Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament

Written by Constantine R. Campbell Reviewed By Nicholas J. Ellis and Michael G. Aubrey

Constantine Campbell’s Advances in the Studies of Greek provides for biblical scholars a unique, helpful, and even essential introduction to the field of New Testament exegetical philology.

Campbell opens his volume with an apologetic for the book: rather than a Greek primer, the book attempts to provide a “cutting edge” presentation (p. 21) of the state of Greek studies, bringing both student and scholar into the current state of scholarship.

The book sets out to accompany the readers into the history of Greek studies (chapter 1) and broader linguistics (chapter 2); these chapters create the context for the evaluation of semantics and lexicography (chapter 3), where Campbell engages in an excellent discussion of John Lee’s work. The examination of voice (chapter 4) introduces the reader to the well-accepted notion in broader Greek studies that Greek should be viewed as an active/medio-passive voice system without recourse to “deponency,” a Latin-based idea that thankfully has begun to dissipate. Chapter 5 addresses tense, aspect, and Aktionsart. While Campbell mentions a number of scholars, the primary discussion is framed in terms of the work of McKay, Porter, Fanning, and the author himself. Chapter 6 raises the underexplored topic of idiolect and register. Chapters 7–8 present summaries of various schools of discourse analysis; the extended summaries of Levinsohn and Runge in chapter 8 are of special note, though the evaluations of Levinsohn at times reveal a lack of engagement with Levinsohn’s wider body of work. Chapter 9 engages with the growing debate on Greek pronunciation, Campbell arguing for the use of neo-hellenic pronunciation over and against the widespread use of the historically inaccurate Erasmian pronunciation. Finally, chapter 10 examines theories for improving Greek pedagogy; here, the approach of Randall Buth is of special note.

In evaluating this volume, it is important to us that we take Campbell at his word and read this work on its own terms. Campbell states in his preface that this book finds its origin in class notes from his time at Moore Theological College (p. 18). Later on, he also states that the current book form is designed as “an introduction to issues of interest in the current world of New Testament Greek scholarship” (p. 20). This is an essential point. This book is not intended as a comprehensive survey of all Greek linguistics for New Testament students. For the most part, it appears to be effectively a survey of those topics that have been prominent in Campbell’s own research and studies. These are the areas where the book is the strongest. The chapters on lexicography, voice, pronunciation, and discourse analysis provide clear, accessible, and compelling summaries of the current state those areas of New Testament Greek scholarship.

Similarly, chapter 5 on tense, aspect, and Aktionsart provides a strong summary, though here the content is at times colored by Campbell’s more idiosyncratic views about the Greek verb (most notably the perfect tense/aspect forms). Campbell’s discussion of grounding on pp. 124–130 is an excellent summary and an insightful critique of Porter’s views. Our primary concern in this chapter is its narrow focus, focusing on conversations about aspect and tense that began in the early 1990s between McKay, Porter, and Fanning, now supplemented by Campbell’s own contributions. However, there is a substantial amount of literature on the Greek verb beyond this small set of New Testament scholars cited by Campbell. Campbell’s bibliography would be improved by reference to the broader scholarly literature, most notably work by D. N. S. Bhat, Joan Bybee, and Osten Dahl in cross-linguistic study, as well as others specifically in Greek study, for example David Armstrong, Egbert Baker, Maria Napoli, Albert Rijksbaron, C. M. J. Sicking, and Peter Stork. Limiting the “cutting edge” advances to the recent ETS/SBL “Perfect Storm” conference sessions between Porter, Fanning, and Campbell, and its resulting publication, is not a very large step forward into the current state of Greek scholarship, nor a terribly sharp edge. Despite this issue, chapter 5, together with chapters 3–4 and 6–10, offer strong presentations of many important discussions and should be read by all New Testament Greek students and interested scholars. Thus, overall, the book achieves in marvelous fashion the goals it set out to accomplish for its intended audience.

While those seven chapters represent reliable summaries of the state of the field, the opening two chapters, which move beyond New Testament and exegetical work and into the field of general linguistics, are less successful. Specifically, the history of linguistics and the linguistic theories Campbell outlines therein cannot be relied upon. In what follows, we provide a truncated summary of some of the more problematic viewpoints of Campbell’s historical and linguistic summary. This is not to detract from the overall helpfulness of the book, but rather as a corrective, aimed at a relatively limited section of the volume, for the purposes of orienting students who would use this volume as an orientation to the state of discussion.

In chapter 1, Campbell establishes his clear preference for synchronic study over and against diachronic and cross-linguistic comparative studies (cf. p. 35 and elsewhere), and Saussure is a key figure in his discussion. However, Campbell ignores that even Saussure himself, using the comparative method, made some of the most important contributions to diachronic study of European languages and their history. Moreover, many important linguistic advances in Greek over the 20th century have come from historical linguistics. Campbell’s emphasis on synchronic study leaves his readers with the impression that the productive research of various historical linguists like Wackernagel, Clackson, Szemerényi, and Antila is irrelevant.

