The Language Of The New Testament -- By: Lars Rydbeck

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 49:2 (NA 1998)
Article: The Language Of The New Testament
Author: Lars Rydbeck


The Language Of The New Testament

Lars Rydbeck

Critical evaluation of the language of the New Testament has been marked in the last two hundred years by conflicting view-points, which can still be heard frequently today. In particular, two positions can be identified:

(1) The language of the New Testament is situated within the context of the historical development of written Greek, stretching over the period from Alexander the Great to the first century A.D. Here one might mention contributions by A. Deissmann,1 J.H. Moulton,2 A. Wifstrand,3 as well as my own4 and that of G.H.R. Horsley.5

(2) The language of the New Testament is unique and must be viewed as an independent phenomenon, outside of and concurrent with the normal development of the Greek language. Some advocates of this view speak of semiticising Greek (e.g., J. Wellhausen6 ), while others speak of a special form of Christian Greek, an ad hoc language inspired by the Holy Spirit (e.g., N. Turner7 ).

If even the most cursory comments in the New Testament are to be attributed greatest importance, it is understandable that the classification of a particular author’s linguistic style is given great weight. When one then adds the relatively large number of conceptually difficult texts, it becomes quite understandable why certain exegetes want to use philology to specify at least the linguistic meaning of a particular passage (‘how it is to be translated’), whilst others attempt to establish the relative merits of differing philologically possible translations by means of exegetical decisions.

The classification of particular styles of New Testament Greek is also clearly dependent on the scholar’s own academic background. A training in classical philology is rare today amongst New Testament exegetes. For help with linguistic details, one therefore has mostly to consult the large, mainly German (though also English) commentaries which appeared around the turn of the century. The commentaries of the French scholar Lagrange are also very helpful in respect of language. Unfortunately, Lagrange’s linguistic observations have been largely forgotten today.

One cannot discuss the language of the New Testament without first briefly shedding ...

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