The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Aug 4, 2012

A Comparative Analysis of Four 1st Year Greek Textbooks

(please note: in the comments section I also address the views of all four textbooks on deponent verbs, thanks to a question by one of the readers)

I've completed four years of doctoral work at Southeastern (one more year, here's hoping!), and for three of those past four years I have had the privilege of grading for Dr. Maurice Robinson. Two years ago when he became ill (now fully recovered and teaching again, thankfully), I was asked to take over his beginning Greek class mid-semester (pray don't tell his physicians, but Dr. Robinson typed up and e-mailed in his last quiz for that class while lying on the hospital bed!)  I took over at the midterm exam (which, fortunately, had already been made up), and from that point I was on my own with only Dr. Robinson's notes to guide me, initially.

Yes, his notes. You see, Dr. Robinson prefers not to use a textbook for his beginning Greek class, providing his students with handouts that he personally creates. Naturally when you're a published scholar who specializes in Greek textual criticism, you can do whatever you want! I, however, soon realized I was in way over my head and began consulting textbooks (in addition to his Dr. Robinson's notes) like a madman. Overall, the class was a great learning experience, and the students were compassionate and sympathetic (it's not easy getting a new teacher halfway through class!)

At that point I already owned William Mounce's book as well as that of my own doctoral advisor, Dr. David Black. Once I started teaching, I quickly bought S. Baugh's textbook since some other profs at Southeastern preferred his work. Later, when I was able to attend the national ETS in Atlanta, I picked up the new textbook by Porter, Reed, and O'Donnell. Consequently, I'd like to give the reader some brief thoughts on each one. Some of what I say you can see for yourself by simply browsing the table of contents for each book online at Amazon. I do hope, however, that this comparison of the four will at least give you some food for thought, especially if you, the reader, will be teaching Greek in the future.

To begin with, however, I'd like to make clear that this is not a full-blown book review for each one. I'd simply like to compare the four and offer my thoughts. Secondly, I'll make my own biases clear at the start: naturally I'm going to gravitate toward my own adviser's work, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Mounce's book, since I cut my teeth on it in 1999. Conversely, I'm not very positively disposed towards Porter and co. since I have yet to be convinced of his views on verbal aspect theory (though I'm open to the possibility). Nevertheless I still think there is much in their book to commend it, and I'll try to leave aside my views on the Greek verb when discussing their work. In the end, I think Baugh's textbook is the only one that I am neutrally predisposed towards.

Finally, the reader should note that there are 3 areas I intend to focus on: order of material, views on the Greek verb, and any "extras" the book contains. After discussing these four textbooks, I'll briefly open that great can of worms known as "the Greek verb system.” What that in mind, let's begin with Mounce.
Please note: any words in the Greek font have been switched to English italics.

William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; 2003). As of this post, costs $29.94 (US dollars) at Amazon (hardcover). Separate workbook available. Hereafter referred to as BBG.

Mounce states on p. x that his grammar tries to use the “best of both approaches” [inductive and deductive]: “It is deductive in how it initially teaches the material, but inductive in how if fine-tunes the learning process.” Mounce focuses on “learning Greek as a tool for ministry" and tries to reduce rote memorization (though, frankly, when we used Mounce in my first year of Greek there was still a lot of memorization; I'm not sure if BBG reduces it to the extent that Mounce had hoped).
It's worth noting that BBG is the only one of the four that comes with a CD-ROM. In my experience, this was helpful for those that enjoy using computers and would like to have a portable flash card program for their laptops, etc. It's worth noting, however, that there is plenty of free software that you can download these days, so don't let the CD-ROM be the deciding factor.

Each chapter in BBG ends with a summary of that chapter and a vocabulary list. Some chapters end with "advanced information" (e.g., the difference between relative time and absolute time).
BBG starts with a basic intro on the Greek language and tips for learning Greek, then the alphabet and punctuation. Before it gets into Greek grammar, BBG discusses English grammar: “. . . the first major obstacle many of you must overcome is your lack of knowledge of English Grammar. . . . We cannot teach about the Greek nominative case until you know what a case is” (p. 22). It then discusses the various parts of speech. BBG then goes into noun cases and the article (chapters 6-7), then onto prepositions and the eimi verbs (only the present active indicative, at the start), and then adjectives (chapter 9). From there, BBG offers the reader  or teacher two different "tracks": 1. You can follow the order of the chapters, which finishes nouns and pronouns before getting into verbs, or 2. you can jump into some of the verbs first (leaving chapters 10-14 for later). If you follow the natural order of the book, BBG hits 3rd declension nouns and pronouns before finally introducing verbs in chapter 15. From there, BBG tackles the present active verb, then contract verbs, then present middle/passive, then all the other indicative verbs. The last few chapters of the book (from 26-34) cover all the other moods and the mi-verbs. Mounce then provides a “Postscript: Where Do We Go From Here?” which discusses some areas for future study (though not very extensive and kind of limited to his own work and works by the same publisher).

