Koine Greek

From WikiChristian
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Koine Greek
A copy of the Codex Alexandrinus opened to the Gospel of Luke.
α | β | γ | δ | ε
ζ | η | θ | ι | κ
λ | μ | ν | ξ | ο
π | ρ | σ - ς | τ | υ
φ | χ | ψ | ω

Koine is the Greek word for "common." Koine Greek (also called New Testament Greek) was the form of the Greek language used from around 300 BC to AD 300. The books of the New Testament were originally written in Koine Greek. Koine Greek was the lingua franca (or the commonly used language of communication) in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern for hundreds of years following the conquests of Alexander the Great, including during the time of the early church.

Claims have been made that the Greek language of the New Testament confused many scholars for a period of time but this is not the case. It was, however, sufficiently different from Classical Greek that some hypothesized that it was a combination of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. An attempt was made to explain it as a "spiritual language," assuming that perhaps God created a special language just for the Bible. But studies of Greek papyri found in Egypt over the past 120 years have shown that the Greek of the New Testament manuscripts was the "common" (koine) language of the everyday people - the same as that used in the writing of wills and private letters. In fact, Koine Greek was propagated through the centuries by the Eastern Orthodox Church and was the language common in the Byzantine Empire. Therefore, knowledge of the language was never lost nor was the meaning of any of the vocabulary in doubt when reformation scholars began to translate from the Textus Receptus.

Koine Greek spread throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East as a result of the conquests of the Greek armies of Alexander the Great. It served as a second language for many people and had become the language of communication throughout much of the Roman Empire and beyond by the time of Jesus. It retained its role as the lingua franca until the Middle Ages.

The New Testament being written in Greek instead of in Aramaic is sometimes used as ammunition by Atheists against traditional authorship. However, writing in Aramaic would've likely been a poor choice for the writers of the New Testament since the language didn't have as widespread of an influence as Greek did. Aramaic was only spoken by Jews, but Greek had a large influence over people who were east of Greece while Latin had a larger influence over people west of Greece. The modern equivalent of Greek in the 1st century would be English in the 21st century as many of its speakers most likely learned it as their second language.


The Old Testament was translated into Koine Greek between the third and first centuries before Christ. This translation is known as the Septuagint, or simply, the "LXX". The New Testament books were originally written in Koine Greek. Below is part of a passage from the New Testament - John 1:1


Letter name Lower Case Upper Case Transliteration in WikiChristian Pronunciation
alpha α Α a father
beta β Β b beta
gamma γ Γ g gamma
delta δ Δ d delta
epsilon ε Ε e epsilon
zêta ζ Ζ z if first letter, otherwise dz zêta or beds
êta η Η e obey
thêta θ Θ th thêta
iota ι Ι i spaghetti
kappa κ Κ k kappa
lambda λ Λ l lambda
mu μ Μ m mu
nu ν Ν n nu
xi ξ Ξ x axiom
omicron ο Ο o pond
pi π Π p pi
rho ρ Ρ r rho
sigma σ / ς Σ s sigma
tau τ Τ t tau
upsilon υ Υ u oops
phi φ Φ ph father
chi χ Χ ch Bach
psi ψ Ψ ps oops
omega ω Ω o obey

Diphthongs and ι-subscripts

Diphthong Pronunciation
ΑΙ 'ai' as in aisle
ΕΙ 'ei' as in freight (identical to 'Η')
ΟΙ 'oi' as in oil
ΑΥ 'ow' as in sow
ΟΥ 'oo' as in fool
ΥΙ 'ooe' as in gooey
ΕΥ *
* 'ευ' is both hard and controversial. There is some evidence to suggest that is was pronounced 'ew' (as in "Ew, that's gross!") or simply 'yu'. What has been taught for ages, however, is 'eh-oo', as sound not present in English.

There are also version of several vowels with a small iota underneath (or beside in the case of capitols): ᾼ ᾳ, ῌ ῃ, ῼ ῳ. It is believed that these represent ancient diphthongs, but the pronunciation is not altered in the time of any Greek writing we can know.

We have chosen not to include ι-subscripts on WikiChristian, partly because most browsers display them incorrectly.

Accents and Breathing

There are three possible accents that can be put on Greek vowels: the acute ´, the grave (pronounces 'grahv') ` and the circumflex. The circumflex should like an upside crescent over the vowel, but some fonts use the caron (^) or even the tilde (~). It is thought the these different symbols represented rising and falling pitch, like modern Chinese, but by the time of our literature, they only indicate accent or stress.

  • ἀρχῇ - ar
  • λόγος - logos

Over the initial syllable of word that begins with a vowel, there will always be either a rough () or a smooth () breathing sign. Rough means a 'h' sound and smooth means a lack of extra sound. A 'Ρ' (Rho), in the initial position, also taking a breathing sign, typically the rough. How precisely this altered pronunciation is not known.

We also do not include accents here on WikiChristian, since it would make searches extremely difficult, and also, because most browsers don't render them correctly.


There a many resources available for the study of the Bible in Koine Greek.

There are numerous ancient manuscripts containing parts or all of the New Testament. Not all of these manuscripts are identical for a variety of reasons. For example, sometimes a scribe copying an older manuscript would make a spelling or grammatical error. The German Bible Society produces a work that contains what a number of well known scholars believe is the most likely representation of the original New Testament, known as the NA27 or the UBS4 version.

The language itself is studied widely throughout theological colleges. Well known textbooks include the series by William Mounce. Numerous internet resources also exist.


Return to Christianity -> Bible -> Translating the Bible


Note to users: The wiki is currently operating in safe mode. Editing is limited to users with certain privileges in order to deal with spam. You can create a new user account, and confirm your email ID in order to obtain ability to edit pages. Learn how to be an editor or sysop at WikiChristian.