Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Are you learning Koine Greek, the Greek of the New Testament and most other post-classical Greek texts? Whatever your level, use this forum to discuss all things Koine, Biblical or otherwise, including grammar, textbook talk, difficult passages, and more.
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C. S. Bartholomew
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Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Oct 11, 2018 8:07 pm

just sighted in answers to the question: Why study biblical Greek?
Because "verb aspect" is not a formal feature of English.
A Bum Steer.

postscript: Verb Aspect has a cult following in biblical studies.
C. Stirling Bartholomew

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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Sat Oct 13, 2018 1:28 pm

Indeed. My answer would be "learn ancient Greek" and then read the NT. A myopic focus on one subset of literature will not produce proficiency in the language.

And yes, the Porter school is just wrong.
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by npc » Sat Oct 13, 2018 11:33 pm

Hmmm. Interesting notions. Please allow me to play Devil's advocate and ask a few questions that are intended to promote my understanding of your positions rather than necessarily to promote my own. First, my interest is in both Attic and Koine Greek literature, and I have read multiple texts on both "dialects". I agree that "to learn about verbal aspect" is not a good reason to learn any form of ancient Greek.

First, Barry, while I have gone back and forth between Attic and Koine Greek because I have an interest in both literary forms, what if a potential student wanted to learn Greek for the sole reason that they wanted to read the New Testament, and they didn't care one whit about reading anything else in that language. Would you still recommend that they read Attic and then use that knowledge to read the NT? While you and I might agree that this is a tragic view of the corpus of the language, I think my recommendation to such a student would be to learn Koine and not to expend the time and energy to learn Attic, and that doing so would not be a good investment for this particular student. Your response seems to indicate that you disagree with my recommendation. If I am correct in interpreting you this way, would you care to indicate why such a student would be better served learning Attic? In this particular case, doesn't it seem that the extra effort required to learn the more difficult Attic forms would be at least somewhat wasted time? It would seem that every seminary would disagree with this position. Not at all meaning to be disrespectful, but genuinely curious, why should a seminary student listen to you in this matter?

Second, to C.S., as an autodidact I admit to being somewhat confused by the different schools of thought on the issue of aspect. So, let me state it this way: It seems to me that the folks who support an aspective (if you will) view of the Greek verb might say the following: "The aorist tense represents a completed action in indefinite time.' Do you disagree with this statement? If so, what would be your definition of what the aorist tense represents? In reading the New Testament, there are places where the authors use an aorist tense, where if its sense is taken to be simple past, for example, that the passage just does not make any sense. In these cases, what significance ought we as readers assign to the use of the aorist in these passages?

Again, I want to make it clear that I'm not so much arguing against your position as I see this as an opportunity to learn something via the (sadly neglected in this day and age) process of inquiry.

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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Sun Oct 14, 2018 3:26 am

1. I definitely would advise any one learning ancient Greek to learn Attic. It is pretty much the universal experience of people who have done so that reading the NT presents few challenges, and that was certainly my experience. It works in the other direction as well -- Homeric Greek took some, but not extensive adjustment.

2. Porter and his acolytes essentially advocate that there is no tense in ancient Greek -- it's all aspect, including the indicative. The ancients themselves didn't believe that, and the various forms in Greek get translated to the equivalent tenses in Latin all the time. Oops. I'll let CSB answer your specific question, since he's more up on these things than I am.
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by mwh » Sun Oct 14, 2018 4:13 am

To contribute something to “the (sadly neglected in this day and age) process of inquiry”: why are you talking as if biblical Greek were the NT alone? Don’t we also have what Christians call the OT in “biblical Greek”? It’s a different sort (or several different sorts) of biblical Greek, to be sure. More fundamentally, what is biblical Greek anyway? All (and only) Greek that’s included in the bible? (What bible anyway?) The constituent books even of the NT are not all written in the same kind of Greek. Is there any such thing as New Testament Greek? (Answer: no.)

Of course I agree that if anyone is so narrow-minded as to want to read nothing but the NT there’s no need to learn Attic. Hasn’t everything that can possibly be said on the subject been said?

