New Testament Greek Online

Series Introduction

Winfred P. Lehmann and Jonathan Slocum

Greek has been important in the intellectual life of western civilization, but not to the extent of Latin, except for ecclesiastical matters where it is obviously of major importance for determining the meaning of New Testament texts. In years past, Latin was introduced in the first year of High School, followed by Greek in the third year. The prominence of Greek for intellectual matters is evident in designations of subjects central to university study, such as philosophy 'love of wisdom', philology 'love of words or more generally study', theology 'study related to God', psychology 'study related to the soul or psyche', and so on.

The Greek in the New Testament is the so-called koine 'common language'. Based originally on the Greek of Athens, it was circulated throughout Alexander the Great's empire. Languages acquired by many non-native speakers are generally simplified, as was the koine. Morphological categories were lost, such as the dual and the optative, though forms of them may occur in written texts. Sentences were greatly simplified, as noted below. Yet many forms remain, especially for verbs.

A difficulty with Greek that may put off learners is the maintenance of an older form of the alphabet than that used for Latin, English, and many other languages. Moreover, accentuation varies in Greek words, and in early Greek was musical. While today accented syllables are pronounced with stress rather than tones, the older accents are still written [with η added for illustration]: ή for the οκσεῖα 'acute' accent or high pitch, for the περισπώμενον accent or high-low pitch, and for the βαρεῖα 'grave' or falling pitch.

Furthermore, the sentence structure and number of forms require a great deal of attention. The words of sentences are often placed for their emphasis, rather than in accordance with a pattern like that of the English Subject-Verb-Object order. But we may note that the sentences of New Testament Greek texts are simpler to analyze than are those of Classical Greek. The writers were strongly influenced by Hebrew and Aramaic, in which the verb is placed first in the sentence and is often accompanied by particles, in Greek δέ and καί, which may also stand before the verb. This sentence structure has had an effect on the translations into more modern languages, as in the King James version: the first four verses of our first text, Luke 2, begin with And, as do verses 6 through 10.

Even with the simpler syntax, knowledge of the inflections is highly important. Interpretation is also assisted by the use of articles which, like nouns, adjectives, pronouns and verbs, are inflected. It is essential, then, to learn the basic inflections of these parts of speech.

1. The Greek alphabet and pronunciation.

The Greek alphabet was taken over from the Semitic as used in the Phoenician area, which in turn was based on an Egyptian alphabet. These were also used for the numerals, so that the order of the symbols was maintained, if changed at times in sound value. This is true also of the Latin alphabet, which was based ultimately on the Greek alphabet; the 3rd symbol, which represented [g] as in its name gamma, had the sound of [k] in Latin, as in words like car or the proper name Cato. The symbols themselves, especially the small cursives, may also differ in form from those of Latin and English, but on the whole the differences may readily be recognized. The alphabet is as follows:

α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο π ρ σς τ υ φ χ ψ ω

Note that there are two forms of the small letter sigma: the latter (ς) is used where the letter appears last in the word; everywhere else, the former is used. The [h] sound before a vowel is signalled by a rough breathing sign [with ο added for illustration]: ; and when there is no initial [h] sound before vowels, the smooth breathing sign is . The rough breathing may also be used with initial rho: .

The names of the letters are as follows, in English and then in Greek:

alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi, omicron, pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, omega
ἄλφα, βῆτα, γάμμα, δέλτα, ἒ ψιλόν, ζῆτα, ῆτα, θῆτα, ἰῶτα, κάππα, λάμβδα, μῦ, νῦ, ξεῖ, ὂ μικρόν, πεῖ, ῥῶ, σῖγμα, ταῦ, ὖ ψιλόν, φεῖ, χεῖ, ψεῖ, ὦ μέγα

Latin and thereupon English has maintained this order with modifications that are apparent from the different sounds of the letters and the different names. The letter ζ was pronounced like the consonant in adze. The letter ξ was pronounced like the consonant in ax. The letter ψ was pronounced like the final consonants in tops. The letters θ φ χ were originally pronounced like the aspirated initial consonants in English tan, pan, can as opposed to the unaspirated consonants in stan, span, scan; but they are usually pronounced today like the initial consonants in than, fan and the consonant in German ach.

The vowels are pronounced as follows: α like the vowel of bot, ε like that of bet, η like that of bait, ι like that of beet, ο like that of boat, υ like that of bit, ω like that of bought. The five vowels other than η ω may be long or short. Unlike English, there are few silent letters. Sentences, then, are read with every letter pronounced, as in the following quotations from Luke 1:46 and 1:68 --

Μεγαλύνει     ψυχή   μου   τὸν   κύριον.
'Praise   (the)   soul   my   the   Lord'
'My soul doth praise the Lord.'
Εὐλογητὸς   Κύριος     θεὸς   τοῦ   Ἰσραήλ.
'Blessed   Lord   the   God   of-the   Israel'
'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.'
2. The vocabulary.

