NT Greek Language

B.A.G. on NT Greek (1957)

Excerpt from: Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich,
Lexicon of the Greek NT, (U.Chicago, 1957)

Page Index

Introduction: - to Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich

Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich:
    Foreward - Arndt, Gingrich
    Introduction - Bauer

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The [current] Bauer-Danker Lexicon(ISBN 0226039331) is among the most highly respected dictionaries of Biblical Greek. The author of the German original is the late Walter Bauer. The English translation is: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.

The 4th German edition (1949-52) was translated to English by Willian F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich in 1957. Arndt died that same year, to be replaced by Frederick Danker, with whom Gingrich prepared the second English edition published in 1979.

- Wikipedia

The Significance of Bauer - Arndt - Gingrich

In a very concise fashion, Arndt / Gingrich give us a clear picture of the paucity of resources available for study of the Greek language in the 1800s, i.e., the state of lexicography.

Bauer on the other hand, explains the misconceptions about the Greek language that were rampant in this period, that combined with an elitist arrogance and complacency and left the academic world largely in darkness regarding the syntax and style of the New Testament.

One may wonder how the scholars of this period were able to read NT Greek at all, but the simple answer is that they already had in their hands other translations into more familiar European languages such as Latin, German, French, etc. Just as modern students rely heavily on the previous translations and study aids of others, so the scholars of the 19th century laboured under some kind of dim light by (as Isaac Newton would say) 'standing on the shoulders of others'.

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Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich

The following exerpts are taken from:
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
and Other Early Christian Literature
, (1957)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.


W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich

The First Greek Dictionaries

"The first NT dictionary with scholarly pretensions was the Lexicon Graeco-Latinum in Novum Testamentum by Georg Pasor, published in 1619 at Herborn in Nassau.

Then Ludovicus Lucius put out his Dictionarium Novi Testamenti at Basel in 1640 with words arranged for the first time in strict alphabetic order instead of by word-roots.

Many faults of contemporary NT lexicons were pointed out by Johan Friedrich Fischer in his Prolusiones de Vitiis Lexicorum Novi Testamenti (Leipzig, 1791): among these defects were:

(1) neglect of the smaller words whose frequent use makes them extremely difficult to analyze and classify,

(2) the inclusion of too few or too many meanings,

(3) lack of logical arrangement, and

(4) insufficient attention to the background of NT words in Hebrew, the LXX, and secular Greek.

The First English Lexicons

Up to this time it was customary for dictionaries intended for serious scholarly use to give the meanings in of the words in LATIN, though Edward Leigh in his Critica Sacra (London, 1639) had made a partial and apologetic attempt to give them in English, and John Parkhurst had published a Greek-English lexicon in 1769.

Grimm published in 1868 (Leipzig) a thorough revision of C.G. Wilke's Greek-Latin Clavis Novi Testamenti. Joseph Henry Thayer of Harvard U., after 22 years of arduous labour in translating and augmenting Grimm's work, put out his Greek-English Lexicon of the NT (NY, Edin.) in 1886.

After the Papyri Discoveries

The first dictionary to appear after the epoch-making discoveries of papyri etc., beginning about 1890, was Erwin Preuschen's Greek-German lexicon of 1910. Much to the disappointment of many reviewers, it failed to make much use of the new material, though it did include for the first time the words of the Apostolic Fathers.

Upon Preuschen's untimely death in 1920, the revision of his lexicon was entrusted to Walter Bauer of Gottingen. When his revision appeared in 1928 (Giessen) as the second edition of Preuschen, it was hailed as the best thing in its field. ..."

W. F. Arndt
F. W. Gingrich


Walter Bauer

The Greek of the Early Christians

"The earliest Christian literature, with which this book deals, is made up of a number of writings which were composed in the Greek language. It is not the Greek of more ancient times, least of all that of the Golden Age of Athens which is now taught in the institutions of higher learning and occupies the most prominent place in the dictionaries used in them.

A comparison reveals, on the contrary, differences in phonology and morphology, in syntax and style, and, not least of all, in the vocabulary as well.