As to aorist tense, why suppose there’ll ever be a satisfactory definition of what it “represents” (whatever that means)? People have been reading Greek for many centuries, and taking the aorist in their stride. Isn’t it enough to observe how it’s used? It’s aspectual use is well understood. NT linguists (for want of a better term) always argue with one another, and always will.

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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by jeidsath » Sun Oct 14, 2018 5:02 am

Rijksbaron has a discussion of the aspect/tense debate. "The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek" pg.2 Note 1:
...On the other hand, it is often stated that Greek had no proper means to express relative time that the stems are really aspect stems, aspect being defined as 'the speaker's view of the internal constituency of the state of affairs'. Thus, the speaker would be free to choose between, for instance, a present stem form and an aorist stem form, a choice simply depending on whether he would view the state of affairs as 'not-completed' or 'completed'. In general, this opinion is untenable. For one thing, an important function of, for instance, the imperfect and aorist indicative in temporal clauses is neglected: they serve to establish the order of events, a function especially significant in historical narrative. In other words, it is not taken into account that 'not-completed' and 'completed' should in principle be understood as 'not-completed' and 'completed' with regard to a certain point of orientation. For another, the choice between tense stems is highly determined by the context. Substitution of one form for another usually changes the information and thus influences the way in which a speaker may proceed with, for instance, a narrative. This is not to say that notions like simultaneity etc. are always of primary importance...
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Sun Oct 14, 2018 5:08 am

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
Because "verb aspect" is not a formal feature of English.
English does express aspect, and like modality, it is expressed periphrastically.
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Sun Oct 14, 2018 5:29 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:1. I definitely would advise any one learning ancient Greek to learn Attic.
Practically speaking, I agree with this. There are numerous intitutions offering excellent courses in Classical Greek (usually concentrating on Attic) and a great quantity of learning and reference material that is readily available.

Idealistically speaking, asking somebody to learn Attic when what they want is Koine overlooks the vast body of literature written in the Koine. That body of literature is not the usual starting point for learners, however, and untill recently has not had the same sort of "school text" resources that would have made it accessible to autodidacts.
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by npc » Sun Oct 14, 2018 6:26 am

mwh wrote:To contribute something to “the (sadly neglected in this day and age) process of inquiry”: why are you talking as if biblical Greek were the NT alone? Don’t we also have what Christians call the OT in “biblical Greek”? It’s a different sort (or several different sorts) of biblical Greek, to be sure. More fundamentally, what is biblical Greek anyway? All (and only) Greek that’s included in the bible? (What bible anyway?) The constituent books even of the NT are not all written in the same kind of Greek. Is there any such thing as New Testament Greek? (Answer: no.)
I'm happy to answer your questions. I certainly don't believe that Koine Greek is represented only by the NT. If I gave that impression about my personal beliefs than I have done so in error, and I apologize. However, there do exist some people who, from their point of view, feel that the only thing written in any form of Greek that interests them is the NT. In fact, at any one time, I wouldn't be surprised to find that the majority of people in the United States who are in their first year of Greek study feel this way. Personally, I lament the extent to which this is true, but it is either true or not regardless of how I feel on the topic. Again, personally, I've enjoyed reading selections from the NT, Patristic authors, the apocrypha, Josephus, Philo, Appian, Aelian, and other authors from this period as well as Attic authors.

Just in case your second question about the Septuagint isn't rhetorical, certainly, I agree, and there are many other texts from the larger period in question that are fine examples of the Greek of the period and well worth reading, IMHO.

