Book Notice: Ancient Greek Grammar for the Study of the New Testament

Heinrich von Siebenthal. Ancient Greek Grammar for the Study of the New Testament. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2019. 740 pages. $67.95 (hardback).

The new magisterial Ancient Greek Grammar for the Study of the New Testament is the fifth publication on the language of the New Testament by Heinrich von Siebenthal, who has taught since 1987 at the Freie Theologische Hochschule in Gießen, Germany. Siebenthal’s grammar is written for students and scholars who are engaged in the interpretation of New Testament texts. It incorporates the generally accepted results of newer linguistic research (without abandoning traditional terminology); and it seeks to combine the highest academic standards with a user-friendly presentation.

After a brief introduction which treats the history of the Greek language, New Testament Greek, the history of grammars of classical Greek, and the outline of the present grammar, four main chapters treat Writing System and Phonology, Morphology, Syntax, and Textgrammar. Then follow two appendices: one treating the main differences between classical and Koine/NT Greek, the second addressing the subject of word formation. The volume concludes with a systematic, annotated bibliography; an alphabetical bibliography; and exhaustive indexes (index of OT, NT, extrabiblical texts; subject index; index of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words).

While this grammar is not for the timid, it is more consistently user-friendly than most Greek grammars on the market, with key terms and phrases highlighted by letter spacing and bold letters. Siebenthal illustrates each grammatical point with one or several examples from the New Testament (the Greek text printed on the left, a translation on the right), usually with a reference to further examples. Students will use the grammar to review declensions and conjugations, as well as definitions and explanations of the various forms and uses of the Greek language. Scholars will use the volume as a reference grammar for all morphological and syntactical matters of New Testament Greek. 

Siebenthal’s explanations of grammatical terms and features are formulated with minimal technical jargon. Grammatical matters such as the Granville Sharpe Rule, on which others expend much energy, are presented with an admirable economy of space (§131c). As regards the contested question of temporal reference of the Greek verbs, Siebenthal insists, with the majority of modern Greek philologists, that Greek is an aspect language (like English, unlike German), and argues, again with the majority Greek philologists, that the Greek verbs combine aspect and tempus (cf. §193a; this is the only topic of scholarly dispute which Siebenthal treats at length).

Siebenthal’s grammar can fairly be called a research grammar: it certainly replaces Blass–Debrunner–Rehkopf (and even more so Blass–Debrunner–Funk, the English translation of an earlier Blass–Debrunner), and it is much more comprehensive than Wallace, Greek Beyond the Basics (1996), which is “an exegetical syntax of the New Testament” (per the subtitle). Siebenthal’s superb grammar of New Testament Greek will certainly become a key reference for New Testament scholarship. There is no comparable grammar that exegetes who are not eager to cite introductory Greek textbooks can refer to in commentaries, monographs and essays.

Eckhard J. Schnabel is Mary F. Rockefeller Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The above notice has been adapted from a review of the original German edition published in the Bulletin of Biblical Research on March 22, 2012. Used with permission by Dr. Schnabel.


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