Review of Fundamentals of New Testament Greek by Porter, Reed and O’Donnell

I am excited to say that I have published another book review through The Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies. This time I wrote a review on Stanley Porter, Jeffrey Reed, and Matthew O’Donnell’s greek grammar, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek.

In 2010 Stanley Porter put out this Grammar of New Testament Greek. Although it is older now, I thought it would be beneficial to go over the porter-nt-greekunique contribution that Porter makes to the breadth of Greek Grammars already available. Even after the amount of time that has lapsed since the Grammar was published, Porter still created a niche for the grammar to exist today. The contribution that this grammar makes is massive, despite some of the difficulties that I find with the grammar as mentioned in my review.

Again, I have to thank JBTS for allowing me to publish this review on their website, which you can check out here. The Journal of Bijbts-1-1-coverblical and Theological Studies is a new journal online right now, and just began printing through Wipf and Stock. I would recommend checking them out, they are a great resource.

Go Big or Go Home: A Question of Redaction

It is very hard to argue with scholars of such great influence and ability as I. Howard Marshall, whose impact is still reverberating through the world of New Testament scholarship. Mars4358456713_2c95f9c8c5_ohall is one of those scholars who had his hand in everything. He was able to work at the theological, exegetical and textual/linguistic levels. Marshall reigns supreme in his own work in the Gospels and in his commentary on Luke[1], where he makes an interesting comment on Luke 8:4-8, the parable of the Sower.

By comparing­­­­ the redactionary relationship to all three synoptic gospels, Marshall says right at the offset:

The section 8:4–8 is based on Mk. 4:1–25. In Mk. this is part of a longer section (4:1–34) on the parabolic teaching of Jesus, which is expanded by the inclusion of further parables in the corresponding section in Mt. 13. Luke, however, has abbreviated his Marcan material at this point.[2]

Here, Marshall gives us the proper context to his argument by laying out the data in the other synoptics. I would like to highlight the quote where he suggests that “Luke, however, has abbreviated his Marcan material at this point.”

Most scholars would say that brevity in discourse or a lack of description is an indication of being an earlier version of a story. It is assumed that because you have less data, your story will be shorter. With the Gospels, we do not know where they get their data from, so we must assume that having less information is an indication of being more archaic.

We even use this principle in textual criticism. When we have a shorter reading and a longer reading of one text, we assume that the longer reading is an embellishment. A scribe might embellish a text in order to be “clearer” on a particular doctrine or to combat a heresy that was gaining traction.

This instance of redaction is slightly different. Marshall is saying that Mark, the shorter, earlier, more archaic version is longer than Luke. Luke is redacting from Mark and intentionally utilizing brevity as a discourse tool! There are a number of reasons that Luke slices down the word count from Mark, but my main issue is the sensibility that longer is better. This has become such a staple of biblical scholarship, yet we see Luke doing something completely contrary, and admitted by I. Howard Marshall.

Marshall explains further why Luke would shorten his Marcan source material,

Then he includes the brief narrative of how Jesus’ relatives visited him (8:19–21 par. Mk. 3:31–35); by holding it over to this point, Luke is able to use it as a final comment on the parable of the sower—stressing the importance of hearing and obeying the word of God. The section as a whole is thus concerned with the theme of hearing the word of God, and the accent has been shifted somewhat from where Mark places it.[3]

Marshall identifies this difference as stylistic; it is an issue of rhetorical strength. Taking into consideration that ancient histories were not considered with sequential chronology in the same sense that modern histories are, it would be okay to cut and paste this parable. But it still leaves the question of why he would shorten a text.

I might be splitting hairs here but I still find the question intriguing and that Mark is true to his source, and so is Luke, but one has cut a piece down to size for rhetorical value, for stylistic purposes. This makes me wonder if we could reconsider things like Marcan priority. Is it possible that the brevity we find in Mark’s gospel a stylistic one? That is not going to be answered here but it is still a good question to ask, and I fear we treat Marcan priority as a scholarly axiom. Is shorter better? Maybe so, but I think the conversation is still up in the air.

