Lesson 9: Prepositions as Structure Signals


140. The prepositions, like the article, are commonly occurring structure signals. Unlike the article, they are indeclinables. They occur in pre-position (hence their name) with verbs, with which, in the hellenistic period, they are usually compounded, i.e. the two elements are conceived as a single word (e.g. εἰσέρχομαι); they occur also in pre-position with nominal elements and hence are employed in conjunction with an oblique case (e.g. εἰς τὴν πόλιν). But they may also appear in pre-position with invariables (i.e. indeclinable words), such as adverbs (e.g. ἀπὸ τότε). The adverbial use of the preposition as a discrete element in the sentence, i.e. without a term in relation to which the preposition stands in pre-position, is rare in hellenistic Greek. Since the cluster preposition-verb has coalesced and the isolated preposition as adverb has virtually disappeared, the discrete preposition normally introduces a word group, most often composed of nominal elements. For a sketch of the preposition in hellenistic Greek, s. Bl-D §203; Turner 249ff.

1400. The so-called proper prepositions are prepositions which are also compounded with verbs; the improper prepositions never occur in composition with verbs. The latter border on the adverbs, from which in fact it is difficult to distinguish them in every instance. These distinctions (proper, improper preposition and adverb) are therefore formal and not particularly germane to grammar, except that the proper prepositions comprise a closed class and are of much higher frequency, while the improper prepositions form an ever expanding and thus unstable class, though occurring less frequently.

141. Attention is to be restricted initially to the word group containing a nominal head and initiated by a preposition.

141.1 In the New Testament eight proper prepositions are employed in conjunction with a single case. Ἀνά, εἰς are used only with the accusative; ἐν and σύν only with the dative; ἀντί, ἀπό, ἐκ (ἐξ before vowels) , πρό only with the genitive. When initiating word groups, these prepositions will therefore automatically signal the case of the head nominal term (including those instances where an indeclinable is the head term in the group).

141.2 Ἀνά, ἀντί and πρό are not common in the New Testament and appear for the most part in fixed phrases or with a limited range of meaning (s. Bl-D §§204, 208, 213). Εἰς, ἐν, ἀπό and ἐκ (ἐξ) , on the other hand, are very common and are used with a wide range of meaning. Σύν occupies an intermediate position.

142.1 The 'meanings' of ἐν, εἰς, ἀπό, ἐκ and σύν. It is virtually impossible to catalogue the 'meanings' of the prepositions (s. the introduction to ἐν in Bauer s.v.). The prepositions, together with the case-forms (inflectional endings), belong to that grammatical system which signals word-relationships in the sentence. The range of their 'meaning' must therefore be determined in relation to that system, and it can be specified in particular instances only in relation to context (the sentence, paragraph, work, period). An introductory sketch of the range of the prepositions must be confined to the predominant senses in which the individual prepositions contribute to the syntactical function of the cases.

↓ 142.2 There is an increasing tendency in hellenistic Greek to supplement the simple cases with prepositions (weakening of the inflectional system; cf. §111). There is also a tendency to reduce the number of cases with which a particular preposition may be used (with reference to those prepositions used with more than one case in the classical period). Some prepositions overlap (e.g. ἐκ and ἀπό), some are beginning to be 'confused' in the hellenistic period (e.g. εἰς and ἐν). The finesse with which the prepositions and cases were used in the classical period can no longer be expected of hellenistic authors.

143.1 The characteristic local (spatial) senses of ἐν, εἰς, ἀπό and ἐκ (ἐξ) in conjunction with their respective cases, may be illustrated by the following examples:

(1)       ὁ [δε] δοῦλος οὐ μένει ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ Jn 8:35
  The servant does not abide in the house
(2)       ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν οἱκίαν Mt 13:36
  he went into the house
(3)       οὐ μακρὰν ἀπέχοντος ἀπὸ τῆς οἰκίας Lk 7:6
  when he was not far from the house
(4)       μηδὲ εἰσελθάτω τι ἆραι ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ Mk 13:15
  let him not enter to fetch anything out of his house

143.2 Ἐν with dat. (locative) indicates place where: in, among. Εἰς with acc. direction toward, terminal point, entry: toward, to, into. Ἀπό with gen. direction away from: from, away from. Ἐκ with gen. exit, separation, direction from: out of, from.

