When one looks at the history of English, one becomes aware that the language has developed through several stages:
- Proto-English (pre-5th century)
- Old English (5th to 11th century, e.g. Beowulf)
- Middle English (11th to late 15th century, e.g. Chaucer)
- Early Modern English (15th to late 17th century, e.g. Shakespeare, KJV)
- Modern English (late 17th century to the present)
In the same way, Greek has gone through several stages.
The earliest form of Greek is Mycenaean. It is the form of the language spoken back around the time of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The written form of Mycenaean Greek is called Linear B. This script was only decyphered in the 20th century.
Next is the language in which Homer wrote the Iliad and Odyssey, using basically the same Greek alphabet we read today; aptly called Homeric Greek. This dates from around the time of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah.
Homer was all about writing down the oral history of the Trojan Wars, which occurred probably around about the time Moses and the Hebrews entered the land of Israel.
After this comes Classical Greek - the language of the golden age of Athens - from 500 to 300 BC: Socrates, Plato, Pericles and the Parthenon, Sophocles, the Olympics, the 26 mile run of Pheidippides after the Greek triumph at the Battle of Marathon, Leonides and his heroic defence, with the 300, against Xerxes at Thermopylae.
Next, after the conquests of Alexander the Great, came Koine Greek...the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean region from Libya to Egypt to Palestine to Turkey and the Balkans; the language of the Septuagint (LXX) and the New Testament. The name Koine is derived from the word κοινή "common". Koine Greek was to the ancient world what English is to the modern world.
Today, if an Arab and an Indonesian meet to discuss the price of oil, they speak English as they negotiate. A first century Egyptian and a Syrian, discussing the price of wheat or timber, would have spoken Koine Greek. This carried on until around the seventh century.
We sometimes today refer to Koine as "Biblical Greek". The main differences between Biblical and Classical Greek are mainly those of some complex forms that have dropped out of the language with the passage of the centuries. E.g.
- The optative mood has all-but completely disappeared.
- We have only singular and plural nouns - dual forms (which applied when there were precisely two of something) are totally gone.
Anybody who can read Classical Greek will have no problem at all with Koine. This is analogous to being able to read works from both Early Modern English (e.g. Shakespeare or the KJV) and modern English (e.g. John Grisham novels or the Edmonton Journal).
However, because of the nature/direction of changes from Classical to Koine Greek, if you start out by learning Biblical Greek, and decide you want to go back and start translating Herodotus or Plato, you will have your work cut out for you.
On the plus side, if you have been intrigued by reading in Daniel of the fall of Babylon to the Persians, you can read Herodotus and get an account of the same event from a Persian perspective.
Greek continued to develop, as all languages do, and the official language of the Byzantine Empire from the seventh century on was called Byzantine Greek (a.k.a. Medieval Greek). "Medieval Greek is the link between the ancient and modern forms of the language because on the one hand, its literature is still strongly influenced by Classical and Koine Greek, while on the other hand, many linguistic features of Modern Greek were already taking shape in the spoken language." (Wikipedia)
In 1453, the city of Constantinople fell to the Muslims. This is usually taken as the end point of Medieval Greek and the beginning of Modern Greek.
Greek today is the official tongue of Greece and Cyprus, and is spoken by 12-15 million people.