Lesson 58: Adverbial Clauses/The Circumstantial Participle


0845. The range of participial function is sketched in §770. Of the three principal functions of the participle, the attributive use was considered in §§771-779, under the heading, the attributive participle in nominal word clusters, while the supplementary participle was presented in the treatment of verb chains, §§565-576, 580-585 (note especially §§568, 571f., 584, 585). The third principal function, circumstantial or adverbial, remains to be considered.

845. The circumstantial participle indicates the circumstances under which the action of the main verb takes place. It thus modifies the verb and so is adverbial. It may be the equivalent of an adverbial clause denoting time, cause, means, manner, purpose, condition, concession or attendant circumstance(s). These ideas are not, of course, expressed by the participle itself (except for the future participle, §846.5) but must be inferred from the context. The circumstantial participle may be illustrated from English in a limited way:

(i) They died fighting (manner)
(ii) They fled by crossing the river (means)
(iii) Although hearing, they did not understand (concession)
(iv) The students prepared their lessons, the teacher assisting (attendant circumstance)

Words like by in (ii) and although in (iii) help make the nuance of the participle clear in English. Such helping words, although not unknown in Greek, are less often employed. The Greek circumstantial participle is therefore a less precise form of expression than corresponding subordinate clauses of time, condition, concession, etc. When translating from Greek to English, it is often best to translate a participle with a participle where possible and thus preserve the ambiguity of the Greek participle. For example,

(v) They were baptized, confessing their sins

may be a close approximation of a circumstantial participle in Greek, whereas

(vi) After confessing their sins, they were baptized
(vii) Because they confessed their sins, they were baptized

are more precise and thus interpretive.

845.1 The circumstantial participle refers to a noun (pronoun) in the same sentence and is in agreement with it (gender, number, case), or it is used absolutely. The absolute circumstantial participle, i.e. having no grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence, normally stands in the genitive case along with its subject, if expressed (genitive absolute, §847).

845.2 The 'tenses' of participles do not, strictly speaking, represent time but denote only aspect (Aktionsart, §§309f.). The temporal relation of the participle to the main verb is derived from the context. Since, however, the action expressed by the circumstantial participle customarily precedes that represented by the main verb, the aorist participle came to be associated to a certain degree with relative past time. Yet the aorist participle may express present and even future time (Bl-D §339(1)) relative to the main verb. The present participle, likewise, may be used for a variety of times relative to the main verb. Only in the case of the future participle is there a temporal nuance (used to express purpose, §846.5). It is appropriate to hold only the aspect of the various tenses of the participle in view in interpreting the circumstantial participle, unless there is specific indication to the contrary. Bl-D §339.

845.3 The circumstantial participle may take any of the complements the corresponding verb may take, e.g. subject, object or objects, etc.

845.4 In contrast to the attributive participle (§774, cf. §716), the circumstantial participle is regularly anarthrous, i.e. it is not preceded by the article. The supplementary participle is also anarthrous, of course (references in §0845).

846. The circumstantial participle as the equivalent of an adverbial clause may be taken (i.e. inferred from the context) to denote time, cause, means, manner, purpose, condition, concession, or attendant circumstance. Distinctions between and among these nuances are sometimes difficult to make in practice, in the absence of helping particles. The circumstantial participle most often denotes the manner in which an action takes place or what precedes and what accompanies it (Bl-D §418). The preponderant usage is thus a more or less vague descriptive function. A temporal clause in English often represents this lack of precision:

(viii) He said these things while giving a lecture

Nevertheless, in some cases the context affords clues to a more precise interpretation of the participle.

846.1 The circumstantial participle may function as a temporal clause:

(1) τοῦτο δὲ πάλιν δεύτερον σημεῖον ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς,
ἐλθὼν ἐκ τῆς Ἰουδαίας εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν
Jn 4:54
This was now the second sign Jesus did after
coming from Judea to Galilee
(2) ταῦτα τὰ ῥήματα ἐλάλησεν ἐν τῷ γαζοφυλακείῳ,
διδάσκων ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ
Jn 8:20
He spoke these words in the treasury while teaching
in the temple

The action represented by the participle in (1) is temporally antecedent to the action of the main verb, in (2) it is concurrent.

846.2 The circumstantial participle may serve as a causal clause:

(3) καὶ ἐφοβοῦντο αὐτόν,
μὴ πιστεύοντες ὅτι ἐστὶν μαθητής
Acts 9:26
And they feared him,
since they did not believe he was a disciple

There is another example in Mt 1:19: Bl-D §418(1).

