Question: Which contemporary writers can be used for comparison with the Septuagint and New Testament Texts to help guide and inform translations and interpretations?

For example, Greeks certainly had an extra-Biblical understanding of the term, "Love," (agape, phileo, etc), and even "Heart." So, what other texts/authors of that period, could be used to illustrate how Greek terms in the New Testament were perceived in secular contexts?

Before Christian Scripture was cannonized, the Greeks had understandings of commonly used words such as "faith, hope, love, spirit, soul," etc ...

Which secular texts/authors can be utilized/referenced to guide/inform how we interpret terms found in the Christian and LXX Scriptures?


3 Answers 3


I find the question slightly confused -- or at least puzzling! -- but here's my take on it, riffing on fdb's post. I'm not inclined to be quite so restrictive, but it's partly a matter of the fuzzy gradations from "koine" through "atticizing" to "attic". There's something of a continuum there.

With that caveat in place, here's my set of concentric circles on Koine Greek and its close relatives with a bit of commentary and some resources for each in Greek (where readily available), moving out from the centre:

  1. LXX and NT : there's plenty already around on this, so suffice it here to note the (probably) lesser known volume (only one of a projected set) by Henry St. John Thackeray, A Grammar of Old Testament Greek according to the Septuagint (Cambridge, 1909). (Due to be superseded by current projects on this front, but still useful.)

    It is worth bearing in mind that there are gradations of language/register, even within this body of literature. Things like Greek Jeremiah, or the gospel of Mark, are less refined than Greek Isaiah or Proverbs and the gospel of Luke. Within the "Apocrypha", too, a continuum can be seen: Tobit and Judith are relatively simple; the additions to Esther more "literary", and 3 and 4 Maccabees are getting much closer to "Attic".

  2. Apostolic Fathers : as they're usually called. I'm not sure about the proximity of the Greek, but I find it comfortably close to LXX/NT. The two-volume Loeb edition by Kirsopp Lake is on Archive.org:

    • Volume 1 includes I. and II. Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, the Didache, and Barnabas
    • Volume 2 includes the Shepherd of Hermas, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and the Epistle to Diognetus
  3. Josephus : may be Atticizing, but still quite readable for those accustomed to LXX/NT (moreso than Philo, in my experience anyway). All of the Loeb volumes are (now) available at Archive.org:

  4. James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and other Non-Literary Sources (Hodder & Stoughton, 1929). As the title suggests, this gives access to non-literary sources as noted by fdb. On this work, see the blog post by Larry Hurtado, "NT Vocabulary in Historical Context". Hurtado also mentions the "New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity" series, and work in this sphere is not standing still. However, the venerable Moulton and Milligan is still valuable here.

Another step removed would get us to Philo (e.g. Q&A on Genesis, Q&A on Exodus, On the Contemplative Life; "Aristeas" (see appendix by Thackeray); then maybe Xenophon, and on and on. The exercise becomes less meaningful at that point, because there is a world of antique Greek literature -- and simply providing a list of names is not the point of this exercise.

Descriptive accounts of the Koine online

There are some valuable accounts of the language of the NT and its close literary companions. From current online offerings, see the Wikipedia entry, and also the "New Testament Greek Online" pages from the University of Texas, Austin.

Some of the older major grammars included a section situating the language historically, usually as part of the introductory material. Worth mentioning in particular are:

I'm happy for this entry to be revised, corrected, updated, and/or expanded based on input from trusted contributors on BH.SE.

  • This list is not addressing the intent of the question: "could be used to illustrate how Greek terms in the New Testament were perceived in a secular context?" Granted the works of Josephus are super border-line. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 10:38
  • You changed the question. Listing these resources has some use in any case.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 10:45
  • Dɑvïd - Yep, you're right. This is helpful, (which is why I +1'ed it). Originally I used "contemporary" instead of "secular". That was quite a while ago. Perhaps it would be helpful to move questions like this to the main site. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 10:55

The list which e.s. kohen has copied from the Loeb site is not a complete listing of the Greek and Latin authors of the period, though it is a representative sample. But you must realise that none of these authors wrote in Koine; all of the prose writers (at least) wrote in Attic Greek, which was the language used by educated people at that time. The Septuagint and the New Testament are in fact the only surviving substantial books in Koine Greek, though we do have Koine material in non-literary sources like business contracts, letters, tomb stones etc. For this reason, the literary works by Atticizing authors are not going to be of much use in analysing the specific Koine features in the Greek Biblical texts.

  • FDB - Your claim that the Septuagint and the New Testament are the only surviving substantial books in Koine Greek - seems to be at odds with other authorities... Can you explain that at all? If substantiated - this would be a very valid answer. But without substantiation, it seems self-serving. In many ways, this allows theologians to interpret Christian texts "in a vacuum". So, the burden of proof is necessarily higher, (on your part). Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 10:35

Answer: Harvard has published a Chronological list of writers that can be used in comparative analysis and Lexical Semantics

This List partially Copied on 2014-11-26, From: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/features/loeb/timeline.html)

Notably Missing from this List:

Contemporary Hebrew and Aramaic Writers.

Flavius Josephus seems to have originally written in Chaldean, (not Hebrew), possibly side-by-side in Greek, with the use of his Greek assistants, (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0148%3Abook%3D1%3Awhiston+chapter%3Dpr.%3Awhiston+section%3D1).

200 B.C., Greek : Corinna Polybius

200 B.C., Latin : Ennius, Plautus Caecilius, Cato Accius, Pacuvius, Terence Lucilius

100 B.C., Greek : Bion, Moschus Parthenius Diodorus Siculus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus

100 B.C., Latin : Lucretius, Catullus, Cicero Caesar, Varro, Cornelius Nepos, Sallust Virgil, Tibullus, Vitruvius, Horace, Propertius

0, Greek : Strabo, Demetrius Philo Onasander, “Longinus”,2 Plutarch, Josephus, Dio Chrysostom

0, Latin : Augustus, Seneca the Elder, Livy, Ovid Celsus, Manilius, Velleius Paterculus, Phaedrus Curtius, Seneca, Petronius, Lucan, Persius Columella, Pliny, Frontinus, Quintilian, Martial

100 AD, Greek : “Apollodorus”,2 Epictetus, Babrius Ptolemy, Arrian, Achilles Tatius, Lucian Aristides, Pausanias, Appian, Oppian, Galen Marcus Aurelius, Clement

100 AD, Latin Statius, Valerius Flaccus, Silius, Tacitus Pliny the Younger, Juvenal, Suetonius Florus, Fronto Apuleius Gellius

200 AD, Greek Aelian, Athenaeus, Alciphron Sextus Empiricus Philostratus, Dio Cassius, Herodian Plotinus, Diogenes Laertius, Longus

200 AD, Latin Tertullian Minucius Felix

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