John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

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Scott Lawson
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John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

Post by Scott Lawson » September 9th, 2018, 11:23 am

Is it possible that τὴν ἀρχὴν stands in apposition to ὅτι καὶ λαλῶ ὑμῖν and mean something like “The Beginning, that I even spoke to you.”? - See Smyth section 1607 for accusatives in apposition.

Below are comments I wrote up a number of years ago when I was researching this verse showing the difficulty in translating it:


Ἔλεγον οὖν αὐτῷ· σὺ τίς εἶ; εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· τὴν ἀρχὴν ὅ τι καὶ λαλῶ ὑμῖν;
(John. 8:25 GNT28-T)

Ὅστις as a direct interrogative is confined in the Christian Greek Scriptures to the neuter ὅτι. (BDF §§ 300) It is used to introduce a direct question with the meaning “why.” Though Blass feels the use of ὄτι as a direct interrogative is “quite incredible”, Robertson finds Blass’ remark to be impossible to justify in the light of the facts. (R.729)
In John 8:25 W.H., Nestle and Michael Holmes print as a question, Τὴν ἀρχὴν ὅτι καὶ λαλῶ ὑμῖν; (M. Holmes prints ὅ τι!) Taken as a direct question, with Τὴν ἀρχήν equaling ὅλως (BDAG ἀρχή 1a, BDF §§ 300, 2) and used adverbially to mean "at all", we get, ‘Why am I even speaking to you at all?’

Τὴν ἀρχὴν is an adverbial accusative, and can hardly be taken in the same sense as ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς or ἐξ ἀρχῆς (John 15:27 and 16:4) and mean “from the beginning”, though some would suggest it to mean, “principally”. This would allow for the reading, “Even principally, what I am saying to you.” This seems weak at best.

Robertson, however, does admit that there may be ellipsis and suggests, “Why do you reproach me that (ὄτι) I speak to you at all?” (R. 730) Thus ὄτι may be taken as a relative.

As Robertson says, “It is a very difficult passage at best.”


By the way, I composed this question before I learned of Augustine’s Latin translation of John 8:25:

“Your Word, the Beginning, who also speaks to us.”
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Scott Lawson

Barry Hofstetter
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Re: John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

Post by Barry Hofstetter » September 10th, 2018, 9:08 am

Metzger wrote:
Several Latin witnesses (and the Gothic), misunderstanding the Greek, translate Principium, qui et loquor vobis (“ the Beginning, even I who speak to you”). The Ethiopic omits ὅτι (“ the Beginning, and I told you so”). The Bodmer Papyrus II (𝔓66) reads, according to a marginal correction that may be by the original scribe, Εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Εἶπον ὑμῖν τὴν ἀρχὴν ὅ τι καὶ λαλῶ ὑμῖν (“Jesus said to them, I told you at the beginning what I am also telling you [now]”)


Metzger, B. M., United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (p. 191). London; New York: United Bible Societies.

Of course, this is grammatically more likely in Latin since principium can be either nominative or accusative.

As it stands, I find it very unlikely to be in apposition to the clause, and much more likely to be an adverbial accusative (accusative of respect). Not a common expression, but not impossible either. I doubt that even οἱ δοκοῦντες on this list will provide a magic bullet resolving the difficulty of this text.
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Tony Pope
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Re: John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

Post by Tony Pope » September 13th, 2018, 3:49 am

If you can get access to it, Caragounis has a lengthy discussion in an article in Novum Testamentum:
Chrys C Caragounis, 'What Did Jesus Mean by τὴν ἀρχήν in John 8:25?' NovT 49.2 2007 129-47

Abstract: The phrase τὴν ἀρχήν in Jn 8:25 is unique in the NT and has caused much debate in interpretation, because in Gr. lit. it usually occurs as (a) "[from] the beginning" and (b) idiomatically "to begin with", "at all". The unique reading εἶπον ὑμῖν Papyrus Bodmer II (P⁶⁶) gives the sense: "I told you from the beginning". However, this reading is probably not original, so the pursuit must continue. An investigation into c. 5.000 occurrences in Greek lit. of all times indicates that here we have a temporal use of the idiomatic adverbial accusative τὴν ἀρχήν = "from the beginning". Taking into account the conjunction καί as well as the position of the expression, Jn 8:25 should be translated: - "Who are you?" - "(I am) From the beginning! - precisely what I have been saying (speaking) to you".

