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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Greek Language, Biblical Relations of the

In treating of the peculiarities of the Greek found in the Sept. and N.T., we here substantially adopt Dr. Donaldson's article in Kitto's Cyclopadia, s.v. The affinities between the Greek and the other branches of the Indo- Germanic family are copiously drawn out by Bopp, Comparative Grammar, etc. (Lond. 1860, 3 volumes, 8vo, 2d edit. trans. by Eastwick from the Germ.). For its coincidences with the Hebrew, (See PHILOLOGY, COMPARATIVE).

I. Historical Character. There has been much discussion as to the peculiar nature of the language used by the Septuagint translators and by the writers of the N.T. It would be useless to attempt to give an account of these discussions in this article. We shall simply indicate the main facts which have come out in the course of investigation, stating at the same time the theory which seems to account most satisfactorily for the peculiarities of Greek which these writings present.

In the earliest stages of a language the dialects are exceedingly numerous, every small district having peculiar variations of its own. Such we find to have been the case with Greek; for, though its dialects have generally been reckoned as four, we know that each of these was variously modified in various places. In course of time, however, sone of these dialects, the Attic, drove the rest from the field of literary composition, and almost all Greeks who wrote books wrote in that dialect, wherever they might have been born. The Attic which they used underwent some changes, and then received the name aof the κοινή or comm dialect. This dialect has been used by Greeks for literary purposes from the time of Alexander the Great down to the present age.

While Attic thus became the literary language, the various communities spoke Greek as they had learned it from their parents and teachers. This spoken Greek would necessarily differ in different places, and it would gradually become very different from the stationary language which was used in writings. Now it seems that the language used by the Sept. and N.T. writers was the language used in common conversation, learned by them, not through books, but most likely in childhood from household talk, or if not, through subsequent oral instruction. If this be the case, then the Sept. is the first translation which was made for the great masses of thee people in their own language, and the N.T. writers are the first to appeal to men through the common vulgar language intelligible to all who spoke Greek. .The common Greek thus used was, however, considerably modified by the circumstances of the writers.; sand hence: some have, but rather unnecessarily, termed the Greek in question the Hebraistic or Hellenistic dialect. (See HELLENIST).

II. Inflections. Max Mü ller justly affirms that the grammar of a language is the most essential element, and therefore the ground of classification in, all languages which have produced a definite grammatical articulation" (Lectures on the Science of Language, page 74). Now the grammar of the Sept. and N.T., in very many of its departures from the common dialect, approximates to the medimeval Greek of Ptochoprodroms in the 12th century, and to the modern Greek of the present day, both of which are simply the language of the common people, as debased by time and vulgar usage. Thus the N.T. and modern Greek have no dual. In their declension of nouns we find a mixture of dialects, such as, for instance, a in the genitive singular of proper names in ας; and ης in the genitive, and in the dative, of nouns in ρα (σπείρης, Acts 27:1; μαχαίρῃ, Revelation 13:10, etc.). There is in both a change from the second to the third declension in the words voft νοῦς, σκότος, ἔλεος, and πλρῦτος . The N.T. however, declines some of them occasionally as of the second declension. Both display great peculiarities in the forms for the comparative and superlative of aadjectives, such, for instance, as μειζοτέραν , 3 John 1:4. In modern Greek the optative mood is rare, and occurs only in wishes., It is rare also in the N.T., and in some of the books it does not occur at all. The modern Greek declines the second aorist as the first. This is the case frequently in the N.T. also, as ἔπεσα for ἔπεσον . The N.T. sometimes forms the imeperatime by means of ἀφίημι, as ἄφες ἐκβάλω, ἄφες ἴδωμεν . This is now the common form in modern Greek, ἄφες being contracted into ἄς . The second person singular in the present passive or middle ends (in modern Greek in the regular σαι; so in the N.T. καυχᾶσαι and δύνασαι. The third person plural of the imperfect active of contracted verbs in modern Greek ends in σαν; so in Sept. and N.T. ἐδολιοῦσαν . There is a striking similarity in the conjugation of verbs in both. Both have a tendency to form all the parts regularly. Both also deal arbitrarily with augments. Both avoid the use of verbs in μι, and both generally strengthen pure verbs by the insertion of a ν . Someti mes they change the vowel ε into α, as ἐλεᾶτε , in Judges 1:23 (see Cremer, s.v. ἐλεέα ). Instances of several of these peculiarities may be found in our texts of the classical writers, and a still larger number in our manuscripts of them; but it is to be noted that in them they appear as rarities; in the New Testament their occurrence is more frequent, and in modern Greek they have passed into customary forms. Some of these forms have been set down as Alexandrian or Macedonian, but Sturz (De Dialecto Macedonica et Alexandrina, Lipsiae, 1808) has entirely failed to prove that there was either a Macedonian or an Alexandrian dialect. The Macedonian words which he has adduced indicate that the Macedonians were non-Hellenic. There are no forms ad-duced as Alexandrian which are not to be found in some earlier dialect. In fact, there is nothing in any of the statements to which he appeals to contradict the opinion that Alexandrians, like other Greek-speaking people, mixed up various dialects in their spoken language. The written language of the Alexandrians, as we know from the works of Philo and other residents in Alexandria, was the so-called "common dialect." Moreover, the Greek of the New Testament is to be found not in writings of any special locality, but in writings which made no pretensions to literary excellence, such as the fragments of Hegesippus, some of the apocryphal gospels, the apostolical constitutions, the liturgies, the Chronicon Paschale, and Malelas.

