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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The Greeks of the age of independence divided mankind into two classes-Hellenes or Greeks, and Barbarians, the latter term having a special reference to those who did not speak the Greek language and were thus unintelligible to the inhabitants of Hellas. The word itself is almost certainly onomatopoetic, being an imitation of the way in which the peoples seemed to speak. It occurs for the first time in Homer (Il. ii. 867), and is used of the Carians (Κᾶρες βαρβαρόφωνοι). Plato divides the human race into Hellenes and Barbarians (Polit. 262 D). Even the Romans called themselves Barbarians till Greek literature came to be naturalized in Rome; and both Philo and Josephus regard the Jews and their tongue as barbarous. By and by the word came to be used as descriptive of all the defects which the Greeks thought foreign to themselves and natural to all other peoples, but the first and the main idea conveyed by the term is that of difference of language.

In the NT history of the early Church we find the term used in four different places.-(1) In Acts 28:2-4 it is applied by St. Luke to the Phœnician inhabitants of Malta, perhaps with a slight hint of contempt on the part of the author. (2) The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:11 refers to the ecstatic speaking with tongues, and declares that if any speak in an unknown tongue, ‘I shall be to him that speaketh a Barbarians, and he that speaketh will be a barbarian unto me.’ Here the word is used in the original sense of one who speaks in an unknown tongue. (3) In the statement (Romans 1:14), ‘I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarian,’ St Paul uses the common conventional division of mankind; and, like Philo and Josephus, classes the Jews among the Barbarians. (4) In Colossians 3:11 we have a looser use of the term ‘Greek and Jew … barbarian and Scythian.’ The Apostle has been speaking of the abolition of all distinction in the offer of the gospel, and the classes selected are not mutually exclusive but mentioned with reference to heresies in the Colossian Church (cf. J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians3, 1879, p. 216). The Apostle offers the gospel not merely to learned Greeks but to barbarians, and even to Scythians, who are popularly regarded as the lowest type of this class.

Literature.-Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, tr. Thayer , s.v.; see also articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Encyclopaedia Biblica .

W. F. Boyd.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Barbarian'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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