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Greek language from the completion of the Septuagint to the New Testament


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Roughly speaking, an interval of about two hundred years separates the New Testament from the Septuagint. In most languages a period of that duration would mean great modifications and many new developments. It is different with the two centuries we are considering. Two types of speech have become stereotyped, and have both been used in literature.

The one, indeed, is only a literary language; for this purpose it has been formed, and its aim is to keep itself as free as possible from accommodation to the popular standard. The other is originally the common speech of the people; but, after passing through the mould of Hebrew thought, it, too, has become, in a sense, literary, or at least it has become the vehicle of a large and uniquely important collection of books. That has given fixity to it, so that henceforward it may be used as a standard or norm.

Strangely enough, this “Hellenistic” type of Greek cannot be said to be found again until, for the second time, a group of writers whose modes of thinking are predominantly Hebrew, give it currency in a more influential form than ever, through the collection of works which make up the New Testament. There are breaks, so to speak, in this long interval of silence. That cluster of writings which form a kind of appendix to the Old Testament and a prologue to the New, which, for want of a better designation, are termed “Apocrypha,” must, we think, be regarded as belonging, in point of language, both to the Hellenic type of the “Common” dialect, and in a much less degree to the “Hellenistic” of the LXX.

The greater part of them is, in all likelihood, the work of Jewish writers; yet these are imbued with Greek influences, and especially with Greek conceptions, to an extent which places them in a quite distinct sphere from that in which the writers of the LXX move. So that it is perhaps advisable to glance at their characteristics, as regards vocabulary, in the same line of development as the authors of the “Common” dialect.

A brief survey of some of the distinguishing features of these authors, in the particular province of “vocabulary,” should place us at a better point of view for estimating the language of the New Testament, and the influences which moulded it. As has been already noted, those writers after the days of Alexander who were conscious of a real literary impulse, created for themselves a special type of literary speech. The “Common” dialect, therefore, is not a mere vague reflection of the mixed language prevailing all round the shores of the Mediterranean. It is differentiated from that by several distinct characteristics.

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