Re: b-greek digest: May 08, 2000

From: Byron Knutson (
Date: Tue May 09 2000 - 14:41:54 EDT

You wrote:
Subject: Greek NT punctuation marks
From: Greg Kilbrai <>
Date: Mon, 8 May 2000 11:35:33 -0400 (EDT)
X-Message-Number: 10

Greetings. I was wondering about the origin of the punctuation marks in GNT,
and the question mark in particular. I already understand that these were
not in the manuscripts and added later by editors, along with word spacing
and the other punctuation marks.

Most of the punctuation marks seem to conform with those used in the English
language (commas, periods), so I was curious about:

1. the origin of using ";" as a question mark rather than the "?" used in
2. the raised "." used as a semicolon.

Is there any reason why versions of the GNT don't adopt the English
punctuation marks?

I'd appreciate an off-list response if this is too trivial for the main
membership on the list.

Thanks for your help with this.

Greg Kilbrai


My copy of 'The Greek New Testament According To The Majority Text' by Zane
Hodges and Arthur Farstad uses the "?" for ";", but seems to retain the
raised "." for the colon. Here is a quate from their intro:

" PUNCTUATION. As is generally known, the most ancient New Testament
manuscripts had virtually no punctuation, and only gradually were various
breaks indicated. The period and the comma are used in Greek as in other
languages of the world, but the little dot above the line is used for both a
colon and a semicolon. These three marks of punctuation have been retained.
One punctuation mark has been changed and one has been added. It was decided
that since the Greek question mark (;) is so widely used for a major break
in most languages, it would be help-ful to replace it by the almost
universally used question mark. Today even Hebrew uses this question mark.
While a student eventually comes to associate what to him looks like a
semicolon with the idea of a question, it never achieves the impact of the
universal modern question mark.
It was also considered that in a modern edition of the New Testament there
should be at least some sentences ending with an exclamation mark. While
widespread use of this symbol would be foolish, a careful and judicious
employment of it seems helpful. It is here used less than in the German
tradition and more than in the British. Certainly there are some sentences,
especially in the Apostle Paul, that are exciting enough for an exclamation
mark. As the English writer, Dorothy L. Sayers, expressed it, referring to
the Incarnation, "If this isn't exciting, for heaven's sake, what is?" "

An interesting paragraph in Smyth's Greek Grammar has the following:

"161. The invention of the marks of accent is attributed to Aristophanes of
Byzantium, librarian at Alexandria about 200 BC. The use of signs served to
fix the correct accentuation, which was becoming uncertain in the third
century BC; marked the variation of dialect usage; and rendered the
acquisition of Greek easier for foreigners. The signs for the accents (and
the breathings) were not regularly employed in Mss. till after 600 AD."

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