What Is Biblical Greek

The isolated position of the Greek found in the Septuagint and the New Testament has been the problem dividing grammatical students of this literature for generations past. That the Greek Scriptures, and the small body of writings which in language go with them, were written in the Κοινή, the “common” or “Hellenistic Greek” that superseded the dialects of the Classical period was well enough known. But was most obviously different from the literary Κοινή of the period. It could not be adequately paralleled from Plutarch or Arrian, and the Jewish writers Philo and Josephus were no more helpful than their “profane” comtemporaries. Naturally the peculiarities of the Biblical Greek came to be explained from its own condition.

The Septuagint was in “translation Greek”, its syntax determined perpetually by that of the original Hebrew. Much the same was true for large parts of the New Testament, where translation had taken place from an original Aramaic. But even where this was not the case, it was argued, the writers used Greek as foreigners, Aramaic thought underlying Greek expression. Moreover, they were so familiar with the Septuagint that its idiosyncracies passed largely into their own style, which accordingly was changed with Semitisms from two distinct sources. Hence this “Judaic” or “Biblical” Greek, this “language of the Holy Spirit,” found in the sacred writings and never profaned by common use. It was a phenomenon against which science the of language could raise no a priori objection. The Purist, who insisted on finding parallels in Classical Greek for everything in the New Testament Greek, found his task impossible without straining the language to the breaking-point. His antagonist the Hebraist went absurdly far in recognizing Semitic influence where none was really operative. But when a grammarian of balanced judgment like Georg Benedikt Winer came to sum up the bygone controversy, he was found admitting enough Semitisms to make the Biblical Greek essentially an isolated language still.

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