ἐν: distinguishing agency from instrumentality

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.
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Andrew Chapman
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ἐν: distinguishing agency from instrumentality

Post by Andrew Chapman » December 6th, 2017, 4:08 pm

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ... [Colossians 1.16]

Most English translations have 'by Him' rather than 'in Him'. I suspect that the translators would say that this is instrumental ἐν. But when they then translate it as:
For by him were all things created

I am not sure the average reader (ie me, in this case, until today) realises that they are (I think I now see) carefully distinguishing this from:
For all things were created by him (as Lexham bible, by the way)
which makes the Son the primary agent, the Creator.

Looking 'by' up in the OED, meaning 33a is 'Introducing the principal agent' and, as they say, this has become one of the main uses of 'by'.

BDAG ἐν 6. has 'marker of agency': but the English equivalent is with the help of which does not indicate the principal agent. But one of their examples for this use is 1 Corinthians 6.2:

ἢ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἅγιοι τὸν κόσμον κρινοῦσιν; καὶ εἰ ἐν ὑμῖν κρίνεται ὁ κόσμος...

where the first part - the saints will judge the world - almost demands that the world is being judged by (introducing principal agent) 'you' in the second. It is always translated this way, so far as I can see. But now I am even wondering if Paul might be employing ἐν to temper the first part and indicate that the saints are to be instruments of God's judgement, rather than necessarily the principal agents.

Barry Hofstetter said in a related discussion that:
Agency is usually expressed with a preposition + the genitive, instrumentality is usually expressed with the dative, sometimes (and especially in Koine) with the preposition ἐν + dative.
so if ἐν is really expressing agency in 1 Corinthians 6.2 that would be unusual. Would it therefore be fairly safe that it is expressing either some sort of 'in' idea in Colossians 1.16, or alternatively a form of instrumentality rather than agency?

Thanks for your help, Andrew

Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: ἐν: distinguishing agency from instrumentality

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » December 6th, 2017, 5:57 pm

The distinction between agency and instrumentality is a somewhat arbitrary construction imposed upon the data by the grammarian in an attempt to analyze the semantic features. There's nothing wrong with doing this as long as you understand that mathematical precision is not obtainable[1]. One way of looking at this, certainly not the only way, instrumentality differs from agency in that agents are +volitional +animate, whereas the instruments are not. Agents act. Instruments are used by agents, they are acted upon. Following this line of reasoning instrumentality and/or agency can be determined by paying attention to the semantic features of the clause constituents: subject, verb, object and complement.

How you encode this in koine Greek is a different question; somewhat less strict in koine than in Attic.

[1] I often get the impression that syntax is being approached like a math problem. Sometimes it's best to back off a bit and ask if perhaps our approach to the question is getting in the way, rather than helping us discover an answer.

Postscript:
The critique suggested here is not aimed at the author of this thread, rather the whole historical tradition behind the authors point of view which is shared by many professors and students alike.
C. Stirling Bartholomew

Stephen Carlson
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Re: ἐν: distinguishing agency from instrumentality

Post by Stephen Carlson » December 6th, 2017, 6:30 pm

I agree with Stirling. I don't understand the appeal of construing animates as "instruments," especially in regard to Christ.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

Barry Hofstetter
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Re: ἐν: distinguishing agency from instrumentality

Post by Barry Hofstetter » December 6th, 2017, 8:06 pm

Col 1:15 ​ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, 16 ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι· τὰ πάντα διʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται 17 καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν...

Just a quick observation, it strikes me that Paul is using his pronouns quite carefully in this text, and intends his reader to see the distinctions they represent in relationship to their objects. While I won't say agency is impossible with ἐν αὐτῷ I will say that it is highly unlikely, both from general usage and from the specific context of Paul's discourse here. I also see a very probable parallel here between ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη and τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν. Of course, that raises the question of just what ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη is supposed to mean, and while it may not be precisely a crux interpretum, it certainly has been a discussion in the history of interpretation.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
ἐγὼ δὲ διδάσκω τε καὶ γράφω ἵνα τὰ ἀξιώτερα μανθάνω

Andrew Chapman
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Re: ἐν: distinguishing agency from instrumentality

Post by Andrew Chapman » December 7th, 2017, 10:28 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
December 6th, 2017, 8:06 pm
Just a quick observation, it strikes me that Paul is using his pronouns quite carefully in this text, and intends his reader to see the distinctions they represent in relationship to their objects. While I won't say agency is impossible with ἐν αὐτῷ I will say that it is highly unlikely, both from general usage and from the specific context of Paul's discourse here. I also see a very probable parallel here between ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη and τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν. Of course, that raises the question of just what ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη is supposed to mean, and while it may not be precisely a crux interpretum, it certainly has been a discussion in the history of interpretation.
Thanks, Barry, that makes sense.
Stirling Bartholomew wrote:There's nothing wrong with doing this as long as you understand that mathematical precision is not obtainable.
Yes, quite.
Stephen Carlson wrote:I don't understand the appeal of construing animates as "instruments," especially in regard to Christ.
With regard to animates, how about 'he ploughed with oxen'? Could not the oxen be considered instruments in the hand of the ploughman? With regard to Christ, yes I can see there may be a better way of putting it. Can I ask you how you think the translators are understanding the meaning of ἐν when they translate ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα
For by him were all things created
If they meant that the Son was the agent, I think they would say 'created by him'. Is it a mediate role? But then why not διά with genitive? I suppose the effect is to give the idea of agency with 'by', but then to leave undetermined who the agent is.

Personally, for what it's worth, I think that what Paul means is that all things were created in the Lord Jesus.

Andrew

Stephen Carlson
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Re: ἐν: distinguishing agency from instrumentality

Post by Stephen Carlson » December 7th, 2017, 4:55 pm

Andrew Chapman wrote:
December 7th, 2017, 10:28 am
Stephen Carlson wrote:I don't understand the appeal of construing animates as "instruments," especially in regard to Christ.
With regard to animates, how about 'he ploughed with oxen'? Could not the oxen be considered instruments in the hand of the ploughman?
Good point. I'll have to amend to something like "persons" to avoid work animals, and then "with agency" to exclude slaves. I know this is getting theological, but I'm aware of no orthodox view that denies Christ agency in creation.
Andrew Chapman wrote:
December 7th, 2017, 10:28 am
With regard to Christ, yes I can see there may be a better way of putting it. Can I ask you how you think the translators are understanding the meaning of ἐν when they translate ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα
For by him were all things created
If they meant that the Son was the agent, I think they would say 'created by him'. Is it a mediate role? But then why not διά with genitive? I suppose the effect is to give the idea of agency with 'by', but then to leave undetermined who the agent is.

Personally, for what it's worth, I think that what Paul means is that all things were created in the Lord Jesus.
Well, I read Paul the same way as you. I can only guess what's going in the translators' head, but it almost looks like calquing without understanding.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

Andrew Chapman
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Re: ἐν: distinguishing agency from instrumentality

Post by Andrew Chapman » December 8th, 2017, 7:47 am

Thanks very much, Stephen, and I have learnt a new English word.

Andrew

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