I think that 1 Peter 3:20 is usually rendered into English like this:

... Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

I wonder if anybody here knows what is the Greek word in the original manuscript which is translated into English as few? Thing is that from the quoted verse somebody could infer that for its author few would mean eight in total.

Thank you very much!

  • 2
    Why would there be a problem inferring (I think correctly) that "few" here does equal eight? In other words, not only "could" it be inferred, that is what should be inferred from the statement as the author is making it. If most likely thousands (if not millions) of people died in the flood, eight is very legitimately a few who were saved. I'm just trying to understand what you find objectionable in that (it is not clear).
    – ScottS
    Commented May 4, 2014 at 20:42
  • Even though you do not know Greek, you can do a survey of where the word "few" occurs in the NT. For example, in Matt 15:34 we read: And Jesus *said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” You can make an argument (albeit from the English translation) that "few" appears to mean "something around seven." Otherwise, if you do not state something like this, your posting is redundant and does not say anything that we do not already know. Please provide your analysis instead of just comments. Thx!
    – Joseph
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 18:42
  • This is yet another question that has nothing to do with hermeneutics and can be solved by reading a dictionary.
    – Robert
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 15:42

1 Answer 1


The Greek word is ὀλίγαι, the nominative case, plural number, feminine gender declension of the adjective ὀλίγος. (It is declined in the feminine gender because it modifies the noun ψυχαί which is naturally declined in the feminine gender.) It is translated as "few" 14 times in the King James Version.

BDAG (p. 703) defines it as,

ὀλίγος, η, ον (Hom.+.—For the NT the spelling ὁλίγος is not infrequently attested [exx. in B-D-F §14; Mlt-H., 98f; cp. Schwyzer I 226; II 201]; like ἑλπίς, ἵδιος and a few others of this kind, this form is found in ins and pap as early as pre-Christian times, and is more freq. later [Crönert 148–53; Helbing 25f; Thackeray 126f; Hauser 60]).

① pert. to being relatively small in number, few pl.

ⓐ used w. a noun ἐργάται Mt 9:37; Lk 10:2. ἰχθύδια a few (small) fish Mt 15:34; Mk 8:7. ἄρρωστοι 6:5. ἄφρονες a few foolish persons ITr 8:2. ὀνόματα Rv 3:4. πρόσωπα persons 1 Cl 1:1. W. κεράμια to be understood fr. the immediate context Hm 12, 5, 3. ἡμέραι ὀλίγαι (PFay 123, 10 [c. 100 a.d.]; Gen 29:20; cp. Ps 108:8; Philo, Somn. 1, 46; Jos., Ant. 1, 91): ἐν ἡμ. ὀλίγαις (Diod S 36, 4, 4) Ac 15:30 D. πρὸς ὀλ. ἡμέρας for a few days Hb 12:10; μετὰ ἡμέρας ὀλ. after a few days Hs 7:1; 8, 4, 1. μετʼ ὀλ. ἡμέρας (Teles p. 19, 5; Diod S 13, 8, 1) 8, 11, 5; 9, 5, 5f. μετὰ ὀλ. ἡμέρας 5, 2, 9; 8, 2, 9. ὀλ. ῥήματα a few words m 4, 2, 1; 12, 5, 1. διʼ ὀλ. γραμμάτων in a few lines (s. γράμμα 1) IRo 8:2; IPol 7:3.

ⓑ abs. ὀλίγοι (a) few (opp. πολλοί as Menand., Mon. 670 Jäkel [443 Meineke]; Polyb. 18, 53, 1; Diod S 15, 37, 1; Plut., Mor. 188e; Porphyr., Vi. Pyth. 22; Tat. 3, 2) Mt 7:14 (Cebes 15, 2f there are ὀλίγοι who travel the στενὴ ὁδός … , ἡ ἄγουσα to the goal; TestAbr A 11 p. 90, 11 [Stone p. 28] ὀλίγοι … οἱ σῳζόμενοι); 20:16 v.l.; 22:14=4:14; Lk 13:23.—a few 1 Pt 3:20; MPol 5:1 (cp. Just., A I, 44, 13). Used w. the partitive gen. (Arrian, Anab. 5, 15, 4 ὀλίγοι τῶν ἐλεφάντων) and a neg. not a few, a number (of) (Jos., Bell. 7, 438) γυναικῶν Ac 17:4. γυναικῶν … καὶ ἀνδρῶν vs. 12.—ὀλ. ἐξ αὐτῶν Hs 9, 8, 6.—ὀλίγα (a) few things Lk 10:42 v.l. (opp. πολλά as Menand., Mon. 311 Jäkel [226 Meineke]; Ath. 12, 3; s. ABaker, CBQ 27, ’65, 127–37); Rv 2:14; ὑποδείξω ὀλ. I shall point out a few things 1:8. ὀλ. ἐπερωτᾶν τινα ask someone a few questions Hm 4, 1, 4. ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός you were trustworthy in managing a few things Mt 25:21, 23. δαρήσεται ὀλίγας he will receive few lashes Lk 12:48 (s. δέρω). διʼ ὀλίγων γράφειν 1 Pt 5:12 (βραχέων P72, cp. Hb 13:22; s. διά A 3b).

