Greenwood professor of hellenistic greek and indo-european philology in the victoria university of manchester tutor in new testament language and literature

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New Lights. As recently as 1895, in the opening chapter

of a beginner's manual of New Testament

Greek, the present writer defined the language as "Hebraic

Greek, colloquial Greek, and late Greek." In this definition

the characteristic features of the dialect were expressed

according to a formula which was not questioned then by

any of the leading writers on the subject. It was entirely

approved by Dr W. F. Moulton, who would undoubtedly at

that time have followed these familiar lines, had he been able

to achieve his long cherished purpose of rewriting his English

Winer as an independent work. It is not without impera-

tive reason that, in this first instalment of a work in which

I hoped to be my father's collaborator, I have been com-

pelled seriously to modify the position he took, in view of

fresh evidence which came too late for him to examine.

In the second edition of the manual referred to,1 "common

Greek " is substituted for the first element in the definition.

The disappearance of that word "Hebraic" from its pro-

minent place in our delineation of NT language marks a

change in our conceptions of the subject nothing less than re-

volutionary. This is not a revolution in theory alone. It
1 Introduction to the Study of New Testament Greek, with a First Reader.

Second Edition, 1904 (C. H. Kelly—now R. Culley).


touches exegesis at innumerable points. It demands large

modifications in our very latest grammars, and an overhauling

of our best and most trusted commentaries. To write a new

Grammar, so soon after the appearance of fresh light which

transforms in very important respects our whole point of

view, may seem a premature undertaking. But it must not

be supposed that we are concerned with a revolutionary

theory which needs time for readjusting our science to new

conditions. The development of the Greek language, in the

period which separates Plato and Demosthenes from our own

days, has been patiently studied for a generation, and the

main lines of a scientific history have been thoroughly estab-

lished. What has happened to our own particular study is

only the discovery of its unity with the larger science which

has been maturing steadily all the time. "Biblical Greek"

was long supposed to lie in a backwater: it has now been

brought out into the full stream of progress. It follows that

we have now fresh material for illustrating our subject, and

a more certain methodology for the use of material which

we had already at hand.

"Biblical The isolated position of the Greek found

Greek." in the LXX and the NT has been the problem

dividing grammatical students of this liter-

ature for generations past. That the Greek Scriptures, and

the small body of writings which in language go with

them, were written in the Koinh<, the "common" or "Hellen-

istic" Greek1 that superseded the dialects of the classical

period, was well enough known. But it was most obviously

different from the literary Koinh< of the period. It could not

be adequately paralleled from Plutarch or Arrian, and the

Jewish writers Philo and Josephus2 were no more helpful

than their "profane" contemporaries. Naturally the pecu-

liarities of Biblical Greek came to be explained from its own

conditions. The LXX was in "translation Greek," its syntax

determined perpetually by that of the original Hebrew.

Much the same was true of large parts of the NT, where
1 I shall use the terms Hellenistic, Hellenist,
and Hellenism throughout for

the Greek of the later period, which had become coextensive with Western


2 See below, p. 233.


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 LXX

that its idiosyncrasies passed largely into their own style,

which accordingly was charged with Semitisms from two dis-

tinct sources. Hence this "Judaic" or "Biblical" Greek, this

"language of the Holy Ghost,"1 found in the sacred writings

and never profaned by common use. It was a phenomenon

against which the science of language could raise no a priori

objection. The Purist, who insisted on finding parallels in

classical Greek literature for everything in the Greek NT,

found his task impossible without straining language to the

breaking-point. His antagonist the Hebraist went absurdly

far in recognising Semitic influence where none was really

operative. But when a grammarian of balanced judgement

like G. B. Winer came to sum up the bygone controversy, he

was found admitting enough Semitisms to make the Biblical

Greek essentially an isolated language still.

Greek Papyri: It is just this isolation which the new

Deissmann. evidence comes in to destroy.a The Greek

papyri of Egypt are in themselves nothing

novel; but their importance for the historical study of the

language did not begin to be realised until, within the last

decade or so, the explorers began to enrich us with an output

of treasure which has been perpetually fruitful in surprises.

