Westminster Seminary California
Book Review: Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament
Book Review: Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament

Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of The Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010). 384pp. Hardback. $49.95.

Often when a book is greatly needed it is hard to fulfill expectations, but Steven E. Runge’s newest book, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis, definitely realizes many items on the check list. Until this recent work, NT Discourse has largely been a specialist sport with the uninitiated NT students left as spectators, or with such grossly misconstrued ideas that they do more harm than good. Runge does a great job at the first crack at bridging this gap, bringing complex and intricate linguistic concepts down to a more digestible and usable level. 

By far the strongest section of the book is Ch.1-4 concerning the Foundation and Forward-Pointing Devices. This section alone is worth the cost and the time of anyone interested in improving their Greek Exegesis. Chapter 1 does a great job of simply and clearly laying out very significant linguistic concepts with which many NT students might be unfamiliar. Runge gives just enough of the big picture to get the wheels turning without overwhelming readers. Ch. 2 is a very solid 40 pages detailing the semantic and discourse contributions of connectives in Greek discourse. And Ch. 3-4 discusses Forwarding-Pointing devices and Point/Counterpoint sets. Throughout Runge is very pedagogically minded. He actually gives 290 Greek examples (with English translation) so that readers are constantly being able to appreciate exactly what he is saying and the real-world exegetical payoff. 

But I must say that my favorite section was Ch. 15, the Thematic Highlighting in Overspecification. In a section like this Runge truly shows that he has read widely as he almost effortlessly summarizes a lot of linguistic theory into a functional form for students. His examples easily let the reader appreciate discourse features like Recharacterization and Point-of-View Shifts, and explains how this is significant for exegesis and preaching.

However, like all books which attempt to be introductions to complicated issues, there is one significant weakness. While the book throughout deals with discourse features, it fails to teach the range of pragmatic interworking as Discourse Analysis does. In every section, Runge contrasts what he calls the Conventional Explanation, which is quoted heavily from grammarians, with his Discourse Explanation. But he does not show that discourse features actually interact pragmatically with linguistic items way beyond their own verse, or pericope, or even paragraph. But this critique can’t be levied too harshly as adding these features would have greatly complicated the book and perhaps ultimately then failed to be a practical introduction.

So as the present state of Koine Greek studies is found to be nearly 30 years behind linguistically, it is hard to overemphasize that this book should be read, reread, and then referenced often by every NT student. Whether trying to get at the deep exegetical significance of a text, or the tone and presentational flow of an author, this book is sure to be an immense help.

Chris Stevens, MDiv Student