What is "bad Greek"? (was "Grammatical errors in Revelation?")

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Tue May 18 1999 - 12:53:26 EDT

At 11:41 AM -0400 5/18/99, Randy Leedy wrote:

To me, who have sent more private messages to the list than I care to
remember, Randy's little mishaps brings a chuckle. We are hAPANTES subject
to goofs!

At 9:11 AM -0400 5/18/99, Randy Leedy wrote:
>I suggested at that time that comments on "bad Greek" reveal as much
>about the critic as about the object of his criticism. While I think I
>would no longer like to take that thought in quite the direction I did
>at that time, I still believe it to be true. When one calls grammar
>"bad" or "stupefying" or "terrible" rather than using some more
>neutral term such as "non-standard," he has revealed not only
>something about the nature of the grammar but also something about the
>literary values he holds. I think that today we might be able to speak
>more confidently of "bad grammar" when we find certain kinds of
>constructions and expressions common among the uneducated classes.
>Non-standard expressions of this sort do seem to keep rather poor
>company. But do we know enough about 1st-century usage across the
>social spectrum to be able to say that the non-standard grammar we
>find in various places in the NT keeps such poor company? Or are we
>instead seeing something that, albeit idiosyncratic, would not at all
>have been received as "poor grammar" by even the most educated among
>its first audience?

I think there are two distinct points that Randy is raising here:

(1) Are we denigrating the author and the text of Revelation or any other
Biblical book by referring to it as written in "bad Greek"?

--I would personally not assume so, nor would I want to be thought to be
denigrating the author or text by referring to it thus. Although I have (as
I recently noted) changed my view about the grammatical competence of the
author of Mark's gospel, for years I used to say things such as that "Mark
couldn't pass a first-year course in Greek composition, but he has written
what is one of the most profound literary compositions as well as one of
the most profound spiritual challenges in the whole of the Biblical
corpus." I think that I might say something similar even now about the
author of Revelation. Both of these books have numerous passages that
diverge considerably from the literary Greek of the educated classes, but
the grammatical deviations from the norm are no hindrance to the powerful
message of both.

--On the other hand, I have often enough in this forum (perhaps too often)
deplored the Greek of Ephesians 1:3-10. I know that for many and perhaps
for most readers this passage is profoundly moving, while for me it is
scarcely intelligible. The most satisfactory explanation I have seen for
this catena of disparate and disconnected units of thought is that it is
liturgical; that may well be the explanation of the style, yet I would like
to think that liturgical Greek can be more articulate than this. Without at
all disparaging the canonicity or importance of Ephesians as a Biblical
text, I must nevertheless confess that (and I am expressing only my own
opinion here) I find it difficult personally to believe that the same
author wrote this passage in Ephesians and 1 Cor 14:19 ALLA EN EKKLHSIAi
LOGOUS EN GLWSSHi. In sum, I find this passage to be "bad Greek" not
because it violates grammatical rules but because it does not quite
communicate as successfully as it seems to me it should. Randy may well
feel that I AM disparaging scripture in saying this, and undoubtedly I
betray hereby that I may hold a different conception of inspiration than
many others, but I simply have to say quite honestly, that I find the Greek
of these verses really problematic.

(2) A second and different question: do we know enough about first-century
Greek usage to be able to judge the affinities of NT Greek documents within
the spectrum of first-century Greek writing on the whole? Whether or not
"we" know enough in an absolute sense to make such a judgment, I really
think "we" do have
enough evidence (and Egyptian papyri gradually being read and published
from the Oxyrhyncus garbage heap are telling us all the time more about the
Greek written by the less-educated of Egyptian Greek-speakers) to make some
relative judgments: that the NT documents are pretty well reflective of
first-century Greek, from the relatively unpolished to the relatively
polished. I think it really IS possible to make RELATIVE judgments
regarding the degree of conformity of NT texts to the grammar taught in the
schools at the time. BUT, I would hope and I do believe that we can
differentiate between a judgment of grammatical and literary style and a
judgment of literary and religious value.

>I think I will be in Swannanoa tonight, and I am planning to be there
>preaching both services on Sunday. Should you care to try to meet
>somewhere for a little snack and a hello, I'd enjoy it. But my
>schedule will be pretty full, and it might not be worth the effort on
>your part. So feel perfectly free to decline.

I hope there may be another opportunity to meet this summer, Randy, but
I've been mowing and weed-eating most of the day, and I don't think I'm
ready to drive into the Asheville area tonight.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

B-Greek home page: http://sunsite.unc.edu/bgreek
You are currently subscribed to b-greek as: [cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu]
To unsubscribe, forward this message to leave-b-greek-329W@franklin.oit.unc.edu
To subscribe, send a message to subscribe-b-greek@franklin.oit.unc.edu

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:40:27 EDT