Learn Biblical Greek

Ramblings About Learning Biblical Greek

[go] Purpose of This Part of the Site
[go] Some Greek Language History and Background
[go] Challenges for the English Speaking Person

Purpose of This Part of the Site
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The purpose of this material on Biblical Greek is to provide the serious student with the information that he would need in order to come to a basic understanding of the Greek dialect used to write the books of the Bible penned by the disciples of Jesus Christ.

This grammar has modest goals. It will not turn you into a professor of Biblical Greek nor allow you to debate some of the finer points of Greek grammar. What is attempted here is a basic introduction and overview for those who have little or no previous knowledge of the subject. It will hopefully provide the basis for being able to read the Greek Scriptures (along with the help of a good Greek-English Lexicon) and understand most of what you read. To become really proficient you would need to study carefully a much more detailed grammar, such as Dana and Mantey's A Manual Grammar of New Testament Greek. And of course, real proficiency only comes through regular use. I recommend doing a little reading every day, always looking up words you don't know and making sure that you can identify how each word is used. Some additional sources for further study are indicated at the end of this grammar.

There is one point that I would like to make very clear from the outset. While I have found knowing Greek to be useful for some personal reasons, I do not for one moment feel that knowing Greek is essential to getting an accurate understanding of the Bible. No one should ever feel intimidated by someone that knows Greek and think that it gives them a more accurate knowledge of the meaning of the scriptures. The translations available to us in English make God's message available to us all. No doctrine of scripture requires a knowledge of Greek in order to be understood. This is not meant to minimize the value of knowing Greek, but I don't want to give the impression by the inclusion of this section of the site that only those who know Greek can have the correct insight into the meaning of the Bible.

Now a few words about the basis for this grammar. Rather than try and completely reinvent a Greek grammar, I have used as a starting point my first Greek primer: Gramatica Griega Elemental [in Spanish] by Jaime Berenguer Amenós, which although written for the Attic dialect, provides a very concise course of study, one suitable for use on a web site. However, this is not a presentation of that work. Numerous other volumes that deal with Biblical and Classical Greek in both English and Spanish have also been consulted, and the end result is an entirely original work that owes a debt of gratitude to the fine works that went before it.

Some Greek Language History and Background
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Greek is one of many languages that belongs to the Indo-European language family. This is a very large language family that includes languages from the far western edges of Europe extending all the way east into parts of the Indian subcontinent. Other languages that belong to this group include: Sanskrit (or Indian), Persian (or Iranian), Armenian, Albanian, Latin (or Italic), Celtic, Germanic (or Teutonic), and Slavic. (English belongs to this group too.)

The history of the Greek language can be divided generally into five periods. They are:

  1. The Formative Period - from the beginning of the language (c. 1500 BCE) until Homer (c. 900 BCE), and consisted of three main dialects: Ionic, Aeolic, and Doric.

  2. The Classical Period - from Homer until Alexander the Great (c. 330 BCE), in which Attic, the dialect of Athens (possibly derived from Ionic, but including elements of all three dialects) is the most important.

  3. The Koiné Period - from 330 BCE until the division of the Roman Empire (330 CE), in which the language that Alexander's troops brought with them was a modified form of Attic Greek. This is what came to be known as Common or Koiné Greek, the basis for the Greek used in the Bible.

  4. The Byzantine Period - from 330 CE until the fall of Constantinople (1453 CE).

  5. The Modern Period - from 1453 CE until now.

Some Unique Features of Biblical Greek: Biblical Greek includes not just the Greek of the "New Testament" or Greek Scriptures, but also the Greek used in the Septuaginta, the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. There is quite a wide range of styles and mastery of the Greek by the different writers and translators. The translators of the Septuaginta used a Greek closer to the Attic Greek than the writers of the Greek Scriptures. Remember too, that all of the writers were Jews and not Greeks. Their native language also played a role, albeit small, in how they used Greek. Also, the translators of the Septuaginta were educated men (of greater or lesser skill) while the writers of the Greek Scriptures wrote in the ordinary language of the masses.

Although there are other differences, the principle ways in which Biblical Greek differs from Classical Greek are as follows (Nunn):

  1. The complete disappearance of the Dual voice.

  2. The almost entire disappearance of the Optative mood.

  3. The great extension of the use and meaning of clauses introduced by ινα (so that).

  4. The extension of the use of mh (limited negative), probably due to Semetic influences.

  5. The substitution of the regular endings of the verbs in Omega for those of the verbs in Mi in certain cases.

  6. The general simplification of sentence construction, and the frequent use of a simple kai (and) or de (but) to join sentences or clauses.

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Challenges for the English Speaking Person
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English, as spoken today, is a very simple language grammatically when compared to the languages of the past. It combines several Germanic dialects along with medieval French to produce a pidgin or trade language that has grown into the most powerful language of the twentieth century. As with all such pidgin languages, the grammar has been greatly simplified (tell that to someone who is trying to learn it!) from that of its parents. English's forebears, German and Latin, share many of the same characteristics of Greek that have been lost in Modern English. Among these features are the declension of nouns and adjectives according to case (changing of word endings depending upon the way the word is used), conjugation of verbs according to tense (changing of verb endings depending on gender; person; singular, dual, or plural; and time of action), and some verb tenses. Additionally, word order and capitalization in Greek have less importance as the words themselves contain much more information about their role in the sentence. To get a grasp of the language, all these concepts, and many others besides, must be mastered. A large number of them will be new to the native English speaker who does not yet know another language.

Now that you have gotten through my introduction, you are ready to get started!

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