SEBTS Linguistics and NT Greek Recap, April 25

The weekend at Southeastern Theological Seminary’s Linguistics and New Testament Greek Conference was a whirlwind of activity, fascinating papers and plenty of excellent conversation. I thought it might be useful to give a brief summary of each of the papers that was presented.

The sessions began on Friday afternoon with Dr. Stanley Porter. He gave a solid overview of the history and development of different linguistic schools/frameworks and how they’re related to each other. He hit all the main beats: comparative philology structuralism, generative theory, functional theories, and cognitive linguistics, while providing commentary on his sense of their strengths and weaknesses. Additionally he gave a few different perspectives for how we can view different approaches to language research. Since the majority of Greek language study has been from functionalist perspectives, these approaches received the most attention. Dr. Porter emphasized that the frameworks we choose can directly affect how we talk about the language.

Stephen Levinsohn was unable to attend in person, but Steve Runge took up the task of reading his paper for our tremendous benefit. Dr. Levinsohn’s paper took a biographical approach: taking us, the audience, through his own journey of analysis across the decades as he served with Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International. Insights into the discourse analysis of New Testament Greek were presented in the context of his own experiences with bible translation and the needs of mother-tongue translators.

Thomas Hudgins wanted to give a more practical discussion of digital resources. Rather than focusing on the bible software packages available, he instead gave a survey of a variety of practical and introductory resources available online for New Testament Greek study. The emphasis was upon openly available and accessible digital resources for Greek study rather than merely Bible software packages, such as Accordance or Logos. This encompassed pdf’s of classic editions of the Greek New Testament to online resources for exegesis, such as Robert Plummer’s Daily Dose of Greek videos.

Dr. Randall Buth gave a survey of what issues are most important for choosing and using a Greek pronunciation. This was a blend of both practical and evidence-based reasons. He also laid out the basic representative evidence for how Greek phonology has been reconstructed, particularly, for the early Roman Koine period. This included a very practical summary of how vowel systems work and how they are formed by the lips, tongue, and the various parts of the mouth cavity. Buth’s survey was insightful, accessible, and also gave a few brief examples of how understand pronunciation issues affects textual criticism and exegesis.

Dr. T. Michael W. Halcomb presented an impassioned history of Greek pedagogy. He emphasized that while two entrenched perspectives exist today that stand in opposition (communicative methods vs. grammar translation methods), the historical reality is far more complex than either side is likely aware. From the late medieval period through the Renaissance and up to the modern era, a blend of approaches from speech and composition, to reading and memorization all came together to form an organic and wholistic approach to language learning. The modern dichotomy between grammar/translation and communicative methods simply did not exist.

Finally, for the last session of Friday, Dr. Robert Plummer walked us all through some thoughts about what the ideal first year Greek grammar would look like. This last paper was especially pragmatic in nature, fully aware of the difficulties and challenges of the modern seminary and bible college bureaucracy. The ideal grammar, Plummer suggested, was the one that you already had with you, rather than a hypothetical creation that does not currently exist. Plummer’s emphasis was on how practical realities can affect the educational priorities of the classroom, such as the difficulty of the seminary context for shifting to new or alternative learning methodologies. His presentation was fun, engaging, and made thoughtful observations about how textbook decisions affect language pedagogy.