III. Syntax. Here the peculiar elements that mixed themselves with the common spoken language in the N.T. writings make their appearance. The Hebrew element especially is noteworthy. The translators of the Septuagint went on the principle of translating as literally as possible, and consequently the form of the sentences is essentially Hebrew. Some of the writers of the N.T. were themselves. Jews, or derived part of their information from Jews, and accordingly the form of portions of their writings, particularly in narrative, is influenced by Hebrew modes. At the same time, too much stress is not to be laid on this Hebrew influence, for the writers appear sometimes to differ from the classical types, not because they were Jews, but because they were simple plainspeaking (τὴν γλῶτταν ἰδιωτεύοντες, Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3:24) men, who cared little about rounded sentences. The Hebrew element shows itself in particular phrases and constructions, as in ποιεῖν ἔλεος μετά τινος; but the amount of this Hebrew element is not so great as it has often been supposed to be, and in some of the N.T. writers it is scarcely noticeable at all. Generally speaking, the syntax, like the grammar, has a tendency towards modern Greek. It has, like it, frequent recourse to the use of prepositions, and we find such expressions even as δόντα εἰς ὑμᾶς (1 Thessalonians 4:8). After the comparative παρά is frequently used instead of in the N.T.; in modern Greek it is always employed. On account of the rareness of the optative, and an avoidance of the infinitive by some of the writers, both the N.T. and modern Greek abound in the use of ϊνα with the subjunctive, and .sometimes even with the indicative, as in Revelations. The neuter plural is more regularly joined with a plural verb in N.T. Greek; it is always joined with it in modern Greek. Many other peculiarities in which the;syntax and inflections of the N.T. and those of modern Greek agree might be noted. For the use of the Greek article, (See ARTICLE).

IV. Vocabulary. The words used by the N.T. writers show a still greater variety of elements.

1. Here we notice distinctly, also, the tendency towards the modern language, as, for instance, in the use of χορτάζω, to feed men, in the frequent employment of diminutives, in attaching a weakened senseto words like βάλλω , which had originally the idea of vigor in them. and in a variety of adverbs and conjunctions rarely used by the classical writers. Some of these peculiar uses have been assigned to the supposed Alexandrian dialect; but in the discussions no attempt has been made to distinguish between what may have been pure Alexandrianisms, and what may have been common in Greek conversation, though not in Greek writings.

2. In the words we find a Latin element, as might be expected. The Latin words used in the N.T. are not very numerous, but they show plainly that the writers had no other desire than to call things by their common names. They do not translate them into Greek, as a scholar of those days or an imitator of Attic writings.would have done. We find a few Greek phrases in the N.T. which have evidently been translated from Latin, such as συμβούλιον λσβεῖν consilium capere.

3. There are also several Aramaic words used in the N.T., especially by Christ. Most of these words and expressions are of a peculiar nature. They are almost all of them utterances employed on some solemn occasion. They were at one time appealed to as proof that Jesus regularly used the Aramaic in his addresses to the people; but they have recently been adduced, and with considerable force, to prove exactly the contrary, that Jesus frequently used the Greek language in his public conversations as being more intelligible to all, but that, when powerfully moved. or deeply touched, he employed Aramaic words, as being more expressive from their associations (Roberts, Discussions on the Gospels, part 1, chapter 4). Besides this, the Hebrew or Aramaic has exercised an influence on the meanings of some Greek words, as, for instance, in the use of ὀφείλημα for a sin. In several instances, however, where this Hebrew influence has been set down as existing, a more satisfactory explanation is given in another way. Thus δικαιοσύνη is taken by some to mean liberality in 2 Corinthians 9:9-10, because they suppose that צְדָקָת has this meaning in Psalms 112:9, where the Sept. translates δικαιοσύνη. In both cases it may be doubted whether δικαιοσύνη ought to receive this meaning, and unquestionably in the second Epistle to the Corinthians it is much simpler to suppose that Paul looks on liberality as an essential part of righteousness, and righteousness therefore as including liberality.

4. There is also another element in the vocabulary of a peculiar nature. This arises from the novelty of the teachings combined with their exalted morality. The new thoughts demanded new modes of expression, and hence the writers did not hesitate to use words in senses rare, if not entirely unknown to the classical writers. This fact could not be fully illustrated without exhibiting the results of investigation into various characteristic words, such as μυστήριον, δίκαιος, δικαιοσύνη, δικαιόω, πίστις, ζωή, θάνατος, δόξα, δοξάζω, ὀργή , etc. These results seem to us to form no inconsiderable addition to the proof of the divinity of Christianity, for the grand moral ideas that were expressed by some of them are unique in the age in which they were uttered. Thus the word is frequently used to denote an entire and absolute consecration of soul, body, and spirit to God, for it is this entire consecration which they look upon as the life-principle of man. Living, with them, if it be not living to God in Christ, is not living at all, but death; and a death which works not merely in the soul, but also in the body. Plato and the Stoics had something like this notion of ζωή, but with them it was a speculation. They are continually reasoning about it.

