NT in Koiné

Title: The Greek New Testament (GNT)
Edition: United Bible Society, 5th Edition (UBS5)
Genre: Sacred Scripture
Pages: 886 (plus indices etc.)
Rating: 5 of 5

For my Bible reading this year, I decided to read the New Testament in the original Koiné Greek. Because it’s been 10+ years since my last seminary class, I used the electronic Logos software edition where tapping on an unfamiliar word provides its gloss & parsing (I used this feature a lot in Luke, Acts, Hebrews, & 2 Peter).

Reading Scripture in the original language doesn’t give it some sort of magical power boost, nor is each Greek word brimming with extra-deep insights unavailable to the uninitiated. However, as with reading any work in its original language, you do get a better feel for the flow of thought, vocabulary choices, and idiosyncrasies of the individual writers…and there is a certain thrill to reading the words as read by the original recipients unmediated by someone else’s translation.

But, how do we know that what we’re reading almost 2,000 years later hasn’t been corrupted (on purpose or accidentally) over generations of hand-copying? Well, we have thousands of hand-written manuscripts containing all or part of the New testament, with dates ranging from early 2nd century through about the 16th, and they overwhelmingly agree with each other. Obviously, some minor differences between manuscripts occur, but in scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament (like the UBS5 I read) there is an apparatus at the bottom of each page the notes significant variations between manuscripts and lists the evidence for each possible reading (the Nestle-Aland 28th Edition (NA28) lists more variants, but most of the additional ones are of little interest/importance for translating the text).

As I read, I looked at each of the variants recorded in the UBS5, often consulting Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament which provides a scholarly rationale for which reading is deemed most likely to be original (and the level of certainty). In college and seminary I was always taught that most variants have little to no effect on the meaning of the verse in which they occur, and none of them affect a major doctrine of the faith. After this read-through, I have to agree with that assessment…not that I really doubted it, but I wanted to see for myself. I’ll post more on this later in the week, but right now I’m too tired to go into it.

For now, I’ll end by saying that this was a great experience, and if you’ve had enough college/seminary classes to be comfortable with it, I highly recommend trying to read through the whole GNT (examining each variant not necessary…that’s just my own interest in textual criticism popping up).

It’s All Koiné to Me

Linguistics and New Testament Greek: Key Issues in the Current Debate by [David Alan Black, Benjamin L. Merkle]

Title: Linguistics and New Testament Greek:
Key Issues in the Current Debate
Editors: David Alan Black & Benjamin L. Merkle
Genre: Linguistics / Biblical Studies
Pages: 288
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Future Publication Date: 11/2/2020 – Thank you to the editors and publisher for a free eARC through NetGalley. This is no way affects the content of the review.

When I was in seminary (10+ years ago), my favorite professor/mentor was Dr. Rod Decker who taught most of the Koiné Greek classes. He kept us up to date on the latest goings on in the world of New Testament Greek linguistics, because getting the most out of learning the biblical languages takes more than memorizing vocabulary and verb conjugations. This collection of scholarly essays provides that kind of help for the intermediate Koiné Greek student (or pastor who is trying to keep current).

This book does require some knowledge of the subject matter and academic jargon. For example, expect sentences like, “This, Barber rightly argues, encapsulates the basic polarity between the active and middle voices, and it does so in categories that manifestly entail a difference in transitivity.” These essays come from presentations at a conference, so their overall tone is slightly more conversational that normal for an academic work, but they are still fairly dry overall.

Most of the chapters relate to one of three topics: linguistic theories, verbal tense/aspect, and the best way to teach/learn New Testament Greek. The authors are not all in agreement on some of the issues (e.g. the aspect of the perfect/pluperfect tense), so you get to see some scholarly interaction in those cases. I thoroughly enjoyed dipping back into the academic world, and picked up at least a few things that should prove helpful in my personal study. I would highly recommend this book to those with some knowledge of Koiné.

Using Koine Responsibly

Title: Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek –
A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation
Author: Benjamin L. Merkle
Genre: Biblical Studies / Translation Theory
Pages: 192
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Future Publication Date: 6/16/19 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of this review)

This book targets a specific audience: people who have already studied at least a semester or two (or equivalent) of koine Greek. If that’s you and you’re looking to enhance your understanding and/or brush up on your long-neglected biblical Greek, I highly recommend this book (also this youtube video). If you don’t fit into that category (which might be almost everyone who regularly reads this blog…sorry to bore you!), this probably isn’t worth your time. It might give you a basic overview of the kinds of things that knowing koine Greek can (and can’t) help you with in New Testament exegesis, but the frequent Greek text and technical jargon will probably make it an exercise in frustration.

The book is divided into many short chapters that cover grammatical issues related to case, tense, voice, mood, etc. Each chapter describes the concept under discussion and provides an example of how understanding it can help in accurate interpretation in a sample passage. There were a few times where I would have liked to see a little bit more thorough argumentation in the interpretation section, but that is the price of brevity I suppose. I appreciate that the author carefully avoids reading more information into a grammatical construction or vocabulary choice than is actually warranted. The whole book illustrates how a knowledge of biblical Greek should be used in ministry, avoiding the pitfalls of common exegetical fallacies.

Overall, this is an excellent resource for sharpening your understanding and use of Koine. If I were a professor of biblical Greek this would be at the top of the collateral reading list for second year (or maybe even second semester) students.