Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated WorkbookWritten by Rodney J. Decker Reviewed By Benjamin L. Merkle
Rodney Decker, who passed away just prior to the book’s release, taught at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania from 1996 until 2014, with first-year Greek being his staple. He is the author of Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect, Studies in Biblical Greek 10 (New York: Peter Lang, 2001) and Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007). His passion for the Greek language is clearly seen in this massive introductory Greek grammar. This 33-chapter textbook contains a wealth of knowledge and insight into biblical Greek and consequently has a number of positive and unique features.
- It contains 465 vocabulary words. By the time students have completed the book, they will have memorized all the words that occur 44 times or more in the NT (and some words that occur less frequently as well). The vocabulary words include both glosses and definitions, along with their frequency in both the NT and the LXX.
- It contains many practice exercises. After students are given a number of examples related to the emphasis of the lesson, they are asked to translate verses in the “Now You Try It” section of the text. Both the examples and the exercises contain verses from the NT, LXX, Pseudepigrapha, and the Apostolic Fathers. This allows students to have a broader sense of Koine Greek and forces them to translate texts with which they are less familiar.
- It contains an extended passage for translation at the end of each chapter. For example, at the end of chapter 5 (“Verb Basics”), students are asked to translate John 15:1–8 (with key words in bold font and unfamiliar vocabulary given in parentheses). Although the combination of having practice exercises and reading passages resulted in a longer textbook, the benefit is that a student will not need to buy an additional workbook.
- It contains English grammar discussions. This feature is designed to help students understand the categories that are used in describing Greek.
- It contains intermediate Greek material. This material is clearly marked “Advanced Information for Reference” and is designed for students to use at a later time, if necessary, since a first-year grammar is usually the book students will consult (because they own it and are familiar with it).
- It contains modern insights into the Greek verbal system. This includes the aspectual value and function of the Greek verb (following Stanley Porter’s perspective on verbal aspect) and the voice system (i.e., rejection of deponency).
- It also contains six appendices (Reference Charts, Morphology Catalog of Common Koine Verbs, Participle Chart, Vocative: The Fifth Case, Greek Numbers and Archaic Letters, and a Glossary), samples of diagramming, and a website (www.bakeracademic.com/readingkoinegreek), which includes information for both students (audio files and flash cards) and professors (instructor’s manual and a quiz book).
There is some danger in critiquing a textbook without having used it in the classroom. Based on my 20 years of classroom experience of teaching Greek, however, I offer the following as possible negative features of this book:
- The size of the book. At 703 pages (including the front matter), this book will simply intimidate some students. Those seminaries or graduate schools that dedicate only one semester for elementary Greek will have great difficulty making it through this book.
- The layout of the book. Although the book is well-designed and has an attractive visual layout, the practice exercises are interspersed throughout each chapter, making them difficult to find. (Most textbooks place them at the end of the chapter.) In addition, some may think the practice exercises are insufficient and will want to supplement them. Finally, to have 17 consecutive chapters related to verbs (of the 21 chapters on verbs) may be a bit too much.
This book is a welcome addition to the current repertoire of first-year NT Greek grammars. Because this book includes insights from modern linguistics and Greek research, it will especially appeal to those who are not content with textbooks that fail to address modern theories of verbal aspect theory and the use of the middle voice. Additionally, teachers who do not plan to use this book in the classroom would still benefit from this book to learn how to communicate current debated topics to first-year students. It is evident that Decker was a master teacher, and his love for the language and his insights are clearly seen in this work.
Benjamin L. Merkle
Benjamin L. Merkle
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina, USA