Friday, March 22, 2013

Edited Review of Daniel B. Wallace's Greek Grammar

I have to laud and simultaneously criticize Daniel B. Wallace's book Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996). If I have ever written an ambivalent book review, this is it.

Wallace's grammar merits a five star rating in terms of what it teaches about biblical Greek. It is probably one of the best New Testament Greek grammars on the market. The author is to be commended for his scientific approach to Greek grammar and linguistics in general. For the most part, past decisions about what constitutes a subjective genitive or an objective gentive, an ablative of separation or a dative of reference in a particular Bible verse have been highly subjective. Wallace tries to improve the process and he should praised for his efforts.

A laudable aspect of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics is Wallace's ability to implement recent works on aspect and Aktionsart. He also gives plenty of examples throughout his grammar that illustrate Greek voice, mood, and aspect. The author is generally level-headed in his approach and anyone reading this work cannot help but improve his or her proficiency in Greek. The professor's discussion on demonstrative and relative pronouns is excellent and the section concerning the Granville Sharp Rule is probably one of the most enlightening and lucid treatments of the subject, although I disagree with Wallace's conclusion on the famed rule. Overall, Wallace's work is a welcome addition to any scholar's library. The only drawback to this grammar is his failure to interact fully with the many possibilities of the New Testament Greek text.

At this point, I do not want to sound like a broken record, but I must object to Wallace's dogmatic assertions about the Witnesses' understanding of John 1:1c; 8:58 and Titus 2:13. Despite his "learned" protestations to the contrary, Jehovah's Witnesses are on solid ground regarding their understanding of the aforesaid passages.

For example, Margaret Davies poses the question: "Is Jesus' remark, 'Before Abraham was, I am he' a reminder that he is the eternal LOGOS?" (Davies 86). She concludes that this reading of Jn 8:58 "is neither an obvious nor a necessary reading" (86). She also writes: "We should conclude, therefore, that the Johannine Jesus' use of the 'I am' form draws on Wisdom declarations from its Scripture, and does not assert Jesus' divinity" (Davies 87).

Lastly, I think Wallace also overlooks some key information when he analyzes the demonstrative pronoun hOUTOS in 1 John 5:20. The bias appears to shine through clearly in this case: he dismisses the alternate view too hastily. While I do not necessarily fault Wallace for taking a doctrinal stand based on how he reads the Greek of the New Testament, I think he needs to let his readers know (more fully) that there are other ways to understand the text.

In A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament written by Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, they say regarding 1 John 5:20 and hOUTOS:

"the ref. is almost certainly to God the real, the true, op. paganism (v 21)."

Overall, despite the few shortcomings that I believe Wallace's grammar contains, I can still recommend it with a clear conscience. As with any work, I suggest reading it critically and trying to research the examples he gives, for yourself.


Brusting Wulfe said...

I agree with your review. Wallace's grammar is great for learning Greek, yet his theological bias shows when discussing alternate views. And many times he incorrectly criticizes Jehovah's Witnesses' understanding of certain verses.

For example, on page 41, footnote 14, he doesn't seem to realize that Jehovah's Witnesses are there speaking of the traditional ENGLISH translation of John 1:1 - "the Word was God" - which is indeed a convertible proposition. They weren't in that instance dealing with the Greek.

Another example, when Wallace deals fully with John 1:1 and the NWT on pages 266-268, he doesn't interact with what the NWT translators said to defend their translation, as found in the various appendixes found in the NWT. Instead he decides to quote a critic of the NWT, R. H. countess. And of course, Countess' argument is embarrassingly weak, since it's based on a straw man that the only reason the NWT translated John 1:1c as "a god" is because qeos was anarthrous - which is exactly not what the NWT translators ever said.

As for John 8:58, Wallace has a lengthy discussion on its possibility as a historical present on page 530, and only briefly mentions in a footnote its possibility as an extension from past. Granted, there was an old article in a Watchtower discussing John 8:58 as a historical present, but that probably wasn't written by the translators, since when they discuss it in the footnotes and appendixes, they don't mention a historical present. Instead, although not naming "Extension from Past," they accurately describe how to identify it, and how to translate it, which closely matches what Wallace himself says on pages 519-520.

It seems possible that Wallace wasn't directly interacting with the NWT himself, but relying only on what others had said. He also incorrectly singles out Jehovah's Witnesses when it comes to verses like those I've mentioned, when really there is a rich tradition of those opposed to the standard renderings. Mentioning "Jehovah's Witnesses" to evangelicals - the target audience of Wallace's grammar - only serves to bring up their biased defenses, not allowing them to honestly deal with opposing views.

Edgar Foster said...


Thanks for bringing out those additional points. Your observations are quite helpful.