Regarding his translation in the last sentence above, it should be noted that Caragounis does not intend that as a rendering into idiomatic English. He offers a functional rendering in a footnote: "(I am) what I have been saying to you from the beginning".
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Scott Lawson
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Re: John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

Post by Scott Lawson » September 14th, 2018, 3:35 am

Thanks Tony and Barry!
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » September 14th, 2018, 7:00 pm

εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· τὴν ἀρχὴν ὅ τι καὶ λαλῶ ὑμῖν;

"What I've been telling you from the beginning." R.E. Brown, AB 1966.

Perhaps the perceived level of difficulty concerning the syntax results from expectations with regard to John's style.

Have a difficult time understanding why this would be worth all the attention it has received. The superlatives used in describing the irregularities seem a little excessive.
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Scott Lawson
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Re: John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

Post by Scott Lawson » September 14th, 2018, 10:19 pm

Sterling did you notice that the Greek text is punctuated as a question? Your offered translation evidently doesn’t take into account this punctuation. If it was so straightforward a sentence then why is it viewed as a question? More to it than you seem to allow.
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Re: John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

Post by RandallButh » September 15th, 2018, 3:14 am

Ναί yes, Stirling, I have long commented that John is good Greek and the most consistently good Greek in the Gospels. The question is deceptive among Gospel readers because John has a limited vocabulary and comes across as 'easy'. One explanation for this is that the stories represent the preaching/teaching of the Judean apostle while being recorded and written down by mother-tongue Greeks, perhaps at/near the apostle's death.

While this speculation about sermons and writers might be called tangential to BGreek, explaining the Gospel's unique style is certainly within the framework of this forum.
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Re: John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » September 15th, 2018, 7:42 am

Scott Lawson wrote:
September 14th, 2018, 10:19 pm
Sterling did you notice that the Greek text is punctuated as a question? Your offered translation evidently doesn’t take into account this punctuation. If it was so straightforward a sentence then why is it viewed as a question? More to it than you seem to allow.
http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manus ... omSlider=0
https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Vat.gr.1209 and http://www.archive.org/stream/novumtest ... 8/mode/2up
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Barry Hofstetter
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What is Good Greek?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » September 15th, 2018, 9:46 am

I thought it best to split this into a new topic...
RandallButh wrote:
September 15th, 2018, 3:14 am
Ναί yes, Stirling, I have long commented that John is good Greek and the most consistently good Greek in the Gospels. The question is deceptive among Gospel readers because John has a limited vocabulary and comes across as 'easy'. One explanation for this is that the stories represent the preaching/teaching of the Judean apostle while being recorded and written down by mother-tongue Greeks, perhaps at/near the apostle's death.

While this speculation about sermons and writers might be called tangential to BGreek, explaining the Gospel's unique style is certainly within the framework of this forum.
And that does invite the question, "what is good Greek?" What criteria do we employ to determine good Greek? Is John's Greek better than Luke's? Do we use different criteria from the ancients to determine this, or should we adopt their criteria? How do we avoid hopeless subjectivity? Or which are better birds, robins or vultures?
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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Scott Lawson
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Re: John 8:25 and the adverbial accusative την αρχην

Post by Scott Lawson » September 15th, 2018, 10:57 am

Dr Buth behind my question on GJohn 8:25 is wondering whether or not it reflects an Aramaic saying. Daniel Boyarin in his book The Gospel of the Memra says that GJohn 1:1-3 is composed with Genesis 1:1 in mind as recorded in the Neofiti targum. There ראשית is understood to be another name for Wisdom. It then occurred to me that the difficulty with την αρχην at GJohn 8:25 might be due to an Aramaic saying. Is Jesus here identifying himself as αρχη?
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