Reflections On The Nature Of New Testament Greek Vocabulary -- By: Colin J. Hemer

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 38:1 (NA 1987)
Article: Reflections On The Nature Of New Testament Greek Vocabulary
Author: Colin J. Hemer


Reflections On The Nature Of New Testament Greek Vocabulary1

Colin J. Hemer †

The Tyndale Biblical Archaeology Lecture, 1986

It is noteworthy that the principal thrust of interest in the study of biblical Greek in the last generation has been theological. We have ‘Kittel’ and the Begriffslexikon and its English counterpart,2 as well as extensive collections of theological word-studies by such scholars as C. Spicq and N. Turner.3 This theological interest is of course entirely proper, and indeed in its place a crucially important subject of study. But I see a danger if this natural interest is permitted to distort a balanced appraisal of the nature of biblical, particularly New Testament, language as a whole. On any ‘view there are continuities as well as discontinuities with contemporary secular language, and it may be at least an important corrective to focus on the complementary aspect. It now seems that the available lexica, for all their acknowledged excellences, are variously dated or

inadequate for the fuller linguistic description of Koine Greek, as a necessary control upon the discussion of the influence of theological creativity upon vocabulary.4 A. Deissmann and J. H. Moulton undoubtedly carried the enthusiasm of a new vision too far: Turner stands near the opposite end of a spectrum of opinion. There are valid observations underlying both extremes, but their relative strength can only be assessed under the strict controls of detailed study, for which recent developments in computerization have opened up a new facility. And the issue has a wider application. Did the apostles speak and write in an idiom approximating to the everyday usage of their time? Or was there an early development of a technical religious vocabulary? The answer may have something to teach us of the nature of the first Christian interaction with society and offer its lessons also for our modern modes of communication.

I suspect that Turner is right in the sense that the language of a first-generation Christian may have been substantially different from that of a contemporary pagan in a different walk of life. But that probability may be of relatively less significance than he might wish to claim. It might be highly instructive to make a comparative description of the English usage of a teenage mother of twins and a retired bachelor candlestick-maker. We might be surprised how different they were, and the reasons for that difference ...

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