New Testament Studies

Announcement: The Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Prepositions

Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Prepositions

djr_0085_17212375711_oI am pleased to announce an event that will bring together experts in a variety of disciplines in order to tackle an age-old problem with new theoretical approaches. This summer those pesky Greek prepositions are getting a lexicographical makeover at a two day “workshop” in Cambridge, England. The event is called:

The Tyndale House Workshop in Greek Lexicography: Cognitive Linguistic Approaches to Lexicography and Theology

This event will take place from 30 June-1 July 2017 at Tyndale House, Cambridge, the biblical studies research library par excellence. Although it is a fairly brief event, this workshop is structured to offer the maximum punch to advance the state of the question in the semantics of Greek prepositions. And, as is evident from the tagline, cognitive linguistics is central to our approach.

The Back Story

Last June I found myself in the small, bible-software-saturated city of Bellingham, Washington, shortly after finishing up a seminar in Septuagint studies at Trinity Western University. The idea for this preposition workshop began to take shape during this visit – naturally, over some delicious local brews. I sat down with Steve Runge, Rick Brannen, and Mike and Rachel Aubrey to discuss collaborating on a longer-term project applying newer linguistic theories to challenges within traditional approaches to Greek grammar.

This workshop will focus on prepositions and is the first in what we hope will be a series of similar events that will subsequently deal with connectives and particles. It remains to be seen whether and how that plays out, but at the moment Steve and I are teaming up to organize a top-notch preposition workshop and then
making the proceedings available in published form.

In case you are wondering: Yes, this workshop is intentionally designed to replicate the Linguistics and the Greek Verb conference held at Tyndale House in July of 2015 (see here). That model of highly-focused and interdisciplinary analysis of a single – albeit multifaceted – issue in Greek proved very effective. It was the genesis for the very well-received volume The Greek Verb Revisited (Lexham, 2016 [Amazon]), edited by Chris Fresch and Steve Runge.

Issues with Greek Prepositions: A Cognitive Answer

What’s wrong with Greek prepositions? Well, nothing.

But scholars have long been aware that they are exceptionally difficult to pin down. And for that reason they often play a pivotal (if seemingly subtle) role in biblical interpretation and theology. [1] Ignore for now the question about what actually counts as a preposition, versus the so-called “improper” prepositions like ἐπάνω that do not prefix to verbs. djr_0242_17025394410_oThe “traditional” Greek prepositions have been enough to constantly challenge biblical lexicographers and exegetes alike as they seek to properly understand them (pardon the pun).

The problem is a semantic one. First of all, what is the best approach to describing the meaning of Greek prepositions given the variety of functions they serve in the Koine period? Second, to what extent are Greek prepositions polysemous and (where necessary) how can we correctly determine the number and boundaries of the senses? Third, by what means can our semantic description of Greek prepositions accurately and accessibly present relevant information in English (i.e., in a lexicon entry)?

These and other questions are largely theoretical in nature. So a central goal of this workshop is to bring the insights of general linguistics – and specifically cognitive linguistics – to bear upon the study of Greek. Unlike other theories, cognitive linguistics approaches polysemy using a structured model known as prototype theory. This reformulates the notion of a single “core” or “basic” meaning, and instead attempts to provide a motivated account of the various senses of a word in terms of a “radial network.” An important assumption of this approach is that meaning is conceptual and embodied. Human experience of the physical world informs the conceptual structure on which linguistic meaning is built. In this account, more basic shemas like DIRECTION are mapped onto more abstract concepts like PURPOSE or RECIPIENT.


A radial network for the English preposition “over.”*

Judging by the often comically long entries for prepositions in Greek lexicons, you might think that these words are so polysemous that it’s barely worth the effort to understand them. (I’ve often felt this way about German prepositions.) But very often, huge lexicon entries are the inevitable consequence of non-isometric semantic overlap between Greek and English. This requires traditional lexicographers to use a wide array of English prepositions – whose meanings do not everywhere overlap with the Greek preposition under discussion – to gloss the various meanings where they ostensibly do overlap.

