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Ancient Greek Literary Style: Bicolon, Tricolon, Isocolon

Posted: March 23rd, 2018, 6:08 pm
by Bryant J. Williams III
Read the following on Exegetical Tools regarding a New Commentary on Ephesians by S. M. Baugh,

This started with Eph 1:3-14. Most commentators notice this is one "sentence" in Greek and some treat it as if Paul is being undisciplined and too wordy here. My notion was to ask how the original audience would have heard the text.

It turns out that ancient Greeks do not think in terms of sentences but in terms of three divisions of their compositions: the comma (=phrase); the colon (=clause); the period (= a grouping of two to four or sometimes more cola). A "period" may or may not complete the "sense" or "idea" which is how Greeks describe what we call a "sentence" (there is no Greek word corresponding exactly to our "sentence"). So, I tried to present the text as an ancient Greek would.

In my more recent work on Hebrews I've refined and expanded on this approach. Hebrews is more "literary" than Ephesians, so I think it is the one work in the New Testament to read for this ways of reading the text. One central issue here, which I have not elaborated (yet), is that the composition of a work into various types of cola and periods (e.g., bicolon, tricolon, isocolon, "falling" or "rising" groupings of cola and especially use of occasional rounded periods) is a main feature of an author's style.

When scholars evaluate the style of Ephesians as not Pauline, they miss these vital, ancient Greek characteristics of style. I have noticed, for example, many stylistic similarities between Ephesians and Romans, which substantiates Pauline authorship of Ephesians further. To read ancient Greek as sentences and paragraphs is to re-shape the text into a modern form and miss its original compositional characteristics.

Now, is what Baugh saying above correct? or ?

En Xristw,

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

Re: Ancient Greek Literary Style: Bicolon, Tricolon, Isocolon

Posted: March 23rd, 2018, 10:29 pm
by Stirling Bartholomew

I'm not qualified to answer your question. One thing Baugh said in the interview[1] caught my eye :
... the genitive simply attaches a substantive to another substantive and calls for the reader/hearer to figure out the inter-relation from the meaning of the terms and other contextual features.
This is how the genitive ought to be taught. Now back to your original question. I would also like to hear an answer.

[1] ... ephesians/

Re: Ancient Greek Literary Style: Bicolon, Tricolon, Isocolon

Posted: March 23rd, 2018, 11:15 pm
by Barry Hofstetter
It actually might be helpful to have some definitions, and believe it or not, this Wikipedia article does a reasonably good job:

Now, there is no doubt that one finds these kinds of literary devices in scriptures, but to claim that they are some sort of overarching structural device is a big stretch. It's also only a part of the picture of how the ancients conceptualized the structure of their language, which they did not for theoretical purposes, but for art, in terms of both poetry and prose, and for the latter, particularly with regard to rhetoric. In rhetoric, a well rounded sentence was a περίοδος (period) consisting of a number of κῶλα (colons, or subordinate clauses). This is where we get the term "periodic style" characteristic of most ancient orators (think of people like Demosthenes in Greek or Cicero in Latin). We see a bit of this style in Hebrews in the NT, and writers in 18th and 19th century English often attempted to imitate it. Linguistically speaking, it's clear that that ancient Greek, like any language, communicates in terms of sense units, which often correspond to what we think of as sentences, and while they may not have broken up their writings with paragraphs, they certainly composed with thematic groupings of sense units that correspond roughly to paragraphs. By the way, this is something we see in language teaching manuscripts preserved from ancient times, and in less formal treatises such as represented by the non-literary papyri. Short simple sense units, sounding a lot like the kind of sentences we might use in daily speech. Much of the NT uses that kind of language, although one can also find sections that are quite a bit more literary.

I think it's an extraordinarily helpful exercise to conceptualize the language and structure of a document the way ancient writers and their readers might have done so, but part of rendering that in our context is to display that structure using what makes best sense in the structure of the receptor language, and that means, for us, sentences and paragraphs.

Re: Ancient Greek Literary Style: Bicolon, Tricolon, Isocolon

Posted: May 19th, 2018, 4:54 am
by Hefin J. Jones
Bryant, Clay, Barry

If you're willing to sign up for Lexham press newsletter then you can have a free copy of Baugh's ECC as a pdf or as a free Logos book. I'm a dabbler in these things but I found his comments on cola in the introduction fascinating.

Hefin Jones

Re: Ancient Greek Literary Style: Bicolon, Tricolon, Isocolon

Posted: May 20th, 2018, 9:35 am
by Barry Hofstetter
Thanks fo the tip, always good to have another good commentary on Ephesians.