The attention of the classical world has been busy with the

lost treatise of Aristotle and the new poets Bacchylides and

Herodas, while theologians everywhere have eagerly dis-

cussed new "Sayings of Jesus." But even these last must

yield in importance to the spoil which has been gathered

from the wills, official reports, private letters, petitions,

accounts, and other trivial survivals from the rubbish-heaps

of antiquity.b They were studied by a young investigator of

genius, at that time known only by one small treatise on the

Pauline formula e]n Xrist&?, which to those who read it now

shows abundantly the powers that were to achieve such
1 So Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of NT Greek, p. iv (E. T.), follow-

ing Rothe. (Cited by Thumb, Hellenismus 181.1 [a b See p. 242.


splendid pioneer work within three or four years. Deiss-

mann's Bibelstudien appeared in 1895, his Neue Bibelstudien1

in 1897. It is needless to describe how these lexical researches

in the papyri and the later inscriptions proved that hundreds

of words, hitherto assumed to be “Biblical,”—technical words,

as it were, called into existence or minted afresh by the

language of Jewish religion,--were in reality normal first-

century spoken Greek, excluded from literature by the nice

canons of Atticising taste. Professor Deissmann dealt but

briefly with the grammatical features of this newly-discovered

Greek; but no one charged with the duty of editing a Gram-

mar of NT Greek could read his work without seeing that a

systematic grammatical study in this field was the indis-

pensable equipment for such a task. In that conviction the

present writer set himself to the study of the collections

which have poured with bewildering rapidity from the busy

workshops of Oxford and Berlin, and others, only less

conspicuous. The lexical gleanings after Deissmann which

these researches have produced, almost entirely in documents

published since his books were written, have enabled me

to confirm his conclusions from independent investigation.2

A large part of my grammatical material is collected in a

series of papers in the Classical Review (see p. xxi.), to which

I shall frequently have to make reference in the ensuing

pages as supplying in detail the evidence for the results here

to be described.

Vernacular The new linguistic facts now in evidence

Greek. show with startling clearness that we have

at last before us the language in which the

apostles and evangelists wrote. The papyri exhibit in their

writers a variety of literary education even wider than that

observable in the NT, and we can match each sacred author

with documents that in respect of Greek stand on about the

same plane. The conclusion is that "Biblical" Greek, except

where it is translation Greek, was simply the vernacular of

daily life.3 Men who aspired to literary fame wrote in an
1 See p. xxi. above.

2 See Expositor for April 1901, Feb. and Dec. 1903 ; and new series in 1908.

3 Cf Wellhausen (Einl. 9): "In the Gospels, spoken Greek, and indeed

Greek spoken among the lower classes, makes its entrance into literature."

artificial dialect, a would-be revival of the language of Athens

in her prime, much as educated Greeks of the present day

profess to do. The NT writers had little idea that they

were writing literature. The Holy Ghost spoke absolutely

in the language of the people, as we might surely have

expected He would. The writings inspired of Him were


Which he may read that binds the sheaf,

Or builds the house, or digs the grave,

And those wild eyes that watch the wave

In roarings round the coral reef.
The very grammar and dictionary cry out against men who

would allow the Scriptures to appear in any other form than

that "understanded of the people."

A Universal There is one very striking fact brought out

Language. by the study of papyri and inscriptions which

preserve for us the Hellenistic vernacular.

It was a language without serious dialectic differences,

except presumably in pronunciation. The history of this

lingua franca must be traced in a later chapter. Here it

suffices to point out that in the first centuries of our era

Greek covered a far larger proportion of the civilised world

than even English does to-day.a The well-known heroics of

Juvenal (iii. 60 f.)

Non possum ferre, Quirites,

Graecam Urbem—,

joined with the Greek "Ei]j [Eauto

and the Greek Epistle to the Romans, serve as obvious evidence

that a man need have known little Latin to live in Rome itself.1

It was not Italy but Africa that first called for a Latin Bible.2

That the Greek then current in almost every part of the Em-

pire was virtually uniform is at first a startling fact, and to

no one so startling as to a student of the science of language.

Dialectic differentiation is the root principle of that science;3
1 Cf A. S. Wilkins, Roman Education 19; SH lii ff,

2 So at least most critics believe. Dr Sanday, however, prefers Antioch,

which suits our point equally well. Rome is less likely. See Dr Kennedy in

Hastings' BD iii. 54.