Some thoughts on BBG (keep in mind, a lot of these are my subjective opinion; the same goes for my comments on all the other books): Overall, Mounce is very readable and often focuses on the differences between Greek and English, which is helpful in my opinion (although note p. 320—"There is nothing remotely like mi verbs in English . . .") I think Mounce offers a "down to earth" book that parallels my own experience in learning Greek; for example, on page 39 he speaks of "the fog," a very real phenomenon that almost every young Greek student experiences. Mounce's book has a lot of paradigm charts, which can be helpful, and also contains an "exegetical insight" for most chapters that discusses how the material in that chapter actually matters in ministry or preaching.  Also, I greatly prefer Mounce’s order of subject matter, though this may be a reflection of my own bias stemming from having used his textbook as a student.
On the downside, I'm not too content with how he deals with contract verbs; I think some of the other books do a better job on this. Also, despite his attempt to diminish rote memorization, I really think this book is focused on memorization. There are no special techniques that (in my opinion) assist the student in learning; you just have to put a lot of work into memorizing (at least, that was my experience).
Regarding the verb system, I think Mounce, like others, confuses aspect with aktionsart (see page 123). If there's one thing Porter has convinced me of, it's the need to see those two as different concepts. I am, however, more close to BGB's position on the verb system in general. Mounce is more traditional; he states, for example, that “The present tense indicates either a continuous or undefined action” (p. 123, though he unfortunately calls this “aspect”) and that the time is generally in the present. On page 194 states, “The aorist indicates an undefined action usually occurring in the past," which I would also agree with (though adherents to Verbal Aspect Theory [hereafter referred to as VAT] might question the whole “occurring in the past” part of it, at least as a general rule).
David Alan Black, Learn to Read New Testament Greek (3rd ed.; Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2009). As of this post, costs 17.64 on Amazon (hardcover). Separate workbook available. Hereafter referred to as LTR.

LTR has 26 chapters, generally with vocab lists and review exercises at the end of each chapter. Chapter 1 provides basic info about the Greek language and alphabet and briefly discusses phonology and morphology (e.g., the difference between kappa and chi). Chapter 2 actually introduces the verb, and chapter 3 begins discussing the present and future active indicative. Chapters 4-5 jump to nouns, and from there on out we have the following order: adjectives, imperfect and aorist (act. ind.), prepositions, personal pronouns, perfect/pluperfect verbs (just the active ind.), more pronouns (demonstrative), the middle and passive indicative forms of various verbs (chapters 12-15), "review of the indicative mood" (ch. 16), more on nouns (3rd declension), more on adjectives, pronouns, and numbers, "contract and liquid verbs" (ch. 19), then the various other verb moods (chapters 20-21 and 23-24, though 22 actually discusses pronouns).  Chapter 25 focuses on mi-verbs, and chapter 26 closes it out with a discussion on "Reading Your Greek  New Testament" (a chapter on how reading the Greek NT can be of practical value with such things as sermon prep). Also, LTR has an epilogue that introduces the readers to what will be helpful for advanced studies (e.g., lexicons, textual criticism, etc.)

Some thoughts on LTR: LTR is, in my opinion, one of the most easily readable textbooks (Dr. Black is one of the more readable scholars, period). Furthermore, Black's book has better "extras" than any of the other textbooks, including but not limited to the following: a massive foldout chart of every single paradigm (check inside the back cover), a series of helpful appendixes (including "the Greek alphabet song" complete with music!), and chapter 26 and the appendix, both of which provide helpful, supplemental information for the Greek student. Also, it's worth stressing that LTR has review exercises at the end of most chapters, something Mounce does not have (though both BBG and LTR have separate workbooks that can be purchased).

