22 May 2008

Great news for Greekers: Alford gets Logosized

by Dan Phillips

As I preached through New Testament books, I always worked directly with the Greek text (duh — or should-be-"duh"), and I always consulted Henry Alford.

Henry Alford (1810-1871) was a remarkable scholar. He was "one of the most variously-accomplished churchmen of his day -- poet, preacher, painter, musician, biblical scholar, critic, and philologist." Though not exactly where I am doctrinally, he was a lover of the Word, and a meticulous student and scholar of the original text. To consider the massive amount of information that Alford amassed, examined and provided, in the age before computers, photocopiers, or even electric typewriters... it's staggering, simply staggering.

But that was Alford. For instance: what were you doing when you were six? I was watching cartoons. Henry Alford was writing The Travels of St. Paul, and a collection of Latin odes. Further, when Alford
...was scarcely nine he had compiled, in the straggling characters of a schoolboy, a compendious History of the Jews; besides drawing out a chronological scheme in which were tabulated the events of the Old Testament. Prior to the completion of his tenth year he actually produced a series of terse sermons or laconically outlined homilies, the significant title of which was Looking unto Jesus.
Unsurprisingly, Alford was made a fellow at Trinity College when he was twenty-four.

Nor was he merely an arid academic. When he was sixteen, Alford wrote in his Bible, "I do this day, as in the presence of God and my own soul, renew my covenant with God, and solemnly determine henceforth to become His, and to do His work as far as in me lies." He was known for his consistent and holy life, as well as his likable, friendly way of dealing with people.

When he was engaged to be married, he decided it would help his bride-to-be if she, too, knew Greek.

So he wrote a 60-page grammar for her.

Alford was quite the polymath. In addition to being a master of Greek, he penned a number of hymns. We read that Alford
would turn with zest, after hours of severe study given to the collation of a Hebrew manuscript or to the examination of the exegetical subtleties of a German commentator on the Greek Testament, to doctoring the hall clock and making it strike the half-hours, to tuning the piano in the drawing-room, or to playing games with his children in the nursery. The wooden front of the organ (which instrument he could play with the hand of a master) was carved according to his own ingenious design and by his own dexterous chiseling.
The grand literary opus that concerns us is
Alford's Greek Testament (1849-1861). As I said, it's a work of immense thought and study. I still find it highly useful. Much more impressively, when asked who he characteristically turns to for help in the Greek text, I was pleased to hear John Piper answer, "Henry Alford" (still trying to source that quotation).

[UPDATE: Phil Gons found the quotation, thanks to a suggestion by Pilgrim Mommy. It was after Piper's lecture on John Owen. Piper says:

When I’m stumped with a . . . grammatical or syntactical or logical flow [question] in Paul, I go to Henry Alford. Henry Alford mostly answers—he . . . comes closer more consistently than any other human commentator to asking my kinds of questions. (John Piper, “John Owen: The Chief Design of My Life—Mortification and Universal Holiness,” 1:30:11–1:30:31).

Now that Phil found the quotation, I remember agreeing with Piper: Alford asks my kind of questions, too.]

I found Alford to be a sound, sane commentator. What I found particularly valuable — even if I didn't end up agreeing with him specifically — was Alford's way of weighing competing interpretations. Alford had the broad grasp of Greek to be able to say, "If Paul had meant to say that, he would have written ___, or ___." He really wrestled with the Greek text as given, and forced me to enter into the writer's mind and thought-processes in choosing how to express himself. Understand the author, and you understand the voice of God. I found Alford useful to that end.

All that being the case, since Alford had (surprisingly) never yet been issued in electronic form, I recommended to the Logos Bible software folks that they consider it. I was delighted when they immediately responded by looking into the project — and now it's under way!

At present Alford's Greek Testament is in pre-production, during which time interested parties pre-order. This assures Logos that the considerable cost of production will be covered by purchases.

I slammed in my order as soon as I got the notice.

Thought at least some of you might want to know. If you're interested, go for it!

(Hmm... wonder who ordered first: Piper, or me?)

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

I realize this won't "jazz" everybody. It "jazzes" me, and sharing what "jazzes" you is one function of blogging.

For others, hopefully learning about Alford is interesting. I truly marvel at folks like him and Westcott and others, who had what we would think of as such disadvantages technologically, yet were such towering scholars, and produced work from which we still benefit. What would the Alfords, Robertsons, Westcotts, Hodges, Lightfoots, Eadies and others accomplish with today's tools?

donsands said...

Very encouraging to hear. Incredible really, what he accomplished as a kid. The word kid doesn't seem to fit him.
Thanks for the interesting post. I'll be talking about this christian man in the future.

DJP said...

Part of it may be that Alford's mother died giving him birth, so he was raised by his scholarly pastor father.

steve said...

That made for some fascinating (and convicting) reading. Alford made the most of his time--starting pretty young, at that.

Thanks, Dan.

Phil Johnson said...

In a somewhat related bit of news, Logos (which is my number-one choice out of five Bible software programs I use) is also porting their software to Mac's OS X platform. Can't wait for that.

Ben said...

