The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Biblical Greek morphology and syntax, aspect, linguistics, discourse analysis, and related topics

The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby cwconrad » January 2nd, 2012, 10:54 am

KathyMac wrote: ... Apologies if this has been discussed before, but the first thing I would ask is: why are terms like 'Biblical Greek' and 'NT Greek' still current? There may be some pragmatic reason for keeping them, but don't such terms reflect a sixteenth-seventeenth century mindset when proto-linguists (pre-modern linguists?!) had misunderstood the nature of Greek in the LXX/NT? Doesn't that encourage people to approach the language in the wrong way? Shoud we even be offering courses in Biblical Greek (usually with a focus on the Bible and the Bible alone). I would still ask the same question to those who are studying Greek for pastoral or theological reasons. ...


This falls in the category of "obvious questions that never occurred to us but should have."

We know that when we speak of "NT Greek" or "Biblical Greek" we are talking about the Greek language as it appears in Biblical texts -- and we may add non-canonical Jewish or Christian patristic texts into the mix -- as opposed to the Greek of secular speech and texts. I think we also know very well -- and have known since the work of Deissmann and others -- that we are limiting our discussion to texts and usage of Hellenistic Greek as it appears in the literature of our focal concern, despite the fact that the language we're talking about is not distinct from secular or non-Biblical Hellenistic Greek generally. I think that's why Bob Funk titled his textbook, "Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek" and why he also promoted a lamentably-failed effort to produce a successor to BDF that would be called "A Grammar of Hellenistic Greek."

But as KathyMac (what is her real name? We're supposed to be using real names in this forum) has said, isn't our continued usage of the term "Biblical Greek" a questionable practice? Doesn't it imply a view of the language of the texts with which we're concerned as something distinct from Greek not simply of other eras but of its contemporary secular literature and speech?

Does our continued use of these terms skew our perspective -- even without our being quite aware of it -- on the language and the texts we are discussing? If we were to cease referring to our forum's focus as "Biblical Greek," what term would we put in its place? Something like "Judaeo-Christian Literature and Hellenistic Greek Language?" or "Hellenistic Greek and Jewish and Christian Texts"?
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
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Re: The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby jeffreyrequadt » January 2nd, 2012, 11:37 am

Hmmm. Unfortunately for me, I don't enough about the stylistic and linguistic similarities/differences between the LXX and the NT, and between them and the Greek before/after them. In one sense, the vast majority of texts discussed on B-Greek are canonical texts, and other texts that are discussed or questioned are rare, usually (not always) brought in with the ultimate goal of understanding Greek in order to understand the canonical texts. But since B-Greek has several different forums, one of which is "Koine Texts," perhaps it would make sense to re-label "Biblical Greek" as "Koine Greek" (K-Greek) or "Hellenistic Greek" (H-Greek).

I do think that referring to "Biblical Greek" does lead to the impression that the Greek as found in canonical texts is somehow different than that outside the canon, perhaps like referring to "Comedic Shakespearean English" and studying the language found only in those plays. Even if one studied only the Shakespeare comedies, which might be a very worthy endeavor, one would need to read and understand many more Shakespeare texts, as well as non-Shakespeare texts, in order to adequately understand the ones under focus. And it would be misleading to think that "Comedic Shakespearean English" is a specific kind of English different from other English written during the same time period, or even by the same author.

That's my opinion, anyway. Of course, I don't have a Ph.D., M.A., or even a degree in Greek, English, or classics. :)
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Re: The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby KathyMac » January 2nd, 2012, 2:48 pm

Hi again.

If the focus is on language and texts written in that language then Koine or Hellenistic Greek would do and it wouldn't matter of the texts were Christian, Jewish, pagan or whatever, surely? It's basically the Greek language, literature and culture of the Hellenistic period, say 300BC to 300 AD or thereabouts? Whether one wanted to specialise further later - say on LXX or Christian literature - could only reasonaby come after you get some good foundations in Koine Greek and the contexts in which it was used. I also think a bit of historical background wouldn't hurt. I get frustrated that I don't know enough about the history and culture of the time to get some referents for metaphors etc.

Anyway, don’t even serious “NT Greek” scholars rely on big name lexicons and reference grammars and other tools that have been developed by people who have more than just “ NT Greek” anyway (e.g. Blass and Funk)? Even if you argue that classical Greek is of little import to NT Greek (I am not so sure about that), or even if you accept that NT Greek is fairly representative of koine Greek, you would still be better off being exposed to koine Greek in other contexts surely?

