[b-greek] Re: Some Porter comments

From: Rodney J. Decker (rdecker@bbc.edu)
Date: Wed Oct 11 2000 - 07:06:18 EDT

At 11:33 PM 10/10/00 +0000, you wrote:
>If Dr. Porter's assessments are even close to accurate, how does that help
>us understand the general grammatical expertise that the writers and
>readers/hearers of the New Testament probably had attained?
>Is he saying the even the hellenistic grammarians were unable to
>articulate their own understanding of Greek? If so, what chance do we
>stand 2000 years removed?

In part, this is an issue related to linguistic method. All Porter is
proposing is that the ancients did not describe their own language from a
linguistic perspective; their formal understanding of language and grammar
is rather rudimentary from our perspective. There is a substantial
difference between being able to analyze and describe one's own language
and being able to use it fluently--as the verbal skills of most 5 year olds
attest! That a young child can talk fluently and generally correctly (and
often incessantly) is a rather amazing feat--but I've not yet met a 5 year
old who can explain how their language works.

>I am not at all familiar with the writings of Josephus, but I understand
>that he was a "well-educated" Jewish historian (whose writings we have in
>Greek only ?? ). To those who have read his writings, are his writings
>noticeably different (grammatically superior) from those of the "Galilean
>fishermen" of the NT? (Similar to the difference in the writings today of
>the average fisherman or truck driver from that of, say, William F.
>Buckley Jr.?)

Josephus is probably not a good example here since he (apparently) did not
speak or write Greek as a "heart language." His Greek is awkward and
difficult in many places. Being well educated in 1st C. Palestine did not
mean being able to write good, fluid Greek. It is possible that some
Galilean fishermen would be more fluent in Greek than well educated people
from elsewhere. John's Greek, e.g., is not profound or complex, but I
suspect that many would judge it to be overall "better" than that of Josephus.

>How many believers of the first century even had the capacity to hack
>their way through Hebrews 6?

This introduces a different category altogether: literacy. Most estimates
place the literacy rate of the first century Greco-Roman world at about
10%--so if your question means, how many could *read* Heb. 6, the answer
would be "few indeed." Jewish literacy would probably be higher due to the
synagogue schools and the Jewish emphasis on education. (Harris's *Ancient
Literacy* does not address this adequately.) Palestine, in particular, was
a largely bilingual society with Aramaic and Greek being widely spoken--and
Latin being not unknown. On the other hand, very few would have any trouble
understanding what the author of Heb. 6 was saying upon hearing the text
read aloud (even the original audience of largely Jewish Christians in Rome).

(If you are just beginning to read Porter, do persevere! He has some
significant things to say, though granted his major book is not a light
read. If you want a capsule of his argument--and that in 30+ pgs.!--check
my synopsis at <http://faculty.bbc.edu/rdecker/documents/porter.pdf>.)

Rodney J. Decker, Th.D. Baptist Bible Seminary
Assoc. Prof./NT PO Box 800, Clarks Summit, PA 18411
rdecker@bbc.edu http://faculty.bbc.edu/rdecker/
XNS Universal Address: =RodDecker
The *Resources for NT Study* site is accessible at:

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