3 See, for instance, the writer's Two Lectures on the Science of Language,

pp. 21-23. [a See p. 242.


and when we know how actively it works within the narrow

limits of Great Britain, it seems strange that it should ap-

parently be suspended in the vast area covered by Hellenistic

Greek. We shall return to this difficulty later (pp. 19-39)

for the present we must be content with the fact that any

dialect variation that did exist is mostly beyond the range

of our present knowledge to detect. Inscriptions, distributed

over the whole area, and dated with precision enough to

trace the slow development of the vernacular as it ad-

vanced towards Medieval and Modern Greek, present us

with a grammar which only lacks homogeneity according

as their authors varied in culture. As we have seen, the

papyri of Upper Egypt tally in their grammar with the

language seen in the NT, as well as with inscriptions like

those of Pergamum and Magnesia. No one can fail to

see how immeasurably important these conditions were for

the growth of Christianity. The historian marks the fact

that the Gospel began its career of conquest at the one

period in the world's annals when civilisation was concen-

trated under a single ruler. The grammarian adds that

this was the only period when a single language was under-

stood throughout the countries which counted for the history

of that Empire. The historian and the grammarian must of

course refrain from talking about "Providence." They would

be suspected of "an apologetic bias" or "an edifying tone,"

and that is necessarily fatal to any reputation for scientific

attainment. We will only remark that some old-fashioned

people are disposed to see in these facts a shmei?on in its

way as instructive as the Gift of Tongues.

Bilingualism It is needless to observe that except in

the Greek world, properly so called, Greek

did not hold a monopoly. Egypt throughout the long

period of the Greek papyri is very strongly bilingual, the

mixture of Greek and native names in the same family, and

the prevalence of double nomenclature, often making it diffi-

cult to tell the race of an individual A bilingual country
1 It should be noted that in the papyri we have not to do only with

Egyptians and Greeks. In Par P 48 (153 B.C.) there is a letter addressed to an

Arab by two of his brothers. The editor, M. Brunet du Presle, remarks as

follows on this:—"It is worth our while to notice the rapid diffusion of Greek,

is vividly presented to us in the narrative of Ac 14, where

the apostles preach in Greek and are unable to understand

the excited populace when they relapse into Lycaonian. What

the local Greek was like, we may gauge from such specimens

as the touching Christian epitaph published by Mr Cronin in

JHS; 1902, p. 369 (see Exp T xiv. 430), and dated "little

if at all later than iii/A.D." We need not develop the evidence

for other countries: it is more to the point if we look at the

conditions of a modern bilingual country, such as we have

at home in the country of Wales. Any popular English poli-

tician or preacher, visiting a place in the heart of the Princi-

pality, could be sure of an audience, even if it were assumed that

he would speak in English. If he did, they would understand

him. But should he unexpectedly address them in Welsh, we

may be very sure they would be "the more quiet"; and a

speaker anxious to conciliate a hostile meeting would gain a

great initial advantage if he could surprise them with the

sound of their native tongue.1 Now this is exactly what

happened when Paul addressed the Jerusalem mob from the

stairs of Antonia. They took for granted he would speak

in Greek, and yet they made "a great

in Palestine. silence" when he faced them with the gesture

which indicated a wish to address them. Schurer nods, for

once, when he calls in Paul's Aramaic speech as a witness of

the people's ignorance of Greek.2 It does not prove even the

"inadequate" knowledge which he gives as the alternative

possibility for the lower classes, if by "inadequate know-

after Alexander's conquest, among a mass of people who in all other respects

jealously preserved their national characteristics under foreign masters. The

papyri show us Egyptians, Persians, Jews, and here Arabs, who do not appear

to belong to the upper classes, using the Greek language. We must not be too

exacting towards them in the matter of style. Nevertheless the letter which

follows is almost irreproachable in syntax and orthography, which does not

always happen even with men of Greek birth." If these remarks, published in

1865, had been followed up as they deserved, Deissmann would have come

too late. It is strange how little attention was aroused by the great collections

of papyri at Paris and London, until the recent flood of discovery set in.

1 These words were written before I had read Dr T. K. Abbott's able, but

not always conclusive, article in his volume of Essays. On p. 164 he gives an

incident from bilingual Ireland exactly parallel with that imagined above. Prof.

T. H. Williams tells me he has often heard Welsh teachers illustrating the

narrative of Ac 21 40 222 in the same way: cf also A. S. Wilkins, CR ii. 142 f.

(On Lystra, see p. 233.) 2 Jewish People, II. i. 48 (=3 II. 63).


ledge" is implied that the crowd would have been unable to

follow a Greek speech. They thought and spoke among

themselves, like the Welsh, exclusively in their native tongue;

but we may well doubt if there were many of them who could

not understand the world-language, or even speak in it when

necessary.1 We have in fact a state of things essentially the

same as in Lystra. But the imperfect knowledge of Greek

which may be assumed for the masses in Jerusalem and

Lystra is decidedly less probable for Galilee and Peraea.