Thankfully, combining cognitive linguistics and prototype theory can provide a principled and organized account of prepositional semantics without falling into this polysemy fallacy. Doing so, in turn, can help us understand and translate the New Testament (and Septuagint) texts, and fashion better lexicon entries for these words for non-specialists.[2]

Two Relevant Monographs

We will not be the first to attempt to apply cognitive linguistics to the study of Greek prepositions. At least two others have done so in the last fifteen years:

  1. Bortone, Pietro. Greek Prepositions from Antiquity to the Present. Oxford University Press, 2010 (Amazon)
  2. Luraghi, Silvia. On the Meaning of Prepositions and Cases: Semantic Roles in Ancient Greek. Studies in language companion series 67; John Benjamins, 2003 (Amazon)

These books have been deftly reviewed and compared by Mike Aubrey in several posts (start here). If you’re new to this conversation, I highly recommend reading these.

The Details of the Workshop


Steve Runge and I are motivated to make the complicated accessible, and to bring the best of linguistic theory into the service of biblical studies. So we have tried to invite the best on all sides of this cross-disciplinary topic. We are looking forward to participation by two cognitive linguists, two Classical Greek lexicographers, and several biblical scholars. Because of our tight topic and event time frame, we are not issuing a call for papers. But we want to facilitate participation, which is why we have done our best to make this event very affordable, with only a £50 registration fee.

So if you want to know more, or are convinced enough already, head over to our website:

At the moment the event registration is not open. But you can sign up at the right to be notified by email as soon as it is.

And finally: spread the word! You can download a flyer to share here.


[1] For a recent exploration of just one relevant topic, see Con Campbell’s Paul and Union with Christ (Zondervan, 2012 [Amazon]), which explores the theological implications of the phrase ἐν Χριστῷ (interview here). Also see Campbell’s essay in ‘In Christ’ in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation (eds. M. Thate, C. Campbell, and K. Vanhoozer; Mohr Siebeck 2014 [Amazon]).

[2] But wouldn’t this mean the same problems and solutions would apply to Biblical Hebrew, you ask? Yes indeed. All good things in time.

* Claudia Brugman and George Lakoff, “Radial network,” in D. Geeraerts, D., ed., Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Berlin: DeGruyter, 2006, p. 129.

Photo credit Doug Robar

A Puzzling Article on “the LXX”

I have been a member of the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR) for a few years now. I have attended the past three or four annual meetings, which get squished between the ETS and SBL conferences, and have made a habit of reading IBR’s journal, Bulletin for Biblical Research (BBR) each quarter. In fact, BBR is where I have contributed most of my book reviews by far. It’s a thriving society, and a very good journal for evangelical scholarship.

ibr_logo_headerSo I was excited to find an article in the latest volume that dealt directly with the Septuagint. The article is by Dr. J. Daniel Hays, and entitled “The Persecuted Prophet and Judgment on Jerusalem: The Use of LXX Jeremiah in the Gospel of Luke” BBR 25.4 (2015): 453-73. As I began reading it, however, it seemed to me to contain some flaws, or at least things that left me puzzled. In this post, I want to respond to what I found to be the more unconvincing aspects of Hays’s argument.

In advance of posting, I sent a draft of this critique to Dr. Hays, and his response is at the bottom of the post.

Summary of the Article

Now, I realize that it is probably possible to nit-pick most journal articles into oblivion, so I want to state at the outset that that is not my goal. Rather, I wish to point out how I think Hays’s article represents broader trends in biblical scholarship – especially New Testament scholarship – when interacting with the Septuagint.

I’ll state it up front: Identifying shared vocabulary between the NT and LXX with an indistinct notion of “dependence.” This assumption shows up to some degree in Dr. Hays’s response below.

The article’s abstract is as follows:

This article argues that within Second Temple Judaism, Jeremiah was well known as the paradigmatic “persecuted prophet” and was likewise closely associated with the consequential fall and destruction of Jerusalem. Thus, when the Gospel of Luke portrays Jesus as the “persecuted prophet” in conflict with the leaders in Jerusalem or recounts Jesus’ warnings of judgment on Jerusalem, allusions and parallels to Jeremiah are numerous, implying that the traditions associated with LXX Jeremiah form a critical background for understanding those texts.

Overall, I think that Hays does a fine job defending about 75% his thesis. In fact, I have basically no qualms with anything he proposes about the themes of Jeremiah or its well-known status in Second Temple Judaism. The problems arise when we get to the Septuagint aspect. Again, as his response states, this is the very aspect that Hays assumes.