The writers of the N.T. treat it as an unquestionable realized fact. So, again, δόξα means glory; but the writers of the N.T. separate from it every notion of material splendor or earthly renown, and use it to denote that spiritual irradiation of the whole man which takes place when God reigns in him, when the image of God is realized in him. Thus we come short of God's glory when we fail to present the purity and holiness of his character and image in our characters. Thus the δόξα of the N.T. is purely spiritual and moral. Then, again, it is remarkable how, in the case of words like ὕδωρ, λουτρόν and βαπτίζω, the material meaning often vanishes entirely out of sight, and the writers express by them the spiritually purifying power of Christ, which really and entirely cleanses both soul and body (Alexander, Anglo-Catholicism not Apostolical, page 293). The moral fervor of the writers is also seen in their omission of certain words. Thus the sensuous ἐρᾶν is never used to express the idea which they had of love. The words εὐδαίμων and εὐτυχής are also unknown to the N.T., and, indeed, the writers do not use any word to express mere happiness: μακάριος is used several times to denote something more than mere earthly felicity. They avoid all words connected with mythology, such as the compounds of δαίμων, which, with its diminutive, is used in a peculiarly Jewish and Christian sense. The writers of the N.T. are also remarkable for confining a word to one meaning. Thus μετάνοια is a turning of the whole soul from evil to good, and no other compound with μετά is used in the same sense, while Justin Martyr uses μετάνοια as a change from good to evil as well as from evil to good, and he employs μεταγιγνώσκω and μετατίθεσθαι, as well as μετανοέω, for the same idea.

V. Literature. The works on the subject of this article are very numerous. Many of them are enumerated and criticized in Winer's Grammatik des Neutestamentlichen Sprachidioms (5th ed. Leipz. 1844, 8vo); and Schirlitns Grundzuge der Neutestamentlichen Grä citä t (Giessen, 1861, 8mo); see also Lipsius, Biblische Gracitat (Lpz. 1863, 8vo). Much information will be found in works that discuss later Greek, such as Labeck's Phrynichus, and Jacobs's Achilles Tatius, and especially in a Glossary of Later and Byzantine Greek, by E.A. Sophocles, published as vol. ii, new series, of the Memoirs of the American Academy (Cambridge and Boaton, 1860, 4to). Much interesting and instructive matter is also to be found in the glossaries and articles given in the Pandora, a fortnightly periodical published in Athens.

The best GRAMMARS of the N.T., next the above work of Winer (of which the fourth ed., Leipzig, 1836, was translated by Agnew and Ebbeke, Philadelphia, 1840, 8vo; and the 6th ed., Lpz. 1855, by Masson, London, 1855, 8vo; revised and compared with the 7th ed. by Thayer, Andover, 1869, 8vo), are those of Stuart (Andov. 1841, 8mo), and Trollope (Lond. 1841, 8vo). The doctrine of the article has been especially discussed by Sharp (list ed. Lond. 1798, 12mo) and Middleton (list ed. Lond. 1808, 8vo). The synonymes have been well treated by Tittmans (Lips. 1829-32, 2 volumes, 8vo; tr. in the Bibl. Cabinet, Edinb. 1833-37, 2 volumes, 12mo), Trench London, 1854, N.Y. 1857, 12mo), and Webster (Lond. 1864, 8vo). Grinfield's Nov. Test. Hellenisticum (Lond. 1843, 2 volumes, 8vo) contains an ample collation of the N.T. phraseology with that of the Sept., which his Scholia Hellenistica (Lond. 1848, 2 volumes, 8vo) extends to a comparison with Josephus, Philo, the fathers, and apocryphal works. The best LEXICONS of the N.T. Greek are those of Parkhurst (ed..Rose, London, 1829, 8vo), Pasor (ed. Fischer, Lips. 1774, 8vo), Schottgen (ed. Krebs et Spohn, Hal. 1819, 8vo), Simonis (including the Sept., Hal. 1762, 4to), Schleusner (4th ed. Lips. 1819, 4 volumes, 8vo), Bretschneider (2d ed. Lips. 1829, 2 volumes, 8vo), and Wael (2d ed. Lips. 1829, 2 volumes, 8vo), remodelled by Dr. Robinsons (N.Y. 1850, 8vo). The latest are Wilkii Clavis N.T. (Lips. 1863, 8vo), Cremer, Bibl.-theol. Wö rterbuch der N.T. Gracitat (Gotha, 1866, 8vo), and Thayer's Grimm (N.Y. 1887, 8vo).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Greek Language, Biblical Relations of the'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/g/greek-language-biblical-relations-of-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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