Further, Campbell’s summary of Saussure’s other two “dichotomies,” (langue/parole and signifié/signifiant) is demonstrably problematic in relation to his statement, “Saussure marks the dawn of modern linguistics in at least two respects: first, by establishing a clear break with previous language methodologies, and second, by establishing the principles that are now foundational to all subsequent linguistic schools” (p. 37). While this plays to Campbell’s own preferences, these principles are certainly not foundational to all subsequent linguistic schools, nor was the break with the past very clear. As Matthews’s Grammatical Theory in the United States from Bloomfield to Chomsky shows, American structualism’s founder, Bloomfield, rejected Saussure’s emphasis on the “sign,” and his general opinion of Saussure’s Cours de linguistique générale was that it merely systematized ideas that had already been in discussion for some time. It should be noted that, despite Campbell’s preference for synchronic study, the current trends in the field of linguistics in recent decades are all moving away from the synchronic-diachronic dichotomy and from the arbitrariness of Saussure’s “sign.” For many the move is already complete. A good alternate historical survey is available in Geeraerts, Theories of Lexical Semantics, which, while limited to the history and development of semantic theory, presents in a coherent manner the general trends and ideas across the larger field of linguistics.

Campbell’s descriptive problems in chapter 1 continue with Noam Chomsky. For example, Campbell’s statement on surface vs. deep structure (p. 40) is fundamentally flawed and should be revised. For Chomsky, deep structure is not “the underlying semantic principles” but rather an underlying formal syntax. Semantics, for Chomsky, is the interpretive result of the combination of grammar and a lexicon after a sentence is produced (so Aspects of the Theory of Syntax [Boston: MIT, 1969], 128). Campbell seems to have attributed to Chomsky the definition of deep structure as argued by one of Chomsky’s opponents, Charles Fillmore in the so-called “Linguistic Wars.” Fillmore (e.g. his article, “The Case for Case,” in Universals in Linguistic Theory, ed. E. Bach and R. Harms [New York: Holt, Rinehalt and Winston]) and those with him eventually developed their own ideas into what is cognitive linguistics today, a set of principles and frameworks that are growing more and more dominant in the field at large. Campbell concedes that his survey of linguistics is “curtailed” and focuses on the linguists and schools that “have most shaped the advances in the study of Greek” (p. 30n3). To his credit, Campbell mentions some important recent work on Ancient Greek from a cognitive lingustic perspective, including Allan on the middle voice. However, the lack of any formal discussion on cognitive linguistics is disappointing, since cognitive linguistics is so intrinsically tied to functional linguistics. In sum, therefore, the reader would be better served by a more careful (if not necessarily comprehensive) introduction to these foundational modern discussions.

Similar problems continue in chapter two with Campbell’s summary of linguistic theories. The chart of the branches of linguistics (p. 58) he provides is unhelpful and will only confuse students who might consider digging deeper. For example: descriptive linguistics is not limited to the study of specific languages, applied linguistics is not linguistics applied to specific functions, and the distinction between “micro” and “macro” linguistics (coined in the 1940s) is no longer used. Lastly, Campbell’s choice to limit his discussion of functionalism to only Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) reveals an engagement with a small set of linguistic literature that is narrow in scope and frequently out of date. Since SFL is the one realm of linguistics that has been summarized for New Testament studies multiple times already, it would have been more helpful for Campbell to introduce to his audience other aspects of functional linguistics, such as language typology, grammaticalization theory, or perhaps basic functional linguistic principles like the iconic relationship between meaning and form. A contemporary text such as Arnoff and Rees-Miller’s Blackwell Handbook of Linguistics would be a good place to start for such foundational concepts.

Now, at this point, the intended audience for this book might be wondering whether these details are particularly important to Campbell’s overall purpose. It is certainly an open question as to how much linguistics a student of New Testament Greek needs—especially when it comes to history and theory. Nevertheless, our preceding discussion, if fair in its evaluation, would imply that this book cannot provide an accurate account of the development and current state of linguistics. Students and scholars relying on Campbell’s survey as an up-to-date linguistic summary will find a discussion that is either several decades out of date or factually inaccurate. Such a survey is in danger of causing more confusion than clarity for students seeking to access the linguistic field.

Let us now return to Campbell’s work as a whole. When this book is good, it is extremely good. Chapters 3 though 10 present an invaluable contribution to students. The description of Levinsohn’s work alone is worth the purchase price. Campbell is a gifted and thoughtful New Testament scholar and biblical theologian, and he is to be congratulated and applauded for offering another contribution that bridges the gap between biblical studies and linguistics. Preceding caveats of chapters 1 and 2 notwithstanding, the rest of the volume fills a significant and much needed presentation of the state of the art in New Testament and Koine Greek linguistics.

We encourage scholars and pastors to utilize this volume for its insights into recent work in the study of New Testament Greek exegetical and philological research. If the readership should critically engage with the discussions on voice, aspect, discourse analysis, and pronunciation, our field will be greatly advanced. Our hope is that Campbell’s efforts will both encourage biblical scholars to deepen their engagement with Greek studies, and stimulate current and up-and-coming scholars to contribute to advances in Greek linguistics.

Nicholas J. Ellis and Michael G. Aubrey

Nicholas J. Ellis
Durham, North Carolina, USA

Michael G. Aubrey
Logos Bible Software
Bellingham, Washington, USA

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