1) Questionable Textual Basis

One of the first problems in this article appears in Hays’s third footnote. There he states that he cites translations of LXX Jeremiah from the NETS translation (available here). That is fine as far as it goes. But he then states that he will work from Rahlfs-Hanhart’s text of LXX Jeremiah. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, Ziegler’s critical edition of OG Jeremiah is the far superior text and should therefore form the basis of any study like this (1). Secondly, the NETS translation of LXX Jeremiah is itself based on Ziegler, not on Rahlfs-Hanhart, which risks misalignment between what Hays cites in English versus Greek, although presumably he checked for this.

2) Questionable References to LXX Jeremiah

Almost as soon as Hays begins to move through his argument, he starts to talk about LXX Jeremiah in terms that are not actually specific to LXX Jeremiah (i.e. Jeremiah in its Greek version, in distinction from the Hebrew original). This is quite pervasive and leads to two problems, a thematic one and a lexical one.

Thematic: First, it causes Hays to illegitimately attribute features proper to Jeremiah in Hebrew to LXX Jeremiah. But any “themes” or “theology” present in Jeremiah in Hebrew are going to carry over into the Greek version, unless you really do some spadework to show how that is not the case (i.e., how LXX Jeremiah somehow changes the message of Jeremiah in Hebrew, which gets picked up by Luke. This is possible, but takes a lot of work to demonstrate). To this extent, wherever Hays talks about Luke adopting a Jeremianic theme, this proves nothing about Luke’s “use” of LXX Jeremiah (i.e., the Greek version specifically). This is like attributing “shared themes” between Charles Spurgeon’s sermons and Romans to his “use” of the KJV. The fact that there are similarities in themes does not arise from the translation itself, but the ideas of the original that the translation conveys.

The fundamental flaw seems to be Hays’ assumption that shared ideas demonstrate the textual dependence of Luke upon LXX Jeremiah (although he never clearly defines “use”). Or, that a relationship of dependence between Luke and LXX Jeremiah does not need to be demonstrated. For example, Hays cites a range of texts from Jeremiah to illustrate the central role of Jerusalem, it’s judgment, and the persecution of the prophet, but there is nothing specific to the Greek text in these matters that isn’t part of the Hebrew also (again, unless you carefully demonstrate this, which Hays does not systematically attempt). This is evident from the fact that Hays often cites both the LXX and MT versification – there is no meaningful difference between the two at the level of concepts or themes.

This problem continues throughout much of the article. See his discussion of:

  • Jeremiah facing rejection on 463
  • Conflict with leaders on 463-64
  • The negative sense of “scribe” and the suffering prophet concept on 464
  • Rejection and Jerusalem themes on 465
  • Judgment on Jerusalem on 465-66
  • Persecution of prophets on 466
  • Lament over Jerusalem on 467-68
  • Den of robbers on 469
  • Destruction of Jerusalem on 470-71
  • Prophetic trials on 471-72
  • “Daughter of Jerusalem” on 472

Lexical: Secondly, Hays repeatedly appeals to “catchwords” to demonstrate what he sees as Luke’s dependence upon LXX Jeremiah. But in the vast majority – if not all – of his examples, the vocabulary identified is far too conventional to necessarily prove any textual relationship. For example, Hays observes that priests are collectively characterized in negative terms in Jeremiah more than any other prophetic book, and points to the appearance of ἱερεύς 35x (p. 456). But, for one thing, the use of the word ἱερεύς is not a “distinctive” of LXX Jeremiah. And if the portrayal of priests in largely negative terms is distinctive, that is a distinctive theme specifically of the Hebrew text, not the LXX version per se. For another thing, nothing about Luke’s use of the word ἱερεύς means he was “dependent” upon the Greek version of Jeremiah, rather than using the word simply to talk about priests. If Luke, too, portrays priests negatively, this has nothing to do with LXX Jeremiah itself (other than perhaps its existence allowing Luke to read and be familiar with the concepts of the Hebrew original, but this too is debatable).

