Charles Lee Irons. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016. 608 pp. $39.99.
Earlier this year I read the published form of Irons’s doctoral dissertation, The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation (review forthcoming) and have been excited about his second book, A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament (hereafter “A Syntax Guide“), ever since I heard that it was in the works. This is an utterly unique resource; while there are several different reader’s GNTs that present difficult/rare vocabulary with the biblical text, prior to A Syntax Guide there was no one-volume tool that helps intermediate Greek students navigate the intermediate and advanced syntactical features of the entire GNT (although, of course, there are two excellent serial guides to the GNT: the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament and B&H Academic’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament). As Irons writes in the introduction, this syntax guide picks up where other tools leave off and s designed to “provide concise notes enabling the reader to make sense of the Greek text at a level of linguistic communication one step higher than the word to the syntactical level of the phrase, clause, or sentence” (7).
While A Syntax Guide sometimes provides lexical information, parsing, text-critical information (for significant variants), and limited exegesis, the focus is syntactical, clause-level features. Categories of usage are mainly those in BDF and Wallace. While some might criticize Irons for using traditional categories enumerated by outdated grammars, he defends his choice in light of the fact that reference grammars based on insights of modern linguistics have yet to be published. One aspect that I find a bit odd is that often a common English translation (e.g. NASB, ESV, NIV) is provided with no additional notes. For a beginning exegesis student even notes of categories of usage would be more helpful than a translation. Below are two examples of notes from 1 Peter, the first representative of the shortest type of note and the second representative of the most in-depth:
1:9| σωτηρίαν is in apposition to τὸ τέλος
One could quibble about the conciseness of some of the notes or disagree with some of the exegetical decisions; I even read one review that criticized A Syntax Guide saying that most of this information can be found elsewhere. But this criticism is missing the point of what this volume is intended to be. Sure, if one is doing an in-depth study of a passage or book and consulting reference grammars, Greek handbooks, technical commentaries, etc., then one probably wouldn’t find additional information in A Syntax Guide. But this guide is designed to facilitate reading, for one of the most important ways for beginning/intermediate students to improve their Greek is by consistently reading through large chunks of text. And it’s easy to lose steam in reading if one has to constantly flip through a number of reference books to understand the text.
So while there are elements that can be criticized about A Syntax Guide, at the end of the day there is simply nothing like it. In a volume roughly the same dimensions as the GNT, A Syntax Guide goes verse-by-verse through the GNT providing concise notes on the most important syntactical features. This is a valuable tool for all who are at the intermediate level in NT Greek and want to keep/improve their Greek, from Bible college and seminary students to pastors and laypeople. I will be using A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament as I read through the GNT in 2017.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!