On the other hand, I'm not totally crazy about the order of material; he zigzags back and forth between verbs, nouns, pronouns, etc. (I’m somewhat  curious, for example, why chapter 22, “Additional Pronouns,” sits right in the middle of a series of chapters on the non-indicative mood).  I'll confess this may be because I had Mounce for my first year of Greek, but I'm more partial to BBG's method of tackling the noun first, then the verb. Also, as with my comment on Mounce, I'm not totally comfortable on his use of the term "aspect" (see LTR, pp. 13-14, section 15 of that chapter). It's worth noting, however, that Black does stress "aspect" as having to do with the writer's perspective (see page 15, specifically the first two paragraphs of section 16), which brings him a bit closes to Porter here; I guess what I'm uncomfortable with in both Mounce and Black is that I would prefer to see the term "aktionsart" used rather than "aspect" whenever we're actually discussing the "type" of action that is taking place. However, let me stress that I do agree with Black's basic approach to the verb in contrast to that of Porter, especially his treatment of the "aoristic aspect" on p. 14.

Regarding the verb, Black states, “The essential signification of the Greek tense system is the kind of action—whether it is represented as on going, finished, or simply as an occurrence”; furthermore, “time of action” is a secondary function (page 15). On pages 13-14, Black sees 3 tenses (past, present, future) and 3 aspects (imperfective, perfective, and aoristic) in the Greek verb system.

S. M. Baugh, A New Testament Greek Primer (2nd ed.; Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2009). As of this post, costs $24.51 on Amazon (paperback). No separate workbook available, to my knowledge (but exercises throughout). Hereafter referred to as NTGP.

NTGP consists of 30 chapters with vocabulary lists at the beginning and review exercises at the end (somewhat more varied than those in Black’s LTR; Baugh, for example, mixes in “matching” exercises with regular parsing and translation exercises). The unique purpose of the book, according to the preface, is “. . . to analyze the process of reading Greek for exegesis, breaking it down into constituent ‘sub-skills,’ and then to teach these skills” ( v). NTGP has a brief “introduction to language study” section (vi-vii), but almost nothing on Greek as a historical language like BBG and LTR have.

NTGP starts out with the alphabet and pronunciation (interestingly, Baugh compares ancient pronunciation with modern Greek pronunciation, which I felt was a neat touch), then deals with breathing marks, punctuation, etc. Chapters 2-3 deal with 1st and 2nd declension nouns with just a little bit on the article. Chapter 4 introduces the Greek verb (present active and deponent ind.). From there, Baugh deals with the imperfect tense, then contract verbs, then future, aorist, and 2nd aorist indicative. Chapter 10 introduces adjectives (1st and 2nd declension), then he proceeds to discuss 3rd declension nouns (NTGP has an entire chapter, ch. 12, on “Third Declension Noun Variations”). Chapter 13 deals with prepositions, then in chapter 14 Baugh switches back to verbs (perfect tense). From there, NTGP deals with “Middle and Passive Verbs” (ch. 15), switches to pronouns (chs. 16-17), and then back to verbs (ch. 18, “Liquid Verbs”). Chapter 19 begins his discussion of the other moods (participles in chapters 19-21), but after discussing the subjunctive mood in ch. 22, Baugh switches back to relative pronouns. Chapter 24 is something unique to NTGP, namely “Noun Variations” (discusses personal names, nouns with feminine forms that still keep a masculine gender, etc.) Next, NTGP deals with imperatives, infinitives, mi verbs (ch. 27-28), “Adjective Variations” (ch. 29; includes comparative and superlative), and closes out with
“Numbers and Optative Verbs” (ch. 30).

Some thoughts on NTGP: There are a few things NTGP does better than the others, I think. Of the four, it’s the only textbook with a glossary of English terms at the back. I’m not talking about a subject index (all four have that), I’m talking about an actual glossary with definitions of various terms. In my opinion, this is an immensely helpful tool that I wish the others had (too be fair, Porter/Reed/O’Donnell do have a section at the beginning of each chapter defining terms, but nothing like a full glossary). In addition, I like how Baugh deals with morphology. The review exercises are also, in my opinion, a strength of the book. Of the other 3, only Dr. Black’s LTR offers review exercises within the book itself (the other 3 textbooks, including Dr. Black’s, do offer supplementary workbooks that you can buy separately, however); nevertheless I kind of like Baugh’s diverse series of exercises slightly better. Also, I like Baugh’s discussion on the differences between middle, passive, and deponent.

On the other hand, I don’t feel Baugh’s book is as easy to follow as those of Mounce or Black, and I still remain a fan of the order of material in Mounce’s BBG over that of Baugh. Also, Baugh does not have a clear introduction to verbs (in general) that both Black and Mounce have. As such, I think it is more likely for a student to get confused regarding verbs following Baugh than he or she would in the others.