846.3 The circumstantial participle may indicate means:

(4) τοῦτο γὰρ ποιῶν
ἄνθρακας πυρὸς σωρεύεις ἐπὶ τὴν
κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ
Rom 12:20
For by doing this, you will heap coals of
fire upon his head

846.4 The circumstantial participle may express manner:

(5) ἕτεροι δὲ διαχλευάζοντες ἔλεγον ... Acts 2:13
But others mocking said ...

The participle of manner may be introduced by the comparative particle, ὡς:

(6) οὕτως πυκτεύω ὡς οὐκ ἀέρα δέρων 1 Cor 9:26
I do not fight as one beating the air

846.5 The circumstantial participle used to express purpose was put in the future tense in classical idiom. The future participle of purpose is rare in the New Testament (Bl-D §418(4)):

(7) ὅς ὲληλύθει προσκυνήσων εἰς Ὶερουσαλήμ Acts 8:27
who had aome to Jerusalem to worship

The present participle used to express purpose is more common:

(8) ἀπέστειλεν αὐτὸν εὐλογοῦντα ὑμάς Acts 3:26
He sent him to bless you

846.6 The circumstantial participle may be the equivalent of a conditional clause.

(9) τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖται ἄνθρωπος
κερδήσας τὸν κόσμον ὅλον
ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἀπολέσας ἢ ζημιωθείς;
Lk 9:25
For what shall it profit a man
if he gain the whole world
but loses or forfeits himself?

The parallel passage in Matthew has a conditional clause with ἐάν and finite verb in place of the circumstantial participle:

(10) ... ἐὰν τὸν κόσμον ὅλον κερδήσῃ,
τὴν δὲ ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ζημιωθῇ;
Mt 16:26 .
... if he gain the whole world
but forfeits his own life?

846.7 The circumstantial participle may also serve as a concessive clause:

(11) ἀλλ' οῦδὲ Τίτος ... Ἕλλην ὤν, ἠναγκάσθη
Gal 2:3
But Titus ... although a Greek, was not
compelled to be circumcised

The concessive circumstantial participle is occasionally introduced by the particle, καίπερ:

(12) καὶ ἔλαβον σωτηρίαν,
καίπερ άλλότριοι τοῦ θεοῦ ὄντες
1 Clem 7:7
And they gained salvation,
although they were aliens to God

846.8 The circumstantial participle may indicate attendant circumstance:

(13) καὶ αὐτὸς ἐδίδασκεν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν,
δοξαζόμενος ὑπὸ πάντων
Lk 4:15
And he taught in their synagogues,
being glorified by all

For this construction, two finite verbs connected by καί would serve equally well, since the participle of attendant circumstance does not specify the relation between the action of the main verb and the attendant circumstance.

8460. Agreement. The circumstantial participle may refer to a noun (pronoun) elsewhere in the sentence. If so, it should agree with its referent in gender, number, and case (§845). In examples (1)-(9) and (11)-(13), §846, with one exception, the circumstantial participle refers to the subject of the sentence and so stands in the nominative case. Gender and number vary in accordance with the antecedent. In (8), §846.5, the subject of the action represented by the participle is the object of the main verb and so stands in the accusative case. The participle agrees in case (as well as gender and number).

Circumstantial participles most often refer to the subject of the main verb and so take the nominative case. As (8) indicates, they may refer to some other element in the sentence in another case. The antecedent may be in the dative case:

(14) καὶ ἐμβάντι αὐτῷ εἰς τὸ πλοῖον,
ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ
Mt 8:23
And when he got into the boat,
his disciples followed him

Another example with the antecedent in the accusative case:

(15) ὥστε αὐτὸν εἰς πλοῖον ἐμβάντα
καθῆσθαι, ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ
Mk 4:1
so that he, getting into a boat, sat
[in it] on the sea

In (15), ὥστε is followed by an infinitive of result, καθῆσθαι (§834).

847. Genitive absolute. If the circumstantial participle does not refer to a noun (pronoun) elsewhere in the sentence, it is put in the genitive case, together with its complements, and called a genitive absolute (§845.1). It is called an absolute construction because it has no formal grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence. In English compare,

(ix) The professor having finished his lecture, the students
(x) The passage having been translated, he closed his book

where the participle and its subject are grammatically independent of the main clause.

