[B-Greek] koine to classical (not!)

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Tue May 20 12:18:05 EDT 2008

Barry Hofstetter has said most of what I would want to say in response  
to Mark's comments here (including his well-taken comment about the  
importance of Homer -- knowing Homer for (educated) ancient Greeks of  
all periods was comparable to knowing Shakespeare and the KJV for  
(educated) English-speakers. I just want to respond specifically to a  
few items.

On May 20, 2008, at 8:39 AM, Mark Lightman wrote:

> Stick with New Testament Greek.  If you want to "study some classical
>  Greek" read (i.e. re-read) Hebrews and the second half of Acts.
>  As Buth notes in a post above, the distinction between Classical and
>  Koine is overstated.  The forms you have to memorize are almost
>  exactly the same (the only differences I can think of is no dual
>  in the Koine and Koine TWSAN for
>  Classical NTWN in the 3 pl imperative.)  Ancient Greek vocabulary is
>  ancient Greek vocabulary; 95% of the vocab you would learn in a  
> classical
>  Greek class or from an Attic textbook will be very useful for your NT
>  Greek, and conversely, if you memorize the meanings of the 5437 words
>  in the Greek New Testament, you will have a better Classical  
> vocabulary
>  than your average Classics grad student.  It's true that words  
> develop
>  different meanings--KAKOS in Classical Greek could mean "lazy," a
>  meaning, I think, not found in the GNT, and this explains why EGKAKEW
>  in the GNT means "I become tired."  But when you do your Greek NT  
> word studies,
>  you are going to learn stuff like this.  Virtually every  
> construction that
>  you might read about in Smyth or learn in a Classical Greek class
>  occurs at least once in the Greek New Testament.

As regards the last sentence of the above paragraph, I'd question  
whether it's true (obviously I haven't done the counting!); I would  
argue, however, that Smyth is ultimately more useful for understanding  
the grammar of the GNT than Wallace, for instance.

There's a major reason why Randall argues that the distinction between  
Classical and Koine is overstated. Grammarians in the schools of the  
later first and following centuries (CE) tended to teach Attic forms  
and usage as the standard to be observed. This is the so-called  
"Atticist" movement. While one may argue that this only affects  
secular literature, that's not quite true; it affects the church  
fathers to a considerable extent: Clement of Alexandria, etc.

>  So, the issue is not what kind of Greek (Classical or NT) your  
> "learn" or
>  "study."  The issue is which Greek texts you choose to spend your  
> time
>  reading.  It's great that you have finished Mounce!  Now is the  
> time to
>  read and re-read the Greek NT!  After that, read the Greek NT with  
> Zerwick, then
>  read the "The Expositor's Greek New Testament" and after that read  
> the Greek
>  NT and look up every word you are curious about in Moulton and  
> Milligan's
>  "The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament" and after that read the  
> Greek
>  NT along with all the variants in NA27 and then after that get "The  
> Precise
>  Parallel New Testament" and read the Greek NT along with out all the
>  translations and then after that read the Greek NT and whenever you  
> see
>  a verb form that you cannot explain look it up in Mounce's  
> "Morphology of
>  Biblical Greek."  Then, after that, read the Greek New Testament  
> aloud into
>  a tape recorder and play in back and see if you can understand it.
>  Then, if you still have time, you will want to read some non-NT  
> Greek and
>  so read and re-read the Apostolic Fathers.  Then read the  
> Septuagint, both
>  the stuff composed in Greek and the stuff translated from the Hebrew.
>  Then, if you still have time, learn Hebrew.  THEN, IF YOU STILL HAVE
>  TIME, by all means, read some Xenophon.
>  Conrad, who is a heck of a lot smarter than I am, says that
>  everyone who wants to read the Greek New
>  Testament should first spend their time on Classical grammars and
>  in Classical Greek classes and reading Classical texts.  Had we
>  but world enough and time, I guess this would be okay.  But we
>  don't.

I don't claim any advantage of intelligence over any other contributor  
to B-Greek; if I have any advantage at all, it's just the experience  
of reading Greek texts for more than 50 years. And yes, I do think  
that reading copiously in Greek literature beyond the GNT enhances  
one's understanding of the Greek of the GNT.

I really wonder how many times one can re-read Hebrews without having  
memorized it and assimilated just about all that it can teach you  
about Greek. On the other hand, I rather think that reading some Plato  
might add to one's appreciation of Hebrews. But the main reason for  
reading classical Greek texts as well as Greek texts that are  
contemporaneous with and later than the GNT is because they are worth  
reading -- I wouldn't recommend them SOLELY for the sake of  
enhancement of competence in reading the GNT, but that constitutes a  
secondary value to reading them, a value of considerable significance.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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