Review: James: A Commentary on the Greek Text

James: A Commentary on the Greek Text James: A Commentary on the Greek Text by William Varner

My Goodreads rating: 2 of 5 stars (2 stars on Goodreads = “it was ok”)
My rating: 3 of 3 stars (3 stars on = “It’s okay”)

James: A Commentary on the Greek Text. By William C. Varner. Fontes Press, 2017, 423 pp. ISBN: 1-948048-01-9, $22.90 on

There were many reasons why I wanted to read and review this book. Obviously, those that know me know that I’ve become a nerd over Ancient Greek. That is one reason. The other is that among Orthodox Christians—and ironically among Greek Orthodox Christians—the Biblical, Patristic, and original Liturgical languages are given very little thought. In fact, when they are it is in order to move away from them toward the vernacular or something similar; and so anything written about Greek interests me immensely.

The reasons for the general lack of interest in original languages are tied to our rich Orthodox history of bringing the Scriptures and Liturgy to the people in their own native tongue. Also, we don’t subscribe to verbal plenary inspiration—which is also why textual criticism is almost non-existent within and among us Orthodox. Well, that and the Orthodox φρόνημα and Tradition contain views such as Origen’s that all the variants were/are inspired, and the idea of the great Slavophile lay-theologian Aleksei Khomyakov’s that everything the (Orthodox) Church writes is Scripture.

One of the difficulties in reviewing a book by a non-Orthodox author is that it must be taken on its own merits and not measured against an Orthodox standard to which it was never written to be measured against, or as I believe Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick wrote somewhere: the Orthodox Church doesn’t theologize outside of Her bounds. With that in mind I proceed, and for those reading this, I am attempting to write from the stance of an Orthodox Christian who loves Greek writing to other Orthodox Christians who love Greek too.

William Varner’s James: A Commentary on the Greek Text is a serious piece of work; he subscribes to Porter’s view on “verbal aspect,” and in his recent appearance on Exegetical Tools, he says it is intended for those who are at least second-year Greek students. At 442 pages, it is much, much longer than the actual text it is commentating on, which can be to its detriment. It is easy to lose track of the verse in question and end up deep in a textual discussion related only to a section (or just one word) of the verse being commented upon. For comparison, The Epistle of Saint James: A Commentary by Archbishop Dimitri Royster (whose relics have been found to be incorrupt, but not officially declared as such) is 152 pages in length.

On page xv, we are told that it is a reworking of an earlier book, and while reading this book, it came to my attention that Evangelical academia has had a few issues with plagiarism as of late. And it was via the Facebook Nerdy Language Majors group that I discovered that unfortunately Varner’s original book of which this is a reworking of was one of them. I am not in any level of academia to be saying anything about those issues, but as a student myself plagiarism is always something on my mind and even more so now when I can see that even at the highest level it can occur, at least hopefully, accidentally. I didn’t want to mention this topic, but there were at least two areas in the present work where proper attestation was probably accidentally missed. A footnote appears to be missing sourcing Metzger’s Commentary on verse 1:19, and on page 325 a footnote sourcing Patrick J. Hartin’s commentary on James in the Sacra Pagina series appears to be missing. To be fair, typing those sections into Grammarly and turning on plagiarism detection yields nothing, and Metzger’s Commentary is listed in the Bibliography; however, Hartin’s Sacra Pagina volume is not, but other writings of his are.

Again, staying away from critiquing theological issues, it is pertinent to note that this book takes positions on St. James and the Theotokos that are incompatible with Orthodox Christianity. However, a point that is of concern for Orthodox Christians that I will comment on is Varner’s view that the Majority Text and the Byzantine Text are “basically synonymous.” I would say that he is basically correct, but that at higher levels of Greek scholarship the distinction between the Byzantine and Majority Texts should be stated and that they should be referred to as separate (a mistake even The Center for the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text makes, in my opinion). I maintain this view despite what the editors of The Orthodox Study Bible with its NKJV English and Majority Text Greek say.

Furthermore, it is disappointing that the Robinson-Pierpont 2005 Byzantine Textform, the Hodges-Farstad 1985 Majority Text, the Patriarchal Text of 1904/1912 are not mentioned in the Bibliography. So one can only assume when Varner refers to the Byzantine and Majority Texts he is referring to 𝔐 as found in NA27, which follows the change NA26 made from NA25, as NA28 (at least in the Catholic Epistles) has brought back a wider variety of symbols regarding the Byzantine and Majority Texts. (It must be noted that as I write this I am in Niverville, Manitoba and I only have with me NA26 and NA28; my copies of NA25 and NA27 are in Toronto, Ontario in my dorm room. I will be back in Toronto on Saturday to correct any mistakes I may have made regarding these symbols and to what they are referring.) Tangent to this is that many times his preference for the Alexandrian Text comes through at the expense of assuming certain things about Byzantine scribal practices as well as their knowledge of Greek grammar and syntax (pp. 273 & 306).