This problem persists through most of the article also, as Hays repeatedly finds shared vocabulary of the broadest sort, then takes the associated concepts and makes them indicative of “use” of LXX Jeremiah. It continues with:

  • ἐκκόπτω on 463
  • αἷμα on 466
  • πῦρ and ἀνάπτω on 467
  • The use of vocatives on 467
  • κλαίω on 468
  • ἐχθρός and ἀνθ᾽ ὧν on 469
  • ἀποστέλλω and δοῦλος on 470
  • ἐρήμωσις on 471

But the fact that both Luke and LXX Jeremiah are written in Greek and share standard vocabulary should not be confused for any special relationship between the two texts themselves, or any special influence upon the theology of Luke from the Greek version of Jeremiah. Agreement in vocabulary is insufficient to prove textual dependence specifically from the Greek version of Jeremiah if that vocabulary accurately reflects the underlying Hebrew. Hays seems to get close to realizing this a few times, but always stops short. On p. 466, for instance, he notes that Luke and Jeremiah both deal with persecution of the prophets, and, although διώκω occurs in other prophetic books, because Jeremiah is the only one to use it in the sense of persecution against God’s prophets like Luke does, there is a relationship of dependence. But again, the Greek vocabulary does not demonstrate any dependence, only shared themes between Luke and Jeremiah, themes that arise specifically from the Hebrew text of Jeremiah. (See a similar case on p. 469 in his discussion of ἐχθρός and its related themes).

The Connection to Lamentations

Hays also observes how in the Greek translation of Lamentations the figure of Jeremiah is framed as the speaker, a feature not present in the Hebrew text. This is one occasion where Hays has identified something that is actually unique to the Greek version of a book versus the MT. Hays attempts to tie the notion of Jeremiah weeping with Luke’s statement in 19:41-48 that Jesus wept over Jerusalem (p. 468). While it is true that Jeremiah weeps on several occasions (9:1; 13:17; 22:10), this is not a feature unique to LXX Jeremiah (as if Jeremiah does not weep in the Hebrew version). And while the reference to Jeremiah in LXX Lamentations is unique to the Greek version, at that point we are talking about the figure of Jeremiah and not the Greek text of Jeremiah. At best, this supports Hays’s point about the prevalence of “Jeremiah” (text[s], themes, theology) in the literary milieu of Second Temple Judaism (pp. 457-60), but at worst it is an equivocation in terms that adds little to his argument for the “use” of LXX Jeremiah in Luke. Again, Hays never defines what he means by “use,” which I think only adds confusion.

Summary and Response

Again, my objective here is not to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of the Septuagint.” But I want to point out what I might call problematic habits that tend to show up in NT scholarship when interacting with the Septuagint. Ironically, Hays cites a scholar who points out that usually, New Testament use of terms found in the LXX indicates a common literary milieu for Greek-speaking Jews, but not necessarily literary dependence (p. 458 n. 20). I fear that this observation applies globally to Hays’s thesis, as he ends up conflating textual influence with theological (or literary, thematic, etc.) influence. Carefully distinguishing these two is a crucial but too-often overlooked aspect of studies of the New Testament “use” of the Old Testament. (2)

Hays argues that the use of Jeremiah in Luke is “easily overlooked.” I agree, but for very different reasons. In fact, I found little compelling evidence that Luke is “using” LXX Jeremiah, as much as he is simply familiar with the message of the book generally. Still, I would say that Hays does a good job showing how Luke is influenced by Jeremiah in this general way, and that we can see that influence because of the concepts that both Luke and Jeremiah share (in Hebrew or Greek). Yet once you show how Luke is familiar with and employs the distinctive themes found in Jeremiah in Hebrew – which Hays does – it is not at all necessary to bring the Septuagint into the equation. Now, if you could show that Luke had picked up some phrase from LXX Jeremiah that somehow changed what its Hebrew source text said, then I think you could talk about Luke’s “use” of LXX Jeremiah.

Hays’ Response

First of all, I think you are missing my point. I am not trying the show that Luke is using LXX Jeremiah in distinction to MT Jeremiah. I assume that before I even start. That is, I’m starting with the assumption that background OT literary, theological and lexical influence in Luke (as in much of the rest of the NT) comes via the LXX. I’m not trying to establish this or defend it. This is a widely held view in NT studies. What I’m trying to establish is that the OT Prophets should not all be lumped together into an amorphous “common prophetic language” in discussing NT use of the OT. I’m arguing that in regard to the specific themes of the persecuted prophet and the destruction of Jerusalem, Luke is not influenced in his language and allusion by “the prophets” in general but by Jeremiah in particular. In conducting that study, one has to use the LXX. That these same themes show up in MT Jeremiah is irrelevant to my argument.