② pert. to being relatively small on a scale of extent, little, small, short, sing.

ⓐ of amount (3 Km 17:10 ὀλ. ὕδωρ) οἶνος ὀλ. a little wine (Artem. 1, 66 p. 59, 25) 1 Ti 5:23; πῦρ ὀλ. a little fire Js 3:5 v.l. οὐκ ὀλ. ἐργασία no small profit Ac 19:24; of fruit little Hs 2:4; of a country small 1 Cl 10:2.—Subst. τὸ ὀλίγον a small amount ὁ τὸ ὀλ. one who gathered a small amount (opp. ὁ τὸ πολύ) 2 Cor 8:15 (cp. Num 11:32; Ex 16:18). ᾧ ὀλίγον ἀφίεται the one to whom little is forgiven Lk 7:47a (cp. the use in vs. 47b and s. 3 below).

ⓑ of duration

α. (Musaeus vs. 291 ὀλίγον ἐπὶ χρόνον= for a short time; TestAbr B 2 p. 106, 5 [Stone p. 60] ὀλίγην ὥραν) ὀλ. καιρός a short time Rv 12:12. χρόνος οὐκ ὀλ. a long time (Jos., Bell. 2, 62) Ac 14:28. ὀλίγον χρόνον for a short while (Menand., Fgm. 567 Kö.) 2 Cl 19:3; Hs 7:6; ἐν καιρῷ ὀλ. in a short time 1 Cl 23:4.

β. The neut. ὀλίγον used adverbially (Hom. et al.; Pr 6:10; Sir 51:16, 27) w. preps. in a short time, quickly (Pind.; Pla., Apol. 22b; Jos., Ant. 18, 145; Lucian, Toxaris 24) Ac 26:28 (s. πείθω 1b; 3a and reff. there). καὶ ἐν ὀλ. καὶ ἐν μεγάλῳ whether in a short or a long time vs. 29 (s. B-D-F §195; GWhitaker, The Words of Agrippa to St. Paul: JTS 15, 1914, 82f; AFridrichsen, SymbOsl 14, ’35, 50; Field, Notes 141–43; s. Rob. 653).—μετʼ ὀλίγον after a short while (Diod S 14, 9, 6; 15, 6, 5; Appian, Liby. 98 §465; SIG 1170, 25f; PRyl 77, 41; Jdth 13:9; Wsd 15:8; TestAbr A 7 p. 84, 8 [Stone p. 16]; GrBar 9:3; Jos., Vi. 344; Just., D. 56, 18) MPol 11:2.—πρὸς ὀλίγον for a short time (Lucian, Dial. Deor. 18, 1; Aelian, VH 12, 63; POxy 67, 14; Jos., Bell. 4, 642, Ant. 4, 128; Just., A I, 12, 2) Js 4:14.—Without a prep. (Ps 36:10; TestJob 40:4; ParJer 5:2) Mk 6:31; 1 Pt 1:6; 5:10; Rv 17:10.

ⓒ of distance, the neut. ὀλίγον used adverbially a little of distance, etc. (Pla., Prot. 26, 339d ὀλίγον προελθών; ApcMos 19 περιπατήσας ὀλίγον) Mk 1:19; Lk 5:3.

③ relatively low on a scale of extent or existing only to a small degree, little, slight οὐκ ὀλ. great, severe: τάραχο Ac 12:18; 19:23. στάσις κ. ζήτησις 15:2. χειμών 27:20.—Only a little (Ael. Aristid. 33, 6 K.=51 p. 573 D.) ὀλίγον ἀγαπᾷ he loves only (to) a little (extent) Lk 7:47b.—W. prep. ἐν ὀλίγῳ (cp. TestGad 4:6=‘slightly’) in brief (Aristot., Rhet. 3, 11 p. 1412b, 23; Dionys. Byz. §3) Eph 3:3. πρὸς ὀλίγον ὠφέλιμος profitable for (a) little (=has some value) 1 Ti 4:8. GJs19, 2 (s. deStrycker 279).—B. 925f. DELG. M-M. EDNT. TW.

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