Best Greek NT Commentaries

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Re: Best Greek NT Commentaries

Postby Evan Blackmore » November 18th, 2012, 6:37 pm

In my darker moments I sometimes suspect that a lot of today's so-called "Greek text" commentaries are actually constructed mentally on English translations--the Greek being simply substituted before publication. In the bad old days, by contrast, most commentaries were written by scholars who had perceptibly been thinking in Greek since childhood, thanks to the bad old tradition of Classical education.

Here's one example that's fresh in my mind.

Last week, another thread on this forum discussed the role of the ἅμα in ἅμα σὺν αὑτοῖς ἀρπαγησόμεθα (1 Th 4:17). Does it form a kind of compound preposition with σὺν, or is it an adverb modifying ἀρπαγησόμεθα, or what?

Neither of the two recent "Greek text" commentaries on my shelves (WBC and NIGTC) even considered that question. The authors had mentally constructed their comments on the standard English rendering ("together with"), which poses no grammatical puzzles--and although they had then substituted the Greek ἅμα σὺν, they hadn't seen that it required some extra discussion.

By contrast, nearly all of the older commentaries--e.g. Milligan (Macmillan, 1908) and Frame (ICC, 1912)--had helpful discussions of the question.

Apart from the older commentaries already mentioned in this thread--Alford, Expositor's, Macmillan, ICC, CGT--I'd draw particular attention to Meyer and Wordsworth.

Meyer has all the strengths of the old German school, and examines with characteristic Germanic thoroughness all kinds of possible ways of reading the Greek. Even when they're self-evidently wrong, it can still be enlightening to ask oneself "Is this wrong? and if so, exactly why do I know it to be wrong?"

Wordsworth is briefer and sometimes wayward, but he's a breath of fresh air because he's one of the few commentators truly indifferent to current fashions. He's also one of the few who consistently pauses to ask "How did readers who wrote about this in the very earliest centuries understand it?" Modern scholarship places a premium on originality (you won't get published unless you say something that's never been said before), and therefore assumes all too easily that a view first proposed in 2012 is just as likely to be correct as a view first documented in 212.

I don't mean that all the older commentaries are good and all the newer ones bad. As has already been said in this thread, every multi-author series varies considerably in quality. (Everyone knows that the old ICC vols on Matt, Mark, and Heb fell well below the series standard, for differing reasons.) But many of the older commentaries have valuable technical comments on points of Greek, which have tended to be dropped from their successors--even the "Greek text" successors.
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Re: Best Greek NT Commentaries

Postby Evan Blackmore » November 18th, 2012, 7:47 pm

Afterthoughts:

Another 19th-century series, which can occasionally be helpful on points of Greek not considered by more recent commentators, is Olshausen's (perhaps especially the volumes by Ebrard). There are also some useful non-series Greek text commentaries, e.g. Philippi on Romans and (especially) Delitzsch on Hebrews.

Nowadays all of these can freely be viewed at and downloaded from the Internet Archive (or, if you're in the USA, from Google Books).
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Re: Best Greek NT Commentaries

Postby Andrew Chapman » December 17th, 2014, 3:29 pm

Evan Blackmore wrote: But many of the older commentaries have valuable technical comments on points of Greek, which have tended to be dropped from their successors--even the "Greek text" successors.

Charles Ellicott's commentaries on Paul's epistles are wonderful in this respect. W. F. Moulton dedicated his edition to Ellicott, writing:
if this book succeed in accomplishing anything for the accurate study of the Greek Testament, it will be through what I have learned from Bishop Ellicott's wise counsels, and from his noble Commentaries on St. Paul's Epistles.

Somehow or other - it must be because they each produced successive editions - Meyer, Ellicott, Lightfoot and Alford - refer to each other's commentaries, saying where they agree or disagree and why. I find that whenever I find the Greek text difficult, they comment on it - this doesn't seem to happen in the same way with the recent commentaries. The old ones tend to have the full Greek text at the top of each page, and text critical remarks below them, and commentary below again - which is a very helpful layout. Burton on Galatians is very good as well.

Ellicott's Preface to his commentary on Galatians, the first in the series, is fascinating. He starts by dealing with the difficulties encountered by the more promising student because of the 'systematic exactitude of his former discipline in classical Greek'. He deliberately confined himself 'to the humbler and less ambitious sphere of grammatical details'. He saw the necessity of 'first endeavoring to find out what the words actually convey, according to the ordinary rules of language; then, secondly, of observing the peculiar shade of meaning that the context appears to impart. Too often the process has been reversed... I have, then, in all cases, striven, humbly and reverently, to elicit from the words their simple and primary meaning.'

Andrew
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Re: Best Greek NT Commentaries

Postby Andrew Chapman » December 17th, 2014, 4:47 pm

Evan Blackmore wrote:Here's one example that's fresh in my mind.

Last week, another thread on this forum discussed the role of the ἅμα in ἅμα σὺν αὑτοῖς ἀρπαγησόμεθα (1 Th 4:17). Does it form a kind of compound preposition with σὺν, or is it an adverb modifying ἀρπαγησόμεθα, or what?

Neither of the two recent "Greek text" commentaries on my shelves (WBC and NIGTC) even considered that question. The authors had mentally constructed their comments on the standard English rendering ("together with"), which poses no grammatical puzzles--and although they had then substituted the Greek ἅμα σὺν, they hadn't seen that it required some extra discussion.

By contrast, nearly all of the older commentaries--e.g. Milligan (Macmillan, 1908) and Frame (ICC, 1912)--had helpful discussions of the question.

Putting my own recommendation of Ellicott to the test, here he is on ἅμα in 1 Thessalonians 4.17:
ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς] 'at the same time together with them,' 'simul... cum illis,' Vulg., Copt. [euson]; i.e. we shall be caught up with them at the same time that they shall be caught up, ἅμα apparently not marking the mere local coherence, 'all together,' Alford, but, as usual, connexion in point of time ('res duas vel plures una vel simul sut esse aut fieri significat,' Klotz, Devar. Vol. II p.95): compare Ammon. s.v., ἅμα μέν ἐστι χρονικὸν ἐπίῤῥημα, ὁμοῦ δὲ τοπικόν, and Tittm. Synon. I. p. 156, who however remarks that in Romans 3.12 (from the LXX) this distinction is not maintained. See notes on ch. 5.10.

So, looking up his note on 5.10:
ἅμα σὺν αὐτῳ ζήσομεν 'we should together live with Him,' not 'together with him,' Auth.; the ζῆν σὺν Χριστῷ forming the principal idea, while the ἅμα (Heb. יַחְדָּו) subjoins the further notion of aggregation; compare Romans 3.12, and see notes on 4.17, where the previous specifications of time make the temporal meaning more plausible.

Andrew
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