Regarding verb tenses, it’s a bit harder to understand Baugh’s views than it is the other three (see my comment above). In section 4.6, he states “A Greek verb in the present tense may communicate an action or state simply, as in progress, continued, repeated, or attempted depending on a number of factors including the verb’s inherent meaning and its context” (p. 18). I triple-checked my citation of Baugh here, and I’m forced to confess that this is one of the most difficult statements to understand on the Greek verb in any the four textbooks, especially if I were in the shoes of a beginner. Elsewhere things are a bit clearer (e.g., p. 22, section 5.4 on the imperfect verb— “The augment is normally a time indicator which expresses a past time event [i.e., I was loosing]”) but overall I much prefer the discussions by Black and Mounce. Nevertheless, I’m led by these statements to assume Baugh follows a more traditional view on tense and aktionsart similar to the views of Black and Mounce.

4. Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010). As of this point, costs 23.66 on Amazon (hardcover). Separate workbook available. Hereafter referred to as PRO.

And now for the controversial one! PRO (after the last initial of each authors) is the longest book of the bunch with 30 chapters and 466 pages. PRO is unique among the four textbooks in that if follows verbal aspect theory and, to its credit, logically implements that theory into practice (e.g., teaching the aorist tense before the present). The chapters in PRO start with a section defining new concepts and then give the chapter’s vocabulary words. At the beginning, PRO has a fairly extensive “Guide to Parsing” (pp. xvi-xx) to assist the student throughout. Unlike Black/LTR and Baugh/BBG, PRO does not discuss Greek as a historical language. The first chapter deals with basics, including the alphabet, accent marks, punctuation, etc. Like Baugh’s NTGP, PRO gives you  different ways to pronounce Greek, the Erasmian and the Modern (on pages xiii-xiv the authors encourage the teacher to pick one method and stick with  it).

Chapter 2 in PRO discusses second declension nouns as well as both 2nd and 3rd declension adjectives. Chapter 3 deals with articles and verbless clauses. Significantly, chapter 4 introduces both the verb in general and the first aorist specifically. Yes, PRO deals with the aorist before the present. From there, chapter 5 jumps back to nouns and relative pronouns, chapter 6 deals with second aorist active as well as imperfect active, and then it’s back to nouns and adjectives again. Chapter 8 finally introduces the present and future active while also dealing with some contract verbs. From there PRO deals with pronouns, then participles, then the middle voice, then the demonstrative pronoun and some prepositions. Chapter 13 is the passive voice (present  and imperfect) while chapter 14 covers the subjunctive mood. From there we go back to prepositions and pronouns, more contract verbs (plus adverbs and conjunctions), back to participles, then mi-verbs, then back to more adjectives and adverbs (e.g., comparatives and superlatives), then aorist and future passive. Chapter 21 goes back to mi-verbs (titheimi and ieimi), then we have the following in chapter  22: “Aorist Passive Subjunctive and  Participle; Future Passive Participle; Proper Nouns” (more  on this particular chapter  below). Next we have “Liquid Verbs” as well as more pronouns (ch. 23), imperative verbs, the perfect and pluperfect tense (ch. 25-27), “Periphrastic and Catenative Constructions” (ch. 28), “Conditional Statements; Numerals” (ch. 29), and, finally, the optative verb and a brief discussion of clauses.

Some thoughts on PRO: on the plus side, I like what Porter/Reed/O’Donnell do with the mi-verbs, being careful to distinguish two types of endings. Like the other books, PRO has useful appendixes with the paradigms clearly laid out. Unlike some of the others, PRO has a very helpful bibliography on pages 383-384 for intermediate and advanced work, and a very unbiased bibliography  at that (they includes, for example Wallace’s syntax despite the fact that Wallace strongly disagrees with Porter on VAT). In that bibliography, the authors also includes a list of the most helpful lexicons.  Furthermore, while I may disagree with their views on the Greek verb, I felt the authors did a good job of explaining their position (the “library” analogy on page 39 is very helpful; see below). Also, I like the fact that PRO tends to treat the infinitives at the same time as the present active indicative; it makes sense that the present infinitive form would be one of the first things to learn about a verb.

On the downside, the order of content in PRO absolutely drives me crazy! I realize this is probably very subjective, but bear with me please. First of all, there’s the issue of teaching the aorist tense before the present tense. Now, I can totally understand, in theory, why they would want to do that. What I don’t understand is how you can practically teach the aorist first when the present is morphologically simpler, unless your entire class consists of Mensa members! Speaking for myself, I’m not exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and I honestly believe I would have been a lot more confused in 1st year Greek if I had learned the aorist before the present.  Now if there are any “average Joes” (or “average Josephines”) out there who learned 1st year Greek under this textbook and came out unscathed, then I might retract my statement.