[1] Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978.

[2] Ibid 317.

[3] I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978), 317–318.

Persecution and Proclamation in Acts 8:1-4

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.1

In the second volume of Craig Keener’s commentary on Acts, he brings to his reader’s attention the theme of persecution-proclamation, which is a prominent theme in Luke-Acts. This proclamation-persecution theme illustrates for the reader of the New Testament that the Kingdom of God will be advanced despite oppression or opposition. Acts 8:1-3 exemplifies this theme as Keener points out; “The theology of the passage is part of Luke’s larger theme of persecution in the setting of proclamation.”2

It should be noted first that Saul’s indictment against the church was a great persecution. This was not a separate or unrelated instance, but a great (μεγας) persecution. The oppression faced was enough that it provoked people to leave their homes and even more, Jerusalem. Specifically, Luke includes Saul here as the main propellant of the Christians in Jerusalem.

What is even more significant is the ramification of Saul’s persecution. It causes people to leave Jerusalem and proclaim the gospel in other areas of the Near East region. Yet despite their imminent danger, they were not dissuaded from proclamation. Instead in the face of oppression they count the cost and proclaim, thusly fulfilling the mandate to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”3 Considering the extent that Saul had gone to in order to stop the “the Way”, this would be counterproductive; this is exactly what he didn’t want to have happen.

In Luke’s overall narrative the next pericope is even more interesting because the gospel for the first time goes to Samaria. The gospel had now been sent to a place the Jerusalem-Jews vehemently opposed. The newly appoint deacon Phillip is the one who, being part of the diaspora, brought the Gospel to that region. Luke continues in the passage, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.”4 (Φίλιππος δὲ κατελθὼν εἰς [τὴν] πόλιν τῆς Σαμαρείας ἐκήρυσσεν αὐτοῖς τὸν Χριστόν.) Now Philip has gone to an area that was reviled among his peers and brings them the good news about “the Christ.”

The expansion of Christ’s kingdom here on earth has gone beyond a Jewish boarder. The expulsion of the Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem has led to a wide spread Gospel. What Luke has communicated to us is that the expansion of the Gospel is not of our own doing but is a divine prerogative. The measure of success that the church may experience is only due to the sovereign appointment of Christ.

The fact that the church’s success is not measured by programs, events, number of members, or “getting back to the fundamentals” should comfort us. No matter how hard the world presses in against the Church of Christ, the success she reaps is only due to the Lord’s initiative.

Today many American Christians have this embedded fear of the surrounding culture. The fact is, the world has not become any more “Christian” or any more anti-Christian. When the world is pressing in on issues like homosexuality and the trustworthiness of scripture, it is exactly what we should expect from the world. We need to be confident enough that our union with Christ and his faithfulness to the covenant of grace will sustain our life. Becoming syncretistic and adopting the practices of the world that we imagine might be appealing only communicates that we are scared and confused.

The light of the Gospel will provide exactly what we are looking for; comfort in the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 8:1–4.

2 Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013) pg. 1466.

3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt 28:19-20.

4 Ibid, Ac 8:5

Recommended Resources: P.J. Williams on the Gospel’s Historical Reliability

Peter Williams is the Warden of Tyndale House at Cambridge University. He is a textual critic and Syriac scholar. This video is a lecture about how the peoples names used in the Gospels help us know how historically viable they are. It is an interesting and persuasive argument for the reliability of our four canonical gospels. Leave some comments, I love hearing your thoughts.


Recommended Resources are posts devoted to videos, blogs, articles, and sermons that have helped me think through some more difficult topics. This segment of the blog is to develop fodder for thoughtfulness in deeper content issues.

