Koine Greek grammar
Koine Greek grammar is a subclass of Ancient Greek grammar peculiar to the Koine Greek dialect. It includes many forms of Hellenistic era Greek, and authors such as Plutarch and Lucian, as well as many of the surviving inscriptions and papyri.
Koine texts from the background of Jewish culture and religion have distinct features not found in classically rooted writings. These texts include the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament with Apocrypha), New Testament, Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, the Greek Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, and early Patristic writings.
- 1 Similarities to Attic grammar
- 2 Differences from Attic grammar
- 3 Semitisms in "Jewish Greek"
- 4 Tense-aspect debate
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Similarities to Attic grammar
The commonalities between Attic and Hellenistic era Greek grammar are far greater than the differences. Where divergences became too wide the focus was attracted of the "Atticists", language purists, who sought in their writing to leave the lingua franca of the market place for the classical style.
Differences from Attic grammar
James Morwood in Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek lists "some key features of New Testament grammar", many of which apply to all Koine texts: Friedrich Blass and Albert Debrunner's Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch is a grammar designed for those who know Classical Greek, and describes Koine Greek in terms of divergences from Classical. It has been revised in Germany by Friedrich Rehkopf, and translated into English and revised by Robert W. Funk.
Simplification of accidence with difficulties and irregularities reduced:
- fewer irregular comparatives
- third declension adjectives become rarer
- monosyllabic nouns with irregular declension become rarer
- verbs in -μι are given the endings of verbs in -ω
- 1st regular aorist endings often replace 2nd aorists
The following changes occur in syntax:
- ἵνα ("that") is now used for "[with the result] that...", "[he said] that", and command forms, offering an alternative for (but not quite replacing) the accusative and infinitive construction.
- some prepositions are used more where case declension makes this strictly redundant in Attic
- pronouns are supplied more where the sense is still clear without them
- diminutives are used more often, but also do not always carry any diminutive meaning. This is particularly true in Jewish texts, e.g. "[little] wing of the temple"
- conjunctions are used with differing frequencies from natural Greek. For example, the ratio of καί to δέ at the beginning of sentences is higher, influenced by Semitic languages.
- τότε 'then' as a common narrative conjunction reflects Aramaic influence from the Second Temple period (5th century BCE to 1st century CE).
Infinitive of purpose
In Hellenistic era Greek, middle voice is often replaced by active voice with reflexive pronouns. This means that the middle voice verbs that remain are less likely to be true reflexive voice than in Attic Greek, and the majority of New Testament middle voice verb usage comes into other categories. Among those other uses is the use of middle voice as an approximation to causative.
Semitisms in "Jewish Greek"
The comments above that also apply to the New Testament are generally true for Koine texts with no "Jewish Greek" influence. The following comments, however, apply to texts influenced by a knowledge of either Jewish literature or Jewish oral traditions:
Numerous semitisms in grammar and phraseology occur, e.g. impersonal egeneto (ἐγένετο) "it came to pass" introducing a finite verbal clause, representing the impersonal Hebrew ויהי structure.
Semitic word order?
The use of the inverted AB-BA structures found in Hebrew poetry, known as chiastic structure, is also often classed as a semitism, but is also found in Homer. Likewise the repetition of nouns with distributive force, e.g. sumposia sumposia (by groups Mark 6:39) could be Semitism, but it is also current in vulgar (common) Greek. Many aspects of New Testament word order, such as avoiding the "Atticist" affectation of placing the verb at the penult of the sentence, are simply natural 1st-century Greek style.
Although vocabulary does not truly count as grammar, other than in irregular declension and plurals, it is mentioned here for completeness. A small number of easily identifiable items of Semitic vocabulary are used as loanwords in the Greek of the Septuagint, New Testament and Patristic texts, such as satanas for Hebrew ha-Satan. Less evident Semitisms occur in vocabulary usage, and semantic content (range of meaning). Numerous words in the New Testament are used in ways that derive from the Septuagint rather than secular or pagan usage. In particular, there is religious vocabulary peculiar to Judaism and monotheism. For example, angelos more frequently means "angel" than "messenger", and diabolos means Job's "devil" more often than mere "slanderer".
A debate currently exists as to the meaning of the tense-forms found in Koine Greek. It is widely held that Koine Greek tense-forms are aspectual, but whether or not tense (semantic time reference) is included, as well as the number of aspects, is under discussion.
Stanley E. Porter argues that there are three aspects: perfective, imperfective and stative. On the other hand, Constantine R. Campbell finds only two aspects, and adds a category of "proximity" to further differentiate tense of and regards the perfect tense-form (regarded by Porter as aspectually stative) as imperfective in aspect and more intensely proximal than the present. Campbell's view of Koine Greek tense-forms can be summarised in this way:
|Tense-form||Semantic aspect||Semantic proximity||Typical pragmatic values|
|Aorist||Perfective||Remote||Past temporal reference|
|Present||Imperfective||Proximate||Present tense, Historical present, direct speech, directional verbs|
|Imperfect||Imperfective||Remote||Past tense, background information|
|Perfect||Imperfective||Heightened proximity||Direct speech|
|Pluperfect||Imperfective||Heightened remoteness||Background of background information|
- Helmut Köster Introduction to the New Testament 2000 Page 107 "Plutarch (45-125 ce) and the Jewish writers Philo and Josephus show some influence from the vernacular Koine. The sophist and satirist Lucian of Samosata (120-180 ce), though an admirer of Classical literature, still made extensive use of the language of his own time and ridiculed the excesses of Atticism."
- Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch by Friedrich Blass, Albert Debrunner, Friedrich Rehkopf, ISBN 978-3525521069
- Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, translated and revised by Robert W. Funk, ISBN 978-0226271101
- Stanley E. Porter, Anthony R. Cross Dimensions of baptism: biblical and theological studies 2002 p 105 "(pragmatic manifestation) of the general definition of the middle voice (semantic sense). This position actually breaks down into two related issues. The first is whether there is a specific causative use of the Greek middle voice,"
- Albert Wifstrand, Lars Rydbeck, Stanley E. Porter, Denis Searby Epochs and styles: selected writings on the New Testament, Greek language and Greek Culture In the Post-classical Era 2005 p 22
- Geoffrey Horrocks Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers p 140–141
- Constantine Campbell Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek 2008
- Constantine Campbell Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek 2008, Chapters 3-7
A free Koine Greek Keyboard is available on the Westar Institute/Polebridge Press website.