A.T. Robertson’s most influential academic accomplishment was the publication of his Grammar of the Greek New Testament in 1914. This work elevated his scholarly reputation around the world and established him as a perennial authority for the study of biblical Greek. Totaling over 1,300 pages, the book was an impressive magnum opus, but it would never have come into existence apart from great personal struggle.
The dream of a new grammar of the Greek New Testament began with John A. Broadus, one of the seminary’s founders and Robertson’s father-in-law. Broadus’ initial goal was to recruit Robertson to help him revise George Winer’s 1825 grammar, but Robertson recognized even a substantial revision would be an insufficient solution. The world needed an entirely new work, and Broadus blessed Robertson’s effort to fill the gap.
Robertson composed the entire manuscript by hand, resulting in a three-foot-tall stack of manuscripts. Robertson possessed notoriously messy handwriting, making his manuscripts exceedingly difficult to decipher. This problem was compounded by the fact that the nature of the project included a plethora of ancient Greek terms unfamiliar to potential publishers who did not share his detailed understanding of the biblical languages. Considering the uncertainty as to whether so technical a book would sell well and the added difficulty of typesetting the work, Robertson’s masterpiece sat dormant for nearly two years and was at risk of floundering in unpublished obscurity.
Eventually, Robertson found a New York-based publisher willing to take the financial plunge but only upon the condition that Robertson himself would raise endowment for the typesetting plates. Robertson soon discovered this process would entail a titanic personal cost, one beyond his initial estimations. After accounting for corrections and multiple type resets, the total charges approached $10,000. Determined to share his creation with the world, he set to work raising capital anywhere money could be found. He implored bank presidents and wealthy friends to join a coalition of patrons to endow the project. He even borrowed on the full value of his life insurance policy. Robertson reportedly became so frustrated at the growing expenses and frustration that he wished his unpublished Grammar sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Coming to Robertson’s rescue was the Norton family, as several members shared Robertson’s Baptist convictions and possessed both wealth and a philanthropic spirit. Southern Seminary trustee George W. Norton Jr., together with his sisters Lucie and Mattie, happily wrote Robertson a $1,500 check once they understood his need to endow the Grammar’s plates. With the cooperation of President E.Y. Mullins, the seminary also advocated on Robertson’s behalf, encouraging donors to help bring the Grammar to print, and created a faculty publishing fund. Additionally, Robertson’s publisher encouraged him to make a strong appeal to ministers to order advance subscriptions of the Grammar at “the very low selling price” of $5 per copy (approximately $120 by contemporary standards).
All the perseverance paid off once Robertson’s Grammar finally saw print on June 12, 1914, nearly 400 years after the initial publication of Erasmus’ historic Greek New Testament. It received high critical praise and enduring popular success, setting a new standard for the study of biblical Greek in the 20th century. The first edition nearly sold out by the end of the year, and over the next nine years it was continuously re-released through four editions.
In addition to the A. T. Robertson Papers, visitors to the SBTS Archives & Special Collections are invited to view Robertson’s original handwritten manuscripts and a first edition copy of Robertson’s Grammar which he personally signed for the Lucie and Mattie Norton.
¹Everett Gill, A. T. Robertson: A Biography (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1943), 161 – 62.
²Gill, A. T. Robertson: A Biography, 161.
³Walter Petersen to A. T. Robertson, June 11, 1914, A. T. Robertson Papers, Box 3. SBTS Archives & Special Collections.
4S. S. Broadus to A. T. Robertson, October 27, 1913, Robertson Papers, SBTS. W. C. Bittiny to A. T. Robertson, November 13, 1913, Robertson Papers, SBTS.
5Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859 – 2009 (Oxford University Press, 2009), 269.
6Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 269.