English and Greek belong to the Indo-European language family; their earlier versions separated from each other some four thousand years ago. Words of the same origin are often disguised because of changes that have taken place in both languages. For example, an initial [s] sound before vowels in Greek evolved into [h], as in (cf. English six) Latin sex, Greek heks, written ἕξ (cf. hexagon). The word corresponding to seven is written ἑπτά (cf. heptagon). Moreover the Indo-European consonants represented as bh, dh, gh evolved to ph, th, kh -- φ, θ, χ, as in φράτηρ 'brother'. New sounds have also been introduced in Greek with their own letter in the alphabet, such as η for the vowel corresponding to the [a] in hate, and ξ for the combination [ks] as in six.

The greatest difference, however, may have resulted from a massive change of consonants in Germanic (hence English) well before our era. The change was formulated by the great German scholar, Jakob Grimm, and is known as Grimm's law, which is listed even in smaller dictionaries of English. At this time, p, t, k evolved into sounds that today are represented by f, th, h. Among examples are: father, compare Greek πατήρ, three, compare Greek τρεῖς, hundred, compare Greek ἑκατόν, literally 'one hundred'. And the sounds represented by bh, dh, gh in Indo-European were changed to the sounds that today are represented by b, d, g. These sounds were also changed in Greek, as noted above. Among examples are English brother, compare Greek φράτηρ, door, compare Greek θύρα, goose, compare Greek χήν. At the same time, b, d, g were changed to p, t, k. Among English examples are ten, compare Greek δέκα, kin, compare Greek γένος. (Indo-European had almost no words with b.)

It is interesting to compare such cognate words, but the changes that both languages have undergone often conceal the relationships, as for the numerals for four and five. Some of the others are transparently related, in spite of changes: one, Greek εἷς; two, Greek δύο; three, Greek τρεῖς; four, Greek τέτταρες; five, Greek πέντε; six, Greek ἕξ; seven, Greek ἑπτά; eight, Greek ὀκτώ; nine, Greek ἐννέα; ten, Greek δέκα. Since dictionaries may provide the Greek cognates of English entries, control over the Greek vocabulary can be gained by noting them. Etymological dictionaries are of greater assistance.

As noted above, by far the greatest number of similar words are found in academic and ecclesiastical language, where English simply took over the Greek terms through long influence on western culture from these spheres. Words were pronounced in accordance with the English spellings, rather than with their pronunciation in Greek. Some examples are cited here.

The academic terms are in accordance with the influence of Aristotle, who conducted his teaching in the Athenian grove known as the Academy, which was named after the hero Akademos. We have already noted terms ending in -logy, to which others might be added like biology and neurology. The last part attained a status of its own, so that further words like sociology, with its initial part from Latin, could be introduced. Moreover, the last part has a somewhat different function in the word doxology, 'giving words of praise'. Other ecclesiastical terms are clergy, clerical, Eucharist and liturgy. In the political sphere the words democrat and democracy are based on the components for people and power, as also in aristocrat and aristocracy for the best or superior people and power, autocracy for self or absolute power, theocracy for ecclesiastical power. Examination of the etymology or 'true meaning' of such words will assist in gaining control of the Greek vocabulary.

3. The sentence structure of Greek.

As is clear from the earlier quotations, the sentence order of Greek may differ considerably from that of English. In an earlier form of Greek, the verb was placed last in the sentence, but in Luke 1:46 its position is quite different. The different position is possible because of Greek inflections. Greek can move elements around for stylistic purposes -- as in Luke 1:46, giving emphasis to the verb.

In examining a Greek text, one should first identify the verb. Its forms are identifiable through their inflections, with the additional help that nouns are often marked by preceding articles. In Luke 1:46, the ending -ει indicates that the subject is in the nominative case. And the -ου endings indicate that μου and τοῦ Ἰσραήλ are genitives. It is useful, then, to memorize the basic inflections of verbs as well as those of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives.

As illustrated by these brief passages, the key to reading Greek is provided by knowledge of its inflections. While these are numerous, memorization of the basic inflections of the article, of nouns and of verbs is generally adequate.

4. The forms of Greek.
4.1 Nouns, adjectives, pronouns, the article.

These parts of speech are inflected for four cases, besides a case of address called the vocative. The cases are as follows:

  • Nominative, the case of the subject;
  • Genitive, the case to indicate possession -- possessive, in grammars of English
  • Dative, the case of the indirect object
  • Accusative, the case of the direct object -- objective, in grammars of English

Case forms may also be determined by prepositions.

In English, only the nominative, genitive/possessive and accusative/objective have been maintained, and that only in pronouns: I is nominative, my is genitive, me is accusative. Nouns simply have a nominative and a possessive, as in dog, dog's. Adjectives are not inflected.

Greek nouns are also inflected for --

  • number, that is, singular and plural; Classical Greek also maintained a dual.
  • three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.
  • a large number of declensions.