The lexical comparisons are likewise along these same lines. For example, I point out that the Greek word for “false prophet” shows up on the LXX only 10 times, 9 of which are in Jeremiah. Thus the use of this same term in Luke 6:26 “for that is how their ancestors treated the ‘false prophets’” is not just “common prophetic language” but more specifically language common to Jeremiah.

Arguments about lexical usage, dependence and allusion are by nature only convincing when viewed cumulatively. That is, many of the individual word arguments are hardly conclusive on their own (as you note) and can be challenged one by one. But cumulatively, tracked throughout Jeremiah, underscored and strengthened by the many times that same word of phrase only occurs in Jeremiah (and not in Isaiah, etc.) the argument gains strength.


I’m grateful for Dr. Hays’s work, and for his generous (and kind!) response to my criticism. It is always refreshing when scholarly interaction is civil and clarifying.


(1) J. Ziegler. Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum Auctoritate Societatis Litterarum Gottingensis editum XV: Ieremias Baruch Threni Epistula Ieremiae. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1957.

(2) For a helpful overview of similar misuses of “the LXX” in NT scholarship, see pp. 39-44 in McLay, R. T. The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003.

Did Jesus Speak Greek? by G. Scott Gleaves (A Response Essay)

Sometimes I forget where books come from. But recently I received a book that I must have requested somewhere along the way – G. Scott Gleaves, Did Jesus Speak Greek? The Emerging Evidence of Greek Dominance in First-Century Palestine (Wipf and Stock: 2015). I have been fascinated by this question for some time, so I was keen to read this volume and see where it went. The author G. Scott Gleaves is the Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Ministry of V. P. Black College of Biblical Studies and Kearley Graduate School of Theology at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. After reading the book, I felt the existential pang to write up a response.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword by Rodney Eugene Cloud
  • Ch. 1 – Did Jesus and Hist Disciples Speak Greek?
  • Ch. 2 – The Emerging Dominance of Greek in First-Century CE Palestine
  • Ch. 3 – The Linguistic Proficiency in Greek of Some of the Primary Disciples of Jesus
  • Ch. 4 – Aramaic and Portions of the Greek New Testament
  • Conclusion & Backmatter

The Presence of Greek in Palestine

Gleaves opens by noting how the so-called Aramaic Hypothesis is problematic. To say that some kind of Aramaic source(s) lie behind the Gospels is questionable in Gleaves’ opinion, owing to the prevalence of Greek in the world of 1st c. Palestine. Gleaves proposes rather sweepingly that “within the region of Galilee in Roman Palestine in the first century CE, Greek became the dominant language spoken among Jews and Gentiles” (xxiv, emphasis original). No one doubts Jesus spoke Aramaic, as Palestine was distinctly multilingual in general. But to Gleaves, the Babylonian lingua franca had given way to Koine Greek, so the question he aims to address in the volume is whether Jesus also or even primarily spoke Greek (or other languages).

To answer this, he draws on a variety of sources. Here’s a small sample:

First, rabbinic literature seems to presume Greek was spoken among Jews in general, such as m. Meg. 1:8, which, although dated to the 2nd c. CE, may reflect earlier tradition:

Rabban Simion b. Gamaliel says, ‘Also: in the case of sacred scrolls: they have been permitted to be written only in Greek’

Secondly, diaspora Jews had spoken Greek for centuries by the time of Christ and long written in Greek (e.g., Philo). Moreover, NT authors often (if not mostly) cited “Scripture” (i.e., the OT) from its Greek version, the Septuagint. Specific to Palestinian Jews, Hengel has shown decisively the influence of Hellenistic culture in the region, and archaeological realia confirm that Greek was present in Palestine as early as the 3rd c. BCE, even if it was not the primary spoken language. Josephus too comments that he “labored hard” to learn Greek, though his “native tongue” prevented him from pronouncing it properly (Ant. 20.12). Moreover, nonliterary documentary evidence from the early 2nd c. CE has been found in Palestine, written in Greek and, moreover, even from a “Jewish nationalist perspective” that ordinarily eschewed things Hellenistic (13). Jewish signage from the mid-1st c. communicated with Gentiles in Greek also, demonstrating Jewish capability in the language at the time of Jesus (if also cultural-linguistic resistance).

