summary on Mt 19:17
Since I posted my initial inquiry, several notes have been posted to the
list, and I have carried on a few conversations off the list. In case
anyone is interested, this is a summary to the discussion that seems to
be quieting down.
From: Carl W Conrad <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Here is one possible explanation: "Heis estin" is meaningful in itself
and is normal Greek word-order, properly translated "One there is"; then
"ho agathos" is appended more or less as an appositive, as attributive
adjectives regularly are appended to nouns in phrases such as "ho anhr ho
agathos"--"the man, i.e. the good one." Now it might seem that our
phrasing in the NT text is extraordinary in that "Heis" has no article:
it is not "ho Heis" (has anyone ever seen such? "To hen" is another thing
altogether, I believe. But "Heis" is like a demonstrative pronoun, and
the phrasing here really "ekeinos estin ho agathos"--which might be
understood, to be sure, as "That's the good one," but is more properly to
be understood as "Yonder one it is, the good one."
If that does not seem sufficiently convincing, it strikes me that there
may be a Hebraism here. How does the Deuteronomic phrasing go? "YHWH
elohenu echad ..."?
From: "Gregory Jordan (ENG)" <email@example.com>
Fascinating idea. The only question I would have is why Jesus would
consider the Torah "one" when he broke it down into numerous commandments
even in this very passage - the 10 commandments, and elsewhere
broke it down into two commandments.
On Wed, 26 Oct 1994, GARY D. COLLIER wrote:
> HO AGATHOS is masculine, not neuter, thus: "the good one", not "the good
> thing." Also, some wonderful textual problems here. Various early
> copyists show HO QEOS here for clarification, or even HO PATER MOU...
I (Philip) don't know if the previous message came to the list. I thought
it came only to me, and all that has survived of it is the bit I responded
to directly to him. The following is my reply:
These variants seem quite clearly to come from the parallels, not from
the Matthean context. Cope suggests that the referent to HO AGATHOS is in
fact Torah, and that the masculine reflects the understood NOMOS. But
syntactically, can HEIS ESTIN HO AGATHOS be understood as "Only one is
good"? Does the article require that AGATHOS be understood as subject,
not predicate nominative? Why doesn't it say HEIS ESTIN AGATHOS? Or,
better yet, OUDEIS AGAQOS EI MH HEIS, like the parallels?
From: "GARY D. COLLIER" <firstname.lastname@example.org> (his reply to my reply):
I don't doubt your point about the variants coming from
the parallels: my point was simply that at least some early scribes
understood HO AGATHOS as God. NORMALLY in a noun-verb-predicate
adjective/nominative situation, if one has the article, it is the
subject. I doubt that one could take this to the bank as an iron-
clad rule though. Context is more determinative for such things.
I do have trouble, though, reading Matthew as referring to nomos
as HO AGATHOS, especially in light of Deut 6:4, and Matthew's heavy
emphasis on God over all else. But that isn't your question.
From: Lamar Cope <email@example.com>
Yes, there is a grammatical reason for rendering eis estin o
agathos as "There is one who is good." It is simply that
normally a Greek substantive adjective refers to a person. The
argument has always been that Matthew is embarrassed by Mark's
having Jesus deny his goodness and attempts to correct it. There
is, however, no possible personal referent in Matthew and none is
implied. I take it that Luke was baffled by Matthew's awkward
Greek here and did the best he could to correct it. There is
much more to Matthew's passage to suggest that he means Torah by
"the good" than just this line. The parallels to Proverbs 3:35-4:4
and its similar use in Pirke Aboth 6:3 (where good, Torah, live
and perfect are interwoven) strongly suggest that the Matthean
passage is based on a traditional Jewish treatment of these
issues. And we need to remember that we are reading Matthew
here, not Jesus. The first gospel has problems with Jesus'
unkosher behavior but it insists that Jesus' followers must keep
the Torah better than the scribes and Pharisees or "you will
never enter the kingdom of heaven." On balance I take the entire
pericope to be one of the strongest passages favoring the
priority of Matthew.
