Prepositions and Theology In The Greek New Testament

December 13, 2012 — Leave a comment


Murray J. Harris is professor emeritus of New Testament exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Before that, he was Warden of Tyndale House, which if you didn’t know (and it’s ok if you didn’t) is a biblical research library in Cambridge, England (I think they need an Orlando extension campus). Despite all that, he is presently chillin in New Zealand, writing books like Prepositions and Theology In The Greek NT: An Essential Resource For Exegesis (and I suppose flying stateside for the occassional intensive class at TEDS).


Though much of this present work appeared in an earlier, lengthy appendix in volume 3 of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (or as the cool kids call it, NIDNT). However, Harris wants us to know that the publishers didn’t just perform and appendectomy and repackage the appendix for publication on its own. Rather, several important differences set this new book apart (13-14):

  • All of the 17 NT “proper” prepositions are dealt with
  • There are many more verses of significance discussed under each of these prepositions
  • There is a discussion of key repeated phrases that use a particular preposition
  • All 42 “improper” prepositions are briefly treated, with a detailed consideration of seven theologically significant occurrences
  • A classification of the use of prepositions in compound words is included
  • The layout is more user-friendly and a Greek font is used

I’ll come back to the layout in the next section, but in the meantime, I think Harris is right when he tells us that there are four big areas that payoff after given detailed special consideration (the aorist, the genitive, the article, and the preposition). This book takes up that later topic and gives a most thorough examination of the topic.

Before looking at each of the 17 proper prepositions in detail, Harris offers 3 chapters to set the context. First, we get an grammatical introduction to the place prepositions occupy in the Greek language. Then, we get a little more narrow by focusing in chapter two on the distinctive features prepositions have in the New Testament. Finally, before the study gets underway, Harris devotes a brief chapter to the dangers that will need to be avoided as we push forward. Because I know you’re curious they are (39-44):

  • Insisting on classical Greek distinctions
  • Failure to make allowance for a writer’s stylistic variations
  • Disregarding probable distinctions
  • Denying double entendre
  • Neglecting the possible significance of items with prepositions

From here, Harrris is ready to guide preposition by prepositions, working his way in alphabetical order through all 17. Though each chapter does not follow a uniform format, the general flow looks something like this:

  • Basic meaning of the preposition
  • Distinction from related prepositions
  • Notable instances of main uses
  • The preposition in compounds

After covering all 17, Harris takes two chapters to look at prepositions with the verb “to baptize” and then prepositions with “faith” and “believe.” Finally, he wraps with two chapters on improper prepositions. The first catalogues how we classify them as improper, what the improper Hellenistic prepositions were, and then all 42 instances in the NT. The final chapter selects six examples to explain further their exegetical and theological siginificance. And then, we are just left to the indexes.


As devotional bed time reading, this book misses the mark (unless you’re trying to help your wife get to sleep). But, thankfully as a resource for serious students of New Testament exegesis, this book fills a much need niche. Harris devotes about 10 pages to each preposition which means he is offering considerable more space than Wallace in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (or just Wallace as the cool kids call it), which is the standard 3 semester Greek textbook. Wallace merely chronicles the different prepositions and bullet points the different senses they may have. Only occasionally does Wallace take a theological rabbit trail. However, Harris gives much more detail to the meanings as well as having an explicit focus on explaining the theological significance.

The only downside to this book, and it really isn’t a downside considering its status as reference work, is that it isn’t a smooth read. I’d hate to see the less user friendly layout. The present work is not that bad, but it more like an expanded outline than a prose treatise on prepositions. That in and of itself is not a downside, but just something you should be aware of lest you read my review and think you’re getting a fireside reading volume when you pick this up.


At the end of the day though, I would readily give a hearty recommendation to Prepositions and Theology In The Greek NT, provided you are the kind of person who a) like theology and b) really likes prepositions. This book isn’t a sit down and read straight through kind of affair. I mean, I suppose you could, but it’s more of an on the shelf resource for you to consult when the time is right (you’re knee deep in exegesis and prepositions are taunting you). But, as a resource, Harris has done as a great service by revising his previously published appendix into a stand alone work showing how even small details like prepositions in Greek grammar can offer huge theological dividends if you’re willing to slown and take the time to spot them.

Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology In The Greek NT: An Essential Resource For Exegesis. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, October, 2012. 384 pp. Hardcover, $42.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan Academic for the review copy!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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