Grammars Revisited (long)

Date: Wed Jun 04 1997 - 23:14:28 EDT

In a post a few days ago,, having finished seminary and
owning Dana and Mantey, BDF, and Machen, asked the list for input concerning
priorities for future grammar purchases. This resulted in various replies
pointing out merits and drawbacks of various grammars. I was somewhat
surprised at the responses in light of a past discussion on intermediate
grammars (I am not sure of the exact dates but it has been a while). If
 memory serves me correctly, the grammars by Drs. Young and Wallace seemed be
highly favored for this purpose. I only receive the digest so posts are
postponed a partial day; however, to date I have not seen Young's grammar
mentioned and the discussion of Wallace has not been as favorable as it had
been in the past. As a student of Dr. Wallace (Th.M. and presently Ph.D. in
NT at Dallas Theological Seminary), I thought I would voice my (certainly
biased) point of view on this subject.

First, John's question concerning which grammars to purchase and in what
order seems to be a very practical one. It is sensitive to the economics of
the often too poor Greek student. This being the case, I feel it is
important to point out that once this is established, the student should
attempt to acquire as many quality grammars as possible. All have strengths
and weaknesses, all are very helpful in areas and all have errors. At DTS,
we were taught this principle. Dr. Wallace himself continually taught his
students that any student of the text (including pastors preparing sermons)
should consult at least BDF, Robertson, Turner, Zerwick, and Moule (also,
Moulton's Prolegomena). Though his grammar was only available in a
preliminary "class-note" form, it was not meant to be depended up solely. In
fact, the unpublished work was not to be utilized in papers unless absolutely
necessary. I point this out to avoid a possible misunderstanding that Dr.
Wallace (or DTS) believes that one grammar is the final word on which it
speaks. I often find students of the NT (sometimes myself included) desire
to be able to have one grammar "do it all." This just is not the case and
seems to be the result of an attitude of laziness.

Second, When approaching grammars it is important to understand the various
strengths and weaknesses of each to help the student optimize the individual
grammars. For example, it is important to understand that Nigel Turner's
view of the Greek of the New Testament is a "Semitic" Greek. A view of Greek
which differs from that of Moulton himself who is responsible for volume one
in the series which Turner's volume appears (Moulton-Howard-Turner, 4 vols).
 Also, the purposes of a grammar must be considered. BDF is for primarily
classicists. For many, use this grammar is avoided because it is difficult
to work through. However, this is a mistake. It is very rewarding for the
diligent student. Older grammars did have not the benefit of later work in
the field. This is important when one considers recent work in verbal aspect
which is still not incorporated in many works in the NT.

Third, with a group of grammars in hand, I wish to put my two cents in on
this discussion. I consider most of us "intermediate" here. There are some
true "advanced" students/scholars on this list who have demonstrated this
through posts and their vast experience in the text. Such individuals have
read countless grammars and articles on the language and certainly do not
need any advise on grammars! I believe Young's grammar is very helpful. His
introduction and pages 214-266 cover things not mentioned in other "common"
grammars. This is helpful to any student of the Greek NT. I believe Dan
Wallace's grammar is the best available for the intermediate student for the
following reasons.

A. The introductory material clearly sets forth the approach of the book. It
discusses the author's approach to language that will be followed in the
grammar. It is written for the intermediate student.

B. The grammar is meant to help the student improve his/her Greek. The
bibliographies at the beginning of sections point the student to other
grammars and articles which should be consulted on the subject manner. This
demonstrates that this book should be used with many other works. This
grammar serves both as a learning grammar as well as a reference grammar.
 Those who work through it will have a familiar source to go to time and time

C. The grammar is very well researched with many examples supporting the
conclusions presented. This is true of many grammars; however, Wallace's
includes more examples than most.

D. The grammar is exegetical in nature. In other words, it is meant to help
the student understand the text of the New Testament better. This is
probably what has given Dr. Wallace the most trouble. If one disagrees with
the position in the book, often his grammatical basis for his conclusion is
questioned. Dr. Wallace has done a lot of work here. At the diligent
student's finger tips is references to other grammars and sources which can
be consulted for further study. Thus, one way or another, the student
willing to dig into the text will learn whether they agree with Wallace or

This point cannot be underestimated. The grammar's purpose is exegetical
(thus the title). This contributes to its length. It is meant as a tool to
not only help the student understand the grammatical aspect of the NT but
also to help the student understand the text for personal and pastoral
reasons. If a student is interested in the Greek language in a purely
linguistic sense (which is a very valuable study in itself), Wallace's
grammar may contain unnecessary things (though it is still helpful).

This grammar discusses many passages in detail. Frequently grammars merely
list (and/or translate) passages which the authors believe are examples of a
specific grammatical category. It helps the student to see how knowledge of
Greek really helps understand the text. It also provides students, pastors,
and teachers an important grammatical reference for teaching and sermon
preparation. This purpose must not be minimized. My expience in
converstaions with non-scholars suggests that this is what they need for
their own study.

Contributing to the exegetical nature of this work is the extensive scripture
index (this index is in every printing). To my knowledge, no intermediate
(and few reference) grammars have as many references. This grammar also
indicates how the text is discussed in the grammar. For example, a bold page
number indicates a significant discussion. This helps the student rushed for
time avoid going to pages that merely list a scripture reference.

E. I could go on but I have already written too much for a short post. I
will conclude with a personal note. Of course, I do not expect this point to
pursuade anyone of the importance of Wallace's grammar. It must stand or
fall on its own usefulness and accuracy; nevertheless, as a student of Dr.
Wallace, I feel my perspective may add to the discussion of this grammar.
 This work is the result of many hours of diligent study being forged in the
context of teaching. The individual who picks up this grammar cannot know
how much time was spent on each individual point in the work. This is not a
work of a man who desired to sit down and write a grammar. It has been born
from a process of wrestling with the text as well as with hundreds of
grammars (not to mention countless other books and articles). It was
published with the desire to help students uses their NTs. Dr. Wallace has
helped me greatly both in my understanding of the NT and personally in my
Christian life. It is this same desire which Dan has for the readers of his
grammar. He is the first to admit that there is much that needs improvement.
 These areas of imporvement are not the result of careless scholarship. They
exist inspite of an attempt to be faithful to the language.

Finally, the most recent addition of the grammar includes brief statements by
Moule and Metzger concerning this work (on the back cover). Also, favorable
(less biased than myself) reviews have been published. See these for further
discussion of this grammar.

Joe Fantin
Ph.D. Student, DTS

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