Learning Greek All Over Again

It is high time, my gentle snowflakes, that I made mention of what is, in my estimation, one the more important bibliographical events of the decade just ended for students of Biblical Greek: the publication of our friend Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010).

Readers interested in getting a taste of what this truly groundbreaking grammar brings to the table may wish to peruse the 60-page sample that Steve has made available on his website.

Now it is no secret to frequent readers of this blog that the illustrious Steven Edward Runge, D. Litt., is not only the acclaimed author of the aforementioned workhe is also a devoted reader of The Voice of Stefan, and indeed, the gentlest of all my snowflakes. We may therefore be assured not only of his superior scholarly abilities, but also of his exceptionally good taste.

It is entirely in keeping with his well-earned reputation as a gentleman and a scholar that, cognizant of the feverish eagerness with which I anticipated its publication, Steve should have decided to send along an inscribed copy of his Discourse Grammar. For this, I am profoundly grateful. I have taken the liberty to reproduce below his manuscript inscription for your edification:

Beautiful, isn’t it? Far be it from me to point out, as I have so many other times, that I myself am no snowflake at allgentle, noble, or otherwise; the gentlest of all my snowflakes simply can do no wrong.

Be that as it may, readers may have noticed that I have chosen some exceptionally ornate language to describe Steve’s Descriptive Grammar, and given my widely documented aversion to sycophantic blurbery, I feel that I must offer a personal word of justification for this.

My study of Greek, which for nearly 20 years has commanded my attention in a variety of settings, has been chiefly informed thus far by the more conventional historical and diachronic approaches common to grammars everywhere. As a result, I seem to be aware of a good bit of information on the history of the language, and can read, with various degrees of ease, a great deal of literature from the archaic to the late Byzantine periods. This is all very good, but I have long been aware, on the one hand, of the significant contribution that modern linguistics can make (and has made!) to the study of the Greek language, and on the other, of my woefully inadequate background on the subject in spite of some programmatic reading in the field. Particularly vexing has been to read time and again about the great promise of discourse analysis for the study of Greek grammar and the practice of exegesis, but to have precious little in the way of publications that corroborate and elucidate this claim. It is on this score that Steve Runge has bravely gone where few others have dared to venture, and as a result has offered us a substantial work that goes a very long way towards resolving this lamentable bibliographical deficit. For this, we all surely stand in his debt.

I have spent the better part of a month with the Discourse Grammar, and not infrequently, while reading one section or another, I have felt like I am learning Greek all over again. This is a wonderful and even exciting prospect, and I cannot help but to wholeheartedly recommend this book to every serious student of Biblical Greek.

19 responses to “Learning Greek All Over Again

  1. Looks great! Now I’m going to learn Greek for the first time (for real) this year and maybe in a couple of years I’ll be ready for Runge’s volume. Of course I’ll pick up a copy before I can use it, but that’s only natural. ;-)


  2. Hey…. coincidence! This very volume arrived on my desk this very day, placed there by our librarian, who just got it in. And my copy is ALSO inscribed: “Catalogue checked 01/11″…. sweet!


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  4. Esteban, your words are most kind, although I feel as though the penmanship of my inscription (or lack thereof) does not live up to joy which the woefully malformed icons have brought about. Seeing it scanned made me blush; I write like a carpenter. You have always been, and ever shall continue to be, a ‘special’ snowflake, notwithstanding your claims to the contrary.

    Matt, in teaching though the book, I regularly use movie clips to illustrate points. One of my favorites is the “What have the Romans done for us” Monty Python clip to explain the use of exceptions in point-counterpoint sets. Why is the clip so funny? Precisely because they are departing from the expected norm of having only one or two elements excepted. Anything more than that and you have watered down the poignancy of the negated foil against which the excepted element is supposed to stand out. One of my hopes and dreams is to have the time to write descriptions and discussion questions for clips like that to help spread the joy in grammar class. It should not be a boring place, and You Tube can help make that a reality.

    Hendrickson will be doing a second printing, which will alleviate the woeful omission of the initial release (forward-pointing reference, leading to a delay and dramatic build-up, one which, if extended too long, will make the reader upset and tempt them to skip over my carefully worded prose just to determine what could possibly be so important as to warrant such a build up): indices. I thought they would make them, vice versa.

    Enjoy the book, glad it is useful.


  5. …and to Manuel and Esteban, do the principles that I use to describe the devices work in Spanish? I sought to maintain a cross-linguistic stance as much as possible in order NOT to have my explanations only work in English. The same principles should apply in Spanish as well, even if a different device is used to accomplish the same effect. Feedback?


