Review of Porter’s “Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament”

I was glad to receive a review copy of Dr. Stanley Porter’s most recent (latest) new (fresh) book this year, Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice. Stan is the president, dean, professor of New Testament, and chair in Christian Worldview at McMaster Divinity College, among inconceivably numerous other roles. To save some space detailing Porter’s credentials, why don’t you swing over to view his CV to peruse all fifty-seven pages of it.

Needless to say, when Stan Porter says something about Greek, it’s worth listening. Many will know (better than me) about Porter’s close involvement with the ongoing scholarly debates over verbal aspect in Greek, which – like it or not – makes him an important figure in contemporary biblical studies generally. Even in Old Testament studies, I am convinced, Greek remains quite central, considering the importance of the Septuagint to OT text-criticism and interpretation.

Book Outline

The book, which runs to over 440 pages, is structured as follows:

Introduction
Part 1: Texts and Tools for Analysis
1. Who Owns the Greek New Testament? Issues That Promote and Hinder Further Study
2. Analyzing the Computer Needs of New Testament Greek Exegetes
3. “On the Shoulders of Giants”–The Expansion and Application of the Louw-Nida Lexicon
4. The Blessings and Curses of Producing a Lexicon
Part 2: Approaching Analysis
5. Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation
6. A Multidisciplinary Approach to Exegesis
7. Sociolinguistics and New Testament Study
8. Discourse Analysis: Introduction and Core Concepts
9. The Ideational Metafunction and Register
10. Time and Aspect in New Testament Greek: A Response to K. L. McKay
11. Three Arguments regarding Aspect and Temporality: A Response to Buist Fanning, with an Excursus on Aspectually Vague Verbs
12. The Perfect Tense-Form and Stative Aspect: The Meaning of the Greek Perfect Tense-Form in the Greek Verbal System
Part 3: Doing Analysis
13. A Register Analysis of Mark 13: Toward a Context of Situation
14. The Grammar of Obedience: Matthew 28:19-20
15. Verbal Aspect and Synoptic Relations
16. Study of John’s Gospel: New Directions or the Same Old Paths?
17. Method and Means of Analysis of the Opponents in the Pauline Letters
18. 1 Timothy 2:8: Holy Hands or Holy Raising?
19. Greek Word Order: Still an Unexplored Area in New Testament Studies?
20. Proper Nouns in the New Testament
21. Hyponymy and the Trinity
Indexes

Thoughts in Review

There is a lot of valuable material in this volume. In large measure, the essays are distilled from Porter’s previous papers or presentations, but refined and updated. Each of the three parts has its advantages, but I found Part II most fascinating.

Part I is caught up with discussing what might be called “logistical items” in New Testament studies, such as the idea of intellectual property and ancient texts, computer tools, and the ins-and-outs of Greek lexicons. These are helpful essays insofar as they bring up interesting and relevant questions for the biblical studies community. But these chapters will prove most useful, I think, to those already a part of the “guild” rather than students. That said, those students who go on to enter professional biblical studies will do well to have these questions raised for future work.

Part II was, as I said, more interesting, and strikes me as the meat of the book. As the title rightly indicates, the most valuable aspect of Porter’s volume is his application of linguistics to the study of the NT. In Porter’s case, this is done consistently in the vein of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). The SFL approach in particular is what Porter has done so rigorously for so long, and is what he has found so “fruitful” for NT study (see his CV for proof). SFL has come under criticism by some because it is a basically quantitative approach that does not accommodate languages with highly variable word order, like Greek. For this reason, I was happy to see that Porter does not see SFL as the all-or-nothing for right exegesis, although he does presumably see SFL as the best model of modern linguistics for the tasks he is interested in completing. Chapter 6 however is concerned with, as Porter calls it, a “multidisciplinary” approach to exegesis that blends a variety of approaches to distill the many aspects of a text for contemporary understanding. In this part of the book, Porter basically works from broadest to narrowest, conceptually speaking, working from sociolinguistics through discourse, register, and verbal aspect. All these chapters are very clearly written and I personally found them very useful. The last topic – verbal aspect – as we might expect receives the favor of three full chapters promoting Porter’s taking on “nontemporality” in the Greek verb. Like it or not, Porter provides many compelling arguments for this particular view, which will need to be considered in future work on the topic.

Part III essentially puts some of the theoretical concepts from Part II into action. I was glad that Porter decided to do this, since in large measure there is a pretty hefty amount of undefined linguistics jargon strewn through Part II (especially guilty of this is Ch. 9), and the practical application in Part III clarifies much of Porter’s work. I found the first chapter (13) the most interesting in this section, likely because register is a significant aspect of my own research in the Greek version of the Old Testament. There is much of use in this part of the book, too, to students looking to continue their studies at more advanced levels, since Porter is consistently serving up ideas to pursue. The prime example here is ch. 19, which outlines the under-explored potential of word-order studies in Greek.

Wrapping Up

Needless to say, the great amount of particular goodies in this latest publication by Stanley Porter makes a review like this more prone to highlight generalities. Even so, I hope this brief review provides enough encouragement to get a copy of this book, or at least peruse through it at your institution’s library. If you are involved in biblical studies, there is something (or many things) relevant to you in Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament.

____________________

Thanks to Baker for providing a review copy, which has not influenced my comments above.

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