I just spent four consecutive semesters studying Hebrew. After such a long break from Greek, I’ve decided to spend this year working on both languages. I’m becoming very appreciative of my Reader’s Greek New Testament and my Reader’s Hebrew Bible, both of which have renderings of uncommon words at the bottom of the page. This saves me from having to open up a lexicon every few seconds. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but if I did, Greek and Hebrew would be on my list for 2016. Perhaps it’s time for you to dust off an old grammar or pick up a new one for the first time.
I have a shortlist of titles I want to get this year, including Advances in the Study of Greek, Devotions on the Greek New Testament, and Devotions on the Hebrew Bible. Although I have a few titles from Broadman and Holman’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series, I only recently cracked one open after they so graciously agreed to send me a copy of their recent volume on Philippians.
I first became aware of the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series after my Greek professor sent me an email inviting me to take an elective on the book of James in Greek. He planned on using the volume on James as the textbook, but because of my other commitments, I was unable to take the class. I eventually snagged a digital copy of it for 99¢, and it currently waits in my “to read” list.
Every series has a few stellar volumes that stand out from the rest. I suspect that Joseph H. Hellerman’s treatment of Philippians may be one of those for this series. Hellerman has dedicated a lot of his career to producing good scholarly material on Philippians, including a monograph on Roman honor in Philippi and a goodly portion of his book Embracing Shared Ministry deals with this topic as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to pen a full commentary sometime down the line.
Broadman and Holman’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series is not exactly a normal commentary series. Although each volume includes an introduction covering such matters as author, date, outline, and the like, the focus is on the Greek text itself. Readers should already be familiar with Greek grammar if the series is to be of any use.
Hellerman’s volume does not provide a straight translation of the text, so a Reader’s Greek New Testament, an interlinear, or a Greek New Testament with an English translation is a necessary companion. He instead gives his attention to each word and phrase, parsing them out, identifying possible English renderings and ways to understand the Greek, then identifying his preference and arguing for his conclusions. He also provides additional commentary where necessary, such as in 2:6 regarding disputes about the proper rendering of ????? (“form” vs. “nature”).
When Paul and Timothy are identified as ?????? in 1:1, Hellerman says “slaves” is more appropriate than “servants.” He further points out that Paul is intentionally subverting the honor culture of Philippi, “where rank and titles were viewed as prizes to be competitively sought and publicly proclaimed…” (p. 11). He presents good arguments for various viewpoints, and he can hold his own conclusions with a loose grip if the evidence for another interpretation is good. For instance, in 2:17, regarding Paul being “poured out” (?????????) as a drink offering, Hellerman outlines the arguments for treating this as either a reference to Paul’s present sufferings or to the possibility of his martyrdom at the hand of the Romans. In the end, he says, “View 2 seems better, though one cannot be dogmatic.”
The dozens of abbreviations may also pose a challenge to reader’s who’ve done little more than dabble in New Testament Greek. Many can be guessed, but some require knowledge of grammatical terms like anarthrous and apodosis. Despite being a little unwieldy for me at first because I’ve spent so much time away from my Greek New Testament, a few visits to the section listing abbreviations, and it didn’t take long to adjust.
If you’re interested in working on your New Testament Greek skills this year, I commend to you Joseph H. Hellerman’s volume on Philippians in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series. Click here for a PDF sample (pgs. 39-47).
Are you planning on working on Greek or Hebrew this year? Share in the comments what you’re doing or planning to do and what resources you’ve found helpful.