I also agree about the stylistic differences among NT books and as compared to other Koine texts. Also, I think your point about there being no such thing as NT Greek is well taken, although I'll point out that there appear to me to be patterns of writing specific to specifically Jewish religious writing in Greek that I don't see in my limited experience in other types of ancient Greek writing, and if one were to label these specific patterns that are exclusive to the Septuagint and writers who are heavily influenced by it as "NT Greek", I would know what they mean, and I could be convinced that this is a convenient shorthand.
Of course I agree that if anyone is so narrow-minded as to want to read nothing but the NT there’s no need to learn Attic. Hasn’t everything that can possibly be said on the subject been said?
Again, I don't mean to offend anyone, but if I read Barry and ἑκηβόλος correctly, they would seem to disagree with this, even though I would come down on your side of the debate.
As to aorist tense, why suppose there’ll ever be a satisfactory definition of what it “represents” (whatever that means)? People have been reading Greek for many centuries, and taking the aorist in their stride. Isn’t it enough to observe how it’s used? It’s aspectual use is well understood. NT linguists (for want of a better term) always argue with one another, and always will.
There is always the linguistic tension between defining language by "proper use" vs "actual use" which can never be completely resolved, and that's well taken. But that's different from saying the "Porter school is just wrong" and equating those who purport aspect theory to be cult members. These are very strong statements that I'm trying to understand. If, instead, the thread had started, for example, with "We may never understand everything the Greek speaking world meant by the aorist. Certainly, it appears to have some aspectual function, but it also has a temporal sense, and folks like Porter (and Campbell, and others) have taken their aspectual focus too far," I wouldn't have chimed in on this, but that's not what was said.

Now, again, seriously trying to understand the nature of classic Greek and not trying to be an ass in any way shape or form, if the answer is, "C.S. and Barry were being a bit hyperbolic, but we'll excuse them for good reasons," then I'm happy to accept that and let the whole thing drop, and I'm sorry if this is well trod ground, but I'm honestly asking because I'm trying to learn something.

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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:39 am

ἑκηβόλος wrote:
Barry Hofstetter wrote:1. I definitely would advise any one learning ancient Greek to learn Attic.
Practically speaking, I agree with this. There are numerous intitutions offering excellent courses in Classical Greek (usually concentrating on Attic) and a great quantity of learning and reference material that is readily available.

Idealistically speaking, asking somebody to learn Attic when what they want is Koine overlooks the vast body of literature written in the Koine. That body of literature is not the usual starting point for learners, however, and untill recently has not had the same sort of "school text" resources that would have made it accessible to autodidacts.
This is just silly. Anybody who can read Attic can read "the vast body of literature written in Koine." There seems to be an assumption that the differences between Attic and Koine are so great that there is a learning curve. Well, there is, but if you start with Attic that learning curve is a downhill grade, not an uphill climb.
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by npc » Sun Oct 14, 2018 4:18 pm

Barry Hofstetter wrote: This is just silly. Anybody who can read Attic can read "the vast body of literature written in Koine." There seems to be an assumption that the differences between Attic and Koine are so great that there is a learning curve. Well, there is, but if you start with Attic that learning curve is a downhill grade, not an uphill climb.
I really don't understand this sentiment. I mean, let's say I'm a freshman in college who wants to learn structural engineering. If someone says to me, "Well, if you major in physics first and then go back to learn structural engineering, it will be a breeze," that's a true statement, but not a good use of my time if all I want to learn is structural engineering.

As I learn Greek, I'm going back and forth between Attic texts and Koine texts, and it's certainly true that the time I spend on Attic texts helps me understand Koine texts, and by comparison the latter are a breeze, but I spend a lot of time struggling through the Atticisms in Plato and Xenophon and the like, and while I enjoy that, it wouldn't be the most efficient way to spend my time if all I wanted to do with my Greek was to read the NT.

Again, I'm fine with the suggestion of "try it, you might like it", and certainly I don't think studying Attic sources is a waste of time for those interested in the NT, but there are really good reasons that seminaries don't scrap their first year Greek programs and replace them with the Attic Greek programs of schools with high quality classics departments. To think that this is a mistake on their part seems to me to be projection on a fairly astonishing level.

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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Sun Oct 14, 2018 4:36 pm

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
ἑκηβόλος wrote:
Barry Hofstetter wrote:1. I definitely would advise any one learning ancient Greek to learn Attic.
Practically speaking, I agree with this. There are numerous intitutions offering excellent courses in Classical Greek (usually concentrating on Attic) and a great quantity of learning and reference material that is readily available.

