Re: Grading NT Greek by difficulty

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Mar 22 1996 - 09:20:52 EST

On 3/21/96, A.T. Kraabel wrote:

> Assuming John's gospel and letters to be the NT's simplest Greek, what
> would be at the other end of the spectrum? And how would the other books
> lay out from one extreme to the other?
> Such "grading" would be useful to anyone teaching NT Greek, and I suppose
> we all have our own hunches, but I have never seen anything in print on the
> matter, not the list itself, not to mention a rationale for such a list.
> Any ideas?

This is very rough and very subjective.

(1) I would add Revelation to the other Johannine literature as the
easiest: no doubt there are many hands involved in the various documents,
but they're all easier than most other stuff in the NT.

(2) Gospels: For the most part Mark is not difficult, but he is very
ornery, and (_pace_ my friends who think otherwise) his Greek is
abominable, loaded with Semitisms and with contortions and idiosyncracies
for which the student needs help. Matthew and Luke don't normally yield
problems in terms of style and grammar, but their vocabulary is richer and,
unlike "Mark," they DO not how to write Greek.

(3) I would not try to comment on ease or difficulty of 1 & 2 Peter, James,

(4) Authentic Pauline letters (by which I mean fundamentally the letters
written clearly to specific congregations and responding to their specific
concerns, but including Romans) are certainly more difficult than the
gospels, by and large, but they really can range from relatively
straightforward to highly rhetorical and difficult.

(5) Deutero-Pauline letters (Ephesians & Colossians in particular) offer
some of the most frustrating texts in the entire NT. As I've noted before,
I think that the opening sequence of 13 verses or so in Ephesians is the
most unwieldy and perverse Greek I've ever seen anywhere (more so even that
a strange papyrus letter of a ten-year old (?) Greco-Egyptian lad who is
mad at his father for not taking him along on a trip Alexandria). The
problems are somewhat comparable to those of Aristotle, in that the logical
connexions between clauses are so often utterly enigmatic. It's not that
one can't make sense of the parts, but rather that the parts won't go
together into a meaningful whole.

(6) I think that I too would put Hebrews into the single "most-difficult"
slot. Although it's not evenly difficult, parts of the argument seem
constructed with very great complexity--particularly that bit in chapters 9
and 10 about earthly and heavenly sanctuary. Moreover, there are the
recurrent catenae of linked genitive phrases which are probably part of his
(her, if Ken L persists in attributing it to Priscilla, but only God in her
infinite wisdom knows the truth about that!) intended rhetorical style--but
it certainly contradicts the principle of Attic composition I was taught,
namely, that the weight of a Greek sentence properly gravitates to the

I haven't seen Mounce's graded reader, but I must say, the couple of graded
readers of NT Greek which I HAVE seen seem loaded in the early selections
with explanatory notes, so that, wherever one starts, one has to jump in
the water and swim, hoping and praying that one will not sink before
learning the crawl stroke.

I've seen a couple responses to this question thus far and shall be
interested in seeing what others think about it.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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