Reading Koine Greek

The following review was first published in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 33/2 (Autumn 2015), pp. 272-73 [http://j.mp/SBET2015Autumn]. I am grateful to the editor of SBET for permission to reproduce the review here.

Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook. By Rodney J. Decker. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-8010-3928-7. xxxi + 672 pp. £32.95.

Despite all kinds of challenges, the task of learning New Testament Greek is still a fundamental part of theological education. And rightly so. There is, therefore, still a market for introductory textbooks on Greek grammar. There have been many developments, however, in approaches to teaching Greek since the days when every Greek student knew the name ‘Wenham’. There have also been significant developments in the way in which scholars understand the Greek of the New Testament, but Greek textbooks have not always reflected these developments.

Rodney Decker was, until his untimely death in 2014, a significant voice in the discussions about the impact of recent linguistic research on our understanding of New Testament Greek. His own new introductory textbook is, therefore, to be warmly welcomed. There are several notable features of this book:

First, it is attractively produced. The book is a well-produced hardback volume and the two-colour pages are laid out clearly and attractively in readable type [Edit 14 March 2017: A number of students who have used the book have commented that the Greek font is rather small for those who, like myself, do not have perfect eyesight. This is particularly challenging when trying to differentiate breathing marks.] Various other Greek textbooks have also improved their visual appeal greatly over the years. A user-friendly design is always appreciated.

Second, it draws on good teaching practice, such as clear outlines of the material to be covered in a chapter, explanations of technical terms, friendly language encouraging student participation, well-pitched exercises, occasional text boxes with tips and interesting information, sections of real text (including texts from the NT, the LXX and early Christian writings) to read from the earliest stages, and more besides.

Third, it draws on current linguistic research. I might mention three ways in which this is evident. It is reflected in the way tenses are discussed. Decker highlights the significance of ‘aspect’ (the way in which an author chooses to present an action) in discussion of the various tense forms as opposed to time or Aktionsart (the actual nature of the action). Recent research is also incorporated by the complete absence of the word ‘deponent’. You will not find that term anywhere in the index or in the book (as far as I could see)! Instead, verbs which would once have been described as ‘deponent’ are described as ‘middle-only verbs’, thus taking account of the distinct tone of the middle voice. Finally, when Greek vocabulary is introduced at the end of a chapter, it is given with a substantial definition as well as briefer ‘glosses’, so as to show something of the richness of the words and to avoid a simplistic identification of the word with a single gloss. These are valuable contributions.

Fourth, as the subtitle indicates, this book contains both teaching material and exercises in a single volume. While this makes for a rather substantial book, it is convenient for students and helps keep the overall cost fairly reasonable.

Fifth, the level of explanation in the book has been designed to go somewhat beyond the most basic elements of the study of Greek so that more advanced students and even experienced readers of the Greek New Testament will find help in the discussions of grammatical points.

Not all readers will agree with every decision that Decker has made with regard to how to teach New Testament Greek. But this textbook has a good claim to provide a well-informed introduction for students who are learning in a class or independently. I hope many will benefit from it and that, through it, many will discover the delight of reading Koine Greek for themselves. 

Alistair I. Wilson, Highland Theological College UHI

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