The works of Rodney J. Decker dedicated to Greek language study make evident his goal that students discover a lifelong appreciation for the language. His most recent work, Reading Koine Greek, is no exception. Decker aims for students to achieve basic comprehension of the language and apprehension of the subtle nuances of Koine Greek. Although the text will particularly interest those who are drawn to theological material, this resource will also prove invaluable as a language textbook for pedagogues and students of linguistics in general.
Decker takes a fresh approach to the introduction of Koine Greek, appropriating both traditional, deductive strategies and integrated, inductive principles of modern linguistics. The deductive method is employed in Decker’s discussion of general features of the language. He includes charts that outline grammatical forms for memorization, he provides explanations and examples, and he concludes the discussion of each category with a set of reading exercises. Decker’s exposure of students to actual Greek texts from the beginning represents his inductive approach. Another way in which his work benefits students is the inclusion of English grammar discussion in virtually every chapter. With an understanding of grammatical concepts related to the English language, students are able more efficiently to grasp related concepts used in the author’s description of Koine Greek. The work has a dual focus on both language content and the learning process. As a result, it is appropriate for independent learners, students engaged in online learning (without ready or immediate access to an instructor), and those studying in a traditional classroom.
Decker’s overall strategy is akin to that of other introductory Greek grammar texts. The preface spans thirty-one pages and includes a discussion on the significance of learning Koine Greek, the benefits to students and teachers particularly related to the format and structure of the study, and an outline of included abbreviations. The introductory chapter is eight pages long and includes a historical perspective of the language in addition to differentiating between Classical and Koine Greek. The subsequent 554 pages outline the building blocks of the Greek language and gradually progress toward more comprehensive concepts, including basic syntax. Specifically, chapter 1 includes a fundamental discussion of the Greek alphabet and concepts related to how meaning is communicated in the Greek language system. Chapters 2 through 12 contain a discussion of five broad categories of Greek grammar: nouns, pronouns, verbs, modifiers, and syntax, with a transition from the general to the more complex in the discussion of each category. Chapter 5, for example, on verbs includes terms, definitions, identification, morphology, and parsing. Decker then proceeds to a discussion of verbal semantics, finite, and nonfinite verb forms, and ultimately mood in chapters 13 through 29. Chapters 30 through 33 finish his discussion of syntax and cover μι verbs. After the epilogue a series of appendixes provide reference charts, a morphology catalog of common Koine verbs, a glossary of the vocabulary contained in the text (a total of 465 words), a participle chart of potential uses and relationships, the vocative case, and Greek numbers and archaic letters. The overall design, format, and layout of the publication are excellent, helping students visually organize the material through pleasant presentation.
Decker’s work is distinguished in that he incorporates many emphases not commonly found in introductory Greek grammar textbooks. Firstly, the reading texts are extracted from a wide range of Koine texts, including selections from the New Testament, the Septuagint, Pseudepigrapha, and the Apostolic Fathers. Decker explains that students gain insight from these into the cultural context within which the language was used. For example, in his discussion of superlative adjectives, Decker highlights the adjective μάλιστα, “most of all,” in Clement of Rome’s declarative statement found in 1 Clement 13:1. It reads μάλιστα μεμνημένοι τῶν λόγων τοῦ Κυρίου Ἰησοῦ, “most of all remembering the words of the Lord Jesus.” Decker points out that Clement’s statement reveals the perpetuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ in Rome during the days of the Apostolic Fathers. The pedagogical benefit of including a variety of material is that students will develop strong reading and translation skills beyond familiar passages from the New Testament. The inclusion of unfamiliar passages will prove challenging and profitable for interdisciplinary students and those endeavoring to specialize in New Testament studies alike. Each chapter concludes with an assigned vocabulary list that includes selections from the New Testament and the Septuagint, with a lexical definition and an English gloss, and frequency of use indicators.
Decker places heavy emphasis on reading versus translation during the initial stages of the learning process. The objective of his approach is to prompt students to work toward understanding how meaning is communicated grammatically in the text. To that end, an integrated workbook structured in dual column format—a passage of Greek on one side and its English equivalent on the other—is included to accompany each chapter. This enables students to quickly identify relevant principles discussed in the chapter. Another unorthodox feature of Decker’s book is the inclusion of an “Advanced Information for Reference” section at the end of each chapter, which contains information customarily outlined in intermediate or advanced Greek grammar resource texts. For instance, in this section of chapter 9 Decker provides examples of special uses involving prepositions. The appropriation of advanced material will ensure that the text remains useful for Greek students well beyond the introductory stage of learning. Lastly, sprinkled throughout the text are tidbits of valuable information, interesting facts that are sure to pique the interest of all types of readers. For example, in acknowledgment of conjunctives as many of the shortest words in the Greek, Decker contrasts the forms with the longest word in the NT: the twenty-letter participle προκεχειροτονημένοις in Acts 10:41.
A potential challenge for instructors and students alike is that many of the added components—specifically the integrated workbook, extended reading material, and advanced information sections—contribute to this being larger than most introductory textbooks. The vast amount of data may be intimidating for a first year Greek student. Instructors can overcome this challenge by simply omitting sections of the advanced material from the course discussion.
As is the case with Decker’s previous studies in a similar vein, his most recent work Reading Koine Greek does not disappoint. Decker’s methodology is both innovative and exhaustive. Published after his death in May 2014, Reading Koine Greek is a valuable addition to his extraordinary legacy of scholarship. Reading Koine Greek is highly recommended as the primary source text in an introductory Greek grammar course or to facilitate learning for those studying the language independently.
About the Contributors
Before beginning his faculty service Dr. Burer worked for many years with Bible.org as an editor and assistant project director for the NET Bible. He was also instrumental in the completion of the New English Translation-Novum Testamentum Graece diglot, published jointly by Bible.org and the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft of Stuttgart, Germany. An ordained minister, Dr. Burer is active in his local church and has ministered frequently with The Evangelical Alliance Mission in France. He has served as a visiting teacher at the Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique in Vaux-sur-Seine, France. His research and teaching interests include Greek language and exegesis, the Gospels, and Jesus studies.