Interview with Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert L. Plummer, authors of GOING DEEPER WITH NEW TESTAMENT GREEK: AN INTERMEDIATE STUDY OF THE GRAMMAR AND SYNTAX OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

Published on May 24, 2016 by Joshua Centanni

B&H Academic, 2016 | 560 pages

New books hit the market every day, of course, but it’s not every day that we see a new intermediate Greek grammar and especially one with such promise. Hi, I’m Fred Zaspel, editor here at Books At a Glance, and we’re talking about the new book, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament by Drs. Andreas Köstenberger, Robert Plummer, and Ben Merkle. Ben Merkle is not able to be with us today, but Andreas Köstenberger and Rob Plummer are here to talk to us about their new work.

Andreas Köstenberger is professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Rob Plummer is professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the famous host of the wonderfully helpful Daily Dose of Greek. Both have authored other books as well, some that we’ve featured here on Books At a Glance.

Andreas, Rob, welcome, congratulations on a really good textbook, and thanks for talking to us today!

 

Zaspel:
This may belabor the obvious, but let’s start with the big picture. Remind us why it is so important for pastors to learn and keep up with their Greek.

Köstenberger:
Well, the New Testament is written in Greek, so for those of us who hold to a high view of Scripture, who believe the Scriptures are the authority for our life, for our faith, there’s nothing more important than to be able to read and understand the Scripture in the original language. And so in the case of the New Testament that requires us to learn Greek and to keep up with it.

Plummer:
Along with what Andreas is saying there, there’s a quote by a Jewish poet that says that reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your bride through the veil. I think seminary students have that intuitive longing to be as close to the word of God as they can be, and they know that they are always going to be somewhat slightly removed, depending upon other people’s judgments or translations unless they can read the Bible in Greek.

John Piper, in his book about brothers who are not professionals, says, just to paraphrase, I believe he uses the term “second handers.” We don’t want to be second handers – people gathering insights and food that others have gathered from the Scriptures and then delivering them. We want to be people who are in the word of God ourselves soaking everything we can out of the word of God.

Martin Luther said the languages are the sheath that hold the sword of the Spirit. So when you go back through church history we speak to pastors today who have effective ministries you find that they consistently give testimony to the value of learning languages. Occasionally I’ll have a student who says, “so-and-so tells me it’s not worth it.” And I say, “Well, has so-and-so learned the biblical languages yet? Find someone who is learned them, who then says that it’s not worth it.

 

Zaspel:
What audience do you have in mind?

Köstenberger:
Well, it’s essentially an intermediate Greek text. Which means that we are assuming that people have had a year of elementary Greek, they’ve learned some of the basic forms, they’ve learned the basic vocabulary, and then, as the title of our book says, we want to help them go deeper with Greek.

Plummer:
I can think of someone using this probably, depending upon how quickly a seminary or college goes through Greek, it might be a second semester text or it might be a second year text. But we’ve also attempted to write it with such clarity, not using overly technical terms and explaining terms that we do use, that I would hope that some people might even use it for self-study on the intermediate level as well.

 

Zaspel:
You will have teacher aids available too, right?

Plummer:
We do. There’s the website, deeperGreek.com, which is going to redirect. It’s currently being built, but it’s going to redirect to a subsite at B&H Academic and we’re going to have some materials there just for students. For example, it will have links to Quizlet where we have different ways of quizzing yourself either on the different uses of the genitive, or different uses of the dative, or quizzing yourself on vocabulary. So it will be both vocabulary and the grammatical concepts within the book.

And then we’re going to have a lot of resources that are already created but are being finally edited now for teachers. So the teachers will have to request permission for those because there will have a little step where they will have to show that they are a professor to get the quizzes, and exams, and PowerPoint resources and all those other things.

Our goal is that if a teacher comes to this book and says, “Hey, this is really what I’m looking for because it is designed for student use, it’s designed for me to use, but I’ve got all this… I’ve got to re-create my quizzes, I’ve got to re-create …” We want to say, “We’ve done all that for you. Here it is. Take it. Feel free to adjust it, make it your own, but we want to make this easy to plug-in to what you’re already doing.”

 

Zaspel:
What do you hope makes Going Deeper with New Testament Greek distinctive? What contribution do you hope to make?

