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.



Anonymous said...

For Titus 2:13, what would prevent the translation "anticipating the blessed hope, the advent of the great God's glory, namely, our Savior Jesus Christ"?

Edgar Foster said...


do you think ἐπιφάνειαν is best rendered "advent"? We would probably not translate it, "of the great God's glory" because the verse is talking about "the appearing [manifestation] of the glory of the great God." In other words, "great" is modifying God, not his glory. Furthermore, his glory appears or is manifested.

It would be strange (IMO) for the second καὶ--esp. in this kind of grammatical structure--to mean "even" or namely.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do think that ἐπιφάνειαν is best translated "advent," since in the New Testament it is used exclusively for the Second Advent.

I don't understand your commend, "In other words, 'great' is modifying God, not his glory." The translation that I proposed is "the great God's glory," where adjective 'great' still modifies the noun 'God' and not the noun 'glory.'

Why would it be strange? Paul uses the same grammatical structure earlier in the sentence, where most commentators agree that "the blessed hope and advent" means "the blessed hope, namely, the advent." The lack of a definite article before "advent" is meant to designate the advent as "the blessed hope." In the same way, the lack of a definite article before "our Savior Jesus Christ" is meant to designate him as "the glory of the great God."

Anonymous said...

What would you think about the following translation

"the advent of our great God and Savior's glory, Jesus Christ."

In my interpretation, Jesus Christ is referred to as "the grace of God" at his first advent (verse 11) and as "the glory of God" at his second advent (verse 13).

At his first advent, Jesus was the manifestation of the grace of God; at his second advent, Jesus will be the manifestation of the glory of God

Edgar Foster said...

1) My point is that even if ἐπιφάνειαν refers to the coming (second advent) of Christ, that's not its denotation/meaning. Scholars try to distinguish sense and reference (Sinn und Bedeutung).

2) If you say, "the great God's glory," then not only is "God" being described, but you're delineating his glory as well. Besides, the verse doesn't exactly state what you suggest. A.T. Robertson handles the Greek this way, as do many others: "The blessed hope and appearing of the glory"

So glory should be construed with "manifestation" or "appearing, not with "the great God."

3) I don't know if most commentators agree on the "blessed hope, namely, the advent" or not. But I said taking the second KAI to mean "namely" (etc) would be strange, because if the construction is a genuine Sharp construct, then KAI certainly does not mean "namely." On the other hand, if two persons are meant, then KAI also would not mean "namely."

Edgar Foster said...

I'm not trying to be difficult or nit-picky, but it's just problematic to use the rendering "advent" here IMHO. To say "Savior's glory" is also interpretive. We should render ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης "the glorious appearing" or "the appearing of the glory . . ."

But I don't see how "Savior's glory" can be justified grammatically.

Anonymous said...

Under ἐπιφάνεια, Thayer's Lexicon has "appearance, often used by the Greeks of a glorious manifestation of the gods, and especially of their ADVENT to help . . .
In the N. T. the ADVENT of Christ — not only that which has already taken place and by which his presence and power appear in the saving light he has shed upon mankind, 2 Timothy 1:10 (note the word φωτίσαντος in this passage); but also that illustrious return from heaven to earth hereafter to occur" (emphasis added.)

Similarly, the Lidell-Scott Greek Lexicon has the following definitions:
"1.) appearance, coming into light or view, “τῆς ἡμέρας” day-break, dawn, Plb.3.94.3 ; in war, sudden appearance of an enemy, Aen.Tact.31.8, Plb.1.54.2, Ascl.Tact.12.10(pl.), Onos.22.3(pl.).
2.) esp. of deities appearing to a worshipper, manifestation, D.H.2.68, Plu.Them.30; *ADVENT,* D.S.2.47 ; τὰς ὑπ᾽ αὐτῆς (sc. Ἀρτέμιδος) “γενομένας ἐναργεῖς ἐ.” SIG867.35 (Ephesus,ii A.D.); a manifestation of divine power, “τὰς ἐ. τᾶς Παρθένου” Klio16.204 (Chersonesus, iii B.C.), cf.LXX 2 Ma.15.27, D.S.1.25.
3.) the first *ADVENT* of Christ, 2 Ep.Ti.1.10 ; the second, 1 Ep.Ti.6.14,al." (emphasis added)

Both lexicons list "advent" as a definition. They also give the definitions "appearance," "manifestation," and "dawn," and these are all listed as synonyms of "advent" in every English Thesaurus I have checked.

"Appearance" and "manifestation" are also possible translations. However, "appearance" sounds too weak since it does not specifically denote a sudden, glorious appearance of a divine figure. "Manifestation" sounds too vague. The dictionary defines the English word "Manifestation" as "an event, action, or object that clearly shows or embodies something, especially a theory or an abstract idea." Since Paul never uses ἐπιφάνεια to refer to the embodiment of an abstract idea, the English "manifestation" is simply too vague in my opinion. Moreover, "appearance" and "manifestation" already appear as translations of different Greek words in almost all English versions of the New Testament. When possible, different English words should be consistently used to translate different Greek words to convey every degree of nuance that the original text contains.

The translation "our great God and Savior's glory" is defended in Gordon Fee's book Pauline Christology. According to Daniel Wallace, Gordon Fee is one of the best Pauline scholars in the world today. This translation was also defended by either J. A. Hort or B. F. Westcott (I forget which). This translation assumes the validity of Sharpe's Rule but interprets "the glory of our great God and Savior" as a possessive genitive.

