Greek, Classical and Koine

From: Edgar Krentz (
Date: Mon Apr 28 1997 - 11:00:29 EDT

I am forwarding the following submission to the classical Greek list. It
was part of a discussion on teaching NT Greek in classics departments. I
found it a good summary of an attitude I share. Happy reading. ;-)

Ed Krentz
Date: Thu, 03 Apr 1997 17:39:48 -0400
Precedence: bulk
Subject: Re: Comm. for Promo. of Greek?
Mime-Version: 1.0
X-Priority: 3 (Normal)

I became a member of the Committee for the Promotion of Greek in
December. We discussed various initiatives during our meeting at the
APA and (so far as I know) haven't done much since then. I, at least,
simply kept putting aside the tasks that the Committee Chair, Ken
Kitchell, had appointed to me. So, to the degree that I am
representative of the committee, we exist but are not very active.

In partial penance, let me make the following suggestions on your
questions about the integration of Koine and Classical.

At Ohio University we do not have a separate track for New Testament
people. We do have a jr/sr. course in New Testament that is offered one
quarter in alternate years. When it shows up on the schedule it is
*the* advanced Greek course for that quarter, and so it attracts
students who are particularly interested in New Testament and those who
are not. I think it is accurate to report that the "unbelievers" in the
course, some of whom have never read the New Testament, regard the
course as educationally valuable and interesting--just as the
"believers" regard a Plato or a Homer course.

Over the years we have always had a significant cadre of New
Testament-oriented students in the first- and second-year
sequences--even though we teach only Classical in those years. We
manage to attract these students (and to retain the best of them) by
several means. First, we specifically emphasize in our recruitment
publicity that learning Classical Greek prepares one to read the New
Testament. Second, we treat the New Testament with respect--as an
important and influential document (arguably *the* most important
document in Western history), and consequently worthy of serious
scholarly study. Third, we make sure that students who are learning
Greek to study the New Testament are not made to feel like backwards
hillbilly cousins of "real" classicists. That latter task comes easy to
me because I was attracted to Greek in order to learn New Testament. I
studied Koine almost exclusively for the four years of my undergraduate
work. Consequently, I have considerable credibility with zealous
freshmen believers when I explain that if they will trust me and work
hard at Classical Greek for one year, they will find themselves able to
read the gospels better than I could as a junior nurtured only on New
Testament Greek. And, if they will work hard at Classical for two
years, they will find themselves able to read the epistles better than I
could at the end of my senior year. I readily admit that they will find
some of the vocabulary a bit strange, but after two years of Classical
they will be adept at using a lexicon, and they will quickly adapt to
New Testament vocabulary because they are already familiar with it in

We do not have a religion program here, but if we were fortunate enough
to have such a resource, I would try the following strategy. The basic
strategy would be that all Greek students would learn Classical
(Attic/Ionic/Homeric--whatever the particular balance is in your
program). Then, beginning late in the first year (either the second
semester or the third quarter) I would add an optional supplementary
course for the New Testament students. I suspect that a one-hour
supplement would be adequate. In that one hour per week I would teach
those students the things that my religion colleagues thought
important: unique vocabulary (doxa, for example); peculiar morphology
and syntax (actually a very minor matter at the elementary level); and
experience in reading. The NT faculty might also have a list of
syntactic terms that they would like taught. I think such a simple
supplement could reasonably guarantee that motivated students (who were
doing all the work in the Classical course) would have read several
chapters of (let's say) Mark by the end of the first year. A similar
supplementary course could accompany both semesters of the second year
and could again include matters of importance to the NT faculty (basic
text critical material enabling elementary use of the apparatus
criticus, further vocabulary development, etc.) Off the top of my head,
I would guess that it would be possible in such a one-hour supplement to
read through the entire Epistle to the Romans (or whatever the NT people

I think that people make far too much of the gulf between Classical and
Koine. Every year enthusiastic prospective students phone me to ask
whether we teach Classical or Koine--on the assumption that they are two
different languages. I suspect that this erroneous belief arises
largely from ministers who have learned just a little Koine and know
that they couldn't hope to read Classical. The "two different
languages" misapprehension is sometimes reinforced, I'm afraid, by
classicists either because they have not read the New Testament in Greek
or from a misplaced sense of pride in literary Attic/Ionic. The fact is
that any good junior-level student of Classical Greek can, with a
minimum of supplementary instruction, read anything in the New Testament
with relative ease. That (I believe) is the message that we need to get
out--because it is advantageous to our interests (both in increased
enrollment and in reduced duplication of elementary instruction), but
more importantly because it is true.

Steve Hays
Ohio University

Edgar Krentz, New Testament
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Tel: [773] 256-0752; (H) [773] 947-8105

Reply to:
          or (home e-mail)

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:14 EDT