The 'Hebraists' versus the 'Purists'

These divergences are too plain to have remained unnoticed. When in the 17th century the learned controversy about the purity of the NT Greek arose, the so-called 'Hebraists' tried to explain the peculiarities of this Greek as due to the influence of the Hebrew.

Although they shot wide of the mark in some of their conclusions, their recognition of the special character of the New Testament language constituted a strong impetus inthe right direction, when compared with the conception of their opponents, the 'purists', whose attempt to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers with as fine and pure a Greek as any classical author ever wrote could not maintain itself indefinitely.

However, neither did the Hebraists achieve a real grasp of the situation. This was due largely to the fact that philology at the time knew the Greek language only from its literature and consequently fell into the error of equating Greek with the Greek literary language.

In addition, the writings contemporaneous with the NT - upon which they based their judgments - were deeply colored by Atticism, an artificial revival of the classical language.

This prevented the recognition of the truth that the Greek had been developing since the days of the Attic orators and Plato, as any living language must.

This judgment, one-sided to say the least, was destined to hold the field as long as formal literature was almost the only source of our knowledge.

The Discovery of the Papyri

But the situation took a decided change when, in the 1890's, there began to appear in great abundance those volumes which make available to the learned world the Greek papyri found in Egypt.

As a result, interest was awakened, too, in the earlier isolated publications of a similar nature, and it spread to the other non-literary sources - the ostraca (fragments of broken pottery which served as cheap writing materials) and inscriptions.

In all of them we have witnesses of the speech of daily life, in its colloquial form, in so far as they avoid the influence of custom, formula, and school - and infinitely many do just that!

Here at length, was discovered the proper background for a truly scientific view of the language of the oldest Christian literature.

Understanding the Greek Language of the 1st Century

The honour of having been discoverer and pathfinder in this field belongs to Adolf Deissmann, who, beginning in 1895, demonstrated to us more and more clearly - both in numerous single investigations and in comprehensive works - that our literature on the whole represents the late Greek colloquial language, which to be sure, some authors used with more literary polish, others with less.

The upper and lower limits for our literature in this respect are marked by Hb, Mpol. And Dg on the literary side, and Rv on the colloquial.

While theology in particular became interested in these discoveries, so recently made or appreciated, because they provided the possibility of arriving at a better understanding of the language of the Greek Bible, this newly discovered field appeared no less attractive to classical philology as well.

As a matter of fact, the philologists now had the opportunity - of which they made good use - to investigate thoroughly what was known even in ancient times as the 'Koine', the 'common language'.

This 'common language' was formed from the old dialects (Ionic, Attic, Doric, Aeolic) by a mixture to which, as one might expect, the Attic made the greatest contribution. Then, in almost complete homogeneity, it conquered the Hellenistic world.


The New Sources of Linguistic Knowledge

The writings of our literature arose in this period, when the Greek language ruled over the East and many parts of the West. They were written by men who spoke the common language of communication in their day more or less colloquially. Hence, in order to understand their works, we must make ourselves familiar with that stage in the development of the Greek language which we call 'Koine'.

The sources from which we gain our knowledge are, in the first place, the afore-mentioned non-literary evidences (papyri, ostraca, inscriptions).

But in addition to these there are a number of authors who were more or less able to avoid the spell of antiquarianism which we know as 'Atticism' (Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Plutarch, Epictetus, Artemidorus, Pseudo-Apollodorus, Vettius Valens, et al.).

The representatives of Jewish Hellenism are especially important for the investigation of our literature because of the close similarity in the content of their works; included here are Philo, Josephus, the Epistle of Aristeas, and, above all, the Septuagint [the ancient Greek OT] , which not only contains original Greek words of the late period but also uses the contemporary tongue even when it translates.

Ancient Christian writings too, outside the scope of our literature, like the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles and old legends, are valuable as witnesses of the colloquial common speech.

Finally, the contribution of medieval and modern Greek is not to be neglected., because the Koine finds in them its lineal descendants."


Walter Bauer

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