Edgar Foster said...

Here's another grammatical possibility:

Gordon Fee offers this suggestion in his commentary on Titus (NIB Commentary).

On p. 196, Fee explores whether Paul meant to apply the terms "our great God and Savior" to one person or two. He decides that since there is one definite article preceding the words "great God," both nouns [God and Savior] should be applied to the same person. Furthermore, the LXX and Hellenistic religious writings evidently indicate that the great God is also the Savior of His people. Well, so far, so good; but let's note what else Fee writes.

The next question that comes up is: who is the one "great God and Savior"? Is it Jesus or is it the Father? This depends on how we should construe Jesus Christ. Fee submits that Jesus Christ is in apposition to "the glory of God"
(DOXHS TOU MEGALOU QEOU). Thus, Tit. 2:13 would be telling us that "What will finally be manifested is God's glory, namely, Jesus Christ" (196). So
Fee appears to be saying that the "great God and Savior" is God the Father while Jesus is the great God's glory. In fact, as Fee informs us, the view that he posits is not new: it was also set forth by F.J.A. Hort in 1909.

Edgar Foster said...

Fee has some views that are similar to yours, yet his explanation has not convinced many scholars.

Edgar Foster said...

We should not confuse sense and reference. If I'm wrong, I'll retract my earlier remarks, but "advent" looks like more of a reference than a "sense" of the word ἐπιφάνεια. BDAG (a more recent lexicon) says the term generally denotes "appearing, appearance," esp. the splendid appearance . . ."

It says nothing about ἐπιφάνεια meaning "advent" although we read, "In our lit. except for Papias, only of Christ's appearing on earth." See p. 385-6.

The only definitions BDAG gives for ἐπιφάνεια are "act of appearing, apperance," "appearance in judgment" and "that which can ordinarily be seen, surface appearance." It does not say that the word denotes "advent."

When LSJ has "advent," that seems like more of a reference than an example of sense. Advent is from the Latin adventus which can mean "coming," arrival, or "approach." Do you also remember Antiochus IV who called himself Epiphanes?

I also posted something from Fee's commentary. If you carefully read Wallace's study, I believe you'll see that he "shoots down" Fee's idea, although he respects him as a scholar.

Edgar Foster said...

splendid appearance refers to the manifestation of Babylon (BDAG)

Edgar Foster said...

Something else to consider. I wrote this information back in 2001:

BDAG is the new lexicon that was formerly BAGD. Admittedly, BDAG does say that EPIFANEIA is used as a technical term to refer to "a visible manifestation of a hidden divinity, either in the form of a personal appearance, or by some deed of power by which its presence is made known."
But if you consult entry 1b (or its equivalent in the older BAGD), you will find out that Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich associate EPIFANEIA
vis-à-vis the "manifestation" of Christ with a time of "appearing in judgment." You also find information about 2 Thess 2:8 under this lexical entry.

While this same reference work does say that PAROUSIA may denote Christ's Messianic Advent in glory when he comes to judge the world at the end of the age, it also indicates that there is some type of distinction between EPIFANEIA and PAROUSIA as revealed in 2 Thess 2:8. The EPIFANEIA seems to take place during the PAROUSIA and is actually connected with the divine
meting out of judgment. PAROUSIA, however, does not seem confined to
judgment. It is an extended period of time in which Christ rewards his servants and prepares for the day of judgment against his enemies.

Anonymous said...

We will have to agree to disagree on the best translation of ἐπιφάνεια. I think "appearance" is far too weak since it does not specifically denote the sudden appearance or manifestation of a divine figure in the context of judgement, which is what ἐπιφάνεια meant at the time when Paul was writing. "Manifestation" is slightly better but is far too vague in my opinion.

It is important to point out that the word "advent" can refer to the sudden appearance of any notable person, thing, or event. For example, I could say, "the advent of the printing press," "we arrived at the airport just in time for the advent of the plane arriving from Chicago," and so forth.

Intuitively, I do not think that "appearance" or "manifestation" fits naturally for every occurrence of ἐπιφάνεια. For instance, in II Thessalonians 2:8, the translation "the appearance of his presence" or "the manifestation of his presence" sounds unnatural, whereas the translation "the advent of his presence" sounds perfectly natural.

Fee's view makes more sense to me than any other. The standard one person view does not take into account the fact that Paul nowhere else calls Jesus "God." The two person view violates Sharpe's Rule and is less likely grammatically.

However, the translation "the manifestation of the glory of the great God and of our Savior Jesus Christ" (NAB) is linguistically possible if the absence of the article before Savior is meant to emphasize that the glory of the Savior is the same as the glory of God. In fact, most of the early translations have a tendency to favor a two person view

The translation "the manifestation of the glory of God," is much better than "the glorious manifestation of God," as in the New World Translation. God will not appear at the second advent, but the glory of God will appear in the person of Jesus Christ.

Edgar Foster said...

Like you, I'm not going to be hysterical about the way I think the verse ought to be rendered, but I am puzzled by your objections to "manifestation" or "appearance." They are definitions (glosses) that can be found in numerous lexical sources. I don't understand what it means to say that "appearance" does not signify the "sudden appearance" of Christ. I'm not that satisfied by "advent" or "coming" either as a translation of ἐπιφάνεια. I might post a blog entry that deals more fully with the subject at a later time.

As I read other parts of your explanation, it does help me see where you're coming from, although I still don't concur.

Thanks for your questions/comments. I'll try to provide a complete answer--another time.