Idealistically speaking, asking somebody to learn Attic when what they want is Koine overlooks the vast body of literature written in the Koine. That body of literature is not the usual starting point for learners, however, and untill recently has not had the same sort of "school text" resources that would have made it accessible to autodidacts.
This is just silly.
Your reply seems confident.

I mean confident as a past tense noun - a noun used with past reference. If somebody also guesses the outcome of an action then the present can be the past of a supposed future.
Barry Hofstetter wrote:Anybody who can read Attic can read "the vast body of literature written in Koine."
Yes. Agreed. The skills of adaptation to new authours and works that is fostered in reading Ancient Greek can be applied to one's reading of Koine Greek. So, Attic is a possible option.
Barry Hofstetter wrote:There seems to be an assumption that the differences between Attic and Koine are so great that there is a learning curve. Well, there is, but if you start with Attic that learning curve is a downhill grade, not an uphill climb.
I'm saying that ideally, the (potential or competent) readers of the New Testament could be (initially or further) schooled in the Koine. There are plenty of contemporaneous works to read that share the styles and idioms that are variously used in the New Testament corpus. Not reading outside the narrow confines of one's interest is at best limiting, in the middle unbalanced and at worst dangerous.

On the whole, reading just Koine Greek is not an option, though. I am saying that studying Classical Greek is a good second best. I encourage anybody wishing to deepen their understanding of the New Testament to read horizontally in the other Koine works, and then vertically through time from the earliest to contemporary.
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Sun Oct 14, 2018 9:29 pm

jeidsath wrote:Rijksbaron has a discussion of the aspect/tense debate. "The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek" pg.2 Note 1:
I've been meaning to get Rijksbaron for a long time now. This citation pushed me over the edge, and I placed my order today!
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Sun Oct 14, 2018 9:54 pm

npc wrote:
Barry Hofstetter wrote: This is just silly. Anybody who can read Attic can read "the vast body of literature written in Koine." There seems to be an assumption that the differences between Attic and Koine are so great that there is a learning curve. Well, there is, but if you start with Attic that learning curve is a downhill grade, not an uphill climb.
I really don't understand this sentiment. I mean, let's say I'm a freshman in college who wants to learn structural engineering. If someone says to me, "Well, if you major in physics first and then go back to learn structural engineering, it will be a breeze," that's a true statement, but not a good use of my time if all I want to learn is structural engineering.

As I learn Greek, I'm going back and forth between Attic texts and Koine texts, and it's certainly true that the time I spend on Attic texts helps me understand Koine texts, and by comparison the latter are a breeze, but I spend a lot of time struggling through the Atticisms in Plato and Xenophon and the like, and while I enjoy that, it wouldn't be the most efficient way to spend my time if all I wanted to do with my Greek was to read the NT.

Again, I'm fine with the suggestion of "try it, you might like it", and certainly I don't think studying Attic sources is a waste of time for those interested in the NT, but there are really good reasons that seminaries don't scrap their first year Greek programs and replace them with the Attic Greek programs of schools with high quality classics departments. To think that this is a mistake on their part seems to me to be projection on a fairly astonishing level.
It's sound more and more like you have a strong opinion on this, rather than just fostering an academic discussion on the subject. Interestingly enough, this same topic came up on the B-Greek forum. Randall Buth responded:
Randall Buth wrote: Attic Greek and Koine Greek are the same language and tightly connected dialects. It doesn't matter where one starts.
Randall then goes on to discuss how people have to learn ancient Greek more like learning a modern language, which is his big thing. Aside from that, however, experience indicates that people who start with Attic have an easier time reading Koine than people who start with Koine and then move to Attic. And what, precisely is Koine? The Koine of the NT is quite different from the Koine of an author like Epictetus, and one will find Atticism in varying degrees even in authors who are not consciously trying to imitate Attic. Michael mentioned how within the pages of the NT different authors reflect different styles. Luke is certainly more Attic than Matthew, Mark and John and the Greek of the writer to the Hebrews is a high literary Koine with Asiatic tendencies. Starting with Attic certainly helped me through these differences in my first reading through the NT.

