Greek Language, Biblical

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This term is used for the language of the Greek Old Testament and the Greek text of the New Testament. It is a form of Koine ("common") Greek that evolved in the time of Alexander the Great from the diverse dialects of classical times through leveling and assimilation and became the everyday commercial and cultural language of the Mediterranean world for more than ten centuries. Spoken in many lands by peoples with different native languages, it was subject to variations caused by foreign influences. Biblical Greek shows many types of Semitic interference phenomena, not only in the use of words with different meanings than in classical or Hellenistic authors, but also in the use of many non-Greek grammatical constructions.

The Greek Old Testament circulated most widely in the Septuagint (LXX) translation, which also preserves the original text of some (deutero) canonical books (Wisdom, 2 Maccabees) and the basic form of others, either in whole (Tobit, Judith, Baruch, 1 Maccabees) or in part (Esther, Daniel, Sirach). Hardly a unity, its style varies in quality from a faithful translation of the Hebrew (Pentateuch) to a slavishly literal rendering (Qoheleth), which was the result of periodic revisions that culminated in the later word-for-word translations of (proto-) Theodotion and Aquila and the more idiomatic version of Symmachus.

The Greek of the New Testament is similarly diverse. The letters, especially those of Paul and Hebrews, represent good Koine Greek, not unlike that found in documentary papyri from Roman Egypt. The Gospels and Acts preserve more of a Semitic tone and flavor, though the Gospel according to Luke begins with a well-constructed prologue in contemporary literary style. The Gospel according to John is written in simple but elegant language. Revelation is written in the poorest Greek.

Bibliography: w. bauer, f. w. gingrich, and f. w. danker, A GreekEnglish Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago 2001). f. blass and a. debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, tr. r. w. funk (Chicago 1961). f. c. conybeare and s. g. stock, A Grammar of Septuagint Greek (Grand Rapids 1980). j. w. moulton, w. f. howard, and n. turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, 4 v. (Edinburgh 190876). j. vergote, "Grec Biblique," Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928) 3:132069. m. zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples, tr. j. smith (Rome 1963).

[f. t. gignac]