Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Book Review: Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek: Part 1
Posted by Josh Walker
As a seminary student I have spent quite a bit of time studying Koine (biblical) Greek. I have taken about 4 semesters of Greek in my education and I plan on doing further studies in New Testament, specifically Greek. So, it is no surprise that I was thrilled to receive a free review copy (thanks Jason!) of Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek by Constantine Campbell. This book is great. I am not an expert on the subject of verbal aspect in Greek, but Campbell is a eloquent writer and seems to introduce this subject in a fair and balanced approach. I have read the introduction and the first two chapters, so in this first review I will cover those sections.
So what is verbal aspect and why does this even matter? These are great questions and Campbell does an excellent job answering them. In the introduction he gives an apologetic for why verbal aspect is important. Lane Keister picks up on this theme in his review on Green Baggins. The main thrust of why verbal aspect should be studied by any serious biblical student is that it will enable him to understand the different nuances "encoded" in the verbs of the New Testament. Many commentators misuse and misapply verbal aspect and Campbell points out a few places where commentators have gone astray. Thus, if the subject is grasped New Testament students will not be lead astray and will have a fuller understanding of the text of the New Testament.
Once Campbell sets the stage for why verbal aspect is important, he then moves on to discuss what verbal aspect is in chapter 1. Put simply verbal aspect is "point of view." That is, from what point of view is the action taking place. In Greek, Campbell argues, there are basically two verbal aspects--perfective and imperfective. Perfective aspect is aspect that is viewed from the outside; whereas imperfective aspect is aspect viewed from the inside. Campbell offers the helpful illustration of a parade to illustrate the difference between these two types of aspect. If the parade is viewed from a helicopter it is perfective and if it is viewed from the street it is imperfective. This seems simple enough, but here is where the debate begins.
In chapter 2 Campbell gives a brief but helpful overview of the debate surrounding aspect. The gist of the discussion is the role aspect and tense play in Greek verbs. Is one more predominate than the other? Are they both important in understanding Greek verbs? Campbell argues that both tense and aspect are important to understand Greek verbs, but that aspect takes center stage and is predominate. Others would disagree with Campbell's conclusion at this point. For example, according to Campbell, the Greek scholar Stanley Porter argues that Greek verbs are exclusively aspect based and are not tense based.
After reading these three sections, I am looking forward to reading and mining all the treasure that is in this terrific work. The only critique I have thus far is that the book seems a bit short. I would not want this book to be doubled in size, but at times I would like more examples and for Campbell to spell out his arguments a bit fuller. However, to Campbell's credit, he does give helpful footnotes that point the reader to places to look for further arguments and points of view.