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Holman Bible Dictionary


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The term originally referred to stammering, stuttering, or any form of unintelligible sounds. Even the repeated syllable “bar-bar” mimics this. The term “barbarian” came to be synonymous with “foreigner,” one who did not speak Greek, or one who was not a Greek. The Septuagint or earliest Greek translation translated Psalm 114:1 using barbarian for “a people of strange language.” In the New Testament, barbarian occurs six times. Paul uses the term twice in 1 Corinthians 14:11 where he deals with the problem of unintelligible speech in the church. The more common use of “barbarian” seems related to those who spoke a foreign language, especially other than Greek. Paul's description of the islanders of Melita ( Acts 28:2 ,Acts 28:2,28:4 ) as barbarians meant only that they did not speak Greek. With the rise of the Greek empire there was the tendency to include all who were not privy to this language and culture as barbarians. Thus, Paul makes the distinction between Greek and non-Greek in Romans 1:14 . Also in Colossians 3:11 , “Barbarians” are distinguished from the Greeks. As the Romans came to power and absorbed the Greek culture, they removed themselves from barbarian classification. The term came to be a reproach during the Persian wars and in time was associated with those who were crude and contemptible. See Gentile; Greeks; Hellenist.

C. Kenny Cooper

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Barbarian'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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