Punctuation in Ancient Greek Texts, Part II

Here is a good example of what I had to say in my last post about the lack of punctuation and spacing in Ancient Greek. The image is from Codex Sinaiticus, Philippians 1:1-2.

Philippians 1:1-2 in Codex Sinaiticus
Philippians 1:1-2 in Codex Sinaiticus

Here is the same text with spaces added between the words:

Notice in addition to the lack of punctuation and spacing, the regular use of abbreviations for the words God (ΘΕΟΥ - ΘΥ), Lord (ΚΥΡΙΟΥ – ΚΥ), Jesus (ΙΗΣΟΥ – ΙΥ), and Christ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ – ΧΥ). In Codex Sinaiticus as in all of the early manuscripts, such abbreviations are marked by a macron (¯) over the letters. I was not able to do that when I typed out the version with the spaces above. By including both the first and last letters in the abbreviation, the CASE of the words in question is clear (Genitive in this context for all of them), so even the abbreviations present minimal difficulty for a reasonably fluent reader of Hellenistic Greek.

To see the earlier discussion, go here:

On January 6, 2013 I added a third post on the topic of punctuation:

Important! [Added Jan. 19, 2015]
While the earliest manuscripts of the biblical texts did not contain punctuation, it is usually clear to a competent reader of Ancient Greek where the punctuation belongs.

It is a serious mistake to assume that the absence of punctuation in those manuscripts means a person who does not read Greek is free to choose where to put the punctuation in an English translation. To make decisions about where the punctuation belongs it is necessary to read Ancient Greek very well. Many options that would seem to be available in an English text are ruled out by the structure of the Greek text.

4 Replies to “Punctuation in Ancient Greek Texts, Part II”

  1. I didn’t think to include a description of Codex Sinaiticus in the original post for this topic. It is a manuscript that dates from the mid fourth century (mid 300s) C.E. Along with Codex Vaticanus, it is one of the two oldest nearly complete copies of the Greek New Testament. Codex Sinaiticuas also contains the books of the Old Testament in Greek in the form often called the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX.

    While there are other manuscripts clearly older than Codex Sinaiticus, none of them contain nearly complete copies of the New Testament. They are fragments—a few pages, a portion of a page, or several pages from a single book. Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, as the two oldest nearly complete copies, are extremely important for our ability to reconstruct the text of the earliest Christian writings.

  2. Is there any system in ancient greek writing where the writer can reference an outside source using a symbol of some kind to notify readers of the reference?

    1. The short answer is “No. There was no such system.”

      But the issue is not quite that simple. Books were difficult to obtain, so a consistent system of citations made little sense. Readers were very unlikely to be able to check the references anyway. Here’s an example from Clement of Alexandria (3.6.53) showing what was usually done when one author cited another:

      καὶ ὅ γε Παῦλος οὐκ ὀκνεῖ ἔν τινι ἐπιστολῇ τὴν αὑτοῦ προσαγορεύειν σύζυγον, ἣν οὐ περιεκόμιζεν. . .
      Even Paul did not hesitate in one of his letters to address his [syzygos], whom he did not take around with him. . .

      I left σύζυγον untranslated because what Clement meant by it is debatable. Notice, though, that his citation of Paul consists only of ἔν τινι ἐπιστολῇ (in a certain epistle/in one of his letters). He’s referring to Philippians 4:2-3, but he could not have given that citation because the chapter and verse numbers had not yet been added to the biblical texts. He could at least have said which letter he meant, but he didn’t do even that, probably because he could not be confident that his readers would have access to that letter. The lack of easy access to texts meant that a consistent system of citations would have been pretty meaningless.

      1. Thank you for responding. I ask that question because I recently watched a video in which the speaker claimed that the was an apostrophe like mark used for reference in the letters to the Corinthians so that Paul could quote or reference the letters that the Corinthians wrote to him.

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