[b-greek] Re: Good Greek Grammar?

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Sat Sep 15 2001 - 08:17:50 EDT

At 5:10 AM -0400 9/15/01, Harry W. Jones wrote:
>Dear Carl,
>Did some of the NT Greek writers make grammatical errors?

The matter(s) under discussion in this thread really do need, I think, to

(A) Neither the Greek of the NT nor the Greek spoken and written during the
NT era conform uniformly to a single standard of "correct" usage. On the
other hand, the Greek usage of this period is by no means really anomalous,
even if we occasionally get messages on this list suggesting that there is
no real norm being adhered to by one or more NT writers. Rod Decker has
already pointed readers to Dan Wallace's opening discussion of the nature
of Koine Greek in GGBB; I think it's worth citing a snippet from that:

Daniel B. Wallace, _Greek Grammar Beyhond the Basics_, pp. 20-21:
"E. Types of KOINH/ (Koine) Greek Many scholars admit of only two real
levels: vulgar and literary.19 This is a wrong-headed approach for the
following reasons: (1) This view is not {p. 21} sensitive to the
differences between a truly literary Koine and an artificial Atticistic
Greek; (2) the issue is presented as black-or-white: the "two extremes" are
seen as the only grids through which the rest of Koine material must be
seen; (3) most of the books of the NT were never intended to be literary
works-thus, it is not an apt analogy to compare them to works intended to
be literary. On the other hand, they do not fully parallel receipts, wills,
laundry lists, business documents, memos, legal documents, even personal
letters written by soldiers from the field; for they were written, for the
most part, for an audience, not just a private individual-and they were
usually intended to be read aloud. Further, their subject matter and their
frequent apologetic tone dictate that parallels cannot easily be found in
the papyri.
 'It is for these reasons that a few scholars have suggested that there may
be at least one intermediate level of Koine Greek between the extremes of
vulgar and literary. That assessment seems to be correct; ...'

(B) Good grammar vs. Bad Grammar?
        Are Bostonians, Brits and New Yorkers trying to tell Iowans how to
speak and write English (this morning's NY Times has an interesting article
about people in Indiana having new feelings about New Yorkers after what's
happened this week)?
        Should schools be teaching a "standard" pattern of grammatical
usage (don't say "ain't"! don't use a singular verb with a plural subject!
...)? If there were no standard, communication would break down.
        Does poetry violate standard grammar and style? Actually it often
tends to employ more archaic grammar and style when it seeks to be
high-sounding, as when we lapse into the English of the King James Bible.
        Is it appropriate to speak of "bad Greek" in the Greek New
Testament? I can recall one indignant response to this question a few years
ago on B-Greek: "The Holy Spirit doesn't write bad Greek!" But that
confuses a hermeneutical question with a question of Greek grammar and
style. The question should rather be phrased, "Do any NT writers fail to
conform to standard usage?" I'll cite just a small bit of what BDF has to
say on "incongruencies" of usage in the NT, noting that "solecism" is
defined thus by Webster: "solecism: 'sä-l&-"si-z&m, 'sO-; noun; < Latin
soloecismus, from Greek soloikismos, from soloikos speaking incorrectly,
literally, inhabitant of Soloi, from Soloi, city in ancient Cilicia where a
substandard form of Attic was spoken; circa 1555. 1 : an ungrammatical
combination of words in a sentence; also : a minor blunder in speech 2 :
something deviating from the proper, normal, or accepted order 3 : a breach
of etiquette or decorum":

Blass, Debrunner, Funk, _A Greek Grammar of the NT ...", p. 75,#136:
"(5) More Serious Incongruencies (Solecisms). 136. _Revelation_ exhibits a
quantity of striking solecisms which are based especially on inattention to
agreement (a rough style), in contrast to the rst of the NT and to the
other writings ascribed to John: (1) An appositional phrase (or
circumstantial participle) is often found in the nominative instead of an
oblique case (#137)3): THS KAINHS IEROUSALHM hH KATABAINOUSA Rev 3:12.
Likewise with some translators of the OT (Nestle, Philologica Sacra 7). (2)
Occasionally there is also a hanging accusative or genitive, e.g. TAS hEPTA
FIALAS TWN GEMONTWN (instead of TAS GEMOUSAS) Rev 21:9. (3) The masculine
is often substituted for the feminine or neuter: Rev 11:4 hAI DUO LUCNIAI
hAI ... hESTWTES (hESTWSAI SccP). ... (4) LEGWN LEGONTES often apear as
anacoluthon, ECWN less often. (5) Incongruencies in number: Rev 9.12
ERCETAI ETI DUO OUAI (previously hH OUAI, therefore not neuter ..."
        p. 76, #137: "Such incongruencies as are found occasionally in
other books of the NT are to be regarded either as more excusable or as a
corruption of the text. ..." Here is cited the positioning of the nom. adj.
PLHRHS in John 1:14 immediately following THN DOXAN AUTOU, where one would
expect either an accusative PLHRH or a genitive PLHROUS.

Suffice it to say: there's a wide range of style in the NT; some writers
exhibit a usage which seems to indicate that they have learned grammar and
style in a school, while others write a "rougher" style of Greek.
Nevertheless by far the greater part of the GNT conforms to intelligible
and discernible standards of usage for the period; if that were NOT so, the
GNT would not be what it is: the LOGOS of the LOGOS.

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

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