Hellenist Jews, ignorant of Aramaic, would be found there as

in Jerusalem; and the proportion of foreigners would be

much larger. That Jesus Himself and the Apostles regularly

used Aramaic is beyond question, but that Greek was also

at command is almost equally certain. There is not the

slightest presumption against the use of Greek in writings

purporting to emanate from the circle of the first believers.2

They would write as men who had used the language from

boyhood, not as foreigners painfully expressing themselves

in an imperfectly known idiom. Their Greek would differ

in quality according to their education, like that of the

private letters among the Egyptian papyri. But it does

not appear that any of them used Greek as we may some-

times find cultured foreigners using English, obviously trans-

lating out of their own language as they go along. Even

the Greek of the Apocalypse itself 3 does not seem to owe any

1 The evidence for the use of Greek in Palestine is very fully stated by Zahn

in his Einl. in das NT, ch. ii. Cf also Julicher in EB ii. 2007 ff. Mahaffy

(Hellenism, 130 f.) overdoes it when he says, "Though we may believe that

in Galilee and among his intimates our Lord spoke Aramaic, and though we

know that some of his last words upon the cross were in that language, yet

his public teaching, his discussions with the Pharisees, his talk with Pontius

Pilate, were certainly carried on in Greek." Dr Nestle misunderstands me

when he supposes me to endorse in any way Prof. Mahaffy's exaggeration here.

It would be hard to persuade modern scholars that Christ's public teaching

was mainly in Greek; and I should not dream of questioning His daily use

of Aramaic. My own view is that which is authoritatively expressed in the

remarks of Profs. Driver and Sanday (DB iv. 583a) as to our Lord's occasional

use of Greek. Cf Ramsay, Pauline Studies 254; CR xx. 465; Mahaffy,

Silver Age 250; Mayor, St James xlii.

2 Dr T. K. Abbott (Essays 170) points out that Justin Martyr, brought up

near Sichem early in ii/A.D., depends entirely on the LXX—a circumstance

which is ignored by Mgr Barnes in his attempt to make a different use of

Justin (JTS vi. 369). (See further below, p. 233.)

3 On Prof. Swete's criticism here see my Preface, p. xvii.


Apocalypse. of its blunders to "Hebraism." The author's

uncertain use of cases is obvious to the most

casual reader. In any other writer we might be tempted to

spend time over ta>j luxni20, where tw?n luxniw?n is

clearly needed: for him it is enough to say that the

neighbouring ou!j may have produced the aberration. We

find him perpetually indifferent to concord. But the less

educated papyri give us plentiful parallels from a field where

Semitism cannot be suspected.1 After all, we do not suspect

Shakspere of foreign upbringing because he says "between

you and I."2 Neither he nor his unconscious imitators in

modern times would say "between I and you," any more

than the author of the Apocalypse would have said a]po> o[

ma5): it is only that his grammatical sense

is satisfied when the governing word has affected the case of

one object.3 We shall find that other peculiarities of the

writer's Greek are on the same footing. Apart from places

where he may be definitely translating a Semitic document,

there is no reason to believe that his grammar would have

been materially different had he been a native of Oxyrhynchus,

assuming the extent of Greek education the same.4 Close to

1 See my exx. of nom. in apposition to noun in another case, and of gender

neglected, in CR xviii. 151. Cf also below, p. 60. ( ]Apo> o[ w@n, 14, is of course

an intentional tour de force.) Note the same thing in the d-text of 2 Th 18,

]Ihsou? . . . didou

2 Merchant of Venice, III. ii. (end—Antonio's letter).

3 There are parallels to this in correct English. "Drive far away the

disastrous Keres, they who destroy " (Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of

Greek Religion, p. 163) would not be mended by substituting them.

4 The grammatical peculiarities of the book are conveniently summarised

in a few lines by Julicher, Introd. to NT, p. 273: for a full account see the in-

troduction to Bousset's Commentary, in the Meyer series. It may be well to

observe, a propos of the curious Greek of Rev, that grammar here must play a

part in literary criticism. It will not do to appeal to grammar to prove that

the author is a Jew: as far as that goes, lie might just as well have been a

farmer of the Fayum. Thought and material must exclusively determine that

question. But as that point is hardly doubtful, we pass on to a more important

inference from the is Greek culture of this book. If its date was

95 A.D, the author cannot have written the fourth Gospel only a short time

after. Either, therefore, we must take the earlier date for Rev, which would

allow the Apostle to improve his Greek by constant use in a city like Ephesus

where his Aramaic would be useless; or we must suppose that someone (say,

the author of Jn 2124) mended his grammar for him throughout the Gospel.

the other end of the scale comes the learned Rabbi of Tarsus.

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