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  7. What a nice post. While I don’t think my Greek (in the future) will ever be good enough to use this, it looks to be terrific and much needed. I’m glad for you. What a nice gift.


  8. Steve – I’m definitely enjoying the book, and am very tempted to use the famous Monty Python scene myself…

    Incidentally, for the reprint, p11 has “Similary” rather than “Similarly”

    I hope it does well – it seems especially useful for moving from “Greek” to “Greek exegesis”


  9. Nick> Well, of course you’ll pick up a copy before you’re able to actually use it. That’s the nature of the thing, isn’t it? ;-) I am glad to hear that you’re going to buckle up and have a serious stab at learning Greek. Which grammar will you be using, the new one by Porter, Reed, and O’Donnell, perhaps? Anyway, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

    Manuel> Me alegra esuchar que estés familiarizado con la labor académica de Steve, la cual constituye, en efecto, una aportación de capital importancia a la disciplina. No creo haber visto nada semejante en la literatura especializada en castellano, pero hace ya varios años que no me mantengo al día con las revistas académicas y otras pulicaciones españolas, que son el foro más común para la investigación de asuntos de lingüística y exégesis en nuestra lengua.

    Y por lo que respecta a los artículos en español, estoy pensando escribir el primero este fin de semana. ¡Ya veremos! :-)

    Matthew> I hate it when authors get cryptic like that with their dedications!

    Shaun> Well, what can I say, Shaun? I hope you enjoy your copy in spite of its, um, obvious deficiencies. ;-)

    Steve> And just what is wrong with writing like a carpenter? I much prefer that to having you write the inscription like a doctor — that is, illegibly. Then no one could have been edified thereby!

    Thank you for mentioning the upcoming new printing of your book, which I neglected to bring up in the post. I was just thinking last night how helpful it would be to have a set of indices at the end of the book, and I’m glad to hear that the new printing will include them. I was hesitant to ask about them because, as is well know, index making is often a sore point between authors and their publishers. Will they also be made available online for the benefit of those who purchased the first printing?

    I usually have in mind the matter of “translatability” whenever I read reference works and monographs (and liturgical texts), and thus far, I haven’t found any explanations that would require major restructuring in Spanish translation. This refers specifically to your treatments of the Greek text and broader theoretical explanations — other illustrations, such as the Airplaine! quote, would require some adaptation. ;-)

    Jeff> It was truly a fine courtesy on Steve’s part, and I was delighted to accept it as such. As for your future proficiency in Greek, I don’t know about that — I think you could do much better than you imagine!


  10. Esteban: After looking over the first few chapters of Porter, et al.’s grammar and workbook I think I’ll be going with Mounce once again (and perhaps attempt to use this one side-by-side, but that’s doubtful). I don’t mean to be mean but it seems that Porter and his co-authors are more concerned with showing that they know Greek than they are with their students coming to know Greek (if that makes any sense). Or perhaps I should say that their text is one that would benefit students along with personal instruction, i.e., it’s not for the autodidact. I think that Mounce works well in either setting.


  11. It seems to me that Mounce doesn’t just take the usual path and is different and well thought out. I wouldn’t know if it’s the best, not that there is one for everybody. I’m using that as my secondary book with Black being my main one, plus they gave me the workbook with the review copy (Black)! That’s a TON of exercises that I could never get through. I have Croy and will read that too. I need it from all angles. I’ve never heard of the other ones you mentioned. I think I have enough now, plus another one in electronic form.

    I was put in autodidact mode and I don’t know how to turn it off.


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  13. Nick, I haven’t seen Porter et al. yet, but from what I have read in the way of reactions and reviews so far, your comments seem to fit the consensus.

    I have always loved Croy, and find Mounce acceptable. Black, however, has always seemed best to me, even though I’ve never had the chance to use it in a classroom or other teaching setting. I was unaware of a separate workbook, but that only raises its stock in my book — so, thanks for the info, Jeff! I really need to get the new edition.


  14. You’re welcome. In case it matters, the workbook was made by people other than Dave Black but obviously it goes right along with each chapter of the book. It’s expensive, which is why I was so surprised and glad they sent it along with the book.


  15. Hello, my friend!!! (I hope you don’t mind that I’m replying in English, as I have lost much of my conversational Serbian through lack of practice.) Yes, it’s been a very long time indeed — I haven’t even used ICQ in years! I hope all is well in Moscow; I’ve been back in the US for almost three years now. Thanks for your good wishes, and I wish you a good Lent. Bog ti pomogao!


  16. Pingback: Short Book Review: Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament | NEAR EMMAUS

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