What is great about this book, for me, is that he utilizes the THGNT, he mentions the Orthodox order of the Catholic Epistles in the Πραξαπόστολος on p. 34 (which ironically all printed Orthodox Bibles I’ve seen in Koine Greek, Katharevousa, Modern Greek, and English no longer follow), refers to oral recitation (pp. 106, 318, 324), refers to the ancient pronunciation (p. 225) in a manner Orthodox would agree with, and throughout the whole commentary he makes numerous references to Homer, Plato, Aristotle, the LXX (however, contrary to pp. 379-380, 2 Maccabees is cononical, at least in Orthodox Christianity), Philo, Josephus, the Apostolic Fathers, Epictetus, and St. Bede. For these reasons, I would recommend all second-year Greek students who are genuine Koine Greek nerds buy this book, and I would add further that I truly feel this book would be much better as a book in Accordance or Verbum/Logos/Noet, it would open up a lot of the references for more in-depth personal study.

But I must close by relaying that by far my biggest problem with the book is pretty much the same problem I have with Koine Greek pedagogy in general. The book relies far too much on English translations of Greek texts for discussion of Greek grammar and syntax and that a plethora of quotes from Greek sources are given in translation. In a book titled as a commentary on the Greek text of James, I would expect there would be almost zero English translation. But the fact that English far outweighs the Greek in this book leads me to conclude that this book is better thought of as a commentary on the Epistle of St. James with reference to Greek, rather than as a commentary on the Greek text itself.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Todd Scacewater and Fontes Press for this opportunity and for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review.

View all my reviews


On Mastering Diachronic Greek: Three Recent Items of Interest

As someone who has become convinced that to even attempt mastery of any period of the Greek language, one must also study the period before and after, I have been following the recent discussion on the internet about Koine Greek closely. I obviously do not agree with any of the one articles totally, but at least there is a dialogue happening.

For the above reason, I figured I would post the links here, just in case any current readers are unaware of them, and for future readers to check them out. To elaborate on what I wrote above, I’m convinced that the best path of Greek study for Orthodox Christians is found below, and using the pronunciation that Greeks use—since it is their language and all (imagine if Western scholars told Native Americans how to pronounce Cree?).

Mycenaean Greek







Four Reasons to Master Koine (and to Leave Attic Alone)

Dethroning Grammar for Mastering Greek: A Rejoinder

On Mastering Koine Greek: A Response to Bohlinger and Nguyen

Ἵνα Denoting Content

A little while back as I was reading 1 John in Greek. Along with my reading, I was using Charles Lee Irons’ A Syntax Guide For Readers Of The Greek New Testament, which pointed me to pages 145-146 of C.F.D. Moule’s An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, which pointed me R.H. Kennett’s In Our Tongues (1907), Chapter 1.

It took me forever and the only place I found it was here. So, if you are ever looking for In Our Tongues, there you go.

How to Read Greek (and What to Read)

A funny thing is that Evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics who actually know some Greek (as opposed to the “codebreaker types within those religions) answer the question of how to improve one’s Greek with something along the lines of “Read, read, read; and then read some more.”

The Greek Orthodox Church in North America, on the other hand, will teach Neohellenic Greek in their Greek schools (to be fair, I’ve found three Greek parishes in all of North America that teach “New Testament Greek”) to keep the culture alive while the Orthodox Church in Greece commends ignorance of Koine as “Koine has contributed to the “mystery” of the liturgy” The Fathers of the Church would be livid, as anyone familiar with St. Basil can assure you.

Lets us of the Greek Orthodox tradition remember that all Greek—from Homeric to Attic to Hellenistic/Koine to Medæval/Byzantine to Katharevousa to Demotic to Neohellenic—are all very much and absolutely an inextricable part of our Modern Hellenic culture, but more importantly, a part of our Eastern Roman religious heritage.

