Book Review: New Testament Language and Exegesis – A Diachronic Approach

NTcaragounisTitle: New Testament Language and Exegesis: A Diachronic Approach

Series: WUNT 323

Author: Chrys Caragounis

Bibliographic info: xiii + 311 + 96

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

To those who study New Testament Greek (beyond Mounce and Wallace) may be familiar with Caragounis’ first book on the Greek language, The Development of Greek and the New Testament. This volume, New Testament Language and Exegesis: A Diachronic Approach, is similar to that one in that it also attempts to examine the Greek of the NT by looking at it in the larger picture of the Greek language throughout the centuries. This volume consists of nine studies on a range of topics, covering issues ranging in scope from the broad to the very specific.

Chapter One (pp. 25-69) is on morphology and shows how the Greek of the NT has already noticeably changed from Attic and is on the inevitable route toward Neohellenic. This is demonstrated in how the language of the NT has excised words of Attic orthography and replaced them with words of other dialects or with neologisms. For example, the Attic γλῶττα is replaced with the NT form γλῶσσα, the Attic χάριν εἰδέναι was replaced with εὐχαριστῶ, and the Attic λεώς was replaced in the NT with λαός (those who know Modern Greek will probably recognize that the Attic form is preserved in the modern Greek word for boulevard, λεωφόρος). The chapter finishes with a look at επιουσιος – a new word from επι and ουσια – with the earliest extant appearance of it being in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Chapter Two (pp. 71-93) looks at the development of the case system, specifically how the genitive and accusative triumphed over the dative. Caragounis examines seven constructions that came into use after the Attic period, each of which substitutes for the dative (e.g. εις + accusative replacing εν + dative), with five of the constructions existing in the text of the NT and the other two springing up in Medieval times. Yet again, for those who know Ancient and Modern Greek, a very noticeable change is the absence of the dative case in the latter (except in some set phrases).

Chapter Three (pp. 95-112) is a study on the redundant use of personal and possessive nouns, which is especially seen in the Gospels (primarily Matthew). Caragounis classifies the redundant pronouns into three categories: clear instances where the pronouns are obviously redundant, borderline cases, and cases where there is a reason (e.g. rhetorical) that justifies the redundancy. Why the use of redundant pronouns in the NT? Caragounis calls it “linguistic inflation.” In other words, “Post-classical, Hellenistic Greek is the collapsing edifice of the Attic dialect. The stringency, the economy, the depth of meaning, the elegance, and the beauty of the Attic dialect are all falling apart. Words no longer mean what they used to mean. Thus, they need to be strengthened by extra pronouns”  (302).

Chapter Four (pp. 113-33) is on the confusion/interchangeability of the active and middle and the consequent pleonastic use of reflexive pronouns. In other words, sometimes in the NT there will be an instance of an active verb where one might have expected a middle verb (or vice versa), and there are other improper usages of reflexive pronouns with a middle verb. A couple instances of this occurring in the NT are Matt. 6:2 and 2 Cor. 11:2. Why was the reflexive pronoun put to use in this manner in the NT? Caragounis says it was due to “the lack of feeling for the true meaning of the middle – a voice or diathesis that had always proven difficult to master” (304).

Chapter Five (pp. 135-68) studies the confusion and interchange of the aorist with the perfect. Not only do the NT texts contain instances of the perfect tense where one might have expected an aorist, but there are also sentences where the two tenses are used in reference to the same subject. Caragounis provides as an example the phrase πέπρακεν καὶ ἠγόρασεν found in Matt. 13:46. Some translations (NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV) translate it as “sold and bought” (i.e. two simple past tenses, which typically reflect the Aorist), while others (JB, TEV, NAB) translate as “sells and buys” (both perfect and aorist are here understand as gnomic aorists). Caragounis notes that some people have tried to find “special meaning” in NT perfects so that the distinction found between the two tenses in Attic is also found in the NT. He says that while NT perfects do preserve their perfect meaning, this attempt to read the NT use of the aorist and perfect in an Attic manner is the result of “not being fully at home with the nature and extent of later linguistic developments.”

Chapter Six (pp. 171-88) is concerned with the peculiar use (in the LXX and NT) of the nominative where we would have expected the vocative. Chapter Seven (pp. 189-208) is on the use of certain particles (e.g. ἤ, ἦ μήν) in Classical Greek literature and the LXX.

Chapter Eight (pp. 209-35) is on a NT crux interpretum, which is, did Paul behave as an infant or imbecile, or as a gentle nurse (see 1 Thess. 2:7)? This chapter contains thorough linguistic and philological examinations of ἤπιος, νήπιος, ἐν βάρει εἶναι, and the ὀρφανός-(ἀπ)ορφανίζω group, as well as an investigation of the parallelism between 1 Thessalonians 2 and 2 Thessalonians 3. Caragounis shows how a myopic synchronic approach to the question leads to “unwarranted results.” Instead, he opts for the diachronic approach, allowing the NT text to be placed in a correct perspective and leading to the right philological and exegetical conclusions. Caragounis concludes: “[This study] leave[s] no doubt that the case for νήπιος has been based on an inadequate investigation and a misinterpretation of the evidence” (234). Later, in the book’s epilogue, he states:

…linguistic, philological, contextual, and theological considerations support the reading ἤπιος. Consequently, if Paul, contrary to all expectations, actually had written or dictated νήπιοι, he must have done so in complete disregard of Greek lexicology and grammar. (309)

Chapter Nine (pp. 239-98) does not discuss a grammatical category or problem but rather the sublimity and grandeur in NT discourse. It is an endeavor to look at the NT from a literary point of view. While the language of the NT may seem somewhat inadequate when compared to Classical literary Greek, it nevertheless occasionally reveals “great flashes of grandeur and sublimity”, thus making it rhetorically accomplished writing that “often attain[s] a high score on the scoring board of ancient rhetoric.

The book finishes with an Epilogue (pp. 299-311), bibliography and indices (pp. 314-409). In summary, Chrys Caragounis has provided a number of studies in this volume which examine the language and exegesis of the NT from a diachronic perspective. This volume ably shows that the more holistic approach of a diachronic methodology can greatly illuminate the language of the NT and provide more adequate answers to problems of the NT text. If you want to take your studies of NT Greek to the next level, I would highly recommend picking up this volume (as well as Caragounis’ previous volume).


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