Köstenberger:
Well, Fred, I think you know us. We’ve all taught Greek for years, even decades, and I think one thing that I found is that often when I teach a third semester or second year Greek class I have to require three or four or five different books. I have to require some sort of a vocabulary tool, lexical aids. I have to require maybe a little book on text criticism; of course then a Greek grammar itself; I have to use a graded reader, perhaps, so students in my classes get translation experience, translation practice and so forth and so on.

So what we have done, and this was basically our starting vision, is that we wanted to create an integrated tool that covers, almost incredibly, all of the things already mentioned, all in this one book, in this one tool. We talk about text criticism, we have a built-in reader, we have, of course, coverage of the standard Greek grammar and syntactical issues. We have practice sentences. We have vocabulary lists. And so to the teacher listening to this broadcast, you can be assured that really all you will need is the textbook. And then, as Rob already mentioned, on the Deeper Greek website there will be additional tools.

 

Zaspel:
Some of the promo about your book mentions a “for-the-church orientation.” This obviously means you’re aiming to help pastors and those who handle the Scriptures, but in what way is your book oriented this way? Explain this for us and how it makes your book distinctive.

Plummer:
When I hear that question, I think about the famous text critic, Johann Albrecht Bengel (or I can let Andreas pronounce that more correctly in German): “Apply yourself wholly to the text and apply the text wholly to yourself.” So in this book one way we do that is each chapter begins with what you might call an exegetical teaser, where it says here’s a place where what you’re going to learn in this chapter, what we’re going to talk about, really makes a difference in understanding the meaning of the text, and also not afraid to speak about the spiritual application of that to us.

So I think there’s that desire that permeates the text that this is not just an intellectual or linguistic exercise. It is that, but it’s for the purpose of knowing the word of God that we might be faithful in handling it, and that we might know God himself better and teach others rightly about him.

Köstenberger:
Absolutely. We all teach at seminaries, and so I think all three of us really share a heart for God’s word as you’ve already heard Rob talk about, and a heart for God, and a heart for people. So we want to equip pastors for ministry, not just academically, and we may come back to this later in the interview, but in that sense we really believe we stand in the tradition of A. T. Robertson, who had that same passion for equipping pastors for ministry, and helping them learn Greek and then keep up with their Greek to that end.

 

Zaspel:
Some of the promo emphasizes that your book offers “up to date” information and instruction. Greek’s an old language – give us a sense of what this “up-to-dateness” is all about.

Köstenberger:
Well, I can maybe start and then Rob can add some additional information. One of the interests that has sprung up in the last few years is a new way of understanding how the Greek verb works. It’s called “verbal aspect.” It’s very important, I think even has the potential to really help us understand Greek verbs a lot better, but it can be confusing and scholars often don’t agree. What we’ve tried to do is – I spent at least a year meeting with some of the leading scholars, asking them regarding their view and then tried to present verbal aspect in a way that is clear and that is hopefully helpful.

Just in short, Greek is essentially unlike English, which is a time or tense prominent language. We’re primarily interested in when did an action occur? Was it past, present, or future? Well, Greek is more interested in how a given action is perceived from a certain vantage point or perspective. And if you’re listening and you have a hard time understanding what I’m talking about, well, that’s because Greek is a little bit different from English at this point, so we have a little bit of a learning curve.

For example, in English we might say, “I am jumping,” or, “I was jumping,” and so you’re focused on the fact that this is something that is currently ongoing. In Greek there is a certain aspect that is devoted to this which is conveyed in the present or imperfect tense form (“imperfective” aspect). Or you might say, “Somebody jumped,” without focusing on the fact that this was happening right then as you made that statement. So you look at the action more as a whole or as complete without trying to dissect it further. That would be the “perfective” aspect in Greek. And then there’s a third aspect called “stative” that combines essentially the first two.

So in the book we have an entire chapter right at the beginning where we introduce verbs that is devoted to verbal aspect, and hopefully that will add to people’s understanding. It’s certainly something that is not found in any previous grammar. I believe we are the first grammar that has a whole chapter devoted to verbal aspect.

Plummer:
Along with what Andreas is saying there, our desire, and I hope we accomplish this, is just to have clarity so someone doesn’t just read the chapter and be like, well it’s just a bunch of grammarians debating something, but they really come out understanding it. There are visuals to try to help visually capture what we’re talking about. And at the end of each chapter there are extensive charts that summarize in very clear format what we’ve tried to teach. Speaking about the up-to-dateness of the grammar, there are numerous other ways we’ve tried to do that.