Is the Bible Historically Reliable? Part I: The Importance of the Original Text

Today in some Christian circles the new intellectual trend is to not just to deny the incarnation or particular stories of scripture like the liberals of the early 20th century wanted to do; now we just throw it all out, because according to the professional, “the scriptures are unreliable.” Is that a valid way of thinking? Can we, in particular, trust the New Testament? Scholars like Dr. Bart Ehrman want to say no, “that is an absolutely ridiculous conclusion based on the evidence that we have.” With respect to the scholar that Dr. Ehrman is, I will strongly disagree with him, that the scriptures are not only reliable but they are historically validated. In other words they are externally and internally valid.

One of the most common critiques of the scriptures is there are variants in the text. These variants can be anything like spelling errors, different word order, or added words. This can seem troubling to most Christians. “If there are variants in the text how can I believe that the scriptures are inerrant?” That is a great question. Dr. Daniel Wallace of Dallas
Theological Seminary counts that we have approximately 300,000 variants between each text, some estimates 400,000. That is a large number and slightly scary, if we take it at face value. The encouraging thing is this, that ¾ of those variants are what is called a removable nu (ν). The letter nu (ν) is transliterated to the English N, so these variants would be the difference between “a airplane” or “an airplane.” This is an overwhelmingly large percentage that creates virtually no difference at all between the vast collection of manuscripts. This is clearly not an inerrancy issue like Dr. Ehrman claims it is, we are not arguing for the inspiration of the documents, but the scriptures, the authoritative words of God.

Now, there are about 100,000 variables left to look at. Approximately 24% of that number are grammatical issues that hold no bearing theologically. Less than 1% of all variables in the Greek New Testament manuscripts are what is called a “Viable difference.” These are differences that would possibly change the reading of a text. There are two primary examples of these “viable differences”. One of the most common viable differences is that scholars speculate 1 Corinthians is actually a conglomeration of 3 or 5 separate letters. Another common example is that the number of the beast in revelation is not 666, but 616. This comes from a reading of the earlier manuscripts we have. Much like these two examples, there are no instances where a viable difference would change the theology of any passage in scripture.

The reader at this point may ask, what is the point of giving out so many numbers and statistics about the original manuscripts. It also may seem slightly boring. If we are just crunching numbers than this can be boring; but what the numbers tell us is not boring at all. They tell us out of the almost 5,600 manuscripts we have of the New Testament in the original Greek, there are not enough viable differences to call into question the internal validity of the text. The differences we have in all our manuscripts are virtually meaningless, theologically speaking. We can be certain therefore that the scriptures we have now are the very words of the authorial words of God, as dictated by the human author. That is also without taking into account the 20,000 latin manuscripts and other various translations such as Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, Gothic, Hebrew and Aramaic.

Again, what that means is, we can trust the Bible for what it says. The words of the Scriptures are the words of God. Scholars and laymen alike undoubtedly believe the words of Homer, in his Iliad and The Odyssey, even though the earliest manuscripts we have are from 200 CE, which dates that manuscript about 900 years after it was written. That is the closest one to the original copy, out of all 10 manuscripts we hold. Even worse is the manuscript tradition of William Shakespear, nobody reads Hamlet and questions the integrity of the play, despite the fact that we do far more guess work with Shakespear’s rylands-p52plays then we do the New Testament. The earliest New Testament manuscript is P52, which contains a portion of the Gospel of John and is dated 117-138. This puts P52 almost 100 years out from the autograph. That is extraordinary considering the attestation of these events through manuscript tradition and church father’s quotations and allusions.

If we use these common examples and compare them, we soon realize that the Bible is not only historically reliable, but the most reliable account of the Jesus event. No other ancient book or text can make a similar claim, with quantity or quality of text like the New Testament.  Textually speaking that is a problem that scholars have to deal with honestly, if they want to take the New Testament to task.

That is a tremendous claim to historical validity for New Testament Scholars and believers. There is an overwhelming amount of the New Testament manuscripts. Therefore we can most certainly be confident we have the words that were written by Paul, John, Matthew, Peter, Luke and Mark. Men who God used to give us his holy word. In the next post we will talk about the task of Textual criticism and see how we come up with these numbers and the research that goes into it.