Koine Greek Reader – A Review

I’ve had a review copy of Rodney Decker’s Koine Greek Reader sitting on my shelf for a number of months now waiting to be written about and I’ve  finally gotten around to doing it. To put it simply, I love this book. I’ve used it off and on for a while and I honestly wish that I had used it in a class so that I could have done so more consistently.

I must thank Leslie Paladino for generously providing me with this review copy – quite unexpectedly, I must add!

Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers

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Order from Eisenbrauns

(Go with Eisenbraun if at all possible – they’re the good guys!)

I love Greek readers in general. They are, I believe, an important tool for students to move beyond their basic grammar and vocabulary. The goal of the vocabulary is to get students to having memorized words that occur 25 times or more. This is a nice goal for a Reader like this since it basically bring students from the 50 words or more basis that most first year grammars provide while also putting them in position to benefit from one of the Reader editions of the Greek New Testament that provide words occurring 30 times or less.

I also greatly appreciate the “suggested procedure” provided by Dr. Decker with I have summarized and paraphrased below:

  1. Vocalize the entire text with no helps – just straight through reading
  2. Push through the passage using only the vocabulary notes provided, looking for the general flow.
  3. Work through paragraph by paragraph more carefully, parse the verbs, look things up in BDAG, maybe do a quick and dirty translation on the side.
  4. On the fourth pass, read through the text using the grammar notes provided.
  5. Follow a few rabbit trails that perk your interest in the grammar notes, maybe dig through a referenced commentary.
  6. Peruse the supplement passage at the end of the chapter – just for casual reading, without worry about perfect comprehension.

Granted this is a rather large list of steps and at times it would probably be impractical for a students to complete all of them. But even still these are all extremely good skills for the students to develop if he or she wants to develop and form a good basis for knowing the Greek language as it is used in the New Testament. I find Dr. Decker’s emphasis on vocalization of the text as well as the focus on casual reading to be quite refreshing (I would suggest either a Modern Greek pronunciation a historical reconstruction rather than Erasmian). The Reader forces you into the text without the use of short cuts in an incredibly refreshing way. The procedure may be large, but it will produce dividents for the student who commits to it in the end – and hopefully even after completeling the Reader, these steps will be continued to be used when reading the New Testament.

The book itself is divided into two large parts. The first covers readings in the New Testament, including John, Mark, Matthew, Romans, Revelation, James, 1 Peter, Acts & Hebrews – each with supplemental reading that either precedes or builds on the passage in question.

The second section looks at other Koine Texts including six passages from the Septuagint, four passages from the Apostolic Fathers, and four of the early Creeds: Nicene, Nicene-Constantinopolitan, Chalcedonian, and the Apostles’ Creed. While some of these last texts push the limits of the term “Koine,” there are still helpful texts for the student to read. They will stretch the student to thing about the Greek in the New Testament in its larger context – something that can only help us.

The Reader concludes with a number of excellent Appendices, looking at ω-verbs, parsing, and vocabulary for the New Testament as well as the Septuagint. But of these the most beneficial appendix is Dr. Decker’s amazing essay, “Using BDAG.” I first read this piece during my junior year of college at Moody Bible Institute (which has a great Greek program, by the way). There is a fascinating history of NT Lexicography, followed by a very helpful discussion of reading/deciphering BDAG entries. I suspect that students will most benefit from the final section in the essay on using BDAG for exegesis. Dr. Decker’s emphasis on the careful reading of lexicon entries can only be helpful for students.

My only hope in this book and others like it is that someday we’ll have a reader that also provides vocabulary beginning with the aorist infinitive rather than the present indicative – but that’s a personal dream rather than a criticism of this excellent book.

Any book that encourages the reading of Hellenistic Greek has the potentially to quickly earn my approval – and this one did quite soon after I received my copy!

5 thoughts on “Koine Greek Reader – A Review

  1. Thanks for your gracious words Mike. As for your hope of a reader using a “vocabulary beginning with the aorist infinitive”–I understand that sentiment! At times I’ve even dreamed and schemed as to how to pull that off. But what always brings me back to reality is that ALL modern tools (grammars, lexicons, etc) use the PAI as the lexical form rather than AAN. This has not always been true; many older works give the lexical form with the infinitive (but usually PAN rather than AAN). It also seems more common in the British tradition. I’m not sure how helpful it would be to students to learn one form, as technically sound as it might be on some grounds, but then use tools built on another paradigm. What I’ve done instead in my *teaching* (though not in the Reader) is to have students learn the actual gloss of a PAI verb (e.g., λυω, I am loosing) rather than learn the PAI lexical form with an English infinitive gloss, e.g., λυω, to loose (which is how many others do it).

  2. Mike,

    Thanks for the plug for Eisenbrauns! We need to come up with some kind of logo/slogan: “Eisenbrauns: The Good Guys of the book business”

    : )

    By the way, I agree about the idea of an aorist infinitive as the lexical form. Years ago (yikes! over 25) a classmate and I talked about writing a grammar that started with the aorist. I was vindicated in this idea when Randall Buth talked about doing just that in his Koine Ulpan.

    James

  3. Now that I think of it, I believe that the suggestion of the aorist infinitive actually came from Randall Buth – though I don’t remember where or when. I remember back in beginning grammar, my professor had us do the same thing when glossing λύω – something I appreciate in retrospect. In my own FLEx Lexicon, I’m using the aorist as the basis.

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