An example. A few months ago I went through 3 John. Now with written texts, I generally start with genre because I figure genre tends to signal to the reader what sort of text they can expect in terms of language, style, content. So 3 John is quite obviously a short letter (well it is to me...some scholars I recall, seem to have problems with that) so off I went. At one point, I got stuck (yes stuck in 3 John) and eventually had to resort to a commentary. A note by Judith Lieu caught my eye. She referred to 3 John as a personal letter - whereas others would talk more of an epistolary format with reference to Paul. She gave an example from the Oxyrhyncus papyri.

Well I digressed a bit at that point and looked up some Oxy papyri online. After an hour of browsing it was clear, even though the papyri came from a wide date range and were written in different contexts to that of 3 John, that there was a fairly persistent letter writing convention which John was using as well. John even used similar (dare I say formulaic) phrases despite its more literary language. These were a different style of letter to that used by Paul (except maybe in Philemon). I found what I thought were better examples of personal letters than the one given by Judith Lieu in that these letters had more common elements with John. For example P.Mich. 8 491 (http://epiduke.cch.kcl.ac.uk/2008-08-17 ... 8.491.html) or P.Oxy. 46 3314 (http://papyri.info/ddbdp/p.oxy;46;3314/?q=P.Oxy.+3314). Compare those say to John’s short salutation (Ὁ πρεσβύτερος Γαΐω...), his wishes for good health (εὔχομαι σε εὐοδοῦσθαι καὶ ὑγιαίνειν...), his use of the vocative (Ἀγαπητέ ..) acting almost as a structural marker to signal a change of subject or to prefix a request that was the prime purpose of the letter, an almost formulaic marker of a request (καλῶς ποιήσεις...) hugs and kisses at the end (ἀσπάζονται σε οἱ φίλοι. ἀσπάζου τοὺς φίλους κατ’ ὄνομα.) There were also some very interesting differences of course which would probably be of more interest in exegesis etc., and I am sure scholars would have raked over all of this and come up with much much more. But it certainly helped me understand 3 John in a different light.

Bcause so many of these letters and letter fragments were so similar, my little browsing adventure also gave me a peek at how people varied phrases slightly, sometimes to add emphasis, other times to say the same thing in a different way, and even how people with different standards of Greek said the same thing. There were also a few funny and poignant letters too (like the letter from the man who fell off his horse and was stuck in bed or the woman telling her daughter she’ll sort out her husband). There was one letter which I can’t find again now, which some editor cruelly noted was the most unliterary letter ever written in history, or something to that effect. But what was ironic there was that the so-called illiterate author or scribe still managed to convey his message to a snooty gooseball editor thousands of years later, despite his appalling Greek. Which made me think again how silly it is to approach language by ascribing meaning to the form of a word or ‘correct grammar’ (which seems to be the emphasis in a lot of beginning texts), or to even think that a slightly different way of saying something, or even saying something incorrectly necessarily conveys a different meaning.

Mac is just shorthand for my surname.

Thank you too to the kind people here for posting Funk's grammar online. I do like many aspects of that grammar and I do like HTML format better than a PDF.
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Re: The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby SusanJeffers » January 3rd, 2012, 8:59 am

I really like it that the name of the forum is b-greek, "The Biblical Greek Forum."

The reason I like it, is that this name has the best chance of attracting beginners, the people who need it the most. And by far the majority of the beginning students of this sort of Greek are interested in Greek because it is the language of the NT/LXX.

The other people, those who stay year after year and discuss and explore intriguing areas of Hellenistic Greek Language, linguistics, pedagogy etc etc -- those people find their way here and live long and prosper because of what the forum *is* even though its name is more limited than its actual range.

My husband and I, between us, subscribe to quite a wide array of email lists and online forums, in a wide array of subject areas/pursuits. b-greek, to me, is a stellar example of the potential of this medium to bring together a diverse community of learners from all walks of life, and all levels of accomplishment. Were the forum to have a name that more accurately reflected its range rather than its center, I believe much of the diversity would erode simply by virtue of failing to attract so many folks at the beginning of their study of Greek.

χαρις υμιν, και ειρηνη!

Susan Jeffers

PS By the way, Kathy, I'm saving your post about your detailed explorations of 3 John. Looks like a method I might want to try... :-)
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Re: The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby Barry Hofstetter » January 3rd, 2012, 9:23 am

Very interesting discussion, folks. A couple of comments:

1) Very simply, I think "biblical Greek" circumscribes a specific body of literature with which most of us are concerned. Carl correctly (as nearly always) points out that since the time of Deissmann it's been canonical :roll: that this body of literature is part of the overall linguistic context of ancient world, that our Greek is not "special" Greek in any sense (except in so far as a body of literature will share certain usages in common). From the perspective, I have no problem with calling it biblical Greek. It identifies the literature which is of central importance to us. It simply becomes a convenient label.

