You don’t need to trust your grammar

I quoted Rachel Aubrey on twitter a little over a week ago that you shouldn’t trust anything they say about Greek grammar.

Let’s talk about what this means. First, this is a conversation about what trust is and what trust is not in the context of scholarship. If we were talking about interpersonal relationships, then trust is foundational part of what makes your relationships work, whether marriage, friendships, in the workplace. Building trust in such contexts is healthy. It is foundational to being able to live well.

But scholarship and education are about asking questions. They are also about interrogating the answer your receive to those questions. The digital tools and corpuses we have access today mean that we can question what our grammars tell us. Be like Nathanael and come see for yourself.

43 Τῇ ἐπαύριον ἠθέλησεν ἐξελθεῖν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν. καὶ εὑρίσκει Φίλιππον καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Ἀκολούθει μοι. 44 ἦν δὲ ὁ Φίλιππος ἀπὸ Βηθσαϊδά, ἐκ τῆς πόλεως Ἀνδρέου καὶ Πέτρου. 45 εὑρίσκει Φίλιππος τὸν Ναθαναὴλ καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· Ὃν ἔγραψεν Μωϋσῆς ἐν τῷ νόμῳ καὶ οἱ προφῆται εὑρήκαμεν, Ἰησοῦν υἱὸν τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἀπὸ Ναζαρέτ. 46 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ· Ἐκ Ναζαρὲτ δύναταί τι ἀγαθὸν εἶναι; λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Φίλιππος· (John 1:43–46)

You can test what your grammar claims.

Smyth’s (1956) Greek Grammar tells us.

2929. ὅπως, originally a relative adverb meaning how, is derived from the relative particle σϝοδ (with which Eng. so is connected), to which the indefinite πώς has been added. Hom. ὅππως from σϝοδ-πως, as ὅττι from σϝοδ-τι (81 D 2).

a. The adverbial meaning of ὅπως is still seen in its use as an indefinite relative and as an indirect interrogative; and by the fact that in its place ὅπῃ, ὅτῳ τρόπῳ, ἐξ ὅτου τρόπου are sometimes used. By association with the subjunctive ὅπως became a conjunction (cp. μή πως) used with or without ἄν in final clauses (see 2196, 2201). On the use as a conjunction in object clauses after verbs of effort and of fear, see 2211, 2228. So in dependent statements ὅπως passed from how into that (2578 d).

You have the resources to test nearly any of these statements. A simple concordance search Perseus gives you plenty of data to work through. Or if you have a software package like Logos Bible Software or Accordance, you can even query more specific syntax searches across treebanks of the New Testament (and for Logos, the LXX Deuterocanon). There are only fifty or so instances of ὅπως in the New Testament to check if you want to do it manually without much difficulty.

How do the patterns described by Smith (1956) play out in the New Testament? Or do they? You have the power to evaluate, scrutinize, and judge. Do so. Your knowledge of Greek will grow and should you choose, you will contribute better analyses to the larger community of teachers, researchers, and students.

You cannot trust grammars that are silent entirely.

But there’s another way that you don’t need to trust what your grammar tells you. Or more accurately, you cannot trust it because it tells you nothing. Have you ever notice that Wallace’s (1997) Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Intermediate Syntax of of the New Testament has nothing to say about negation or polarity in Greek? You cannot trust a grammar on a topic when that grammar ignores that topic. Or consider that Wallace (1997) has 47 occurrences of the phrase “word order” across his hundreds of pages and yet there is no chapter on word order. Grammars are immensely useful resources, but they are not gospel. They are contextually bounded by the priorities and interests and awareness of their authors.