BMCR 2023.06.34

New Testament Greek: a reading course, level 1

, New Testament Greek: a reading course, level 1. Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2022. Pp. xvii, 347. ISBN 9780865168657.

Sally Teague’s New Testament Greek: A Reading Course is in many ways a student-centered approach to beginning the study of Koine Greek. It aims to serve as an introductory Greek course at the high-school or college levels, and it is written to be used in a home school or self-study context as well as in a classroom. The Level 1 textbook is accompanied by a 328-page Teacher’s Manual, as well as a Student Workbook and a Teacher’s Manual for the Student Workbook (the publisher’s website advertises all four books to be ‘available for use in Fall 2022’, but as of the time of writing this review the Student Workbook and accompanying Teacher’s Manual are not yet available; there is also a promissory note for Level 2 texts available in 2023). The Level 1 text is intended to be completed in one semester at a traditional classroom pace, or one year for students in a pre-college or self-study environment.

In broad terms, New Testament Greek is a fairly traditional approach to an introductory Greek textbook. The title notwithstanding, New Testament Greek uses the grammar-translation method in explaining grammar and morphology concepts, and many of the exercises in the Student Text ask students to do things like practice pronunciation, identify features like gender or declension for a list of words, place accents, or supply case endings to noun stems. But New Testament Greek is not an inductive reading course in the style of Athenaze, let alone Lingua Latina per se illustrata. Nor is it a specific text-based approach such as Countryman’s Read it in Greek based on the Gospel of John, or the Reading the Gospels: A Beginning series (also published by Bolchazy-Carducci). New Testament Greek does use a significant number of New Testament and Septuagint passages for reading exercises starting in Chapter 7 of the book, but these are short (less than20 words), isolated sentences. By way of comparison, New Testament Greek is somewhere between Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek and Decker’s Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook; it is fuller and more detailed than the former, but not as comprehensive or technical as the latter.

This is not to say that New Testament Greek is derivative or superfluous, however. What sets New Testament Greek apart from other comparable introductory Greek textbooks is its attention to the experience of learning Greek from the student’s perspective. One sometimes gets the impression that the true audience of many Greek textbooks are other Greek instructors and scholars. But it is clear from the first page that Teague has written a book with the needs of the learner first and foremost in her mind.

The Level 1 text of New Testament Greek focuses primarily on nouns and adjectives, along with the present tense verb system. It is divided into twelve units of four chapters each, for 48 chapters total. Unit I covers alphabet and pronunciation, Unit II verbs (εἰμί and thematic verbs), personal pronouns, and the nominative case (restricted to second declension masculine nouns), along with a chapter on phrases, clauses, adverbs, and conjunctions. Unit III devotes a chapter to each of the remaining grammatical cases (in the order of Vocative, Genitive, Accusative, Dative), and Unit IV covers first and second declension nouns. Unit V covers adjectives (syntax as well as morphology), and introduces prepositions. Unit VI surveys more pronouns and prepositions, while Unit VII introduces contract thematic verbs (along with more prepositions). Unit VIII covers relative pronouns and yet more prepositions, and Unit IX begins the discussion of third declension nouns. Unit X and XI continue with third declension, focusing on pronouns and adjectives, and then on more noun forms. Unit XII concludes Level 1 with irregular and comparative adjectives.

The most noticeable implication of this arrangement is that many features of Greek verbs are reserved for Level 2. This includes all tenses outside the present, as well as all verbal moods other than the indicative. Participles and infinitives are also omitted from Level 1, and so are middle voice verbs. Athematic verbs, however, are introduced relatively early, and new examples are scattered through the book’s vocabulary lists (although ἵστημι and its compound forms seems to be missing, the remaining athematic verbs that occur more than 30 times in the NT are represented).

While this restricted coverage may raise some eyebrows, it illustrates the guiding principle of New Testament Greek and one of its biggest strengths. The text is written to go slowly and carefully through the material, and to avoid overwhelming students with either too much information at once, or at too brisk a pace. This is most clearly evident in the first Unit, devoted to the alphabet. Many beginning Greek texts devote only a single chapter to the alphabet, before quickly moving on to give an entire set of noun or verb endings right away. New Testament Greek, however, proceeds in a more accommodating way, splitting discussion of the alphabet into more manageable chunks over four separate chapters (while incorporating discussion of accents, breathing marks, and diphthongs). This allows students to not only build a solid foundation for the rest of their study, but also have the time to learn how to learn Greek before they get left behind by the rest of the class. The initial weeks of a Greek class are crucial, and the design of New Testament Greek makes it much more likely that students will be prepared to succeed in the rest of the course (or, conversely, less likely to give up quickly and drop the class).