The genitive absolute functions as any other circumstantial participle; it therefore has the range indicated in §846, which need only be illustrated here:

(16) καὶ ἐκβληθέντος τοῦ δαιμονίου,
ἐλάλησεν ὁ κωφός
Mt 9:33
And the demon having been cast out,
(= And when the demon had been cast out, )
the dumb man spoke
(17) πάλιν ἀνακάμψω πρὸς ὑμάς,
τοῦ θεοῦ θέλοντας
Acts 18:21
I will return to you,
God willing (= if God wills)
(18) οὐ ψεύδομαι,
συμμαρτυρούσης μοι τῆς συνειδήσεώς μου
Rom 9:1
I do not lie,
my conscience bearing witness with me
(= since my conscience bears witness with me)

8470. The rule that the genitive absolute can be employed only when its referent does not appear in the main clause is sometimes broken. It is found

8470.1 referring to a following accusative:

(19) ταῦτα αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος,
πολλοὶ ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόν
Jn 8:30
Because he said these things,
many believed on him

8470.2 referring to a following dative:

(20) ἤδη δὲ αὐτοῦ καταβαίνοντας
oἱ δοῦλοι αὐτοῦ ὑπήντησαν αὐτῷ
Jn 4:51
As he was going down,
his servants met him

8470.3 And referring even to a following nominative:

(21) μνηστευθείσης τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ Μαρίας τῷ Ἰωσήφ,
πρὶν ἢ συνελθεῖν αὐτοὺς,
εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα
Mt 1:18
His mother Mary having been betrothed to Joseph,
before they came together,
she was found to be pregnant

Cf. Bl-D §423.

8471. Nominative absolute. Not to be confused with the circumstantial participle, particularly the genitive absolute, is the nominative absolute or hanging nominative with a participle. The real but not the grammatical subject of the sentence is introduced in the nominative case, but the referent of the participle appears in another case in the main clause:

(22) ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμέ, ...
ποταμοὶ ἐκ τῆς κοιλίας αὐτοῦ ῥεύσουσιν
ὕδατος ζῶντος
Jn 7:38
He who believes in me, ...
out of his belly shall rivers of living water flow

Cf. Rev 2:26 and Bl-D §466(4).

848. The circumstantial participle with verbs of saying is often redundant from the perspective of English usage. A finite verb meaning ask, answer, bear witness, etc. is often followed by λέγων, which is loosely a circumstantial participle of manner:

(23) ἐλάλησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων ... Jn 8:12
Jesus spoke, saying ...
(24) καὶ ἐμαρτύρησεν Ἰωάννης λέγων ... Jn 1:32
And John bore witness, saying ...

This participle usually introduces direct discourse. Cf. Bl-D §420.

849. Present and aorist participles: 'tense. ' The tenses of the participle do not, strictly speaking, represent time. The temporal element is derived from the relation of the participle to the main verb (§846.2).

849.1 Since the action represented by the participle customarily precedes that of the main verb, the aorist participle most often indicates past time relative to the main verb.

849.11 Examples of an aorist participle representing time antecedent to a main verb in the aorist tense may be found in §846 (1), §8460 (14), (15), §847 (16).

849.12 An aorist participle representing action antecedent to a present tense:

(25) εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ ...
ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστην ὑμῶν
Col l:3f
We give thanks to God ...
because we have heard of your faith

849.13 An aorist participle representing action prior to a future tense:

(26) ἐγὼ ἐλθὼν θεραπεύσω αὐτόν Mt 8:7
I will come and heal him

Cf. Jn 16:8 and Heb 2:3.

849.2 The aorist participle may also represent an action that is concurrent with that of the main verb:

(27) καὶ προσευξάμενοι εἶπαν, ... Acts 1:24
And praying they said, ...

Bl-D §339 (1).

849.3 The present participle usually represents action in progress at the same time as the action of the main verb. The simultaneous participial action may thus be in the past, present, or future, depending on the tense of the main verb. Examples of a present participle correlated with an aorist tense are (2) and (13) in §846; (3) exhibits a present participle linked to an imperfect (cf. Lk 6:1). For a present participle representing action concurrent with a present tense, see (18) in §847 and compare Jn 5:44. Example (17) in §847 shows a present participle correlated with a future tense.

849.4 The present participle may occasionally represent an action that is temporally prior to the action of the main verb. In such instances the present participle represents the imperfect tense.

(28) πωλοῦντες ἔφερον τὰς τιμὰς
τῶν πιπρασκομένων
Acts 4:34
And when they had sold [the goods],
they brought the proceeds of what had been sold

Bl-D §339(3).

849.5 The present participle may also represent an action that is subsequent to the action of the main verb:

(29) ἐξῆλθεν,
διερχόμενος καθεξῆς τὴν Γαλατικὴν χώραν
καὶ Φρυγίαν,
ἐπιστηρίζων πάντας τοὺς μαθητάς
Acts 18:23
He departed,
going through the regions of Galatia and Phrygia
place by place,
strengthening all the disciples