Form of the Word Πολύς in Matthew 24:12

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Bernd Strauss
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Form of the Word Πολύς in Matthew 24:12

Post by Bernd Strauss » June 8th, 2020, 9:05 am

Matthew 24:12: "Καὶ διὰ τὸ πληθυνθῆναι τὴν ἀνομίαν ψυγήσεται ἡ ἀγάπη τῶν πολλῶν."

The majority of Bible translations which I have checked render the last word as “many,” whereas there are also many translations which use the comparative form “most.” At least two translations render the word as “greater number.”

Is the word in the comparative form? Does it mean “many” or “greater number; most” at Mt 24:12?
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nathaniel j. erickson
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Re: Form of the Word Πολύς in Matthew 24:12

Post by nathaniel j. erickson » June 8th, 2020, 10:41 am

Πολλῶν is not a comparative form. The comparative of πολύς is the various permutations of πλείων, πλέων (used 46x in the NT, including 6x in Matt., according to NA28 Accordance module). However, simply because it is not a comparative form does not mean it can't be used to express a comparative (or even superlative) notion. Blass-Debrunner-Funk sec. 245 concisely notes
The positive [degree of the adjective, aka the "basic form"] can also be used in the sense of a comparative (superlative), as sometimes also in classical, but more so after the Semitic pattern which does not provide degree at all.
This is very common in the LXX, and fairly common in the NT.

"Many" would be the default rendering for this adjective, in its positive degree (aka, its basic form; that is, not a comparative or superlative). The comparative "most" is a possible meaning as the context can easily support the notion of two distinct groups being compared: those whose love will grow cold over against those who will remain faithfully waiting until the return of Jesus. You could support the notion of "most" by appealing to other teachings of Jesus which tend to emphasize that the ones who remain faithful will be a small(er) group than those who begin to follow but turn away at some point.

In short, either rendering is possible and a decision on which idea is intended by the Greek of Matthew can't be made solely on the form of the adjective (although the fact that he does use the comparative form of this adjective elsewhere is suggestive that the use of the positive form here should be taken as intentional). Near and far context have to weigh in.
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Nathaniel J. Erickson
NT PhD candidate, ABD
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
ntgreeketal.com
ὅπου πλείων κόπος, πολὺ κέρδος
ΠΡΟΣ ΠΟΛΥΚΑΡΠΟΝ ΙΓΝΑΤΙΟΣ

Bernd Strauss
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Re: Form of the Word Πολύς in Matthew 24:12

Post by Bernd Strauss » June 9th, 2020, 8:57 am

Thank you. I did not know that some words which are written in the positive degree can be used with the same meaning as in the comparative degree. Since the majority of Bible translations which I have read use the word “many” at Mt 24:12, this may be taken as the default rendering of the passage.
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Shirley Rollinson
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Re: Form of the Word Πολύς in Matthew 24:12

Post by Shirley Rollinson » June 9th, 2020, 11:04 am

Bernd Strauss wrote:
June 8th, 2020, 9:05 am
Matthew 24:12: "Καὶ διὰ τὸ πληθυνθῆναι τὴν ἀνομίαν ψυγήσεται ἡ ἀγάπη τῶν πολλῶν."

The majority of Bible translations which I have checked render the last word as “many,” whereas there are also many translations which use the comparative form “most.” At least two translations render the word as “greater number.”

Is the word in the comparative form? Does it mean “many” or “greater number; most” at Mt 24:12?
On a point of (English) grammar - "most" is the superlative of "many", the comparative is "more", and, just as the English many-more-most does not follow the usual rule of add -er for comparative, add -est for superlative, so in Greek we have πολύς - πλείων - πλεῖστος
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