2) At the same time, our Greek is part of a continuum diachronically speaking and part of the overall linguistic context synchronically speaking. Some one raised the question of how much like classical Greek Koine is -- the answer to that is, "a lot." Carl will back me up on this -- if you start with classical Greek, as I did, and then later read the NT, you have very few problems reading the NT, apart from the usual vocabulary issues. The perception of most people who follow that track is that the NT is easier than Plato or Thucydides... The upshot of it is, the more Greek you read, and especially outside of the NT, the better you are when it comes to reading the NT...

Hopefully, I'm preaching to the choir here...
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Re: The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby cwconrad » January 3rd, 2012, 10:28 am

SusanJeffers wrote:I really like it that the name of the forum is b-greek, "The Biblical Greek Forum."

The reason I like it, is that this name has the best chance of attracting beginners, the people who need it the most. And by far the majority of the beginning students of this sort of Greek are interested in Greek because it is the language of the NT/LXX.

The other people, those who stay year after year and discuss and explore intriguing areas of Hellenistic Greek Language, linguistics, pedagogy etc etc -- those people find their way here and live long and prosper because of what the forum *is* even though its name is more limited than its actual range.

. . . B-greek, to me, is a stellar example of the potential of this medium to bring together a diverse community of learners from all walks of life, and all levels of accomplishment. Were the forum to have a name that more accurately reflected its range rather than its center, I believe much of the diversity would erode simply by virtue of failing to attract so many folks at the beginning of their study of Greek.


I wholly agree with everything Susan has said above, and I have no notion of changing the forum's moniker to something like "Hellenistic Greek Forum" -- a surefire way to drive away several of the subscribers we have! The point made by KathyMac, however, is one that I think is spot on: the terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek" are not descriptive of the nature of the ancient Greek dialect in which the LXX and NT are written; rather we should say that the Greek dialect of the Judaeo-Christian literary texts is "Hellenistic" or "Koine."

We need, I believe, to preserve the name "B-Greek" especially for the sake of historical continuity; there aren't many electronic communities that have survived since the early 1990's -- certainly not communities constituted of such an eclectic group of people extending as far as the Internet reaches. B-Greek is truly unique. As a forum now, I think that it still reflects the full range of specialized areas of concern set forth in the FAQ of our email discussion list:

B-GREEK is a mailing list for scholars and students of Biblical Greek. Our main focus is upon understanding the Greek text of the Bible. Discussion topics include scholarly study of the Greek Bible and related Jewish and Christian Greek texts, tools for beginning and advanced students of Biblical Greek such as textbooks, reference works, bibliography and research tools, and linguistic topics such as morphology, lexicography, syntax, and discourse analysis. B-Greek was established in 1992 by David Marotta at the Center for Christian Study, an independent Christian ministry at the University of Virginia. In 1998 the list changed its venue to ibiblio.org at UNC-Chapel Hill after David asked to step down as list owner. We are grateful to David for his vision of a forum where the Greek text and language of the Bible are probed in ongoing conversation by an eclectic group of beginning students and veteran teachers, lay persons and clergy, conservatives and liberals, earnest inquirers and academic scholars -- equally committed to probing the Biblical text in the original Koiné, and jointly exploring the mysteries and probabilities of Biblical Greek morphology and syntax.

Anyone interested in New Testament Studies is invited to subscribe, but list-members will be assumed to have at least a working knowledge of Biblical Greek. While "lurkers" are welcome to receive and read list correspondence, posts to the list are expected to pose questions about Biblical Greek, not general questions or opinions about doctrine or the meaning of the English text. Even basic questions are welcome, provided they are really about the meaning of the Greek text. This is not a general discussion list for Biblical matters. While one need not be a Greek scholar to subscribe, one should at least be taking the first serious steps in the study of Biblical Greek.


