In the Mail (Brill Edition): On the Writing of New Testament Commentaries (Festschrift for Grant R. Osborne on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday)


Porter, Stanley E. and Eckhard J. Schnabel

On the Writing of New Testament Commentaries: Festschrift for Grant R. Osborne on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday.

Leiden: Brill, 2013. Pp. 493. Cloth. $228.00

A special thanks to Brill for supplying this review copy. 


The following are a few thoughts on Stan Porter’s essay, “The Linguistic Competence of New Testament Commentaries” (pg. 33-56).

I have been reading the Festschrift for Grant Osborne, specifically Porter’s chapter on “Linguistic Competence of New Testament Commentaries.” I do not know what it is with Porter and FS, but this is the second essay I have read of his in a FS (see his essay in Carson’s FS Understanding the Times) and his tone is very disrespectful and abrasive towards those who do not apply his methods. Not that what he is saying is necessarily false or incorrect, but maybe he should spend less time attacking and more teaching or correcting?

For example, while speaking of Dunn’s WBC on Romans Porter writes: “The rest of the commentary does nothing to dispel the impression that Dunn, whatever else he may be, is not a modern linguistically informed commentator” (43). He goes on to state that Hagner has no excuse for not engaging in relevant linguistic works (44), never mind the fact that Hagner is how many years Porter’s senior? This is important because Hagner was not trained as a linguist, though studying with Bruce would give him an excellent education is many areas.

I have a hard time listening to his arguments because of this underlying tone that is persistent throughout. Again, none of this is to say that what he is arguing for is of point or unwarranted. Having a solid linguistic foundation is essential to proper interpretation, but what I am seeing is that the only proper foundation is Porter’s.

In closing-and this is a bit of the beaten track-it may do more for Porter and those who adhere to his system to maybe step back a bit and survey the landscape some. Maybe the problem lies more with Porter et al. than with those whom he criticizes. At MacDiv, where Porter teaches, the emphasis on modern linguistics while studying the New Testament text is strong, and understandably so! This is important to him, so he has built a top-notch faculty and school that makes the study and application of modern linguistics a vital part of New Testament interpretation. But for those not engaged in M.A. or PhD studies in Hamilton Ontario, this same emphasis is not as present or maybe absent. I personally know of no other USA institution that is as rigorous in their focus on linguistics as they are in the other traditional areas of studying the text as MacDiv is. So, unless a student goes to MacDiv (or another likeminded institution) he may not get  the same exposure to what Porter and company are doing.

So what is the solution for the rest of us? I would suggest that if Porter, or any other who wants interpreters to be engaged in modern linguistics, wants future generations of New Testament commentators, professors, pastors, etc. to be trained in the use of linguistic that he make the terminology, methodology, and practical payout more readily accessible for those who are not trained. Maybe a handbook on his system (not one published by Brill or the likes; that helps only specialized audiences, those already in the “know”) would go a long way towards disseminating the information to more than just the specialists engaged in this area of study.


3 thoughts on “In the Mail (Brill Edition): On the Writing of New Testament Commentaries (Festschrift for Grant R. Osborne on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday)

  1. I can definitely agree with your general sentiment and suggestions. Though I’m not aware of Porter’s NT linguistic contributions, I’m pretty familiar with OT linguistic contributors and certainly feel the need for a “handbook” type thing to come out for those less-trained, those not quite ready to dive in to the tomes written by the gods of the field.

  2. Pingback: Book Reviews (January-February, 2013) | Near Emmaus

  3. Hey Cliff. Just reading this now – sorry for the delayed comment, but you had to of expected a response.

    I understand your frustration and will admit that I also can get frustrated since I have little interest in linguistics. However, I’m not sure how all of MacDiv has fallen victim to your critique (It’s also not a USA institution, just saying). Certainly modern linguistics has a strong emphasis in the NT department, but as a NT student who is not interested so much in linguistics, I can confidently say that the department is strong in other areas as well. With Dr. Porter, you’re hard-pressed to find a better teacher in hermeneutics, Greek grammar, Paul’s letters, or Historical Jesus research. I went specifically to study Hebrews w/ Dr. Westfall – with whom you also have a specialist in Early Jewish Christianity and Gender studies. If NT is not your thing, the OT department is equally strong (Boda!) as with theology, church history, etc – few of which dig into modern linguistics.

    Let me also promise you that Dr. Porter and those at MacDiv have “step[ed] back a bit and surv[ied] the landscape.” What they (we) see is a lack in awareness and appropriation of basic linguistic concepts that are much-needed in NT interpretation.

    I agree w/ your suggestion for a handbook, but let me offer something. One of the main things that Porter and others (myself included) persistently point out is the continued attachment of time to Greek tense forms. That verbal tense forms indicate aspect rather than time has been Porter’s message since the publication of his dissertation in the late-80s. This is introduced in a variety of publications – especially his introduction to Greek grammar (published by Eerdmans) and intermediate grammar. Yet, scholars and commentators continue to work with an old Aktionsart understanding of tense forms – and not even engage with verbal aspect. This, I think, can not be excused by a lack of easy-to-understand or accessible resources on the subject. This is also a major criticism by Stan in the article you reference in this post.

    Ok. With that done, let’s get back to talking about Hebrews. What a cool epistle, er homily, er rhetorical speech.. um, “word of exhortation” (that’s safe, right?) ?

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