Greek Grammar

Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament

By Adam Christian

Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament

Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis
Murray Harri
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012
304 pp. | $42.99

Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament will be a helpful book for Greek scholars at several stages in their careers, and with several purposes in mind. The book is not written in such a way that it would take the place of a grammar (or the section of a grammar covering prepositions). Rather, it is intended to be a supplement, assisting the reader with further study into the use of prepositions in the Greek New Testament.

This book would be most beneficial for students having completed at least a level of intermediate Greek, as he builds on concepts that would be covered at this level. For these students, the first use of the book would be as a supplement to their previous learning. The first three chapters cover 1) a basic introduction to Greek prepositions, framed within the phases of the Greek language; 2) distinctions in how prepositions are used in the Greek New Testament, in comparison with non-biblical Greek (specifically Hellenistic and Classical Greek), as well as the possible influences of Semitic languages on the use of prepositions in the New Testament; and 3) dangers that must be avoided when examining preposition use in New Testament Greek. While many intermediate and advanced grammars would address these issues at some level, these chapters are able to go into much greater detail than a traditional grammar because of the narrower focus of this book, in comparison with the wider focus of a standard grammar.

Chapters four through twenty each address a specific “proper” preposition (ἁμφί, ἁνά, ἁντί, ἁπό, διά, εἰς, ἐκ, ἐν, ἐπι, κατά, μετά, παρά, περί, πρό, πρός, σύν, ὑπέρ, and ὑπό). For clarification, Harris defines “proper” and “improper” prepositions this way:

Those prepositions (such as ἐν) that can also serve as prefixes in compound words have been called “proper” prepositions (17 in the NT), and prepositions (such as ἐντός) that cannot be used this way have been called “improper” prepositions (42 in the NT). This classification is unfortunate, for most “improper” prepositions are equally “pre-positions” and they are functionally equivalent to “proper” prepositions. (27)

Each chapter covering a “proper” preposition explains:

  1. The basic idea and use in the New Testament
  2. A section for each category of use (giving examples from the LXX and NT)
  3. Important New Testament passages that use the preposition
  4. The use of the preposition in compound words

Chapters twenty-one and twenty-two each address the use of prepositions with several key words (βαπτίζω, πιστεύω, and πίστις). These words all have an effect on how the preposition is used, so it is helpful to take a closer look at specific prepositions as they are used in conjunction with these words.

The last two chapters deal with “improper” prepositions. Chapter twenty-three provides a general overview, their use in Hellenistic Greek, and an annotated list of all “improper” prepositions used in the New Testament. Chapter twenty-four selects six key “improper” prepositions (ἄνευ, ἐκτός, ἔμπροσθεν, ἐντός, ἔως οὗ, and χωρίς), and discusses notable New Testament uses of these words.

All of this material will be helpful for the student interested in deepening his or her understanding of New Testament Greek. While some of this material is covered in some intermediate and advanced grammars, they are not able to do so in anywhere near as detailed an approach as Harris uses in his book.

Additionally, the extensive indexes at the back of the book (Biblical References, Greek Words and Expressions, and Subjects) make this a helpful reference grammar to keep on hand when studying a particular passage. The Index of Biblical References especially is helpful, as it provides a quick way to check whether a particular passage includes a significant usage of one of these prepositions, allowing the reader to draw on Harris’s extensive work to supplement their own study.

Overall, I found the book helpful and well written. The subject matter is written in such a way that it highlights application of Greek exegesis to our understanding of the text. Harris covers material that has the potential to be monotonous in a way that holds the reader’s interest and makes the material accessible to as wide an audience as possible (although this will be limited primarily to those with some Greek study behind them). For students wanting to better understand the use of prepositions in the Greek New Testament, this book will be well worth their time and money.