Other chapters don’t make sense for other reasons. Chapter 22 (“Aorist passive Subjunctive and  Participle; Future Passive Participle; Proper Nouns”), for example, seems to lump a bunch of unrelated material together. Why treat aorist passive subjunctive in the same chapter as future passive participle (let alone proper nouns)? Isn’t this just inviting confusion? Similarly, since PRO already commits to introducing the aorist tense before the present, why does it then discuss the present passive before the aorist and future passive (chapters 13 and 20; please note that almost 100 pages separate these two chapters!) Wouldn’t it have been more consistent to treat the aorist passive first? In general, the order of material in PRO and much of the chapter content seems confusing to me (but, once again, this may be just my subjective opinion).

Regarding verbs, PRO emphasizes aspect as “the speaker’s or writer’s perspective on the action of the verb” (33). Also, on page 39, the authors state, “One way to think of how the aspects function in relation to each other is to think of a bookcase full of books, . . . The aorist tense-form is the background tense, or the entire bookcase, in which no particular book stands out. The present tense-form is the foreground tense, or the one shelf that becomes prominent. The perfect tense-form is the frontground tense, or the single book that commands significant attention” (40-41). PRO differs radically from the others, but they do offer a consistent system (whether or not it’s the correct system is up for debate).

My own personal, subjective ranking
If I were to start teaching a 1st year Greek class tomorrow, I think I would gravitate towards Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek first, with Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek a close second. I feel Black is the most readable and has the most to offer as far as “extras” (that massive, fold-out, paradigm chart at the end is pretty sweet!) The fact that Black’s book contains its own exercises for each chapter also helps. Mounce comes in a close second because I like the order he tackles the various parts of the language. Baugh’s A New Testament Greek Primer is a decent alternative and has some strengths that the others do not have. Porter/Reed/O’Donnell’s Fundamentals of New Testament Greek also has some strengths that the other’s don’t have, and would probably remain the default choice for those attracted to VAT (though even if I’m convinced of that position, I’d still want to teach the present tense first!). Also, while price should never be the deciding factor, it’s worth noting that Black’s LTR currently costs the least on Amazon.

Of course, there’s a ton of other questions that could be asked, such as which one could be easily translated into a foreign language? (Speaking as a Japanese missionary kid, Black would be my first choice even to a greater degree than it would be my choice for teaching in English; once again, readability and ease-of-use is the key). Furthermore, I fully acknowledge that a successful Greek class (defined as “one where the student can finish without having his or her brain turned into mush”) probably depends on the teacher more than the textbook. With that in mind, I hope this little analysis has been helpful to some (and feel free to let me know of any alternative textbooks that should be considered).

And now a word on verbal aspect theory (VAT)
Before starting a class, every teacher should decide where they stand on the issue of the Greek verb. This, in my opinion, is the major controversy of the past 15 years on New Testament Greek. You, dear reader, if you are serious about teaching/studying Greek, owe it to yourself to read Stanley Porter’s Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, if you can afford it, or at least read the relevant chapters in his book Studies in the Greek New Testament. Porter has made a genuine contribution to our understanding of New Testament Greek. He is not without his critics (Daniel Wallace and Chrys Caragounis being the two that immediately spring to mind), but he has also garnered a large following among scholars (Rodney Decker being one of his most prolific supporters, in general).

 For general overviews on VAT, the following two articles are also highly recommended: Robert E. Picirilli, “The Meaning of Tenses in New Testament Greek: Where are We?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48.3 (Spring 2005): 533-555; and Andrew David Naselli, “A Brief Introduction to Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 12 (2007): 17-28.

For myself, I remain unconvinced of much of VAT, and one of the most influential articles in that regard is by Jody A. Barnard, “Is Verbal Aspect a Prominence Indicator? An Evaluation of Stanley Porter’s Proposal with Special Reference to the Gospel of Luke,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 19.37 (November 2006): 3-29. Barnard’s article, in my opinion, is one of the most scientific critiques of VAT (the article can be viewed for free online at http://www.bsw.org/Filologia-Neotestamentaria/Vol-19-2006/). My own research on the imperative mood in the Pastoral Epistles (accepted by and forthcoming in the same journal, though probably not for a couple more years!) has also led me to be critical of VAT (though, to be fair, once could follow VAT in the indicative mood while not necessarily following it in the imperative mood).

Having said that, I’m open to correction on the issue and I don’t think the debate over the Greek verb is that theologically significant (with the possible exception of the use of the verb “sinning” in 1 John). In fact, I think that, in general, pastors should shy away from making a key exegetical point based on the tense of a verb. At least, that is, until the dust has settled.