Stanley Porter’s new Greek textbook

Stanley Porter’s new Greek textbook May 5, 2011

Several years in the making, in 2010 Eerdmans published Fundamentals of New Testament Greek by Stanley Porter, Jeffrey Reed, and Matthew Brook O’Donnell. The best word to describe this textbook + workbook is “rigorous.” It is not a “primer” nor an “idoit’s guide.” It is an introduction to what you need to learn, at the first-year level, to study the Greek of the New Testament responsibly.

It is a nice hardcover textbook of about 450 pages. It is broken down into 30 chapters and contains discussions and teachings on all declensions, tenses, moods, and also offers a hefty amount of vocabulary.

In process, Porter (et al) introduces nouns (2nd declension) and the article first (chs 1-3) and then verbs (ch 4). Porter errs on the side of providing more information rather than less. The advantage is that the book lays it all out there and curious students can continue to re-read previous chapters to gain a fuller picture of what is going on. The downside is that the first few chapters in particular can be daunting.

What I like about Mounce is that he really eases the reader into the study of Greek. He makes the first couple of chapters a bit “lite” so as to warm over and welcome the learner. Porter gives the learner a good taste of the task by prescribing a hearty dose of information right away! I can see the advantages of both sides, but on the balance, I like Mounce’s approach.

What will distinguish Porter’s text clearly from others is his take on verbal aspect. Personally, I lean towards viewing Greek verbal aspect  (VA) in the way that he explains it. He breaks VA into three types: perfective, imperfective, and stative. For the perfective (like aorist), the action is viewed as complete (though not always as a past event). For imperfective (such as present), the action is in progress. As for the stative (perfect), he sees it as “representing a complex state of affairs” (see 319). For this last one, I think Porter could have spent more time explaining this, as I found his description too brief and vague.

Perhaps more helpful are two illustrations he gives regarding the use of certain VAs.

One way to think of how the aspects function in relation to each other is to think of a bookcase full of books, in which one shelf is featured, and a single book is selected. The aorist tense-form is the background tense, or the entire bookcase, in which no particular book stands out. The present tense-form is the foreground tense, or the one shelf that becomes prominent. The perfect tense-form is the frontground tense, or the single book that commands significant attention. We could also think of the three aspects in terms of a picture, with the aorist tense-form used to paint the background, the present tense-form used to depict events in the foreground, and the perfect tense-form for events standing closest to the front (p. 39-40).

What about the future tense? Porter calls this an “enigma” and says that it seems to convey a sense of “expectation” (see ch 8).

What about the workbook? It is also lengthy, at over 200 pages. The assignments seem well-crafted. The back of the book contains a small Greek-English dictionary for exercises and also a set of paradigms for reference. I think that is a very useful idea.

Conclusion: the biggest strength of this book is the wisdom of Porter (and his co-authors), especially in the care given to verbal aspect. As far as the pedagogical quality of the book, I fear that too many colleges and seminaries are not cut out for the rigor of this book – I would have struggled with it myself as a student! I don’t want to coddle students, but I think this book might just scare some of them off. I think Porter knows this, and I respect his standards. It is left to you and your institution to decide whether this book works for you. I would encourage you to read Porter’s work on VA, whether in this book or others by him.

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