It gives me the greatest pleasure to write some words of an introductory nature to the Beginner's Grammar of the Greek New Testament by my beloved colleague, Dr. W. H. Davis. The need of this book is urgent. Hardly a week goes by that I am not asked to recommend such a book to young ministers, to pastors, to laymen, to women, many of whom wish to learn how to read the Greek New Testament without the advantage of a teacher. There are a number of grammars that undertake to do this thing, but they all start in the wrong way, except Moulton's Introduction, which is not well suited to American schools.
It is a curious thing how traditionalism in linguistic teaching has held in slavery so many men who teach Greek today precisely as it was done a hundred years ago. The revolutionary progress made by Brugmann and Delbrück in comparative philology is left to one side for technical scholars. Professor Davis starts the student right. The standpoint of Thumb's revision of Brugmann's Griechische Grammatik is presented with clearness and precision. The student who starts with Davis's Beginner's Grammar can go right on to my Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament without a break or jolt. Then he will be ready for my Grammar of the Greek New
Testament in the Light of Historical Research. It is only a step further to the Brugmann-Thumb Griechische Grammatik and in the same direction. In my experience of thirty-five years as a teacher of the Greek New Testament I have always had numbers of men who floundered over the cases, the prepositions, the tenses, the voices, the modes, because they had learned thse basal things in the old unscientific way. It is like pulling eye-teeth for such a one to learn that the genitive is not the whence-case, but only the case of kind or genus, and that the ablative is the whence-case. If one gets it into his head that the root idea of tense is time, he may never get it out and he will therefore never understand the beauty of the Greek tense, the most wonderful development in the history of language. Professor Davis is absolutely at home in the new science of language and, I may add, is the most brilliant student of Greek that I have ever had. One should, if possible, take the college course in ancient Greek. He needs this background and this contact with the glorious period of the Greek language. But the New Testament is the chief glory of the Greek tongue, and one can begin it in the right way under Professor Davis's tutelage.
Professor Davis is a master of the papyri and so of the Koiné of the first century A.D. This fact is the second linguistic discovery that has revolutionized the study of the Greek New Testament. Comparative philology and
the papyri discoveries have put the old grammars out of date and all the new ones that ignore the tremendous progress thus made. It is now known that the Greek of the New Testament is not literary Attic nor is it a peculiar Hebrew jargon or sacred Greek dialect. At bottom it is simply straight Koiné of the first century A.D. like that found in the inscriptions of Asia Minor and in the papyri of Egypt. The papyri give us many thousands of examples of the language of the life of the first century A.D. in Egypt. There are business contracts, bills, deeds, marriage contracts, wills, decrees, love letters, business correspondence, anything and everything that made up the life of the people of the time. These relics preserve the language of people of all degrees of culture. The Koiné means the language common to people everywhere, not merely the language of the common people. It was the means of communication all over the Roman Empire. The most of the papyri examples give the vernacular form of the Koiné, but there are specimens of the literary Koiné also. The New Testament is mainly in the vernacular Koiné, but it is the vernacular of men of great ability and some of them have a decided literary flavor, as we see in the writings of Luke, the Epistles of Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Language changes with the years if it is alive. Changes occur in the meaning of words, and here the papyri give very great help in showing what the words of the New Testament meant in everyday life. Dr. Davis himself has found over two thousand words in the papyri not given in any of the
Greek lexicons. But the forms of the Koiné show numerous changes from those in the Attic. Dr. Davis's Grammar gives the forms of the Koiné, not of the Attic Greek. Syntax shows some changes also, and these are given rightly.
There are Hebraisms and Aramaisms in the Greek New Testament, but the number is nothing like so great as was once thought to be the case. It is natural that Jews who spoke and wrote the Koiné should reveal here and there familiarity with Hebrew and Aramaic. Even Luke, probably a Greek, has the ear-marks of Aramaic sources and of knowledge of the Septuagint. But, in the main, the New Testament is written in the current Koiné, as one would expect.
It should be added that Dr. Davis confines himself to a Beginner's Grammar. He does not try to teach the ancient Attic on the one hand nor to go over the ground of my Short Grammar on the other. He definitely undertakes to prepare students for the Short Grammar, and he does it with consummate skill. He supplies in masterly fashion the book that was needed. He will smooth the path for the beginner in the Greek New Testament. He will make it so easy that one will wonder why he was so long starting on the road that leads into the heart of the greatest of all books of earth, the Greek New Testament.
Go to the Tables of Contents of Beginner's Grammar of the Greek New Testament
Please buy the CD to support the site, view it without ads, and get bonus stuff!