Carson Was Right

For Greek this semester, part of our assignment was to read D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, a standard work that, like a lot standard works, I found doesn’t really live up to the hype. But, writing in 1996, he does make this observation:

Surprisingly little progress has been made in Greek grammar during the past few decades, partly reflecting declining standards in classical education, partly reflecting interest diverted elsewhere. Of course, there are many exceptional scholars who contribute substantially to the discipline; but much work needs to be done.

This situation may change fairly rapidly with the advent of the GRAMCORD package to which I have already referred in this chapter. GRAMCORD stands for GRAMmatical conCORDance. Conceived by James Boyer and developed by Paul Miller, GRAMCORD is a computer retrieval system consisting of a tagged text of the Greek New Testament and a software program of considerable sophistication that enables the user to retrieve any grammatical construction of any length and complexity provided it is morphologically and/ or positionally defined. I am presently working on a reference book that will put together many of the results in a form useful to Bible translators and grammarians. This will mean that much of the donkey work of collecting data can be eliminated, replaced by pushing a few buttons or by a convenient reference volume; and this will leave more energy for the analysis of data.

For instance, I recently wrote a command set to get the computer to retrieve every instance of the genitive absolute, and analyzed the results. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that such a list has ever been compiled. It includes such breakdowns as when the noun precedes the participle, or the reverse; when the pronoun precedes the participle, or the reverse; the tense of the participle; various compound or defective genitive absolutes; and so forth. Or again, another of my students, Sung Yang, retrieved and analyzed every instance in the Greek New Testament of a singular verb combined with a compound subject, and formulated some rules on the basis of the thoroughgoing induction made possible by this exhaustive retrieval of data.

Results such as these will shortly be published elsewhere. It is no part of my purpose here to introduce new grammatical formulations. Nevertheless these technological developments will make thorough inductive analysis of Greek grammar more manageable in the future, and will therefore contribute to the reduction of errors and the exposure of grammatical fallacies.

Carson, D. A.. Exegetical Fallacies (pp. 85-86). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Reading these paragraphs over 20 years later is a real treat. Carson was absolutely right, GRAMCORD did change everything. As a modern student, I can’t imagine a how scholars did any research without the morphological tag databases. This past summer, my Greek prof was relating how, for her MA thesis, she had to hand-counted all the words in her passage. The entire room groaned at the thought. The ground-breaking search that Dr. Carson did back in 1996 is now a standard type of search I do all the time. In fact, whenever my professors say something like, “Greek always does X”, I can open my laptop and check the entirety of the Greek OT and NT, often getting a complete list of results before the prof has finished their point. It’s miraculous. And all made possible by the pains-taking labor of contributing scholars. My fellow students and I owe them a great debt. And the possibility of what might come next sets my mind and heart ablaze.

And Carson was also right about the resurgence of Greek scholarship. Koine Greek grammar is on it’s head right now as scholars try to figure out if everything that’s been thought and taught about the Greek verb over the last 200+ years has been wrong (most recently here). Con Campbell catalogs the changes in his 2015 book, Advances in the Study of Greek. So it’s not a super awesome time to be a first year Greek student (or teacher, for that matter). But it is an exciting time time to be a Biblical scholar and/or linguist.