Which side of the theological divide did Alford come down on the most?

Also, are there any modern Greek NT that you would recommend?

DJP said...

His theory of inspiration was other than plenary, verbal inspiration. But in practice, that made little difference for the most part: he affirmed ascribed authorship of all the NT books, and did close and careful exegesis about as diligently as any inerrantist would.

"Also, are there any modern Greek NT that you would recommend?"

Not sure what you're asking. Clarify, please?

Ben said...

Anyone today that you would recommend if one wants to read good Greek exegesis? Seems that all the great ones are from a bygone era. I'm looking for a verse by verse Greek study of the NT and wonder if there is a current book out that you would recoomend for that.


DJP said...

Well, I'd answer as I always have with such questions: on what? I don't know any one commentator who's done the whole Gk NT recently, as Alford did.

I mean, Cranfield's great on Romans, though I don't always agree with his conclusions; so is Moo. Peter T. O'Brien is great on Colossians, Knight on the Pastorals... depends on the book.

Tangential: one of the most beautiful pieces of exegetical/theological work I've ever had the pleasure of reading was S. Lewis Johnson on Romans 5:12f, in Tenney's New Dimensions in New Testament Study. Worth the price of the book, all by itself.

Joel Conley said...

That's quite a bit out of my budget. I do appreciate them adding cool works to the Logos library. I own a few volumes of Alford's Greek new Testament. I do think that their price it a bit high. I did a search on google books and Alford's GNT seems to be out of copyright, in the public domain, and available as a downloadable PDF on google books. For those who can't afford this in Logos and who can manage with out the easy logos search capabilities... getting it on google books seems like a good legal (it appears to me) alternative

Joel Conley said...

A cheap one volume exegetical tool you might want to look into is "The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament" by Rogers and Rogers. It's not too in depth, but gives a good quick overview of the Exegesis of the whole NT. I use and love my copy.

Solameanie said...

In other words, Alford was a true Luddite, as I am. He is a classic example that we don't need computers, cellphones, fax machines and a host of other modern nuisances. Jacques Ellul was right. Technology is a curse from the pit of, well..you know.

Give me a Royal manual typewriter, and I'd be the happiest boy in the whole USA (with apologies to Donna Fargo).

Joshing aside, when you look at the prolific work of men such as Alford, it makes you wonder whether someone today would be capable of such a thing. Our attention spans are so short, and much of today's generation would have a hard time reading Dick and Jane, much less finding Los Angeles on a map of California.

Solameanie said...

Okay, I stretched the Luddite thing a bit for comedic affect. But Dan, if Alford was around today, I do have to wonder if he would be capable of being so prolific, assuming he had come up within today's cultural atmosphere, and was not merely transported into modern times.

Unknown said...

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Rob Hughes said...

You know, it's funny, secular humanism and evolutionary thought says that we are getter bigger and better and stronger and that people of years ago were no where near as smart as we are today, or will be tomorrow. Hmmmm, maybe they should spend some time getting to know Henry Alford.

Ben said...


Thanks for the info and for leading me to Alford. I was asking if anyone now had done a complete GK NT and it appears that no one has. Sad if you think about it, all the resources and knowledge that this time has at its disposal and not one person sees it worthy to write a GK NT.


DJP said...

Ben, I think that's partly a reflection of this age of specialization. A century ago, you went to a doctor, period. Now you go to a left-nostril specialist; if it migrates to your right nostril, you get a referral.

It was similar in Biblical studies. Read Milton Terry's Biblical Hermeneutics, his section on the requirements for an interpreter (around page 20's). If you know anything about Biblical studies, you'll just laugh. No mere mortal could meet the requirements.

So everyone specializes today, or he's not considered fully academic. FF Bruce was a rarity, and last of a dying breed, in that he wrote on all sorts of areas, OT and NT. But he was known as an NT scholar, and more particularly a Pauline scholar. DA Carson today is very impressively wide-read and a polymath, but known primarily as an NT scholar.

All that to say that one man writing a credible commentary series on the entire Greek NT of the relative breadth and depth of Alford today... doable, but unlikely.

steve said...

DJP wrote: A century ago, you went to a doctor, period. Now you go to a left-nostril specialist; if it migrates to your right nostril, you get a referral.

That made me chuckle.

Well said.

Phil Gons said...

Hey, Dan,

Here's the Piper quote with source: http://philgons.com/2008/05/when-im-stumped-i-go-to-henry-alford/.

Thanks for your help.

Chris Roberts said...

Come on... preorder! Preorder! The little bar is plugging along, but still has a little bit to go... I was really wanting to look at Alford on a text for tomorrow but he is not yet available to me.

steveprost said...

I just preordered... we have to be getting close on this.

DJP said...

Good for you, Steve. It is getting close!

steveprost said...

It is now "under development"... www.logos.com/products/prepub/details/4168
... anyone have any idea by experience or otherwise about how long it takes for Logos to get something this size knocked out? Weeks? A few months? Year/s? Just curious.

Phil Gons said...

Steve, I checked and we're still at least a few months out. Anchor Yale Bible is on the front burner right now.