Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guest Book Review: Sumney’s Philippians Greek

My thanks both to Hendrickson Publishers and to Luke Welch for his review. Luke revels and excels in detail, as you will read.

Review of Jerry L. Sumney, Philippians: A Greek Student's Intermediate Reader, 2007 Hendrickson: Peabody, Mass.

The book under review is an attempt to ease the transition from first year Greek to reading the New Testament by explaining and parsing every word in Philippians and discussing the syntax thereof. This concept is based on the educational system either in Bible Colleges or Seminaries in North America. After a short introduction to the letter of Philippians, including the provenance, integrity, purpose and text, he proceeds with the Greek text NA27 and an English translation of every section of the letter. The introduction is based primarily on commentaries both in English and in German.

In the first section to Phil 1:1-2, the author offers basic syntactical observations and a word study of dou=loj. It may have been preferable to introduce the student to the principles of a word study, a concept that seems to still be deeply rooted in the Evangelical tradition in North America. What he says about the word dou=loj is true, but is the word not also used outside of the New Testament? This is a fundamental presupposition to hermeneutics and not necessarily a critique. I would however take issue with his "converting" the nominative xa/rij and ei0rh/nh into infinitives then using Smyth, 2014 to sneak the optative into the translation. I agree, an optative should be included in the translation, but it could be just as correct to say that it is implied, or that we should think that the author meant to include ei1h or plhqunqei/h (I Pet 1,2). The next comment, "Compare this use of the infinitive in commands in Smyth, 2013" (5) is incomprehensible to me. If this were a discussion on the use of the infinitive in I Peter, it would be justified. He then cites Wallace's categorization of this phenomenon, "nominative absolute" (5), but unfortunately leaves unanswered how these two suggestions should fit together. Are they infinitives or nominatives in a special function?

The overall goal of the first section was however reached. The reader could with very little knowledge translate or at least understand this section of Philippians with ease.

Continuing to read, on page eight one is confronted with the suggestion of a certain Peng, I am not sure if he means Paine. He correctly sees pas with the article as meaning "whole" but the translation is a bit awkward. The use of e0pi/ plus a dative is also brought into the discussion. This maybe should have been worked out, since this is an important but small distinction. In classical Greek, a temporal dative with a preposition would have been construed with e0n. In Koine it seems that the meaning of e0pi\ and e0n overlap, or there distinction has somewhat been diminished, something confirmed by the substitution of one for the other in manuscripts (Eph 6,16).

There are some keen observations on page 8 and 9 but then we stumble upon another "conversion" of the Greek. ei0j is understood as equalling a dative of advantage, then he introduces the dativus commodi as a grammatical category. It then becomes clear that ei0j can mean "for the sake of," but should this not be discussed under meaning of the preposition?

As a reviewer one cannot discuss every single sentence in a given work, but it would be hoped that this sort of work is done in classrooms where this book could be of service.

I can skip ahead to some exegetically significant passages.

Among the keen observations on Philippians 3,4-6 are: zh=loj as a neuter, something easily overlooked and the use of the designation Israel and the indeclinable Israel and Benjamin. Names are always difficult for students of NT Greek, I don't recall them in a beginning grammar of NT Greek. The comments to "Hebrew of Hebrews" leaves the reader wishing the author had cited his sources. He also confuses the discussion by using the designation "Palestinian." This designation was later an important one in the early church and the superscription is after all on one letter in the NT "to the Hebrews."

A sketch of NT syntax, a glossary and an annotated bibliography round out the book.

A few words about the overall character of the book are in order. The author seems to be committed to the syntactical system of Daniel Wallace. This point is not defended or discussed. He proceeds as if the categories are as much true as the text of the NT. These categories are partially constructs based only upon usage in the NT with very little reference to other Greek works from this time. It is never asked, "how would someone have expressed this in Greek of the time?" This said, one other point should be mentioned, the citation of BDF and Wallace seems to follow closely the register of those given works.

The placement of this work in this tradition can lead me to say, I could recommend this book for second year college students, and perhaps second semester seminary students, although at the graduate level the works BDF and others should be consulted directly. The book offers one text as a working basis to learn syntax and therefore bridges the gap to Wallace for those students who do not enjoy reading single sentences for grammars sake.

Luke Welch

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At 10/31/2008 10:12 AM, Anonymous Mark Stevens said...

Thanks for the review Luke.

Could you, or someone else, tell me what is covered by the end of 1st year of greek in North America?

At 11/02/2008 10:12 PM, Anonymous Mark Stevens said...


Okay, I guess I will just have to turn to the British! :-)

Chris? Same question?

What about Jim? Has he recognised that there is a biblical language other than Hebrew?

Maybe the Americans are too busy
a) Actually doing Greek


b) Standing in line waiting to vote for Obama!

At 11/02/2008 10:15 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

In the UK, a first year course would I think expect to work through Wenham's Elements of NT Greek.

Hope you are well.

At 11/02/2008 11:37 PM, Anonymous mark Stevens said...

Thanks Chris - Wenham is actually out of print! It has been replaced by Duff; a good upgrade but misses out the english grammar lessons at the front of the book.

I am well - Should have turned to the mother land first!

At 1/31/2010 1:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry to not answer, I had no computer for a long while and Chris is the one who dragged me into blogging.
I would expect that Mounce s book would be used in the first year. The principles are the same everywhere, learn all the forms passively in the first year. All declensions and conjugations of the verb.

Best of luck,



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