By Daniel K. Eng | University of Cambridge
Earlier this year, William D. Mounce released the fourth edition of his widely-used Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (Zondervan), in time to be used for instruction in summer courses. I taught first-year Greek at an evangelical seminary this summer 2019 using this new edition. Here is my review of this introductory grammar.
The Basics Overview
The fourth edition of Basics of Biblical Greek has kept much of the familiar format found in previous editions. The grammar is laid out in progressive sections as readers and students build on previous knowledge: Introduction, Noun System, Indicative Verb System, Participles, Non-indicative Moods and -μι Verbs. Mounce offers two tracks from which an instructor or self-learner can choose: Track One, which completes the noun system before embarking on verbs, or Track Two, which introduces verbs sooner, reserving the third declension and pronouns for later in the course.
Each chapter of Mounce’s text generally follows the same sequence. Many of the chapters are introduced by an Exegetical Insight, a brief article with a glimpse into how the chapter’s content can make a difference in Bible interpretation. Then, after an overview, Mounce explains the Greek expressions, including their function, meaning, and construction. The chapters contain charts and diagrams that demonstrate the way Greek words and sentences are formed, and any relevant paradigms. After a summary of the content, Mounce provides vocabulary words for the chapter. Mounce introduces vocabulary words strategically: readers learn the most common New Testament words early in the book along with words relevant to the content of each chapter. By the end of the book, the student will have learned 335 words, representing 82.99% of the word count of the New Testament.
Mounce has introduced a network of resources surrounding his grammar book. He has designed the Basics of Biblical Greek Workbook to be paired with the textbook, so that readers can practice parsing and translating after reading each chapter. On his website, BillMounce.com, he provides additional resources (for free), including a workbook answer key, Greek fonts, online lexicon, and a vocabulary flashcard application.
For those who have used a previous edition of Basics of Biblical Greek, the fourth edition contains notable changes while keeping the same order of the chapters and vocabulary. First, the height and width of the fourth edition have returned to the 9” by 6” dimensions of the second edition. Second, Mounce has included an emphasis on learning the roots of vocabulary words and not just the present tense or nominative forms. Third, the terminology of aspect (imperfective, perfective, combinative) accompanies the discussion of verb forms throughout the book. Fourth, Mounce has updated his content on the middle voice to reflect current scholarly discussions, defining its essence as subject-affectedness. He has also minimized his usage of the term deponent, often opting for middle-only.
In this new edition, Mounce’s grammar continues to display the same strengths appreciated by readers and instructors. The content is efficient, moving readers towards adequate handling of New Testament Greek at the completion of its 36 chapters. Mounce is careful to provide enough understanding of the way Greek works while not getting bogged down in minutiae. His approach encourages less memorization of paradigms and principal parts (which he calls verb forms) while providing rules for word-formation. For example, his treatment of the athematic conjugation (Chapters 34-36, verbs like δίδωμι and ἵστημι) involves five rules rather than memorization of forms. Mounce keeps the translation and interpretation of the New Testament the priority, evidenced by the grammar’s approach to vocabulary, syntax, and exercises. The Exegetical Insight articles that open each chapter lead the reader in spiritual formation through the insights of various evangelical scholars. The workbook provides ample opportunities to practice, review, and evaluate one’s progress.
The updates introduced in the fourth edition strengthen the grammar in several ways. First, the emphasis on learning the root(s) of a word in addition to the lexical form saves the reader unnecessary frustration. For example, learning that the root of δίδωμι is δο- or that ἔρχομαι has two roots, ἐρχ- and ἐλευθ-, helps the reader understand why non-present tense forms look so different from the lexical form. Second, the usage of the terms middle-only and subject-affectedness simplifies the middle-passive concept and allows for the possibility that Greek is a two-voice rather than three-voice system. Third, the constant discussion of verbal aspect in the chapters that cover the indicative facilitates a smooth transition into how tenses are used in the moods without absolute time. Fourth, Mounce adds an introduction to phrasing (Chapter 8), a process which assists translation through breaking down a passage into individual phrases. This helps readers to determine the main idea of a sentence and to grasp how the other phrases modify it, preparing them for longer sentences and intermediate-level Greek.
Mounce’s updated grammar does have some weaknesses, however. First, the usage of terms describing aspect such as “imperfective” (present) and “perfective” (aorist) are too easily confused with the imperfect and perfect tenses. One is left wondering if the reader would be better served with clearly differentiated terms. Second, Mounce’s content is detailed, often engaging with the theory of the language. Some of this information relegated to the footnotes, often resulting in a large footer of extraneous content to a page. This can be overwhelming for a beginner. Third, as Gregory Lanier has pointed out, the new format of the print version of the grammar has reduced the white space on each page. This often makes it difficult to decipher between sections, and it has left very little room in the margins for notes.
Overall, Mounce is to be commended for producing a quality seminal grammar, and this latest edition is a worthy upgrade. He has improved on previous editions in numerous ways, but kept the essential task as his priority: helping students efficiently learn to read the Greek New Testament while preparing them for the next level of Greek. He has also included content that reflects recent developments in Greek scholarship, especially regarding the middle voice and deponency. This grammar, along with its accompanying workbook, is a good choice for both self-study as well as group instruction.
Daniel K. Eng is an Affiliated Lecturer and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge. He is also a part-time Adjunct Professor with Moody Theological Seminary’s online program. He is currently seeking a full-time faculty position in Bible Exposition, Biblical Studies, or New Testament. He lives in the United Kingdom with his wife, Sanjung, and three daughters.
Zondervan has also produced a series of 36 Video Lectures to be used alongside the 4th edition of Basics. Learn Greek with Mounce!