History of the Greek language
The Greek of the New Testament is very unique. It is, in a word – preserved. Frozen in time by a sovereign God who has preserved His Word in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and Greek of the New in order for all mankind to have a precise knowledge of what He has to say. God’s word is His vocabulary. In fact, God created Adam to communicate and have fellowship with Him. Therefore, Adam was either created already knowing a language or shortly after his creation was “gifted” (supernaturally equipped) with a complex language to talk with the pre-incarnate Christ in the garden. Adam, Eve and God walked and talked in the garden.
Language is predominantly a spoken form of communication, but God preserves His Word in the written form so that we have something that is totally reliable. Something that we can build our lives upon. The spoken form is more versatile in that one can stress certain words by the inflection of the voice. In the written form, God gave man a way to preserve His Word in a permanent unchangeable record, and He commands mankind to be keepers of His sacred word faithfully and attentively.
Legal documents, trade records, history, ancient and modern, are all recorded in writing. All languages have certain fundamental elements with rules that regulate its form. This has to be or communication with each other would be impossible. All those years in school taking English for the purpose of teaching us how to read and write are for the purpose of teaching proper communication with all its rules. In most western societies, the early Puritans wanted all their children to learn how to read and write so they could understand God’s Word for themselves. So no one would be ignorant of our Savior’s gift – that God came in the flesh, died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice, was buried, and was raised from the dead. Jesus lives, so we may have eternal life with Him. And His word will stand sure forever!
The Story of Greek
The Greek language has developed through the ages from its early dialects about 1500 BC. The language is generally classified into five periods. The Formative period, which extends from the origin of the Greek race to Homer (c. 900 BC). It was during this period that the Ionic branch was established and in particular Attic Greek which dominated the dialects. This was the language of Athens.
The next great period of the Greek language is called the Classical period. This period extended from Homer to the great Alexandrine conquest (c. 333 BC). Attic was the dialect with a few carryovers from the Doria and Aeolic dialects, which are identified as irregular and exceptions. This type of Greek was not confined to Athens and spread as God moved in the world causing the Leopard of Daniel (Daniel 7) to conquer Medo-Persia, Egypt and all areas between. The Leopard of Daniel was identified as Alexander the Great. To accomplish this conquering of the world by Greece, Alexander recruited men for his army from all parts of Greece. This new group played a vital role in the emergence of a new type of Greek. The language of Hellenistic society was consequently derived from blending the various dialects of the Greeks into a new common language dominated by Attic.
This new dialect ushered in the next great period known as the Koine period. This period extended from 330 BC to AD 330. It is the period of the common or universal Greek. Koine means “common” and it was the language of the common people and the common means of communication in the Hellenistic age (c. 300 BC to AD 500). The Hellenistic colonists made Greek permanent. Only after the passage of several centuries, the sixth century AD, did the Koine give way to the Greek of the Byzantine period (AD 330 to 1453). This period began with the division of the Roman Empire. The last period is the Modern period dating from 1453 to the present.
The movement of a universal language that the common man communicated by (or what is commonly called the commercial language), was a sovereign act of God which brought His word to the entire world. The New Testament was written in Greek and it was by this Greek - the unique Koine Greek, that the gospel of Christ spread like wildfire throughout the region.
The Greek of Palestine
Palestine was multilingual in the time of Christ. Aramaic was the language of the remnant of Israel, a remnant of the Babylonian captivity some 300 years prior to Christ. Jesus spoke Aramaic as is seen in the Gospel record, Hebrew was the language of the rabbinic circle, but it was Greek that was common to all in that region. Koine means “common, “everyday” and was the language of the Hellenistic world. Christ and His disciples spoke Greek, which most certainly was a practicality and of necessity. Furthermore, there existed in Jerusalem a Greek speaking Jewish synagogue (Acts 6:9), which no doubt used the Greek Old Testament Septuagint in their service.
The Greek New Testament Texts
The Biblical writings of the New Testament that have come down to us today have been analyzed to the point that the major versions are all very good. The major manuscripts in use are the Textus Receptus (TR), the Majority Text (MT), and the Nestle-Aland (NA27). With the computer resources that are commonly available today, each one of these texts may be used with complete lexical detail. It is however recommend that those learning the language do so using the old fashion way – memorize the vocabulary and forms. This insures that the proper time is spent learning the language. Greek is not a hard language to learn, but it does require the effort needed to quickly identify the root word and its form. Since Greek uses a lot of compound words, knowing the basic vocabulary is essential, and the compounds can be “broken down” by literally speaking the compounds to get to the new word.
The New Testament has been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work of literature, with over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts catalogued; 10,000 Latin manuscripts; and over 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages. Including; Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian.
The dates of these ancient manuscripts range from c. 125 (the papyrus, oldest copy of John fragments) to the introduction of printing in Germany in the 15th century.