Greek Grammar Smackdown: A comparison of Wallace and Going Deeper

For many New Testament exegetes, reading a Greek grammar is like eating broccoli: It’s good for us and and makes our mom happy, but it’s not all that pleasant in the moment. I’m a bit different in that I actually enjoy reading Greek grammars.[1] Needless to say I was very happy when B&H Academic recently sent me a review copy of Going Deeper with New Testament Greek, their new intermediate grammar by Andreas Köstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer. I wanted to offer something of value to the interwebs beyond a straightforward review, so in this post I compare Going Deeper with that titan of intermediate Greek grammars, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics. My goal here is not to review Going Deeper as such but to compare it to Wallace’s text and provide some guidance on who would benefit best from each.

Before I begin, in the interest of full disclosure, here’s my backstory with Wallace’s grammar. Long ago when I was in the Th.M. program at Dallas Seminary, I interned with Dr. Wallace for a year. At that time he was putting the final touches on his book. Needless to say, given his penchant for free labor giving interns the best educational experience around, he got me involved in the work. I helped proofread for publication, and I worked on the indices.[2] Dr. Wallace is still a close friend and colleague. Our department at DTS adopted his grammar when it was published as the primary textbook for NT103, our intermediate grammar class. So I teach his text every semester and have done so for the last 12 years. Despite my long history with the text, I think I can give some helpful evaluation.

What struck me first about the two texts are the similarities between them. Both are truly intermediate grammars which cover syntax, that is, the function of various grammatical features within the context of a language utterance as an aid for understanding the meaning of the Greek text. They are comparable in size, scope, and general linguistic philosophy. Both have good charts and visuals to explain concepts and provide summary understanding. Working through each one will land you generally in the same place in your understanding of syntax.

Of course there are noticeable differences between them as well. Going Deeper to its credit bills itself as a grammar to be read, not just referenced. This is very true: It is well written, readable, and easy to digest. You shouldn’t take this to mean that Wallace’s text is the opposite, but in my experience students often find Wallace’s text to be daunting, primarily because of the detail and depth. Going Deeper has exegetical material beyond syntax proper, such as chapters on textual criticism, diagramming, and word studies. These provide a helpful bridge to the broader task of exegesis. Wallace to his credit has much more detail than Going Deeper. For example, he enumerates with greater specificity different grammatical categories. This isn’t simply from a desire to multiply categories; it grows from a serious examination of the specific semantic context of each.[3] His discussion of the particular exegesis of passages in light of the syntax is extensive. This is one thing I personally love about Wallace’s text: Through reading the exegetical discussions, the student gets to see grammar in action and its influence upon exegesis.

Some specific comparisons of how each grammar handles some hot-button issues in Greek syntax will help in the comparison.

  1. Both grammars have a similar take on verbal aspect, that is, they advocate the traditional model of seeing the Greek verb system as aspect centered while connecting time to the tenses in the indicative mood. The point here is that they are philosophically in the same camp in many ways.
  2. Both address key issues concerning the article. Going Deeper discusses on pp. 159–61 the Granville Sharp Rule and Colwell’s Rule, but these same two rules have their own chapter in Wallace, covering 36 pages. The point here is that on any given issue Wallace will provide much more detail.
  3. Going Deeper references the current debate regarding deponency on pp. 196–97 with specific mention of Jonathan Pennington who jumpstarted the current discussion. This current discussion isn’t referenced directly in Wallace because his work was published before it really got going, but Wallace’s discussion is quite nuanced and in my view on the mark. The point here is there is some water under the bridge now on some issues that Wallace might not cover.

The budding exegete is now faced with the daunting choice of which grammar to use.[4] Both texts are great at what they do. The key issue in my opinion is the reader:

Going Deeper is the better text for those who need an introduction to Greek syntax as part of their education. This is for the NT generalist, the undergrad student, and the non-teaching minister, that is, those whose ministry doesn’t revolve around exegesis of the NT.

Wallace is the better text for those who need specialized knowledge of syntax and exegesis. This is for the NT specialist, the graduate and doctoral student, and the pastor, that is, those involved regularly in NT exegesis.

When all is said and done, it’s not a bad thing to have two great texts to choose from, either of which will convey well the nuances of Greek syntax for NT study. Who would have ever thought that we’d have an embarrassment of riches in this space? Let’s keep it up!

  1. For those who are interested, I actually like broccoli, too.  ↩

  2. I regularly offer my current students extra credit if they can find my name in the text.  ↩

  3. Take the genitive case, for example. Going Deeper has four broad categories with 16 subcategories. Wallace has five broad categories with 33 subcategories.  ↩

  4. I make the practical assumption that most people won’t buy and use both, although that is not a bad option.  ↩