Nature of Koine: Turner summary

The following summary from Porter's book was prepared by Robert A. Lillo, 
one of my doctoral classmates in a course in Advanced [Koine] Greek Grammar. 
He may be contacted c/o me if anyone desires to do so. Rod Decker 

Nigel Turner, "The Language of Jesus and His Disciples" in _The Language of 
the New Testament: Classic Essays._ JSNT supp. series # 60. Edited by Stanley 
E. Porter. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991. [Page refs. are to the original 
publication in Turner's _Grammatical Insights into the New Testament_.]

I. The Purpose of the Chapter

Turner's purpose is to show that Jesus originally spoke His Gospel 
sayings in Greek.  In answering those who call for Aramaic originals, he 
posits a special dialect of Greek--"biblical Greek" (182-88).

II.  A Survey of the Chapter

Were Jesus' Sayings in Greek?

Turner points out the importance of studying the possible range of 
languages that Jesus could have used in his spoken ministry.  The result of 
such study would give valuable aid in determining the language of the 
original transcripts of Jesus' sayings.  If He spoke mostly in Aramaic, 
then the original Greek texts of the Gospels are likely to have had 
translations from Aramaic to Greek.  If Jesus spoke the Greek of his native 
Galilee, then the problem of original biblical documents in Aramaic (or 
proto documents) is avoided.  Turner raises the most significant question 
in the investigation: Is there evidence of mistranslated Aramaic in the NT 
Greek of the Gospels (175)?

Turner refutes the claim that source documents of Jesus' sayings would 
have been written originally in Aramaic.  He provides alternate 
explanations of alleged mistranslation passages in Matthew and Luke.  He 
also mentions Greek syntax uncharacteristic of books translated into Greek. 

Like Fitzmyer, Turner also holds that Jesus spoke and read Hebrew, 
though that was not the dominant language of Palestine in the first 
century.  In regard to a question raised by Fitzmyer's article,<2>  Turner 
gives evidence in support of Aramaic as the language of Paul's address "in 
the Hebrew tongue"  (Acts 21:40; cf. 26:14).<3>  The exception proves the 
rule, however, for both Paul and Jesus, so Turner refers to Abbott's 
argument in favor of Jesus' use of Greek based on Mark's infrequent 
translations into Aramaic (e.g., Mark 5:41; 7:11, etc.).  Turner also 
points out the evidence of idiomatic Greek and the reluctance of 
translators to give free renditions of divine sayings from source documents 
(e.g. LXX Torah).  The practice of such literalistic duplication favors 
Greek as Jesus' spoken language in the Gospels (181, 177).

The New Testament reflects a "Biblical Greek"

Turner says that since the Greek of the Gospels reflects Aramaic and 
LXX influence, Jesus must also have spoken in the same sort of dialect 
(182-83).  Silva, however, showed in his article on palestinian 
bilingualism<6> that semitic influence affected the written style of the New 
Testament, but did not in and of itself form a separate dialect.<4>
Consequently, Turner's objection to Deissmann's and Moulton's view of the 
Greek of the New Testament is not a real objection.

Turner makes a lengthy comparison between the unique Christian art, 
especially that of the Byzantine tradition, and the unique "biblical 
Greek" of the New Testament which he finds most prominently in the book of 
Revelation 187, 188).  It seems, however, that this very point is in 
accord with Silva's contention that Turner is addressing a difference in 
style rather than a difference in language or  dialect.  The book of 
Revelation, more than any other in the New Testament, is dependent on Old 
Testament imagery and allusion.<5>  A different style with semitic and LXX 
influence is a more likely explanation for the kind of Greek found in it 
rather than Turner's claim that it is "the most characteristic example of this 
kind of Greek" (p. 188, i.e., a dialect he calls "biblical Greek").


<1> E.g., "men . . . de"; use of the genitive absolute (177); see the charts 
for the use of the gen. ab. on pp. 178-79.

<2> "The Languages of Palestine in the First Century A.D." by Joseph Fitzmyer 
in Language of the New Testament: Classical Essays, ed. Stanley E. Porter, 
JSNT Supplement Series #60 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991).

<3> (180-181), but Thomas and Gundry prefer to see Paul's reference to 
Hebrew rather than Aramaic, though without much documentation, except to 
refer to other articles by Gundry and Hughes (Harmony of the Gospels 
[Harper and Row, 1978], 311-12).  The article by Gundry, "The Language Milieu 
of First-Century Palestine," is in JBL [83 (1964): 404-08], and the one by 
Hughes, "The Languages Spoken by Jesus," is in New Dimensions in New Testament 
Study, edited by R. N. Longenecker and M. Tenney [(Zondervan, 1974), pp. 125-

<4> "Bilingualism and the Character of Palestinian Greek," in Biblica1, 
Vol. 61 (1980): 215-17.

<5> 278/404 verses refer to the OT; over 500 OT passages alluded to; 
unique in the NT in this way ("Revelation" by Alan Johnson in Vol. 12 of 
The Expositor's Bible Commentary, [Zondervan] p. 411).

<6> [Ref. is to Silva's article in the Porter vol., pp. 205-26; it may also be 
found in _Biblica_ 61 (1980): 198-219. RD]

Rodney J. Decker
Assistant Professor of Greek and Theology
Calvary Theological Seminary, Kansas City
(94-95 sabbatical explains the Univ. of Wisc. address!)