Paradigms are given in the various lessons. For illustration here, forms of the article are shown in all three genders, as well as the feminine noun for 'country' of the α-declension and the masculine noun for 'word' and the neuter for 'gift' of the ο-declension:

    Fem.   Masc.   Nt.   Fem.   Masc   Nt
Sg. Nom.       τό   χώρα   λόγος   δῶρον
Sg. Gen.   τῆς   τοῦ   τοῦ   χώρᾱς   λόγου   δώρου
Sg. Dat.   τῇ   τῷ   τῷ   χώρᾳ   λόγῳ   δώρῳ
Sg. Acc.   τήν   τόν   τό   χώρᾱν   λόγον   δῶρον
Pl. Nom.   αἱ   οἱ   τά   χῶραι   λόγοι   δῶρα
Pl. Gen.   τῶν   τῶν   τῶν   χωρῶν   λόγων   δώρων
Pl. Dat.   ταῖς   τοῖς   τοῖς   χώραις   λόγοις   δώροις
Pl. Acc   τάς   τούς   τά   χώρας   λόγους   δῶρα
4.2 Verbs.

Like nouns, verbs have many inflections (though not all of the possible combinations below are realized):

  • Verbs are inflected for voice: active, middle, and passive. The middle indicates action directed at the subject; this is often expressed in the lexical meaning itself. Verbs with a basically middle voice are known as deponents; for example, γίγνομαι means 'become, take place, be produced,' etc.
  • Verbs are inflected for mood: indicative, subjunctive, and optative, though as noted above the optative has been virtually lost in New Testament Greek.
  • Verbs are inflected for tense: present, past (or imperfect), and future. Of these, there are three sets (again, not in all combinations): the basic (or simple), the aorist, and the perfect. The past perfect is also called pluperfect.

In addition there are imperative forms, infinitives, participles, a gerund, and a supine. The imperative forms are rare in written texts.

The present infinitive active may be illustrated by λέγειν 'to say, speak'; the aorist is λέξαι. The present infinitive middle is λέγεσθαι; the aorist is λέξασθαι. The passive infinitive is λέγεσθαι; the aorist is λεγθῆναι. The present participle active is λέγων, λέγουσα, λέγον. The present participle middle and passive is λεγόμενος, λεγομένη, λεγόμενον.

It should be obvious that the verb system of Greek is complex. The basic forms of irregular verbs are generally listed in dictionaries.

4.3 The other parts of speech.

In addition to these parts of speech, Greek includes adverbs, conjunctions, interjections and prepositions. Since their functions are comparable to those of their English counterparts, they will not be discussed here.

5. Examples of texts.

We assume that users of New Testament Greek Online may want to memorize selected passages. Accordingly, each lesson includes one memory verse. Of all such passages, the Lord's Prayer may be the most highly preferred. Its sentence structure is simple, so that each verse is easily memorized. We provide it here both as a sample of New Testament Greek and for memorization. The Greek given here is that of Matthew 6:9-13; the Greek in Luke 11:2-5 is somewhat different, although the King James version provides virtually the same English translation for the two. The familiar conclusion, "For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever" is taken to be a later addition, and is not provided in the Nestle edition nor in the Westcott and Hort edition of the Greek text.

Πάτερ   ἡμῶν     ἐν   τοῖς   οὐρανοῖς·
O-father   of-us   he   in   the   heavens
'Our Father which art in heaven,'


ἁγιασθήτω   τὸ   ὄνομά   σου,
hallowed-be   the   name   of-you
'Hallowed be thy name.'



ἐλθέτω     βασιλεία   σου,
come   the   kingdon   of-you
'Thy kingdom come,'



γενηθήτω   τὸ   θέλημά   σου,
be-done   the   will   of-you
'Thy will be done'



ὡς   ἐν   οὐρανῷ   καὶ   ἐπὶ   γῆς·
as   in   heaven   also   on   earth
'in earth, as it is in heaven.'



τὸν   ἄρτον   ἡμῶν   τὸν   ἐπιούσιον   δὸς   ἡμῖν   σήμερον·
the   bread   of-us   the   daily   give   to-us   today
'Give us this day our daily bread.'



καὶ   ἄφες   ἡμῖν   τὰ   ὀφειλήματα   ἡμῶν,
and   forgive   to-us   the   sins   of-us
'And forgive us our debts'



ὡς   καὶ   ἡμεῖς   ἀφήκαμεν   τοῖς   ὀφειλέταις   ἡμῶν·
as   also   we   forgive   the   sinners   of-us
'as we forgive our debtors.'



καὶ   μὴ   εἰσενέγκῃς   ἡμᾶς   εἰς   πειρασμόν,
and   not   lead   us   into   temptation
'And lead us not into temptation'



ἀλλὰ   ῥῦσαι   ἡμᾶς   ἀπὸ   τοῦ   πονηροῦ
but   bring   us   away-from   the   evil
'but deliver us from evil.'


Related Language Courses at UT

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