We have a chapter on word studies that presents a very careful and nuanced way of doing word studies, but has the very latest word study resources, even Silva’s just-released New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, and the strengths and benefits of those different resources. In the text criticism chapter there are all kinds of things going on there that most people are not aware of.

The traditional family classifications of ancient manuscripts has fallen out of favor with many leading text critics and there’s this new method called the “coherence-based genealogical method” and just explaining what that is and telling people what the Editio Critica Maior is, this new critical edition of the New Testament that’s being very slowly produced, what these things are. The chapter on sentences and diagramming, discourse analysis, obviously we can’t go into extensive depth on every one of those, but adequately introducing the intermediate student to these different concepts and then pointing them to additional resources, many of them free online resources, if they want to go deeper with those things.

 

Zaspel:
So there are online resources for the student as well.

Plummer:
Yes, for example, when we talk about different ways of structurally analyzing a passage we explain arcing and bracketing and have some samples of that. But then there’s no way to give a full teaching of the method of arcing and bracketing, but we refer them to a website that has hours and hours of free training videos, Biblearc.com, on that method of structural analysis. Or traditional line diagramming, there’s a link to a very helpful, 20 or 30 page free PDF explanation of line diagramming.

So we try to introduce it but then because of limited space—obviously you can see the grammar is already a good size, we don’t want to overwhelm people—giving links and referring to those outside resources as many as we can, free resources.

 

Zaspel:
Give us an overview of the book, and in particular tell us how you’ve laid out each chapter – the biblical examples, the readings, the major features of each chapter, and what we can expect.

Köstenberger:
That sounds great, and again obviously, there’s no substitute for those listening actually picking up a copy of the book for themselves and looking at it. But to give you a quick example, one of the chapters that I was responsible for writing was the one on the dative. And so for example that chapter, and it’s typical for most of the chapters, it starts with a bit of a teaser, going deeper, introduction where we give a practical example of how the dative is relevant. Specifically, there we cite 2 Peter 1:3, which says that God called us by his own glory and goodness, or other translations say he called us to his own glory and goodness. It’s in the Greek dative and translations differ. The NIV has by and the ESV has to, for example, so which is it?

Then we state the chapter objectives and we give an introduction to the dative case by including all the categories: the pure dative, the locative, the instrumental dative and others. Then after that, and that’s the heart of a chapter, we have a discussion of each of those categories of the dative. So we give a brief definition and explanation. And then we typically have five New Testament examples for every major category and three for every subcategory. In each case we give the Greek first, then the English, and then, if needed, we provide a brief commentary and explanation but some of those examples are self-evident.

Let me say that those categories we developed on the basis of primary study in the New Testament and also a survey of about a dozen major grammars that have appeared in the last century, starting with A.T. Robertson and then also looking at Dana and Mantey, Moule, BDF, Turner, Zerwick, Brookes and Linberry, Porter, Young, Wallace and Black. So we have charts in the back of the book in case anybody is wondering how come we chose those particular categories.

So then finally, at the end of the chapter, we have summary charts listing all of the categories with brief definitions and a typical example again in both Greek and English. And then we have 10 practice exercises, we have a list of vocabulary to memorize and to recognize, a New Testament passage of about 10 or 12 verses to translate with extensive reading notes to help students reinforce the grammar they just learned. So in the case of the dative chapter, the passage is Jude 1-3 and 17-25. Often students only translate John or Paul, whether it’s 1 John or Philippians, but in our grammar students will be translating all the New Testament authors which I think is very important because every author has its own distinctive style and the type of Greek varies.

Plummer:
I thought that was a great summary. I will just mention, let’s say there’s someone who wants to use this after only one semester and they hear that there is translation of Jude or other things, they may say, is that going to be too hard? Let me clarify that there are numerous elements of the book you can think of almost cafeteria style.

For example, someone may choose this and say, I’m not going to use all of the homework exercises because we only have a one semester class. Or someone may say about the reading, there is a passage at each chapter but based on by students’ level ability, we’re going to read all the chapters, I’m going to teach them the categories, but were only going to translate half of the passages. Or I’m going to start the semester and will do 1 John or John to build their confidence halfway through and then will switch to some of the other readings. So I doubt anyone will take it and use everything in it but hopefully, professors will be able to tailor it to their students and to the structure of the way they teach Greek at their school.

