Re: classical greek

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun May 09 1999 - 22:07:34 EDT

At 6:21 PM -0700 5/9/99, John Oaklands wrote:
>Hi Carl
>Just a question probably of interest to others too, concerning John
>5:26 and what you wrote. Do you know of anything in classical Greek
>that would have any bearing on what is written in John 5:26? If so I
>would be grateful for any suggestion for I think that classical Greek
>must also be taken into account when were reading the NT. Do you see
>it that way too?

I can give you my opinion on this, but I know very well that you'll
hear/read a great variety of discordant responses to your question. Here
are two or three thoughts:

(1) I don't think of anything specifically to be learned from classical
Attic that has more bearing on John 5:26 than what one would learn by
studying Koine by itself. My guess is that the ideas in this verse would
probably be expressed in a somewhat tighter formulation in classical Attic;
in particular I think that the infinitive phrase would be clearly marked
off by an article governing the whole phrase and in the accusative showing
that the phrase functions as the object of EDWKEN. That is, I don't think
the syntax would be different, but I think it might be more obvious.

(2) I believe that Greek from earlier and later periods in the language's
history are of immense value for illuminating a Greek passage from any
particular period, but some (obviously) more than others. I think that one
who tries to read and interpret fifth and fourth century classical
literature without knowing Homer is crippled at the outset. As for reading
the NT, one ought also to know something (the more the better) about how
Semitisms have affected the Greek written in the LXX version of the OT and
that much of what we find in NT Greek has to be understood in the light of
Semitisms carried over into Greek in ways that alter normal older Greek
patterns--but I also think one can overstate the case for Hellenistic
Jewish Greek models for NT Koine as being more important than earlier
non-Jewish Greek--there are many formative factors, and one shouldn't try
to emphasize one to the exclusion of others. And I would certainly add from
my own experience that I feel like I've found some peculiar NT Koine usage
illuminated from what I've learned of changes in the language in the two
millennia since the NT period--so that what one learns of Modern Greek also
is somewhat helpful toward understanding NT Koine.

I'm not sure that is really much help with your question. Most of it is
simply an application of a principle I deeply believe: the more you know
about any category, the better equipped you are to deal with anything
encountered within that category--but that doesn't mean that your
'equipment' won't sometimes fail you when dealing with specific problems.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243

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