Third, though the extrabiblical evidence is not conclusive, it is weighty and, says Gleaves, more convincing still when paired with biblical evidence (see 14-24). Most of his examples here deal with Jesus interacting with Romans, arguing that their linguistic common denominator would have been Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew (see John 7:35). But Gleaves argues also that Jesus would have “by necessity” learned Greek and used it in his home town of Galilee, likely close to Sepphoris in the Hellenistic Decapolis (18). And Jesus appears familiar with the Greek OT in Matt. 4, as do some NT authors (e.g., Acts 2). Also, Jesus’ use of certain Aramaic phrases in Mark (e.g., talitha cumi in 5:41) seems to indicate that Jesus accommodated to those who could only speak Aramaic, which suggests that Greek was the commoner language (23). Futher, Mark’s translation of these transliterated phrases into Greek indicates his audience did not understand Aramaic phrases well, if at all.

A Problematic Conclusion

This is all well and good (and generally persuasive). But I wish to focus on one major point that Gleaves makes. Having argued extensively for the predominance of Greek in 1st c. Palestine, Gleaves acknowledges the distinctly Semitic characteristics of NT Greek. In order to explain this phenomenon, he argues that in the period of transition between Aramaic and Greek in Palestinian Jewish communities, their Greek would have had a “Semitic flair,” (164) equivalent to a “hybrid” Palestinian dialect (quoting Robertson, 185). I will discuss this problematic claim in more detail below.

Reflections and Response

Weighing in at just shy of 190 pages, this monograph is on the shorter side when you consider the subject matter and universe of literature potentially involved. Still, a fair range of primary evidence is employed throughout aside from Scripture, such as Jewish literature, ostraca, papyri, inscriptions and so on. Overall, Gleaves has done a good job building his case for early-1st c. CE Jewish fluency in Greek and general Hellenization. It was, however, unclear to me that this case was based on much more than a synthesis of secondary literature. Where primary evidence is cited, in many (not all) cases the conclusion drawn from it is a block quote from another scholar who presumably cited the same evidence in her or his own work (e.g., 36, 39, 42, 45, 47, 48, 57, 60). There is a huge amount unexplored, nonliterary documentary evidence that is awaiting fresh investigation with Gleaves’ question in mind (e.g., here and here), however, and I was hoping to see some of that in this volume.

A “Palestinian Greek Dialect”

Furthermore, while Gleaves has a good grasp upon much of the relevant secondary literature, it seems that certain key resources on linguistics and the nature of Greek were overlooked, with unfortunate results. This pertains mostly to Gleaves’ conclusions about the nature of NT Greek, mentioned above. Gleaves has found an ally for his conclusion in Nigel Turner, who believed that the New Testament reflected a kind of Jewish Greek, a dialect that was “decidedly Semitic” and thus unique (5). From this claim Gleaves reasons that the NT, with its Semitic elements, reflects “a Palestinian Greek” (5, emphasis original). This conclusion is put most expressly in the final sentence of the book:

[A] distinctive dialect emerged within koinē Greek that characterized the way Jews utilized the Greek language. Therefore, what we have in the GNT is a hybrid Palestinian Greek –  koinē Greek with a Semitic flair – containing an admixture of Aramaic words used in private and semiprivate contexts along with Semitic linguistic peculiarities as spoken by Jesus, his disciples, and the Jews in Palestine during the first century CE (186, emphasis original).

There are a number of serious problems here, as this conclusion basically resurrects the old notion of a “Christian Greek” although now with a kind of geopolitical spin.

Firstly, Gleaves seems to be collapsing (or perhaps confusing) some linguistic categories, particularly dialect and register. For instance, he explains tersely in a footnote that the so-called “Palestinian dialect” was “contained” in the “lower form of koinē Greek” (5 n 22). But elsewhere he says that “the common language of Palestine was koinē Greek, of which the GNT is a perfect example of the dialect in written form” (185, emphasis added). This last statement seems to imply that the Koine itself is a dialect, which it is not, at least not without significant qualification. Koine was a (diverse) historical-linguistic phase of Greek as a language. Even if we grant the concept of a Jewish-Greek or Palestinian dialect, it is linguistically unsound to speak in terms of dialects being “contained” within register. Rather, register exists within dialect.

