Bad Greek

From: Edgar M. Krentz (
Date: Wed Nov 06 1996 - 23:43:07 EST

>At 5:38 PM -0600 11/3/96, wrote:
>>As usual, my apologies in advance if I am being redundant. While I don't
>>with Randy that this construction or that in the NT is bad Greek, I commend
>>him heartily for attempting to define the concept "bad Greek," which is too
>>often used very subjectively as a term. I would also suggest that along the
>>lines of Randy's proposal we might add to the hypothesis that bad Greek is
>>that which does not occur in good writers of Greek in a given time period.
>>In reality, I think even this more narrow definition will prove useless in
>>defining what "bad" Greek is, so I would propose another, somewhat similar
>>definition: Good Greek is probably that which is found in a good writer etc.

Carl responded:

>Aha! The catch: what is the standard by which we judge which is the good
>writer and which is not? Unless we can define the standard, I think this
>definition becomes rather difficult to sustain. Actually, I suspect we're
>likely to agree that Luke writes the best narrative prose in the NT--but
>why do we say that? Is it a matter of taste (and if so, what are the
>factors that shape such taste?) or is it a matter of consistent and regular
>usage? Or conformity to our expectations of intelligible Greek? WHY are we
>likely to agree on Luke's Greek as the best NT prose? Or do we agree?
>Perhaps it's a more complicated question.
One way to measure some aspects of "Bad Greek" [not my coinage] would be to
decide whether one is talking about (1) literary language or (2) correct,
if non-literary, writing.

If (1), then one would read Phrynichus and Moeris on vocabulary, Longinus
and Demeterius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus on style, pay attention to
their criteria of good writing: Hellenismos, saphhenia, elegance,
vocabulary, style fitting to the subject, etc. And there are literary
models that one might then use to measure the writers. In the NT (opinione
mea) Hebrews measures up very well to this standard. For example, he uses
NUN DE to state the reality after a false idea. Luke in Lk 1:1-4 and in
sections of Acts writes up to literary standard. Revelation and Mark do
not. 2 Peter smells of the lamp; 1 Peter writes a correct Greek. James is
surprisingly literate.

If (2), then the standard would be whether the propositions are used
correctly, whether concord is present where it should be etc. One can write
grammatical language without being literary. John and Mark, INHO, belong
here. Here one should read n one-literary papyri to see "misspellings" and
simple sentence structure.

Before one either defends or passes negative judgment on any NT writer as
writing good or bad Greek, one needs to read enough Greek of the period to
have some sense of what "good" or "bad" Greek is in respect to the class of
writing in which one understands a NT or LXX document to fall.

I am reading 4 Maccabees with a number of students right now. coming to it
from the NT, they find the first two chapters challenging, not the least
because the sentence structure is more complicated, the writer uses
optatives, etc.

Reactions, please?

Edgar Krentz, New Testament OR *****
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
1100 East 55th Street
TEL.: 773-256-0752 FAX: 773-256-0782

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