Book Review – Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament

Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament: On the Exegetical Benefit of Grammatical Precision (New Testament Monographs) by Denny Burk

This is a difficult book to review. That might sound strange to some since its not a long book, nor is its thesis particularly controversial. What makes it a difficult book to review is that I found Burk’s thesis to be quite acceptable and well argued. The parts of the book that gave me trouble were the preliminary discussions about case. But because it’s 1) such a complex issue and 2) rather peripheral, I decided that I wouldn’t spend too much time focusing on it.

Burk’s thesis is a good one and it’s well argued: When used with the infinitive, the Greek article is a syntactic marker that does not mark definiteness with the infinitive, but rather tends to clear up grammatical ambiguity in the interpretation of the infinitive. One might say that there isn’t to much revolutionary about it.  In fact, I would probably say that his thesis is rather banal. I am not entirely sure why Burke chose this subject. In terms of grammar, there’s little to no debate here, so I’m not entirely sure why this particular subject was chosen. It definitely doesn’t advance our knowledge of Ancient Greek. I’m not sure what is here that I haven’t already gotten out of reading Moulton and Robertson. But even still, it’s a helpful guide where plenty of commentators have given too much emphasis to the appearance of the article with the infinitive (or too little).

Chapter one introduces Burk’s thesis, history of research & methodology. The history of research is a particularly helpful survey of grammatical discussions of the infinitive generally, one that probably wouldn’t be found elsewhere. Burk generally steers a helpful course between placing too much emphasis on the use of the article and two little emphasis.

The methodology section, surprised me a bit. One the one hand, there are some very good things said about how he went about his study, but on the other hand, there are a variety of statements that left me wondering. For example, were Moulton here today and read this section, he would probably respond by saying that his own work on grammar was also scientific (Burke, 17) and descriptive (21). And indeed, I doubt that any of Burk’s own work would be difficult for a grammarian of the previous generation to understand. Fundamentally, despite Burke’s claims, this is definitely not a linguistic work. There’s actually very little connection between this book and contemporary linguistic research aside from the handful of linguistic monographs occasionally reference.

My other thought in reading this section was that his methodology appears to have a greater dependence upon scientific method than it does upon modern linguistic theory. And, to be honest, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that. What is clear from the section is that Burk has done him homework in terms of reading secondary literature & his use of linguistic monographs & resources is better than a number of other studies I’ve read – though I was slightly concerned that many of the linguistic proper books were somewhat dated, but this is generally true with most NT studies that dip into linguistics.

Chapter two of the book introduces a helpful discussion of the Greek article more generally. There’s not too much for me to say here. The discussion provides a good summary of the literature and concisely describes how the article is used in the NT.

But it’s chapters 3 & 4 that pull me in two directions. On the one hand, Burk’s discussions of the article and the infinitive in these chapters are great. I really, really enjoyed them. On the other hand, I consider Burk’s discussions of the Greek cases to be both frustrating and disappointing. This, I think, has more to do with Burk’s following of Stanley Porter’s discussion of case more than it does Burk. But that doesn’t let him off the hook. There is a significant bibliographic gap with reference to the cases as used both with and without cases: Silvia Luraghi’s On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases: The Expression of Semantic Roles in Ancient Greek (Studies in Language Companion Series). This book was published three years before Burk’s was in 2006 and the Italians edition was published in the mid-90’s. Now, I’m not sure whether he completed his dissertation before 2003 or not, so I don’t want to push this one too hard and if this is the case, it would have requires a massive rewrite to deal with the claims & data from Luraghi and I’m guessing that he doens’t know Italian. I think it the end that would have been worth it, but at the same time, I can understand how unappealing that would be to someone who has already spent years working on the original thesis.  Anyway, I’ve blogged about this book before HERE. It’s cognitive, rigorous, and written by a highly qualified Indo-European/Greek scholar who definitely knows her stuff. It’s also expensive. But if you’re going to write a dissertation on a subject closely connected to cases & prepositions in Greek, you cannot avoid it. There’s more I could say specifically, but this review would grow way too long (& it already has once).

The last two chapters provide some extra evidence from the LXX (chapter 5) for Burk’s claims and draw some conclusions with exegetical comments (chapter 6). Both these chapters were quite enjoyable.

All in all the book is a nice discussion of the infinitive and it would be a beneficial read for Greek students. It’s a good summary description that doesn’t do much else–again, I’m not entirely sure what the point of the study was; what its end goal was.