Monday, April 29, 2013

Koine Greek, Classical Greek and the language of the New Testament

Classical Greek and Koine Greek

All Greek scholars do not agree on how much the same, or how different, are what is called Koine Greek and Classical Greek. There does seem to be general agreement that Koine chronologically followed Classical through the spreading conquests of Alexander the Great. It became a lingua franca (a working language or unifying language) of the empire. It developed into the standard language of commerce and government, and was the language of communication of the people (who often spoke it as a second language).

A. T. Robertson characterized Koine as more practical than academic, the language of life and not of books. He also writes:
"To all intents and purposes the vernacular Koine is the later vernacular Attic with normal development under historical environment created by Alexander's conquests. On this base then were deposited varied influences from the other dialects, but not enough to change the essential Attic character of the language." (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 71).

Critiquing an argument by R.C.H. Lenski in Matthew 28:1, Robert Dean Luginbill, Department of Classical and Modern Languages at the University of Louisville, writes, "...basing any sort of biblical argument on the premise 'but this is koine Greek, not classical Greek' is very wrong-headed." Some of his further explanation includes:

"But there is not enough difference between Homeric Greek, Classical Greek, Hellenistic Greek, and Koine Greek to be worth mentioning (except to say that Homer is all poetry, and poetry is of a different diction in all ages and languages)...It's a real misconception to believe that there is any significant difference between these 'dialects'. As I explain to my students, if they think that there is enough difference between British English and American English to call them 'dialects', then terms like 'Classical' and 'Koine' make sense. These terms really have more to do with style than anything else. Paul quotes several Classical poets (Aratus and Menander) in his epistles, and paraphrases Homer in Acts 17; he surely didn't think that this would cause his readers to go running to a lexicon. All Greek is accessible to all Greek speakers from about 800 B.C. to 800 A.D.

"The meanings of words do have a tendency to change over time. We see this in English. What Washington meant by the word 'gay' is not necessarily what we mean today. That doesn't mean George couldn't read the newspaper tomorrow morning or that we can't read the Federalist papers. And Greek is much more conservative in its shifts than English."

The language style of the New Testament

Koine Greek, including the books of the New Testament display a diversity of styles, making it hard to claim there is some basic "revelatory pattern" of writing styles.

F. F. Bruce:
"Paul, we may say, comes roughly half-way between the vernacular and more literary styles. The Epistle to the Hebrews and the First Epistle of Peter are true literary works, and much of their vocabulary is to be understood by the aid of a classical lexicon rather than one which draws upon non-literary sources. The Gospels contain more really vernacular Greek, as we might expect, since they report so much conversation by ordinary people. This is true even of Luke's Gospel. Luke himself was master of a fine literary literary style, as appears from the first four verses of his Gospel, but in both Gospel and Acts he adapts his style to the characters and scenes that he portrays" (The Books and the Parchments, pp.55-56).

New Bible Dictionary:
"The language in which the New Testament documents have been preserved is the 'common Greek' (koine), which was the lingua franca of the Near Eastern and Mediterranean lands in Roman times." (p.713).

"Having thus summarized the general characteristics of New Testament Greek, we may give a brief characterization of each individual author. Mark is written in the Greek of the common man. ...Matthew and Luke each utilize the Markan text, but each corrects his solecisims, and prunes his style... Matthew's own style is less distinguished than that of Luke -- he writes a grammatical Greek, sober but cultivated, yet with some marked Septuagintalisms; Luke is capable of achieving momentarily great heights of style in the Attic tradition, but lacks the power to sustain these; he lapses at length back to the style of his sources or to a very humble koine. ..."Paul writes a forceful Greek,with noticeable developments in style between his earliest andhis latest Epistles...James and I Peter both show close acquaintance with classical style, although in the former some very 'Jewish' Greek may also be seen.The Johannine Epistles are closely similar to the Gospels in language...Jude and II Peter both display a highly tortuous an involved Greek...The Apocalypse, as we have indicated, is sui generis* in language and style: its vigour, power, and success, though a tour de force, cannot be denied." (p.715-716).

Roger Hahn claims "Some of the most sophisticated Greek to be found in the New Testament is in the book of Hebrews."

"Most NT writings fit the conversational category, though there are some that lean toward either end of the spectrum. The 'mainline' group is represented by (most of) Paul and Matthew. On the edge of conversational, but leaning toward vernacular are Revelation, Mark, John, and 2 Peter. On the other side, leaning toward literary, are Hebrews, Luke-Acts, James, Pastorals, 1 Peter, and Jude." -- Rodney J. Decker, Assistant Professor of Greek and Theology at Calvary Theological Seminary in Kansas City

* Unique

No comments: