Re: Incorrect Greek???

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Sep 22 1998 - 08:28:34 EDT

I really ought to stay out of this sort of discussion; the more it
continues, the more it appears nit-pickings, and I realize that I'm just
contributing to more nit-picking--but it seems to me that some intemperate
statements about NT Greek have been made recently; I think Edgar Krentz has
put the matter quite well, and he has said this several times previously (I
don't blame him for repeating it, because people continue to make some
rather narrow generalizations about the nature of NT Greek:

EK in response to JW:
>My only problem here is the phrase "language of the market and gutter."
>That is only partly true. It all reflects the Greek language in use in the
>first century of the Roman Empire; but it is not all street and market
>language. Some of ite can be rather sophisticated. For example, Hebrews
>uses the phrase NUN DE to indicate the real state of affairs after a
>statement of unreality.
>I agree totally with Jim that you need to apply the usage of the period to
>interpret the NT writers--but all the language.

And ALL the language usage of the period ranges VERY widely and includes
some significant second-century writers of the Second Sophistic.

At 10:35 PM -0500 9/21/98, clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:
>Jonathan Robie wrote:
>> My impression is that the Revelation is the only book that seems to contain
>> incorrect Greek . . .
>IMHO, the phrase "incorrect Greek" is not a felicitous expression when
>talking about the New Testament. Almost every book of the NT has passages
>which are difficult to scan because of the syntax. Paul certainly has a
>significant number of rough passages in his writings. Even Luke on occasion
>does something that causes the scribes to try and clean up his syntax.

I think one might almost say (but if I said it, I'd surely regret it) that
an author who has no rough passages is likely to be so smooth as to be
bland and boring. I do think that painstaking authors like Cicero and Plato
endeavor, even when they are difficult, not to jar the reader/listener (and
it helps to remember that the literature of our period is meant to be
heard, not read silently) with constructions that are off-the-wall.

>The language used in the Apocalypse of John is shocking to those whose
>background is principally in classics. But there have been some serious
>studies* (I cannot cite one from memory) that claim that the language of the
>Apocalypse follows very definite rules, they are just different rules than
>those used by Luke and the author of Hebrews.

I think Richmond Lattimore, an outstanding translator of Homer and
Aeschylus who also published a version of Revelation, may have said
something positive about the style of the author of the book, although I
doubt that he would have said there are very definite rules in Rev. I'd say
that the author of Rev is usually pretty easy to understand, even where he
doesn't follow standard syntax, as in the memorable phrase right near the

This is truly remarkable: the nominative phrase hO WN KAI hO HN KAI hO
ERCOMENOS serves as the object of APO, although immediately following it we
get the more standard (some might even venture to call it "correct")
ablatival genitive APO TWN hEPTA PNEUMATWN with APO. Moreover, hO HN, an
article with an imperfect 3d singular form of EIMI, is unparalleled, so far
as I know, anywhere other than in direct imitations of this remarkable
phrase; of course we translate it normally as "who was" rather than "the
was"--so we are surely not misunderstanding the author's intent. Now, I'm
not quite sure what to call this remarkable phrase in terms of grammar,
even though its meaning is transparent to anyone: is it an "nominative
phrase-epithet functioning as the equivalent of an indeclinable proper
name? And what do we call hO HN? I haven't checked NA27's appendix, but I
don't note any major MS offering hOS HN as a suggested emendation of what
prescriptive grammarians would certainly call a solecism. I would like to
know what sort of "definite rule" this sequence of APO with a compound
nominative phrase and then with an ablatival genitive is, but I would not
venture to call this either "standard Greek" nor "gutter Greek."

I think it's generally recognized that our Attic grammars AND our Koine
grammars are DESCRIBING the patterns of syntax that most commonly are
employed rather than PRESCRIBING what may not be written. Nevertheless, I
have to admit, if I got a Greek composition from a student containing that
construction in Revelation 1:4, I might suggest (if it was within a
document as remarkable as Revelation) that he/she publish the document, but
please write more "standard Greek" for a composition exercise.

>The phrase "incorrect Greek" calls to mind a prescriptive approach to grammar.
>The picture this paints in my mind is a 1950's high school English teacher,
>slapping a ruler on her desk and saying "That is incorrect. A sentence cannot
>end with a preposition." ;-)

And you will recall what Churchill said about that prescriptive rule: "This
is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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