Mounce’s A Graded Reader of Biblical Greek: A Review

Yesterday I reviewed Erickson’s A Beginners Guide to New Testament Exegesis. Ultimately, it should be our desire as able exegetes to analyze a text with all the tools of the exegetical method as highlight by Erickson. Some professors, however, might take a different approach to third semester Greek, focusing instead on translating large swaths of New Testament texts. Mounce provides a resource for exact that.

Mounce’s A Graded Reader of Biblical Greek is a tool designed for teachers and students of third semester Greek. The book aims to alleviate frustration from reading large sections of scripture, begin the process of learning exegesis, and make students accustomed to the Greek text in order to encourage future use of the Greek New Testament. The ultimate aim, however, is to encourage a greater love of God and neighbor.

Mounce accomplishes these goals in the following ways. First, all vocabulary used in the New Testament under 20 occurrences have been footnoted with definitions. This means that the student spends more time in the text than in a lexicon. Since Mounce aims at creating an inductive approach to translation and exegesis, footnoted words only appear once in a chapter. εὐθύς receives a footnote in Mark 1:3 (chapter 3 of the reader), but does not receive one in Mark 1:10. In so doing, Mounce expects students to learn vocabulary along the way, instead enabling an unhealthy dependency on lexical aids.

Second, Mounce provides explanations for difficult grammatical constructions. Instead of staring at the text for ten minutes without a clue as to how to translate “καὶ μαρτυροῦμεν καὶ ἀπαγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν τὴν ζωὴν τὴν αἰώνιον ἤτις ἦν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα καὶ έφανερώθη ἡμῖν” only to ultimately give up and check an English translation, Metzger writes, “You probably learned this word as an indefinite relative pronoun. As you can see from this context, it can lose the indefiniteness and simple be translated as the relative pronoun ‘which’ and not the indefinite relative ‘whichever.'”

Third, Mounce provides a healthy amount of comments on the text. These comments provide the definitions of exegetical categories (i.e. what is a subject or objective genitive and how do I determine which is in view in the context), advice on which words might deserve a closer look in a word study, and a look at the significance of tense changes within a particular passage. Bolded notes are summarized at the end of each chapter in the Grammatical Summary section. This summary corresponds to Daniel Wallace’s Beyond the Basics.

Mounce’s most important goal, to love God and one another more, is accomplished in the pastoral and theological ethos of the book. Each chapter is equipped with notes that draw out the theological, ethical, and practical implications of the text. Chapters conclude with a summary outline of the meaning of the passage and how it relates to the life of the Christian. It is evident throughout the work that Mounce desires to gently bring students closer to their God through a careful look at his Word to them.

There are several other features of this book worth our attention. Mounce provides two tracks for students and professors to follow. The first focuses on translation. Chapters are assigned with little to no extra work. The intent is to learn new vocabulary, learn the exegetical categories inductively, and spend a the lion’s share of one’s time in the biblical text. The second track includes Mounce’s practice of phrasing. This is the practice of segmenting the text logically into a visual “diagram.” Independent clauses are placed to the left; dependent clauses are indented under the independent clause. Parallel elements are placed signaled. Mounce gives no hard and fast rules for how this is done. He simply encourages students to divide the text in a manner that makes sense to them. For the neurotic student that must make sure he is “right,” Mounce has provided his phrasing of the first seven chapters in the appendix.

For the teacher and student that feels as if Mounce’s Guided Reader will not adequately suffice for a third semester class due to its lack of a systematized discussion of grammar and syntax, Mounce includes an appendix just for you. He has provided a summary of Wallace’s Beyond the Basics in 42 pages.

Mounce’s reader is an excellent resource. Translating through the Greek New Testament can be a frustrating experience. Ambitious souls set out to translate a book of the Bible only to be waylaid by unfamiliar vocabulary and syntax. For some, these obstacles are overcome and they go merely on to further study and translation. For others, the journey ends abruptly. Mounce’s graded approach helps build confidence in students as they meet more and more difficult passages. The exegetical notes orient the student towards the sorts of questions she should be asking when she comes to the biblical text. Knowing what questions to ask, after all, is what we are after.

Before proceeding to Amazon to purchase this resource, do consider the following. It is becoming more and more common for students and pastors to purchase a readers Greek New Testament in order to help with vocabulary. Furthermore, simply knowing what passages Mounce selects (something readily attainable from the table of contents page on Amazon) facilitates the graded approach. Other than these factors, if you have had no experience in exegesis, phrasing, or clausal analysis, this resource is an excellent introduction.

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