Some historical background might be helpful here: Back in the early 1990's David Marotta originally established the discussion lists "B-Greek" and "B-Hebrew" as vehicles for scholarly discussion of Biblical texts by those knowledgeable in the Greek and Hebrew languages in which those texts were originally composed. By the middle of the 1990's the ranks of list-members came to include more non-academics and pastors and laypersons interested in serious discussion of Biblical texts. That entailed two consequences the proved to be less than helpful: (a) expansion of the focus of discussion to matters tangential to the Biblical text itself, and (b) emergence of sectarian wrangling over theological interpretation of particular Biblical texts. At the same time, new subscribers came aboard who were enthusiastic about discussion of Biblical texts but who had little or no knowledge of Greek. David Marotta responded to these challenges by choosing from the active posters a cadre of advisers and a chair to oversee the ongoing discussions and moderate them so as to enhance the more useful and informative processes while limiting the harmful and disruptive factors. Edward Hobbs was the original chair of B-Greek; he later co-opted me as a Co-Chair. When Edward retired and we moved the list to facilities at UNC at Chapel Hill, Jonathan Robie became list-owner and Carlton Winbery became a co-chair and later Louis Sorenson became another co-chair. Under the list-ownership of Jonathan Robie a new emphasis was put upon helping those seriously interesting in learning the language of the Greek Bible and using the linguistic tools to understand the text of the Greek Bible. Now our expanded forum has a splendid cadre of moderators and serves, I think, all the same purposes as did the old email discussion-list -- and does so all the better. (Note: I don't mean this to be a 'history' of B-Greek but rather an explanation of why the name "B-Greek" has served so well to describe and encompass the range of concerns that have been its "meat and potatoes" for lo these many years.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
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πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 3rd, 2012, 11:24 am

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2) wrote:"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."


I tend to feel the same way about NT/Biblical/Hellenistic/Koine Greek.

Stephen
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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Re: The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby cwconrad » January 3rd, 2012, 12:40 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2) wrote:"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."


I tend to feel the same way about NT/Biblical/Hellenistic/Koine Greek.


Chacun à son goût, of course. But "Smelling like a dandelion" doesn't quite work. And I can remember my daughter's first serious attempt at writing a short story and bringing it to a close with the phrase, "the sweet smell of African violets" -- which also doesn't work. More often than not there's a preferred noun in a language for a given referent. I think we'd readily grant that Paul and Epictetus wrote the same kind of Greek, but it would never occur to anyone to say that Epictetus wrote "Biblical Greek" or "New Testament Greek." The question here is whether, in some greater or lesser degree, referring to the Greek dialect of Paul as "Biblical Greek" entails an implication that the language of Paul is different from the language of Epictetus.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
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Re: The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby MAubrey » January 3rd, 2012, 1:24 pm

cwconrad wrote:I wholly agree with everything Susan has said above, and I have no notion of changing the forum's moniker to something like "Hellenistic Greek Forum" -- a surefire way to drive away several of the subscribers we have! The point made by KathyMac, however, is one that I think is spot on: the terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek" are not descriptive of the nature of the ancient Greek dialect in which the LXX and NT are written; rather we should say that the Greek dialect of the Judaeo-Christian literary texts is "Hellenistic" or "Koine."


I also entirely agree. And I would point out that in a number of the late 19th century grammars, the use of the term, "New Testament Greek" in their titles functioned as a mere marketing ploy than a claim about the corpus used or about the nature of the language in the New Testament. Winer's grammar as revised and translated by in William Moulton in 1882 is full of references to the literature surrounding era, not to mention later Greek and earlier Greek.

So Funk's grammar isn't particularly unique in that regard. Well, that's not entirely true either. Funk is easily the first *teaching* grammar that uses surrounding literature consistently.

Stephen Carlson wrote:William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2) wrote:"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."


I kind of feel this way to--though I generally try to avoid it if I can. But if the choice is between using a ridiculous and verbose phrase like "the Greek of the New Testament" as has been done on a couple of monographs, I'll go with New Testament Greek or Biblical Greek any day.
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Re: The terms, "Biblical Greek" and "NT Greek"

Postby Ken M. Penner » January 3rd, 2012, 2:33 pm

MAubrey wrote:Funk is easily the first *teaching* grammar that uses surrounding literature consistently.

I don't want to cast any shadows on Funk's work, but I want to avoid providing the impression that Funk's BIGHG uses non-biblical literature frequently. BIGHG's abundant examples from the Greek New Testament far exceed any from the Apostolic Fathers, and I don't recall seeing any from beyond these two corpora.
Funk wrote:
Robert Funk wrote:It had been my original intention to draw far more on texts outside the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers than has in fact been the case. If it proves possible to reduce a significant number of Greek sentences to a code that can be manipulated by a computer, it will be easily possible to work with a much larger body of data. In that case, the promise of the title (hellenistic Greek) will come to fulfillment; as it stands, it is more promise than achievement.
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