Re: Acts 1:8: epelqontos

Carl W. Conrad (
Thu, 31 Oct 1996 12:31:36 -0600

At 11:56 AM -0600 10/31/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>I'm not quite sure where 'epelqontos' fits in. Here's the passage:
>Acts 1:8 (GNT) alla lhmyesqe dunamin epelqontos tou agiou pneumatos ef umas
>kai esesqe mou martures en te Ierousalhm kai en pash th Ioudaia kai Samareia
>kai ews escatou ths ghs
>Several parsings seem plausible to me. I'm enclosing some categories of
>genitive which I think correspond to the translations:
>1. "you shall receive power: the coming of the Holy Spirit upon you"
>(epexegetical genitive)
>2. "you shall receive power *when* the Holy Spirit comes upon you" (genitive
>of time),
>3. "you shall receive power *through* the coming of the Holy Spirit upon
>you" (genitive of agency)
>Is there any reason to prefer one of these interpretations to another? Am I
>using the categories correctly?

Well, I would say that the second of your three alternatives is preferable,
but the explanation is not really adequate. This is a genitive absolute
(full-blown, with both subject and predicate--the participle being the
predicate--in the genitive case. It is not a genitive of time, inasmuch as
that normally indicates either time WITHIN which or DURING which, nor is it
a genitive of agency, for that is rather an ablatival genitive most
commonly indicated by a preposition, especially hUPO. The Genitive Absolute
is essentially equivalent to an adverbial clause of time or circumstance.
It's always seemed to me that one may usually imagine readily the sort of
adverbial clause for which any particular instance of genitive absolute is
a shortcut; here it seems to me that we have an implicit future conditional
construction, and that it would be: hOTAN EPELQHi TO hAGION PNEUMA EF'

Which raises a question that has puzzled me many a time: WHY is it so
difficult for students to recognize genitive absolutes, when the
construction is as normal to Greek narrative expression as apple pie to the
American palate? I've found this repeatedly in both Greek classes and Latin
classes: the genitive absolute construction is not automatically
recognized. Perhaps we should issue a warning: if you see a participle in
the genitive, you should probably start looking for a genitive subject! I
haven't checked on this, but my gut sense is that far more often than not
the participle precedes the subject when the genitive absolute appears in a
narrative. I know, I know, gut feelings are perilous--better do some

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR