Reviewed by Robert Plummer
In A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament, Charles Lee Irons provides brief grammatical observations in canonical order on the text of the New Testament. One might think of this book as a somewhat updated and more nicely formatted replacement of the classic Analysis of the Greek New Testament, by Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor (5th rev. ed., Biblical Institute Press, 1996). Zerwick and Grosvenor, however, regularly provide parsing and morphological information for challenging words, while Irons focuses almost solely on syntax.
Irons, Director for the Office of Research Administration at Charles Drew University, should be applauded for providing another helpful tool in aiding pastors and students to wade through unfamiliar constructions as they read the Greek New Testament.
As I flipped through this volume, I found Iron’s comments to be accurate and helpful. I also found useful his frequent citation of Greek grammars and lexicons, should a reader wish for more detailed explanation of the syntactical function or definition cited.
As I teacher of Greek, I most appreciated the detailed subject index of syntactical labels at the end of the book, with accompanying lists of New Testament verses where those categories appear. In the future, when I am preparing a lecture or writing an essay, if I am looking for passages that illustrate specific syntactical constructions, I will possibly turn to Iron’s “Index of Subjects.”
As I occasionally referenced this book during the last two weeks, I was disappointed by the very slim treatment of most verses in the New Testament. A verse with multiple challenging constructions may only include one explicit syntactical label. Many verses are not covered at all. For example, Mark chapter 13 has thirty-seven verses. Irons only comments on twenty-three verses, and his comments are extremely abbreviated. Typical of the Syntax Guide, in Galatians 6:1, where various syntactical issues arise, Irons makes only two observations. He gives an English gloss for a less common Greek construction (with no further explanation or labeling) and observes the shift from plural to singular in the second person personal pronoun. No outside resources are cited for this verse.
A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament is 629 pages, and if Irons had covered every verse in the New Testaments and provided more detail throughout the book, it would certainly have become unwieldy—no longer remaining a Syntax Guide, but morphing into a multi-volume series. Indeed, both B&H Academic and Baylor University Press have seen the need for this sort of detailed phrase-by-phrase syntactical guide on each book of the New Testaments and are thus producing, respectively, The Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series (6 of 20 twenty volumes published) and The Baylor Handbook on the Greek Text series (13 volumes published, multiple volumes forthcoming). If a pastor or scholar were to own the EGGNT or Baylor Handbook volume on a book of the New Testament, he would have little reason to reference the more incomplete Syntax Guide by Irons. But, until those series are complete, or if a pastor is traveling and wishes to bring a single abbreviated resource to assist with understanding thorny constructions in the Greek New Testament, Irons’ volume will likely prove helpful.
Robert L. Plummer, Ph.D., is Founder and Host at The Daily Dose of Greek and Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament