Book Review: Going Deeper with New Testament Greek (Köstenberger, Merkle, and Plummer)

Not long ago a series of commercials ran where a salesman of some kind was trying to sell an expensive product to a customer. The customer was at a loss because directly to the side of the expensive item was the same item a few dollars less. The point of the commercial was not to pay more when you could get the same thing for less.

Going Deeper with New Testament Greek (KMP, an acronym of the authors’ surnames) is a catch-all kind of intermediate Greek grammar. The authors (Andreas Köstenberger, Benjamin Merckle, and Robert Plummer) have written this grammar with the student (and their wallets) in mind. KMP has grammar and syntax, a chapter on textual criticism, and vocabulary and practice exercises with almost every chapter. There is a built-in reader with portions of Scripture for the student to work through and read “detailed notes to guide the student in interpreting each text” (5). Another feature to this grammar are the chapters (written by Plummer) on sentence diagramming, discourse analysis, word studies, and encouragement to continue with Greek. Since all of these features are found in this one book, why buy five books when you can save money and buy only one?

There are also helps to aid instructors with teaching and grading. At the Deeper Greek website teachers can find weekly quizzes, the midterm, the final, powerpoint presentations, and more.

Unfortunately, I am no expert at Greek. I haven’t even attended an elementary Greek class (I studied it this past summer to test into Greek Syntax). On the other hand, because I am the kind of person this book was written for, hopefully I can provide a helpful perspective. I am not a Greek scholar who has been working with these texts and syntactical ideas for years, nor am I a student at the end of his academic career. I am a beginning student being stretched and pushed into the deep end.1

Summary

First, besides being a catch-all intermediate grammar, KMP prepares you for Daniel Wallace’s deep end grammar (860 pgs versus KMP’s 550 pgs). In KMP you get 16 uses of the genitive; Wallace gives 33. I would much rather wade through KMP first, develop my sea legs, and then swim over to Wallace. That isn’t to say KMP is easy to read. In fact, I disagree from other reviewers who say that it is easy to read, or especially that it is extremely readable.2 Even the authors themselves acknowledge that their book, a grammar, is dry (“writing a Greek grammar is a dry affair,” 127, fn. 24).

Plummer’s chapters (1, 12-15) were the easiest to read, and I am not saying that simply because he was my teacher. Plummer teaches clearly, and it is also seen in his writing. Now, of his five chapters, only one deals specifically with Greek Grammar (12, prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs, and articles), which is easier to write about than verbal tense. However, in his endorsement, Tom Schreiner said that if it could be said that “a Greek grammar is a delight to read,” it “applies to this book.” I believe I would agree with that statement if more chapters could have been written by Plummer. As it stands now, the other chapters are dense and dry.

Speaking of Verb Tense and Aspect, there is a chapter (7) dedicated to it in this book. Ben Merckle writes about (1) verbal aspect, the author’s perspective on a given action, (2) the time of the action, and (3) the type of the action. This is an important chapter because the Greeks looks at the timing of verbs in a different way (e.g., aorist tense, imperfect tense, etc.) than we do (present tense, past tense, etc.). Knowing how this works is critical to proper interpretation. We can’t look at verbal words (infinitives, participles, etc.) as 21st century readers.

Though, in the end, I didn’t learn much more about Tense & Aspect than I did in the beginning section og David Alan Black’s Learn to Read NT Greek. An example of how aspect is analyzed on the discourse level in John 2.1–11 is given on page 235. Main verbs which carry the story forward are cast in the past perfective aspect (aorist tense-form). All throughout this paragraph I kept asking “Why?” Why is this important? Why is this happening, and what different does this make? Why is the presence of Jesus’ mother and of the six stone water jars “indicated by past tense forms of the verb εἰμι,” and why and how does it provide “important supporting material” while not “advancing the mainline of the narrative” (235)?

How do we know?

There are other times when a grammatical fact was given without explaining how we know that it is this way. How do we know when an adjective is elative instead of superlative (173)? Or that a positive or comparative is meant as a superlative (175)? Or how we know that an adverbial participle is one of cause (331) or condition (332)? Or how some participles can have an imperatival force (339).3 Of course, as you will probably be learning this in a classroom, you should ask your teacher about any matter which confuses you. But when it comes to reading the book on your own, students may be left frustrated and wondering how they can ever know they should translate a participle in a certain way.

There are two additions that I think would be helpful in a second edition. First, in Black’s Learn to Read NT Greek (mentioned above), his vocabulary lists would often have a Greek word such as χρόνος, provide the gloss (“time”), and then connect the gloss to a word the modern reader is already familiar with (chronology).4 When (and if) possible, this is better than whatever random pneumonic the student can think up to pass his vocabulary quiz.

Second, the vocabulary lists place the words in alphabetical order, but they give no distinction to verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, or conjunctions. More distinction between the parts of speech will help impress the vocabulary into the student’s mind.

Recommended?

Unlike Hebrew, Greek hasn’t quite clicked with me yet, and that may be why I found this book difficult whereas others will not. KMP is a better grammar than others, and it’s authors can be trusted, even if it takes time to understand all that they are saying. Greek, with it’s abundance of grammatical nuance, takes time to learn. Students who have the luxury of learning second-year Greek within an actual year will profit from this book. Students who have it in one semester, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, had better buckle up. Many of the examples given for the different syntactical categories have new words that the second-year Greek student will be unfamiliar with. As a result, these examples will be more difficult to learn if you don’t translate the sentences yourself (the sentences are already translated, but because there isn’t a 1-to-1 correspondence between Greek and English it is difficult to know how some words function). I would suggest buying the book far in advance and working through it immediately. You will learn much through that practice.

One note: While it may seem arduous, reading through KMP while marking the given examples in your Greek Bible is a helpful way to process the grammar of the text. If you only read this book cover to cover just to get through it, you will retain very little—if anything. The study of Greek is a lifelong process, and this book is a reference tool. Seeing the examples “in action” will help you to better understand and retain the information.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Andreas Köstenberger, Benjamin Merckle, and Robert Plummer
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (June 1, 2016)
  • A Quick Chart for Intermediate Greek Grammar and Syntax

Buy Going Deeper with NT Greek from Amazon or B&H Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Publishing. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.


1I am more of a Hebrew guy. The two Hebrew classes I had have been my favorite classes overall so far in seminary. I can spend hours in Isaiah (because that’s how long it takes) and enjoy it. Greek, on the other hand, hasn’t clicked yet.

2My wife had Greek Syntax in the spring and I had it this semester, and there were students in both of our classes who didn’t think this was an easy read either.

3On this last point, it is pointed out that some believe the participial form communicates a more gentle appeal than the imperative mood. Travis Williams is noted as having challenged that notion. Yet, aside from his push back, no other reason is given as to why we would translate the participle as an infinitive (cf. 1 Peter 3.1 ,7).

4Or τόπος = “place” (topography).

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