Köstenberger:
I should also add briefly, Fred, that we will have a laminated chart that will be published in a couple of months that will include a summary of pretty much the entire book in a very user-friendly format. So I think that will be one of the most attractive features of this entire package, to put that into hands of students and teachers alike.

 

Zaspel:
Can you give us some practical suggestions as to how we pastors might keep up with our Greek and over time even improve our ability to work with it and do responsible exegesis? Maybe you can suggest a study plan of some kind, and don’t be shy to suggest how we might use your book in this way … and for that matter, Daily Dose of Greek.

Plummer:
Yeah, I was actually giving a quiz today in my Greek syntax class and the bonus question I gave them is: I want you to tell me explicitly and clearly how you’re going to keep your Greek over the summer. I think one secret is, some pastors maybe have some vague idea of what they want to do, but just like if someone is going to start a new exercise program, or they’re going to start a new diet, this is where you have to write it down. You have to be very clear and say, “I am going to read the Greek New Testament 5 minutes a day, 10 minutes a day.”

And then you have to have some kind of accountability – incentives or disincentives for doing that. You have to tell your wife, “I’m going to read the Greek New Testament 10 minutes a day and I’m going to put a little chart here on the side of the fridge and check it off when I do it. If I don’t do it, if I failed to do it this week or any week, I’ll clean all the bathrooms in the house that week.” Or you tell your kids, “You ask Dad. If he hasn’t read his Greek New Testament the day before, I owe you 10 bucks.” You know, they’ll ask you about it. Or don’t eat breakfast until you’ve done your Greek or tell yourself, “I can only drink coffee when I’m reading my Greek New Testament, I can’t have it any other time.”

Actually Ben Merkel and I are finishing up another book called Greek for Life that gives a lot of practical suggestions for dealing with this, for dealing with time management and distractions and ritual and habits. That’s going to come out hopefully 8 months from now or 10 months from now, one of the chapters in it is entitled, Go to the Ant, You Sluggard and it just tries to draw from a lot of literature and psychological studies on what really enables us to form habits and keep habits, and we’re trying to apply that to our students.

Köstenberger:
I should say that the entire final chapter in our book is actually continuing with Greek and so there’s a lot more tips there such as: bring your Greek New Testament to church or go to some of the excellent New Testament Greek related websites that we list there. I published a book years ago, The Book Study Concordance, that might be a helpful tool for some or the EGGNT series, which is B&H’s Greek series which would be a great supplement for anybody who’s preaching through or studying a book of the New Testament because each of those EGGNT volumes, which stands for Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, has extensive commentary specifically on the Greek features of that particular New Testament book and I’m sure Rob and I could go on and on.

Plummer:
I would just say one final thing. If anyone is listening to this and they think they need to get back into the Greek, I would just challenge them right now, like decide right now, “I’m gonna do it.” And just write down whatever it is, a realistic goal, to seek to commit to and who’s going to hold you accountable for that.

 

Zaspel:
Absolutely. The payoff is immense. And what about your book? How can we use that to keep up? It seems to me a pastor could do very well working through your book – say, one chapter each week or two. It would be a wonderful review and help him keep up, even improve.

Köstenberger:
Work through the book, work through the reading passages, which I think would be great even if people are already familiar with the categories because it has a built-in reader and I think that would make it very useful.

Plummer:
I tell my students that I’ve only been on one cruise my whole life and when I went on it I took a Greek grammar with me, but I don’t think I’m a normal person. I don’t think that’s normal (laughing). But it is possible. Someone could take a Greek grammar and just say, “Hey, I’m going to go away for the weekend. I’m just gonna read through this and brush up.” But more realistically though I think someone’s gonna say, “Hey, I’m a busy pastor but I can read this for 10 minutes a day.” It has extensive charts in it and one way those can be used is when you’re working through either the texts that are given in the grammar or, say you’re preaching through the book of Philippians, or preaching through the gospel of Mark, if you have those charts and as you run into different verb forms are noun forms and you’re kind of… One way is to force yourself rather than to just go to the commentaries and, “Oh, they labeled it as subjective genitive…” To actually wrestle with that genitive yourself.

