather obtuse. The result here is that we have commentaries that go from word to word discussion all the possible meanings as if they’re independent entities. For example one commentary (unnamed) on Ephesians 1.22, already concluding that ἔδωκεν in that particular verse means “gave” continues on to discussion the possibilites of what τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ might mean. Not realizing that by having already decided that ἔδωκεν mean “gave” semantically, τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ can and only mean “to the church” because what you give something, you always need to give it to someone! Meaning is found in groups.

But we need a grammar that goes beyond both words and clauses. How is information structured in Greek? How does Greek introduce new topics? How does Greek place focus on a particular word or phrase? And how does that compare with English?

And probably most importantly, what grammar does all of these things without throwing out the baby with the bath water. Linguists, I think, are becoming known for trying to change everything in NT studies more than anything else. And that is most unfortunate because there continues to be much value in the existing grammars.

The grammar I’m reading right now does all these things. It’s cross-linguistic. Its discusses discourse. It builds on the past traditional grammars and linguistics. On top of that, its readable.

Anyone curious what I’m reading?

If so, I’ll tell you more HERE.

13 thoughts on “A Revolutionary Greek Grammar

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  1. Right on! Yes, I think that would indeed be revolutionary; I wonder too, IF such a grammar were to be produced, it would have sufficient appeal to succeed in the market of bad Greek grammars. You hint that it does it without unintelligible jargon, something I find especially dubious. Please keep talking.

  2. But would a linguistically aware book about French teach and instill French in a French learner?

    Even if a book is metalinguistically and testlinguistically astute, don’t we have an even more basic need of a mechanism for acquiring the language? I would put the up-to-date linguistic perspectives in footnotes. Put the traditional in the text. Greek.

    PS: the astute book that you are reading is Dionysios Thrax, H TEXNH, right? But it was written years ago.

    Randall Buth

  3. David, are you talking about beginning grammar? Or intermediate? Reference?

    I can’t say that I’ve looked at every beginning grammar to say which is the best, I used Clayton Croy’s, which was good because of its use of texts outside the NT. I also like David Alan Black’s grammar, and I’m curious what his third edition will look like, coming out this spring. Finally, Robert Funk’s Beginning Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek is fantastic, though its size is somewhat overwhelming initially for a beginner. Its out of print, but is available for free online (searching pre-alpha Funk should get it.)

    On the intermediate level, I’d say, Black’s Its Still Greek to Me is the best initial intermediate level, and also Funk mentioned above. But in many ways you still can’t do better than C.D.F. Moule’s Idiom Book and Zerwick’s Biblical Greek. Of course then there are Wallace’s grammar and Porter’s grammar, but I have reservations about both…(though they should still be used).

  4. Hello everyone,

    I´ve stumbled upon this website since I´m looking for a few tips how learn Greek. I was wondering whether it was a good option to start with a teacher or begin the language on my own at first. Actually, I´m a linguistic freak and neither would be a problem.
    However,I have no idea what kind of books I could purchase and not to be disappointed in case I made up my mind and started the language alone. In truth, I have already checked out some titles at Amazon,however, all those things seemed to be full of shit.What I need is a good course(at a reasonable price) with tapes so that I could pick up the pronunciation as well…When it comes to grammar, naturally I need the step by step explanations.Any suggestions? If so, please contact me by mail.

  5. Kuba, I’m not really one to just e-mail strangers, but I will make a suggestion – If you’re interested in Modern Greek, go with Rosetta Stone. If you’re interested in Hellenistic Greek you’ll want the materials at biblicaluplan.org. Just peruse the site for a bit, you’ll find them. They’re called “Living Koine.”

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