I say the same thing about Latin. Sometimes people who want to read the church fathers who wrote in Latin suggest starting right with Ecclesiastical Latin and not wasting time with classical, and there is even a textbook or two out there that does that. I suggest that it's not the Ecclesiastical in Ecclesiastical Latin that bothers people, it's the Latin. If you just want to read the Vulgate, fine. But if you want to Read Tertullian or Augustine, or if you would like to read Reformation authors such as Calvin (who goes out of his way to to write Ciceronian style prose), then spending some time first with Caesar, Cicero, Vergil and Ovid means that you will be able to deal with the entire corpus of Latin literature, and that's a good thing.
ἐκηβόλος wrote:
Your reply seems confident.

I mean confident as a past tense noun - a noun used with past reference. If somebody also guesses the outcome of an action then the present can be the past of a supposed future.
Yes, I did make the claim confidently based on my own experience and the observed experience of others. Anecdotal, but I've never personally found an exception. As for your second sentence, I have no idea what you are talking about or its relevance to the topic. Don't feel you have to explain -- I'm not that interested.
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by anphph » Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:15 pm

There is a lack of understanding of what exactly Koinê is, which is at the root of all problems. Koinê, Jewish Greek, Septuagint Greek, NT Greek, Christian Greek, Hellenistic Greek, and "Greek after Alexander" all refer to overlapping, but not in any way identical segments of the Greek corpus, with various kinds of vocabulary, and yes, of syntax and grammar in general. I don't see why someone who circumscribed himself to a corpus from the ones above (say, NT Greek) the exclusion of the others would be in any way prepared to read, for example, Gregory of Nanzianzus' Euripedean tragedy The Passion of Christ. Looks like we're fated to refight old Renaissance battles until the world's end. Maybe Basil's Πρὸς τοὺς νέους, ὅπως ἂν ἐξ ἑλληνικῶν ὠφελοῖντο λόγων should make a comeback in the curriculum.

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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Mon Oct 15, 2018 12:05 am

ἐκηβόλος wrote:.Your reply seems confident.

I mean confident as a past tense noun - a noun used with past reference. If somebody also guesses the outcome of an action then the present can be the past of a supposed future.
Yes, I did make the claim confidently based on my own experience and the observed experience of others. Anecdotal, but I've never personally found an exception. As for your second sentence, I have no idea what you are talking about or its relevance to the topic. Don't feel you have to explain -- I'm not that interested.
No matter your own or other's experience, throwing around strong statements like your "This is just silly" probably means that you have not understood something or some part of something. I am saying that there is merit in learning Attic, as there is in learning other non-contemporaneous forms of the language, but for thoses that don't want to go further than the New Testament, there is more of immediate relevance in the Koine literature.

The second sentence is an explanation that I mean "confident" in a negative sense, like, "The youth drove his m'cycle at great speed down the pier confident of reaching the other side of the lake."
Last edited by ἑκηβόλος on Mon Oct 15, 2018 5:16 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Why study biblical Greek? a Bum Steer

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Mon Oct 15, 2018 12:07 am

npc wrote:
mwh wrote:Of course I agree that if anyone is so narrow-minded as to want to read nothing but the NT there’s no need to learn Attic. ...
Again, I don't mean to offend anyone, but if I read Barry and ἑκηβόλος correctly, they would seem to disagree with this, even though I would come down on your side of the debate.
Two quite different examples of why it is not a good idea to only read in the New Testament are Titus and Hebews.

For Titus, the grammar and syntax are unchallenging and there are no developed arguments. It is apparently quite an easy read. But then there is the vocabulary. There are so many nuanced or culturally specific words there that value would be added to the reading by seeing them, or their cognates in a variety of contexts.

For Hebrews, the word order and the structure of the arguments follow patterns that are not readily apparent to English readers, so reading a few treatises in Greek is of great benefit in terms of familiarisation with literary style and techniques, at least.
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