Secondly, Gleaves seems to diminish the linguistic importance of the Septuagint in his (brief) discussion of Semitic elements in his supposed Palestinian dialect. Though Gleaves does discuss the LXX on 54- 60, it is unfortunately not from a linguistic perspective, and he leaves out virtually every major scholar in the field. Jews had been speaking Greek in the diaspora for centuries by the time Jesus was born, and this produced a rich and variegated body of Jewish literature whose style and character the NT authors received. All this Gleaves seems to acknowledge in some form. But Jewish authors like Ezekiel the Tragedian and compositions like Wisdom of Solomon show how more educated Greek could be combined with the Semitic elements common in the Septuagint (1). This is where distinguishing grammar from register becomes so critical. The LXX is important not only for the new developments in the Koine that it produces within the Jewish religious milieu, but also for the natural linguistic developments that it encapsulates. Distinguishing the two is complicated business. More scholars are recognizing the need to carefully nuance discussion of how the LXX reflects natural or non-natural Greek, which is tied directly into questions of semantics, grammar, and register.

Finally, and much more detrimentally, Turner’s view of “Biblical Greek” as a “Jewish-Greek dialect” has been thoroughly disproved for at least fifty years now. The absence of seminal figures like Deismann, Thumb, Moulton, Shipp, and Lee, for example, from this volume is conspicuous at best. It certainly presents major obstacles – to put it mildly – for Gleaves’ conclusion. A brief but firm rebuttal to Gleaves’ whole conclusion on NT Greek can be found, for example, in G. H. R. Horsley’s article in the recent Encyclopedia of Greek Language and Linguistics (Leiden: Brill, 2014): 280-83. Also see footnote (2).

Deconstructing the Aramaic Hypothesis

For the record, I wholeheartedly support Gleaves in his endeavors against the Aramaic Hypothesis, which I find spurious. Gleaves’ case for the prevalence of Greek in Palestine by the 1st c. CE certainly persuasive. But the evidence that Gleaves successfully provides against the Aramaic Hypothesis on the one hand does not lead to the flawed concept of a Palestinian “dialect” on the other. Further, although this is perhaps unrelated, I had a niggling feeling throughout the book that there was an agenda involved. This comes out at the end of the introduction, where Gleaves says that he “will show that in many respects the GNT contains the very words that Jesus and his disciples spoke in Greek” (xxvi, cf. 1, 15). But this is problematic, and somewhat vague. Although the two are related, the question of whether or not Jesus spoke Greek is completely different from the question of whether the New Testament records his very words. Once we establish that Jesus spoke Greek, we must go on to ask the questions of whether and why that Greek is or is not identical to the Greek recorded in the NT. Gleaves seems occasionally to get sidetracked from the former in his concern for the latter.

Final Point

In conclusion, to my mind the most conspicuous and least understood factor in scholarly accounts of the “language” of the NT is the Septuagint, and by extension the under-studied corpus of nonliterary Koine Greek. Although many will point to the NT authors’ familiarity with the Greek OT per se, few will account for the massive socio-religious influence that it was on balance with the natural linguistic developments that it preserves. It is in the current scholarly discussion of the Greek of the LXX that one finds so much helpful material on the development and nature of the Koine in general. There is cutting-edge work going on here (e.g., Lee, Joosten, Aitken) that needs to be related to study of the Greek of the NT in the future.


(1) James K. Aitken, “The Language of the Septuagint and Jewish-Greek Identity”, in  James K. Aitken and James C. Padget (eds.), The Jewish-Greek Tradition in Antiquity and the Byzantine (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 120-34 (134).

(2) On this topic see, e.g., G. H. R. Horsley, “Res Bibliographicae: Divergent Views on the Nature of Greek of the Bible,” Bib 65 (1984): 393-403; Gregory H. R. Horsley, “The Fiction of ‘Jewish Greek’,” in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (ed. G. H. R. Horsley; NewDocs 5: Linguistic Essays; North Ryde: Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Macquarie University, 1989), 5-40. For a survey of the debate, see John A. L. Lee, A Lexical Study of the Septuagint Version of the Pentateuch (SCS 14; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983), 11-30; J. W. Voelz, “The Language of the New Testament,” in Geschichte und Kultur Roms im spiegel der Neueren Forschung (eds. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase; ANRW 2; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), 25: 894-930. For a discussion of understanding the Greek of the Septuagint as part of the development of the language, see James K. Aitken, “Outlook,” in The Reception of Septuagint Words in Jewish-Hellenistic and Christian Literature (eds. Eberhard Bons, Ralph Brucker, and Jan Joosten; WUNTII 367; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 183-94.