Within each of the chapters in a unit, New Testament Greek covers a range of smaller topics. Beginning with Chapter 5, each chapter introduces a small set (6-10) of vocabulary words (often a combination of nouns, verbs, and one or two pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, or particles). Vocabulary choices appear to be governed largely by NT frequency; some chapters have fairly natural groupings (e.g. the words for ‘bread’, wine’, have’, and ‘receive’ appear together in Chapter 11), but others will likely appear random to students (e.g. the words for ‘law’, ‘heaven’, ‘crowd’, and ‘give’ in Chapter 12). There are many short subsections on particular grammar or morphology topics in each chapter, along with focused strategies for developing reading and translation skills. More technical grammatical concepts (e.g. the numerous functions of the Dative) are spread through the whole book. Most chapters (c. 75%) conclude with a short note on a ‘Figure of Speech’ used in classical literature, which are present in the reading exercises of the same chapter.

Each chapter is replete with authentic NT passages, both simple Greek sentences (or at least excerpts) for reading and translation, along with English translation sentences to illustrate grammar concepts. Though individually short and out-of-context, the sheer number of passages (along with book and verse citations) will assuredly make most students feel like they are making real progress in actually reading the Bible in Greek (the publisher’s website claims over 1,500 biblical verses in total). Both Septuagint and NT passages are well-represented. There is at least one verse from every NT book cited, with Matthew, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Revelation excerpted extensively. Septuagint passages draw heavily on Genesis, Psalms, and Proverbs, but most other Protestant Old Testament books are represented at least once (all but Joshua, Judges, Esther, Job, Lamentations, Obadiah, Micah, and Habakkuk). Judith, the Book of Wisdom, Sirach, 1 Esdras, and Book of Odes are also excerpted at least once.

The layout of the text in New Testament Greek is clean and readable. Each chapter section is marked with large, bold font, with the text of that section inset underneath it. Review questions and exercises are marked with instructions in italics, sometimes in a separate lettered section, sometimes not. There are effectively no boxes or lines to demarcate sections, which would be helpful but are not crucial. It is only occasionally that the text is too small or too crowded to easily navigate. One occasional problem is that reading example sentences (which are printed in a larger font) will have glossed vocabulary items printed in a much smaller font underneath, which can be difficult to distinguish from their surroundings. The chapter on relative pronouns uses arrows to connect the pronoun back to its antecedent, which is a useful tool for students.

New Testament Greek includes an occasional diagram to illustrate the spatial sense of prepositions (Chs. 20, 27). These are large and rather detailed, so should be useful for students, but there is no single place to refer to all the prepositions collected together.  Each chapter begins with a large black-and-white photograph of a Greek artifact, art work, or architecture. Teague casts a wide net here, including examples from Chinese, Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Persian art as well, from the Classical Attic period, through the Roman and Hellenistic eras and the Byzantine and Medieval periods, through to the eighteenth century. Some of these images are clearly related to the content of their chapters, but in many cases they seem to be more ‘general interest’. In a similar vein, there are occasional references to topics like textual criticism or word studies to gesture at further avenues in Greek scholarship.

New Testament Greek is pitched at a broad audience, and it succeeds at this aim. The tone is accessible, and often feels more like a conversation between reader and author than a lecture. While the book does introduce a large amount of grammatical jargon, it explains the terms effectively without assuming too much background knowledge, or, conversely, devolving into pedantry. While the example texts and exercises are inescapably religious in nature, the book does not engage in sermonizing or evangelizing; it is therefore a safer choice for public institutions than popular texts like Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek or, to a lesser degree, Merkle and Plummer’s Beginning with New Testament Greek.

The Level 1 Teacher’s Manual for New Testament Greek is effectively just an answer key for the many exercises included in the Student Text. However, each chapter does begin with a short ‘Note from the Author’ about the content of that chapter. Each unit gets its own short Note from the Author as well. These notes anticipate student responses for each chapter or unit, as well as giving an insight into the author’s perspective. They may be useful reminders for an instructor teaching for the first time, but are likely obvious to more experienced teachers. More useful, perhaps, is the six-page ‘To the Instructor’ introduction to the Teacher’s Manual, which outlines both the design philosophy of the text and its structure. Teague gives helpful advice about how to use the book(s), how to deal with vocabulary and assessment, and how to maintain a positive classroom climate.

The biggest strength of New Testament Greek is also likely to be the biggest stumbling block for instructors to adopt this text. The strength is that the book adopts a slow and deliberate pace, which means that students are more likely to actually learn the material presented as the course progresses. It is clear that this text was written with the aim ‘How do I best ensure students learn?’ rather than, for example, ‘How do I most efficiently organize the material?’. This methodical approach means that certain topics are significantly delayed: for some instructors, it may be difficult to accept that students will complete a full semester of Greek without encountering a participle or infinitive, or a middle verb like γίνομαι or ἔρχομαι, or any verb outside the present indicative. Moreover, some instructors might balk at assigning up to four different textbooks for one year of Greek study (the Level 1 Student Text is listed at $49.00; prices for the Level 2 book and both workbooks are not yet released).

Even so, New Testament Greek has much to recommend it. There are a great many introductory Greek textbooks using the grammar-translation method, but it is less common to see a new book that is distinctly innovative in approach. New Testament Greek is a real improvement over other options in the genre.