The Syntax of 1 Peter: Just How Good Is the Greek? -- By: Karen H. Jobes

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 13:2 (NA 2003)
Article: The Syntax of 1 Peter: Just How Good Is the Greek?
Author: Karen H. Jobes


The Syntax of 1 Peter:
Just How Good Is the Greek?

Karen H. Jobes

Westmont College

The Greek of 1 Peter is almost unanimously viewed as being the quality of a highly-educated native Greek writer. This study applies a quantitative analysis of the syntax of 1 Peter in comparison to that of Polybius, Josephus, 1 Thessalonians, and Hebrews 5-9, showing that there is a significant degree of Semitic interference in 1 Peter. The study concludes that 1 Peter was probably written by a Semitic speaker for whom Greek was a second language.

Key Words: syntax criticism, bi-lingualism, linguistic interference, 1 Peter, Polybius, Josephus, 1 Thessalonians, Hebrews, descriptive statistics, authorship, rhetoric

One of the weightiest arguments against Peter’s authorship of 1 Peter is that the Greek of the epistle is just too good for an uneducated Galilean fisherman to have written.1 Scholars who accept pseudonymous authorship opt for an anonymous author of the Petrine circle in Rome, or perhaps a Christian elder in Asia Minor. Scholars who wish to defend Peter as the author often propose his use of an amanuensis, perhaps even Silas (5:12), writing under the direction of the apostle.2

Therefore, the quality of the Greek of 1 Peter seems to be recognized by both sides of the authorship debate as being too good for Peter himself to have written. This opinion involves many assumptions that need to be reconsidered critically from time to time as more knowledge of the presence of Greek in Galilee becomes available. There seems to be a presumption that Galilean fishermen were uneducated,

and relative to other segments of the population, this assumption is probably more true than not. However, the further assumption that only formally educated people can develop a high level of proficiency in a second language probably rings truer to North Americans, who by-and-large acquire a second language through formal academic courses, than it does to pockets of the population, mostly in the borderlands, who live in societies that are in practice bilingual. In these areas, even formally uneducated people can develop a relatively high level of proficiency, especially if exposed to the second language early in life.

Currently available evidence is inconclusive about how pervasive the Greek language was in Galilee, and particularly in that crossroads town of Capernaum, hometown of the fisherman-turned-apostle.3 Recent archeological evidence from the ex...

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