Book Review: Colossians and Philemon: A Handbook on the Greek Text, by Constantine R. Campbell

[Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series, Martin M. Culy, Gen. Ed.; 2013, Baylor University Press, Waco, TX, 114 pages]

The union of Verbal Aspect and ‘Union with Christ’ in one volume

In the continuing series of the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (BHGNT), Constantine Campbell, in his in-depth look into Colossians and Philemon, highlights his past and continuing work in Verbal Aspect, as well as his more recent research into Paul’s use of ὲν Χριστῳ̄ (en Christw͆) and similar phrases (union with Christ).  This is my second acquisition in the BHGNT series, and I like this one even more.

The series presumes some competence of NT Greek at the intermediate level, with its focus on grammar, while utilizing up-to-date linguistics (discourse analysis, Verbal Aspect), and touching on text critical issues where deemed appropriate.  (See my previous BHGNT review for more info on the series in general.)

With this particular volume, the reader should have a good working knowledge of verbal aspect (I’ll follow Porter’s convention of capitalizing tense-forms  to differentiate from aspect and associated terms), as Campbell focuses on this throughout.  For those unfamiliar with VA, essentially the view is that Koine Greek verb morphological forms (tense-forms) do not semantically encode time, but rather aspect.  Time, instead, is derived from context.  Aspect is the viewpoint, or perspective of the writer, who chose the particular tense-form from among other possibilities, to suit his particular purposes (though some tense-forms are more appropriate for narrative as opposed to discourse and vice versa).

The Aorist, for example is termed ‘perfective’ in aspect, meaning a summary or remote perspective of the event/situation (external view).  Conversely, the Present and Imperfect tense-forms are `imperfective’ in spect, displaying a view of the internal process of the event/situation (internal view).  The function of these aspectual forms, the resulting Aktionsart (kind of action), is determined by lexis and context (pragmatics).

To assist the reader, Campbell gives a handy overview/review of his Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2008a), in his Introduction.  Worth the price of admission, however, is how the author, in the Introduction, breaks down each tense-form into each of its Aktionsart functions [pp xxiv – xxvii], providing a ready reference as one works through Colossians and Philemon.  For example, under ‘Present Indicative’ is ‘Gnomic Aktionsart’, which is described:

“Imperfective aspect with any lexeme in a context of ‘general reality’ can implicate a gnomic Aktionsart.  This expresses a universal and timeless action” [p xxvi].

My only minor criticism – and it is indeed small – is that the aspectual terms ‘perfective’ and ‘imperfective’ are not defined in a general way, in abstraction from their Aktionsart functions, in the Introduction or in the Glossary (hence my explanation above).  I deem this important because, for example, under ‘Aorist Indicative’ is ‘Gnomic Aktionsart’ [p xxiv] with the identical description as ‘Gnomic Aktionsart’ under ‘Present Indicative’ above, except the introductory word, with “Perfective aspect…” replacing “Imperfective aspect….”  Without a firm grasp of the general differences between perfective aspect and imperfective aspect, one may not see the distinction between the Present gnomic and Aoristic gnomic, with the nearly identical descriptions.

This minor quibble aside, Campbell’s book is rich with insights.  While the author argues for his own grammatical and syntactical interpretations, he compares these to other possibilities and other’s viewpoints with clarity.  I may not (currently) agree with all his conclusions, but this may reflect my own theological biases (e.g., Col 1:16-17, with respect to ἐν αὐτῷ [en autō̧] as being locative, rather than reflecting instrumentality, i.e., Christ as both creator and sustainer – could the usage here be both locative [in Him] AND reflect instrumentality [by Him]?).  In these instances I’ll pray and ponder.