Re: Am I robbing Peter to pay Paul?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Jun 10 2000 - 13:14:07 EDT

I rather think that this question is based on a questionable assumption,
albeit one that is never quite directly stated: it is that there is some
standard Greek style to which "ordinary" speakers and/or writers of Greek
adhered. This is just simply not true, although I think it came to be more
nearly true of literary Greek in the period following the Second Sophistic
of the late first and second centuries--that is to say, the establishment
of literary Attic as the standard to be emulated by good Greek writers. But
even that is not quite true.

The fact of the matter is rather that each author has his (or her) own
style of writing, and this is true no matter whether you're reading NT
Koine Greek or classical Attic Greek: Thucydides does not write like
Xenophon nor like Plato or Demosthenes or Lysias. And likewise Paul does
not write like "John" or "Peter" or the author of Hebrews.

When I have taught Biblical Greek over the years, it has normally been a
tutorial course for students who have already taken one year of Attic
Greek; what I have done over a 13-week semester is to "sample" the styles
of all the major NT authors or text-corpora: two chapters each from each of
the gospels and from Acts; a whole letter of Paul (Philippians or
Galatians) a deutero-Pauline letter a couple chapters of James, and three
or four chapters from Hebrews, the idea being to read enough of each
different style to get some sense of how these differ from each other both
in vocabulary and in style of discourse. Most of those who have done this
with me have then gone on to seminaries, but they have at least been able
to continue reading regularly in the NT with some sense of the variety of
kinds of Greek to be found in the NT.

I would not start out with an assumption that most of the NT writers were
writing Greek as a second language. I think it is clear that much of the
tradition employed in the Synoptic gospels is based upon texts transmitted
orally that were not originally Greek, and I think one may reasonably say
that the author(s) of the Johannine books used Greek as a second language.
But I would not argue that about Luke or Paul, and I would certainly not
want to argue with any confidence that the author of Hebrews was writing
Greek as a second language. I assume that Paul could read Hebrew and speak
Aramaic, but I would assume also that he was a native speaker of Greek and
was probably bilingual.

At any rate, the levels of difficulty of reading different NT books in the
Greek has less to do with some "standard" Greek style than it has to do
with individual differences of style. Or that, at any rate, is what I have
always believed.

At 4:39 PM +0000 6/10/00, Mark Wilson wrote:
>The only way I know how to learn to read (and study) Greek is to read a lot.
>And I am trying my best to read and read and read.
>When I first started reading John's writings, I incorrectly thought I was a
>natural wiz at Greek. In fact, I became a little "puffed up."
>As I turned my attention to Paul and began to read his writings, as best as
>I could, it occurred to me that learning Greek was not getting easier. Or,
>to put it another way, Paul was harder than John. (Mind you I am only
>reading words without the ability yet to analyze or see grammatical
>Well, I have all but become completely discouraged. I have now tried some of
>Peter (1 Peter). Having read Peter, I now feel Paul's Greek is not as hard.
>I think John uses a collection of vocabulary and grammar that I must have a
>better predisposition to retain. Paul's vocabulary stock and grammar seems
>to exceed John's noticeably, but still within grasp.
>But Peter! What is he doing? : )
>I feel like I am "hacking" my way through Peter. With John, I can read with
>a smile. With Paul, I sit up straight. But with Peter, I am not sure how to
>read him, not his "theology," but his vocabulary stock and grammar,
>especially word order.
>Here is my question. Would I be correct in this assessment:
>John, Paul, and Peter wrote and spoke Greek as, at least, a second language
>(their native languages being Hebrew/Aramaic).
>Hence, this may account for their use of the Greek language being noticeably
>different, since it was not their native language, but they were
>nevertheless proficient in it.
>Add to that their different IQ's and personalities.
>John learned Greek from someone different than did Peter. Their Greek
>difference is really confusing to me, since they both seemed to have lived
>in the same geographical region. I can more so understand why Paul's Greek
>would be different from John's, but why Peter's seems so different from
>John's is of interest to me. They lived in same area and had same
>I am almost ready to conclude that Paul was "smarter" than Peter. And John
>was smarter than Peter, as well, not that Peter was ignorant.
>Anyway, I would be interested in understanding this "noticeably" different
>Greek "style" of Peter's (especially from John's).
>I hope this makes sense, and that my question has found its way to the
>surface. I am not expecting a rambling-kind-of-answer as my "question"
>turned out to be.
>Thank you,
>Mark Wilson
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Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243 OR

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