Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek. By Constantine R. Campbell. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.
Zondervan sent me a copy of Constantine Campbell’s book on the Greek verbal aspect—upon receiving it, I was flooded with memories of the time I was first introduced to it during my college days as a classics major. I remember how elusive the concept was back then, and it does not surprise me how quickly it still returns to its elusive state. The lecture was delivered by Dr. Erwin Cook at University of Texas, who admitted that aspects was just not part of the English language as much as it is in Russian. He bemoaned the fact that his Russian did not fully grasp verbal aspect as it one should to appreciate Dostoevsky’s works.
Despite its elusiveness, the Greek verbal aspect is making its way into the scene of biblical studies, where a command of the biblical languages is simply a must to engage in proper exegesis. As many others have already observed, Campbell’s work has made verbal aspects accessible, both in the publisher’s pricing and the readability. H.W. Smyth’s Greek Grammar devotes a whole sentence to aspects: “Greek also makes extensive use of aspect distinctions to qualify the type (rather than the time) of an action.” The extensive work of Smyth ironically does not lend itself to an extensive treatment of aspects.
In line with Zondervan’s widely-used series of Greek textbooks, Campbell’s work makes the complicated subject more engaging and accessible for even the beginners of biblical Greek to become quickly acquainted with the theory, the need, as well as the issues in verbal aspect. The book is divided into two main parts.
The first part explains the basic features of the verbal aspect, tracing its history and getting the reader up-to-snuff with the main voices in the field. In biblical studies, two names traditionally come up when speaking of verbal aspects: Porter and Fanning. Campbell briefly assesses those voices, along with others like Olson, Decker, and Evans, in terms of their contributions and the receptions of their works. Campbell sides with Porter and Decker, downplaying the role of tenses, while emphasizing the pragmatic use of their reference to time.
Despite the lack of consensus in verbal aspect studies, Campbell lists the agreements:
- Aspect holds the key to understanding the Greek verbal system.
- There are at least two aspects in Greek: perfective and imperfective.
- Debate about aspect must come to some kind of resolution as quickly as possible.
- Greek grammars and New Testament commentaries need to update and come to grips with the new playing field.
- Responsible exegesis of the Greek text must incorporate aspectual sensitivity (32).
And there is also room for more exploration in the areas of :
- Temporality and tense. Are Greek verbs tenses?
- Number of aspects. Should the stative aspect be included with the perfective and imperfective? (31-32)
The second part deals with the verbal aspect in the New Testament. Campbell offers examples that have these features of semantics, lexeme, and context, which lead up to the Aktionsart. What kind of an action is presented? The types of action range: progressive, stative, ingressive (beginning and subsequent progression), iterative (repetitive), and conative (attempted but not accomplished). Exercises and answers are included to help the reader to think and work through the grammar.
This book is highly recommended. It makes verbal aspects intelligible for biblical Greek students, and is very affordable (listed at $16.99, but much less on Amazon).