With that said, here are some suggestions on how to improve one’s Greek that I’ve found helpful and of which I implement:

9 October 2012 – N.T. Wright on learning Greek, and a review of A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible by Zondervan

24 November 2012 – Do You Need to Speak Greek in Order to Read it?

1853? – The Greek of Homer a Living Language

11 December 2013 – Daily Greek Reading Setup

5 August 2015 – Keep Your Greek: Don’t Lose Your Vocabulary

17 September 2015 – 5 Ways to Improve Your Greek Speaking Skills

27 June 2017 – A Strategic Approach to Reading Background Texts of the New Testament (tangent to this is Increase Your Brain Power with Classics)

4 July 2017 – This Is Why You Should Study the Apocrypha Alongside the New Testament

6 July 2017 – Practice Greek Like a Master Violinist

Reading in 3s

This is excellent advice, and after reading this, I suggest reading this from The Patrologist as well. The comments especially, where it is asked of him, “Having finished elementary Greek, would you suggest any particular Greek grammars/authors? Just start reading Greek? Where should I begin in moving out to classical Greek?” To which he responds with,

“I’d say just get on with reading a lot of Greek, as much as possible. If you’ve finished elementary (NT) Greek, then start working at reading the New Testament, as much as possible. Start easy – John, Mark, and get to harder texts later. Try out Reading in Threes ( Then branch out to the Apostolic Fathers, they are a good bridge out of New Testament Greek.

At some point, depending on your goals, it’s worth branching into some Classical. In terms of texts, anything on Geoffrey Steadman’s site ( is great. A grammar is not a terrible idea, but for now I’d just say read, read, read.”


The Patrologist

This was mentioned to me by a student recently in a small group class that I am kind-of mentoring, and I think it’s worth adapting and sharing. The original idea, or at least where the student got it from, is Daniel Wallace, here. It’s the idea that you should translate each chapter of the New Testament three times, and rotate chapters in and out of rotation.

Now, I don’t really think you should be translating, I think you should be reading passages at a level you can comprehend with just a little bit of help. But I do think this idea has a lot of merit. Here’s how I’m implementing it in my own readings: the rule of 3s (see also Where Are Your Keys technique: Three Times)

So, say I’m reading a text, like Ørberg’s Roma Aeterna (which I happen to be. Everyone raves about the first book, Familia…

View original post 278 more words

Review: Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek

Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament GreekGreek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek by Benjamin L Merkle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent book to own for those who are either beginning their journey in Greek, have completed formal Greek schooling, and even for those who have lost what they once knew. For those who don’t know, one of the authors is Dr. Robert Plummer, the man behind The Daily Dose of Greek (which I suggest highly (except for the Erasmian pronunciation)).

Full of ideas, strategies, and anecdotes, one can’t help but be encouraged in one’s quest for Koine Greek acquisition. The book also has little boxed-quotes scattered along the text, and though these are Protestants, as far as what is quoted is related to the Greek texts of Scripture, the quotes are great and if anything that is said should make those Orthodox who decry the study of original languages blush with embarrassment.

I reccomend this book to all who thirst for the words of God and wish to meet them face-to-face rather than via “kissing the bride through a veil,” as I read recently; and especially for those few Orthodox Christians who love Koine Greek. The Church in modern times has placed such an emphasis on the vernacular. At the same time instead of translating from the Orthodox Greek New Testament into the speech of the people, we’ve been using Protestant English translations. Translated from the non-Orthodox critical text(s) of the Greek New Testament and Jewish Old Testament (the Orthodox Old Testament, for all Orthodox, is the Greek LXX, not the Jewish religion’s Hebrew text), these are inappropriate for Orthodox Christians.

I’ll conclude this review in two ways:

1.) For all: if you fall into any of the categories above, get this book.

2.) For Orthodox Christians: Keep in mind Question 1 from the “Confession of Dositheus” (Synod of Jerusalem, 1672), “Ought the Divine Scriptures to be read in the vulgar tongue by all Christians? No. For that all Scripture is divinely-inspired and profitable {cf. 2 Timothy 3:16} we know, and is of such necessity, that without the same it is impossible to be Orthodox at all. Nevertheless they should not be read by all, but only by those who with fitting research have inquired into the deep things of the Spirit, and who know in what manner the Divine Scriptures ought to be searched, and taught, and in fine read. But to such as are not so exercised, or who cannot distinguish, or who understand only literally, or in any other way contrary to Orthodoxy what is contained in the Scriptures, the Catholic Church, as knowing by experience the mischief arising therefrom, forbiddeth the reading of the same. So that it is permitted to every Orthodox to hear indeed the Scriptures, that he may believe with the heart unto righteousness, and confess with the mouth unto salvation; {Romans 10:10} but to read some parts of the Scriptures, and especially of the Old [Testament], is forbidden for the aforesaid reasons and others of the like sort. For it is the same thing thus to prohibit persons not exercised thereto reading all the Sacred Scriptures, as to require infants to abstain from strong meats.” Keeping the aforementioned in mind, now recall Josephus’ struggle, “…I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations….” (Antiquities of the Jews 20,11.2). Unfortunately, our “nation” doesn’t as well.

