This book (Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015]), by one of our blog contributors, Stanley Porter, came out about a month or so ago, and I have had the privilege of receiving a copy of it. As I am currently working on my dissertation, I expect this book to be of tremendous value to me, particularly the chapters on register and discourse analysis. While Porter has published collected essays in one volume before (such as Studies in the Greek New Testament: Theory and Practice [SBG 6; New York: Peter Lang, 1996]), this is his most recent and up-to-date collection of essays, and unlike Studies in the Greek New Testament the essays in this book have not been published elsewhere. In his preface, he mentions that many of these essays have been presented at various conferences such as SBL, SNTS, and others. So why should any student or scholar read this book?
For one, Porter is one of the major players in the area of Greek linguistics, and whether one agrees with him on the verbal aspect debate or his view of Systemic Functional Linguistics, what he says should be taken seriously. This book not only discusses the common topics within Greek linguistics of verbal aspect and discourse analysis, but Porter addresses many other areas that few have. For example, the first chapter is entitled “Who Owns the Greek Text of the New Testament? Issues That Promote and Hinder Further Study.” Many New Testament students and scholars often take for granted that when referring to the Greek New Testament, one is either talking about a Nestle-Aland edition or a United Bible Society edition. Porter makes the bold assertion, however, that the “original” Greek New Testament, according to modern US and European copyright laws, is not copyrightable and concludes that these two GNT editions are not protected under copyright laws. In this way, this first chapter illustrates the importance of examining the Greek text itself for the study of Greek linguistics.
Second, Porter has contributed to Greek linguistics in areas that many still have not really grappled with. I mentioned briefly above the concept of register, but Porter is the first to apply the notion of register, specifically of Michael Halliday (the British sociolinguist who founded the school of Systemic Functional Linguistics), to biblical studies–his first [and second] essay on register appears in an edited book entitled Rethinking Contexts, Rereading Texts, edited by M. Daniel Carroll R (JSOTSup 299; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2000). A few scholars have utilized register in their research (e.g., David Lamb, Text, Context, and the Johannine Community [LNTS; New York: T&T Clark, 2014]), but Porter has done some significant work that has not garnered the attention as I think it deserves. A couple of chapters in Linguistic Analysis introduce and apply the concept of register and provide extensive bibliographic information for the reader to continue their own research. In fact, aside from the main text of the book itself, another contribution to this book is the extensive bibliography that is attached to it.
One possible critique might be that it is too technical and therefore inaccessible to the general audience. Fair to say that this is probably a critique for a good amount of Porter’s work. He never claims to write for the general populace, of course, but I think the critique still merits consideration. I agree that this book is not a first-year undergraduate textbook, and even seminary graduates will probably struggle through it. But many of the books that last the longest and make an impact in human thought are the ones that are difficult to understand (at first). I think of what Peter said about Paul (2 Pet 3:15–16; not that Porter is to be compared to the Apostle Paul), or even modern examples of impactful works, such as Thiselton’s Two Horizons and New Horizons, or James Barr’s Semantics of Biblical Language (which many still do not fully get), among many others. I have heard it said many times that one benefits not from reading many books but a few good ones. I believe that for those interested in the Greek language of the New Testament, this book is one of the few.
I won’t prolong this post with a full-length book review, but I hope this book garners much discussion and engagement with the issues that Porter addresses in it. And for those students and scholars interested in Greek linguistics, here is a great way to dive right in.
— David I. Yoon