Biblical Greek (Beginners): 00. Introduction
Welcome to the course of the grammar of Biblical Greek. In this course, you will learn the most essential grammar for understanding the Greek New Testament. These essentials are covered in twelve lessons building upon each other. Before proceeding right into learning the language, we need to discuss some introductory topics of the language itself and the suggested way of learning it.
About the Greek language
The Greek language, which was spoken at the time of the New Testament, is called Koine (κοινός [koinos], "general, common"). Another commonly used name is Hellenistic Greek. It was an everyday language of ordinary people. Its development has undergone through several historical periods:
- Pre-Homeric (– 1000 BC)
- Classical period (1000 – 330 BC)
- Hellenistic Greek (330 BC – 330 AD)
- Byzantine Greek (330 – 1453 AD)
- Modern Greek (1453 AD to present)
Originally, Greek was made up of five dialects. Then at the 6th - 5th century B.C the Attic dialect, which has become dominant, has prevailed. Koine Greek evolved from the Attic dialect and is its simplified form. It belongs to Indo-European languages (western branch). The Greek alphabet is based on the Phoenician alphabet (i.e., Semitic languages).
When, in the 3rd BC, Alexander the Great conquered new lands and expands his empire, he introduces the Greek (the Attic dialect) as a common language. The Greek then becomes the second language of the population. However, it is not their native mother language. Therefore, it naturally gets simplified, resulting in the emergence of a new dialect called Koine - the language of ordinary people. It is a different Greek from that we find in works of the educated elite like Plato and other philosophers of antiquity. Typical documents such as correspondence and administrative documents in Palestine were written in this type of Greek. The New Testament Greek was also influenced by Semitic thinking or by a particular culture where it was used as a spoken language.
From the historical viewpoint, Koine was gradually transformed in the 5th century AD to Byzantine Greek which is then followed by the transformation to the present form. Consequently, due to the historical development, Modern Greek is different from Koine. For Koine, we do not use the pronunciation used in Modern Greek, but the artificial reconstruction based on the Attic dialect developed in the 15th century AD by the humanist scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536).
Originally, it was also thought that the NT Greek was the language invented by the Holy Spirit. However, J. B. Llightfoot suggested (in 1863) that if we were able to find contemporary documents (letters of ordinary people, etc.), we would have the opportunity to inspect and understand the way Greek was like in the NT era. This was a perfect estimate. Subsequently, in 1895, Adolf Deissmann published studies based on the study of contemporary documents (papyrus), showing that it was precisely the same language as used in the NT.
Another significant biblical document in the Greek language is the Septuagint (usually abbreviated as LXX). It contains the older forms of NT Koine because it is also earlier work. This is the Greek translation of the OT from the 3rd century BC, which was formed in a long process of about 2-3 hundred years.
How to Learn
We will now discuss how to get the most from learning the language in this course.
The starting point of learning a particular grammar are individual lessons. In each lesson, you will learn a particular grammar by reading through the most essential subjects of the grammar in the discussion. For making the grammar more comprehensive, its summary and grammar charts are provided. One of the most crucial parts of the lesson is practical exercises helping you to actually work with the particular grammar.
Once you finish all the lessons, it is good to continue with other courses and to gradually learn available vocabularies of biblical texts in the application.
Some of the lessons are accompanied by a vocabulary exercise (usually of a biblical passage). Usually, such a passage contains occurrences of the grammar in the discussion. Your task is to learn the vocabulary so you can translate the text and interact with the grammar.
For example, in the first lesson, you will find an exercise for learning the 300 of the most frequent words in the NT. We are recommending learning this exercise gradually during the whole course. This is the minimum vocabulary you need for basic reading of the Greek NT text since you will find most of these words in almost every passage.
Greek New Testament
If you are serious with Greek, you will need to get the printed text of the Greek New Testament. Today, it is not a problem to get it from some of the online sellers. On the global market the following titles are available:
- Bibles (you can also use app built-in texts)
- Novum Testamentum Graece (Nestle-Aland) (Recommended)
- Greek New Testament (UBS GNT)
- Byzantine Greek New Testament
- Lexicons (you can also use app built-in dictionary)
- Newman, Barclay M. Jr. Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Recommended)
- Danker, F. W. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (so-called BDAG)
Of course, prices and other information can be found on the Internet. If you are not comfortable with these modern critical texts, it's not a problem to get another to better fit your needs. You do not need to get the printed text right now to engage in the course. All of the lessons can be completed without it.
Make Your Own Notes
We recommend making your own notes from the material, exercises, charts, etc., so you can get back to it later. The advantage of this practice is that you can structure your notes in a way that will reflect your reasoning, which then affects the ability to remember. Making notes also helps you in a way that it forces you to think about the material to formulate the content somehow. This, therefore, results in that you are already learning the material.
For now, you know everything to begin your New Testament studies. You can continue to the first lesson, where you will learn how to read the Greek text.