View all my reviews

Non-Lectionary Greek New Testament Reading Plans

4 Years – Master New Testament Greek Mastery Membership Program – Daryl Burling – Reader’s GNT

2 Years – Greek NT Two Year Calendar – Charles Lee Irons – UBS GNT: A Reader’s Edition, A Syntax Guide For Readers of the Greek New Testament by Charles Lee Irons, & BDAG

2 Years – Two Year Greek New Testament Reading Plan – Facebook Group – Any GNT (follows Charles Lee Irons’ 2 Year Plan)

1 Year – Greek New Testament Reading Plan – NT Greek Studies – UBS GNT: A Reader’s Edition & The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament by Cleon Rogers Jr. & Cleon Rogers III

1 Year – Greek NT One Year Calendar – Charles Lee Irons – UBS GNT: A Reader’s Edition, A Syntax Guide For Readers of the Greek New Testament by Charles Lee Irons, & BDAG

1 Year – Read through the Greek Gospels in 2018! – Accordance, a GNT, and Rod Decker’s Reading Koine Greek

260 Days – Reading through the Greek New Testament – Daniel Wallace – NA28 & A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament by Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller

6 Months – 6-Month New Testament Reading Plan – From, the new THGNT available there with many neat tools

28 Days – Reading through the Greek New Testament – Daniel Wallace – NA28 & A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament by Michael H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller

If any of my readers know of any plans I missed, send them my way. Thanks.

Free Bible Software for Greek

Without a doubt, I believe Accordance XII is the best. In fact, I was going to buy Logos 7, but due to their marketing and after more research, I bit the bullet and went with Accordance XII Koine Greek Expert.

If you don’t want to spend that much money (plus more for the Greek books included in Koine Greek Master that aren’t in Expert (to avoid buying Latin books)), one can download Logos 7 Basic, Verbum 7 Basic, Noet, and Logos 7 Academic Basic. Once all the apps—via your Faithlife account—sort out all the works that come with them, and your libraries indexed, you’ll have a lot to work with. Even more when you find relevant free books. From there you can build your library with books you actually want, instead of 4,000+ books you’ll never use.

And though I use Accordance, I do use “Logos 7 Basic/Verbum 7 Basic/Noet/Logos 7 Academic Basic” for books that Accordance, unfortunately, doesn’t have. But I must say, do not start using Bible software for Greek until you actually know Greek.

Any questions about which Greek books I have purchased from Faithlife I’ll gladly answer and would love to hear from anyone who uses any of the aforementioned Bible software programs.

Biblical Criticism, Biblical Studies, Exegesis, and Hermeneutics

Stuff I have actually read:

6 May 2014 – Is Orthodoxy Compatible with Modern, Biblical Criticism?

June 2017 – Figure It In by Michael C. Legaspi

10 July 2017 – The Corruption of Biblical Studies

Stuff I have yet to actually read:


1871 – The last twelve verses of the gospel according to S. Mark : vindicated against recent critical objectors and established by John William Burgon

1896 – The traditional text of the Holy Gospels vindicated and established by John William Burgon

1896 – The causes of the corruption of the traditional text of the Holy Gospels : being the sequel to The traditional text of the Holy Gospels by John William Burgon

1883 – A Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version by Philip Schaff – The second section of the first chapter is entitled “Three Elect Languages,” referring of course to Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. “While some of the Augustinian approach has been eroded by contemporary biblical criticism, its most fundamentalist ingredient has ironically survived as the foundation of that criticism. The fixation with scriptural words has been transformed into a fixation with the original languages of scripture, demonstrated especially through the preference for the Hebrew over the Greek Old Testament. In many respects, this preoccupation with the critical study of scripture in the original languages has reminded Romanides of the “three languages” heresy of the western middle ages which proclaimed that the true languages of theology could only be those of the cross’s superscription. But because the language of God is uncreated, the interpretation of scripture cannot reside with linguists but only with those who have experienced glorification.” – Andrew J. Sopko, Prophet of Roman Orthodoxy: The Theology of John Romanides

1908 – The Value of Byzantine and Modern Greek in Hellenic Studies

The Text Of New Testament 4th Edit