Saturday, May 19, 2012

Two Introductory Greek Grammars, Black And Mounce

I recently wrote a letter highlighting some of the significant differences that I see between two introductory Greek grammars and why I favor one over the other. One is authored by William D. Mounce, the other by David Alan Black.

I have not used Mounce in teaching Greek. However, I have studied Greek using a few grammars throughout my biblical studies programs. At Southeastern College, we used Mounce for first year grammar. At The Master’s Seminary, we used Fred Nofer’s text and Machen. And, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary we used Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek. I have only taught Greek using Black because, my bias will show here, I think it is the best introductory Greek grammar.

Both Mounce and Black have some shared advantages. In the Spanish-speaking world, for example, there are not many options available for solid, biblical resources. For New Testament Greek, introductory grammars are extremely outdated. I’ve spoken with some who have been overwhelmed and discouraged by Machen’s introductory grammar. This one is often used at Bible institutes that I have visited in Central America. There are many areas that have been improved upon by both Mounce and Black, not the least of which being the fact that they were written in the last thirty years and their transition from the eight cases to five cases.

What makes one or the other the better introductory Greek grammar? Before answering that question, allow me to say one thing: The last thing that I want to do is present a case that paints a bad picture of Mounce and his Basics of Biblical Greek. I’m thankful to the Lord that people are trying to teach and learn the biblical languages regardless of which textbook is being used.

So, why Black? I’ve provided a few reasons below.
1. Mounce’s text is approximately 450 pages. Black’s is only 258 pages. This is one of the recurring criticisms of Mounce’s grammar if you look through the reviews. It covers a lot, and probably too much. There are now 36 chapters in Mounce whereas Black has only 26.
For an academic setting, 26 divides nicely for semesters/classes. By covering one a week with Black the students are not overwhelmed.
2. Black's grammar is more affordable, significantly so. Books are expensive. Believe me, I know. Black's book will save you some money without costing you any of the valuable information necessary to learning this wonderful language. In fact, I think you get more! See below where I discuss the exercises.
3. Black’s book is linguistically informed. Mounce’s fourth rationale statement presents his text as being linguistically informed. There are some areas in which it is not, areas that would have made learning the language easier for students of NT Greek (i.e., when he joins the connecting vowel in his paradigms). Black has incorporated modern linguistics into his text with greater success and simplicity.
4. Mounce’s “two-tracks” is difficult both for the teacher and the students. Imagine you are studying a language and you skip over five chapters. That’s confusing. I actually think his track two is better because it gets the student into the verbs as soon as possible (even though that is at chapter 15, p. 121). Black gets the students into the Greek verb system very soon after learning the alphabet (p. 10). There are a number of benefits for this. For one, you cannot have a complete sentence without a finite verb. In Mounce’s book, students cannot encounter a complete thought (without the author providing the translation) until the section on basic verbs is covered.
5. Speaking of the exercises, instructors and self-study readers cannot adequately use Mounce’s grammar without also having his workbook. There are no exercises in his introductory grammar. Black’s textbook is self-sufficient. It contains exercises in almost every chapter prior to switching to translation directly in the New Testament. And, he provides the answer key in the back for students to use. This will be especially beneficial for those who use the book in self-study. But it is equally valuable to the ones studying at seminaries and Bible institutes. There is a workbook available for Black’s textbook, but many professors (Dr. Black included) do not require it for their students.
6. Black intentionally used “the simplest language possible” (viii) in his text. This is very helpful for those studying throughout Latin America, many of which have not attended a university for studies.
7. In the vocabulary sections, Black has placed familiar words (English cognates and derivatives) in parentheses in order to assist the student in learning a word.
8. Black’s coverage of the Greek verbs is superbly divided. He pairs similar tenses so that the student will successfully learn them. For example, he pairs the present active indicative with the future active indicative. The only difference is the presence of the future time morpheme σ.
Consider this. When someone is learning a language, any language, the biggest obstacle is putting too much on the plate. Learning a language is intimidating no matter the context. Black’s text is intentionally “simple” by his own words. But, it is definitely not deficient. Still, there are reasons for thinking that Mounce is too much for an introductory Greek grammar. Even those who have reviewed the book have often provided this as one of the chief downfalls.

Consider these comments from the reviews on Amazon:
One reviewer, referring to the fact that Mounce has no exercises in his textbook, wrote: “For homework, I preferred the following two books: Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third edition, by David Alan Black and Learn to Read New Testament Greek-Workbook: Supplemental Exercises for Greek Grammar Students by Ben Gutierrez, Cara L. Murphey and David A. Croteau.”
Another reviewer, E. H. McGowin, wrote: “As a first year Greek student, I found Mounce’s large tome on Introductory Greek, with its verbosity and endless depth, to be extremely intimidating. In my opinion, Black avoids such stumbling blocks for the New Testament Greek student, while offering many outlets and resources for the more advanced student as well.”
Another reviewer refers to Black’s book as a “model of clarity.” The same person encourages those who have to use Mounce to check out Black for things that they don’t understand: “If the student is having difficulty grasping the grammatical point that Mounce is discussing, it is very likely that turning to Black’s grammar will clear up the matter.”
I hope that this review helps you as you decide which of these books to use, whether you are a professor at a seminary/Bible institute, a home school or private school teacher, a pastor faithfully serving in local church ministry desiring to learn this language, etc.

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