Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader

Jerry L. Sumney Hendrickson Pub, Peabody, MA August 30, 2007
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This helpful little volume should receive a warm welcome from intermediate Greek students and those who desire to keep up on Greek after their seminary studies. It is intended for those with the equivalent of one year of Greek and those who have not yet mastered the finer points of Greek grammar. It goes beyond a simple translation guide and helps students think grammatically about the passages.

After a short section on how to use the book Sumney provides a brief introduction to the epistle. This is not a full-blown introduction one may find in a commentary. Rather it covers the basics in a way that will orient the student to the book. Fortunately Philippians is one of the more “settled” books in the New Testament. There are no serious questions about the letter’s authenticity or authorship. There are only two minor debates needing clarification: provenance and integrity. First, some debate where Paul was when he wrote the letter. Sumney suggests that both Rome and Ephesus are possible options (p. xxi). However, he does not suggest implications for dating the book based on its provenance. Second, Sumney concludes that Philippians is a single letter (p. xxii). The introduction also includes a discussion of the purpose, themes, and text of Philippians.

Sumney divides Philippians into eight sections based on basic units in the text. These are each given titles that reflect the contents. Each section is further divided into manageable units and includes the Greek text from the fourth edition of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament (UBS4), an interpretive translation, and notes on the Greek often with references to standard grammars. Many of the words are parsed and occasionally important Greek words are discussed. More difficult constructions are covered in more depth. The first occurrence of a grammatical construction is in bold type and points the reader to a shaded text box that provides a brief definition and examples. Each section concludes with a short list of works for further study.

Essentially the reader is guided through translating the Book of Philippians. The details of the lexical and syntactical discussions are not like those found in a good commentary. Sumney’s purpose is not to provide exegesis. For example in 2:6–7 he provides two options for the participle uJpavrcwn, causal and concession. However, he suggests it may be best to translate it as a simple participle (“being,” p. 45). The participle labwvn is classified as means, parallel to uJpavrcwn, and provides the way in which Christ humbled (kenovw) Himself (p. 46). Brief discussions are included for morfhv and aJrpagmov~, but nothing beyond a simple gloss is provided for kenovw (pp. 45–46). This information gives readers just enough to translate the passage and get a basic understanding of the text. Further information can be gleaned from lexicons, grammars, and commentaries. These sources will often include very detailed discussions and demand a lot of time to process. This book gives students a quick guide to help build their translation and syntax skills.

The book also includes three sections at the end that will enhance its usefulness. First, a brief twenty-page syntax summary serves as a handy reference and a refresher on syntactical usages. This is not exhaustive, and it suggests students consult other works as necessary. Second, a glossary of other terms and constructions is included. This primarily includes grammatical terms with which students may need to be familiar. Third, a section of resources for further study is included. This includes a brief annotated bibliography of grammars, lexicons, dictionaries, concordances, and critical commentaries on Philippians. Listing a few more works here would have been helpful, but in general students are well served with these selections.

Sumney has achieved his goal of providing a useful volume for those intending to continue their Greek studies beyond an introductory level. It is well organized and simple to use. There are a number of advantages to his approach. It brings the student through an entire book. In this way the student intuitively begins to see the importance of context in the translation and interpretive processes. Philippians is good choice for this type of volume. It is of manageable length and its Greek is of intermediate difficulty within the New Testament. Further the book uses good intermediate and reference grammars. For those who studied Greek long ago, this will introduce more recent resources.

A few minor drawbacks may be noted. First, its narrow focus on Philippians results in an uneven treatment of syntax. Second, some may find the terminology slightly different from what they are accustomed to. Third, a student may wrongly get the impression that Greek is the only (or best) interpretive tool necessary for understanding the New Testament. This is not promoted by the author; it is simply a possible misunderstanding of the book based on its contents. Fourth, one of the benefits of learning Greek is to be able to make syntactical decisions for oneself. This will not be developed if the student uncritically accepts Sumney’s conclusions. However, these four drawbacks are minimal in light of the value of this work and can be overcome by reading the book’s conclusion (pp. 125–26) and keeping in mind the following. This is not a commentary, and one should not assume Greek will provide all interpretive answers. Rather, working through this volume will increase attentive readers’ ability in the Greek text and so help prepare them to do further work. It is a step in the process of exegetical development.

In conclusion, this is a helpful volume for those with some Greek who would like to build on their skills and/or for those who learned Greek in the past and would like a review.

—Joseph D. Fantin

January 1, 2010
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2010 vol. 167 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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