>From David Moore Dvdmoore@aol.com Thu Oct 27 20:41:31 1994
The immediate context, at least, and some aspects of the larger context
of Matthew do seem to bear out the views mentioned above. Also, there may be
supporting paralles in the OT. But the interpretation of E(IS ESTIN O(
AGAQOS as "The good is one." seems strained from a syntactical point of view.
If I recall correctly, the original question by P. Graber was about the
*grammatical* justification for translating one way or another. It would be
interesting to know how Lamar Cope understood this clause grammatically and
syntactically. It would seem, IMO, that he understood it as a predicate
nominative construction on the order of Jhn. 1:1. But would that be normal
Koine Greek where you have a numeral adjective in the first foot of the
clause and a substantivized adjective in the second? Maybe it is taken as an
awkward translation of an Aramaic original and so, thought not to have to
conform to normal Greek syntax.
As a Greek clause, the most normal way to understand it seems to take
the arthrous adjective O( AGAQOS as a personal substantivized adjective and
to see the numeral as probably a demonstrative pronoun as Carl W. Conrad
mentioned (or possibly an auxilary pronoun). E(IS should be understood as
emphatic because of its position at the beginning of the clause, justifying
the translation "only One is good." (A woodenly literal translation of it in
this sense would be something like "only one is the Good One.")
The option of being able to translate it, "The good is one." is
interesting. But how could it be justified grammatically?
>From David Coomler firstname.lastname@example.org Thu Oct 27 20:41:40
On Thu, 27 Oct 1994 Dvdmoore@aol.com wrote:
> The option of being able to translate it, "The good is one." is
> interesting. But how could it be justified grammatically?
It is interesting to compare this construction with John 1:1--"theos En ho
logos," which would seem to support "The good is one."
Finally, a personal correspondance with Carl Conrad
From: Carl W Conrad <email@example.com>
On Wed, 26 Oct 1994, Philip L. Graber wrote:
> Now I'll ask the question from the other side: is Cope's translation
> possible? In light of ho agathos being masculine (Cope says it refers to
> the masculine nomos), is it possible to read this as "the good is one"?
> The echo of Dt 4:6 in heis estin seems strong, but I believe the mss
> agree that the reading is kyrios heis estin. I would be more convinced if
> it were ho kyrios heis estin, if not heis estin ho kyrios. You are much
> more knowledgable of Greek grammar than I (which is why I asked)--are you
I'm afraid it gets more subjective from here on out: I can only say that
"heis estin ho agathos" in CLASSICAL Greek is normal word-order for "The
Good one (m.) is one--i.e. "heis" is clearly predicative and the
predicate word normally (not always) is first in this sort of clause. I
do think that the translation, "One there is (who is) good" is somewhat
odd, precisely because "estin" is clearly copulative rather than
existential in this clause: to say "There is One," one would normally
write "Estin heis"--i.e. "esti" is usually (although not always) first
when it is existential. My problem with the translation and
interpretation you cite (Cope?) is "ho agathos" immediately suggests a
masculine personal name as the referent; I can't see how anyone would
suppose that it immediately indicates Jesus is referring to "ho nomos."
While "peri tou agathou" in Jesus' first responsive question could refer
to a neuter "good thing" (to agathon) or a good One (ho agathos), the
reader would probably have expected AGATHOU to be neuter, but HO AGATHOS
makes it evident that it was almost surely masculine in the original
formulation also: "Why do you ask me about the Good One? The Good One is
ONE." Or so I would translate it (which is why I'm not a translator!)
This is still extraordinary, given the fact that the question posed to
Jesus was "ti agathon poihsw ...?" --"What good thing (n.) shall I do ...?"
And I don't think of Matthew as a sloppy writer either. Whatever he in
fact means here, he means quite deliberately. Too bad it's not as clear
to us as it was to him (and hopefully to his first readers).
Thankyou to all who contributed.