I tell my students it’s like Jacob wrestling with the angel at Peniel you have to hold on and say, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” You take that genitive and you think – is it an object, or a subject, is it a source? And with the charts you have all those categories visually, very clearly, with examples right before you. That’s a way that you can begin to make those categories more intuitive to you through allowing that information to gradually filter into your more long-term memory.

 

Zaspel:
You’ve dedicated the book to A.T. Robertson. Tell us something of his significance in the study of NT Greek. And tell us something of his sense of the importance of theological education for pastors.

Köstenberger:
I remember teaching at Southern where Rob teaches a few summers ago and people would take me to Robertson’s grave which seems to be one of the initiation rites for visiting professors at Southern. You know it’s really interesting, because Robertson really connects the two schools where we teach. He actually received his Masters degree, an MA from Wake Forest College right here in Wake Forest North Carolina, as he started out his career. Then he went to Southern to study there for his ThM and then later joined the faculty. So we both have such great appreciation and really couldn’t think of any better role model for us, and also for future generations of students.

Plummer:
I don’t really have anything to add to that, just to affirm that what we know of A.T. Robertson from recollections of him of the many students and others who have said he’s a man who loved the Scriptures, who was a preacher as well, who loved the students, who was passionate about good scholarship but in the service of the church. So we desire to be such people and that our students would share those passions.

Köstenberger:
Maybe one final humorous tip here. We been talking about keeping up with your Greek. Now in Robertson’s case his father-in-law was actually a professor, a famous Southern Baptist scholar named John Broadus at Southern, and so he actually became his father-in-law, so here’s one tip to keep up with your Greek – you could marry your Greek professor’s daughter.

 

Zaspel:
Rob, what do you think of that? You’ve got some daughters.

Plummer:
That’s funny. One of my seventh grade daughters, she’s studying Greek now at her classical school and it brings great joy to this father’s heart I confess. Sampe was the man who did the eulogy at A.T. Robertson’s funeral and he said, “Oh how he studied the Greek New Testament! If all men read the Greek New Testament as he did the millennium would come.” Which I guess tells us they were post-millennialists! But I thought the word of affirmation by a colleague who knew him said how much he loved, he really loved the Scriptures. He was passionate about it.

He was a colorful figure I mean he was kinda crazy. He would rip his shirt off in class in repentance and all these kind of crazy stories we hear about him but students loved him because he was passionate, he loved the word of God and he also if you know, he tracked with the leading scholars of his day. We have letters in our archives of his correspondence with the Deissman and other people. In fact, you may not know this, but we have in our archives a postcard from Bruce Metzger when he was a teenager. He said, “Dr. Robertson I want to come study with you because you’re the best. I want to come study the Greek New Testament at Southern Seminary.” And Robertson died soon after that and so he went to Princeton instead.

Köstenberger:
In case listeners don’t know this, A.T. Robertson’s famous grammar was published in 1914 and it’s about 1500 pages long. So it is our joy, as we’re finishing up our volume which is only a third of that size, to dedicate our volume to him and his memory.

 

Zaspel:
Before we close up, let me just give my own impressions about the book. I spent a few hours Tuesday evening working through it, and I have to say that not only was I impressed – I genuinely enjoyed it. I found it interesting, I thought the concepts were presented crisply and clearly – it really was a delightful read.

You say the book is “designed to be read, not merely referenced” (which of course is typically how intermediate grammars are used) and indeed each chapter does make for excellent reading and review. The relevant biblical samples you use to illustrate the point at hand, the introductory applications that lead into each chapter, the summary charts and selected readings at the end of each chapter – this really is another class of intermediate textbook, a marked improvement over the one I learned from back in the 70s. The level of information is not compromised, but you have made it eminently understandable and accessible. Congratulations – and many thanks for your good work.

Plummer:
Thank you very much for your kind words and for your interest in the book.

 

Zaspel:
We’re talking to Andreas Köstenberger and Rob Plummer about their new book, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament. They hope it will become the textbook of choice for intermediate Greek courses, and I have a suspicion it will become just that. For any of you who have had at least a beginning course in Greek, we encourage you to get a copy and enjoy learning Greek again … and enjoy using it to mine God’s Word more fruitfully.

Dr. Plummer, Dr. Köstenberger – thanks for being with us today, and all the best with your new book!

Plummer:
Thank you.

Buy the books

Going Deeper with New Testament Greek

B&H Academic, 2016 | 560 pages