1430. The overlapping of the prepositions with each other and with the function of the simple cases is illustrated by the triple variant in Mt 13:1:

(5)       ἐξελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῆς οἰκίας
(6)       ...                        ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας
(7)       ...                        ἀπὸ τῆς οἰκίας
Jesus, going out of the house

The three forms are identical in meaning. A preposition is normally supplied in hellenistic Greek where verbs of motion are involved. Constructions like (5) are thus rare.

144.1 The characteristic temporal senses of ἐν, εἰς, ἀπό and ἐκ (ἐξ) are quite comparable to the local functions:

(8)       ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὑμεῖς γνώσεσθε Jn 14:20
  on that day you shall know
(9)       εἰς τὴν ἡμέραν τοῦ ἐνταφιασμοῦ μου Jn 12:7
  until the day of my burial
(10)       ἀπ’ ἐκείνης (οὖν) τῆς ἡμέρας ἐβουλεύσαντο Jn 11:53
  from that day on they plotted
(11)       πάτερ, σῶσόν με ἐκ τῆς ὥρας ταύτης Jn 12:27
  father, save me from this hour

144.2 It may be observed from these examples and those in §143 that it is impossible to equate the individual prepositions in Greek with particular prepositions in English.

1440.1 Similar temporal notions may be expressed by the simple cases:

(12)       τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ Jn 2:1
  on the third day
(13)       ἐκεῖ ἔμεινεν οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας Jn 2:12
  they did not stay there (for) many days

1440.2 The simple genitive, however, expresses time within which:

(14)       ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτὸν νυκτὸς Jn 3:2
  he came to him at night

1450. Ἐν is also employed with the dative to indicate means, manner or instrument:

(15)       ἐν μαχαίρῃ ἀπολοῦνται Mt 26:52
  they will perish by the sword

For the wide variety of other ways in which ἐν specifies the dative (locative, instrumental), see Bauer s.v. Cf. Bl-D §§205, 206, 219, 220.

1451. Σύν is used with the dative to denote accompaniment or association:

(16)       σὺν τοῖς ὄχλοις Acts 14:13
  together with the crowd
(17)       εἰ [δὲ] ἀπεθάνομεν σὺν Χριστῷ Rom 6:8
  if we die with Christ

1452. Εἰς like ἐν is used in a wide variety of ways. In addition to the spatial and temporal uses (§§143, 144), it may denote goal, end, result, purpose:

(18)       οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν Jn 1:7
  this one came as a witness (to bear witness)
(19)       εἰς κένον τρέχω Gal 2:2
  I am running in vain (to no purpose)
(20)       ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ Rom 1:1
  set apart for the gospel of God

For still other senses, consult Bauer s.v.; Bl-D §207.

1453. Ἀπό is in the process of absorbing ἐκ (ἐξ) although the latter is still more frequent than the former in hellenistic Greek. Their main functions have already tended to converge (cf. §§143-144). They are employed further to denote origin, cause, reason:

(21)       ἦν [δὲ] ὁ Φίλιππος ἀπὸ Βηθσαϊδά, Jn 1:44
  ἐκ τῆς πόλεως Ἀνδρέου καὶ Πέτρου
  Philip was from Bethsaida,
from the aity of Andrew and Peter
(22)       οὐκ ἠδύνατο ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλοῦ Lk 19:3
  he was not able because of the crowd
(23)       οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου Gal 2:16
  man is not justified on the basis of works of law

1454. Ἐκ is predominant in the partitive sense (to indicate the whole of which something is a part) :

(24)       ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ δύο Jn 1:35
  two of his disciples

Further, s. Moule 71-74; Bl-D §§209-211; and the appropriate entries in Bauer.

146. The preposition as initiator of a word group containing a nominal 'head.' Prepositions may initiate word groups which correspond to those considered under the article (§§126-129).

146.1 Ἐν :

(25)       ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ Jn 8:12
(26)       ἐν τῷ νόμῳ [δὲ] τῷ ὑμετέρῳ Jn 8:17
(27)       ἐν [δὲ] ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις Mt 3:1
(28)       ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ κυρίου 1 Cor 5:5

146.2 Σύν :

(29) σὺν τοῖς ὄχλοις Acts 14:13
(30) σὺν ὅλῃ τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ Acts 15:22

146.3 Εἰς :

(31)       εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν Jn 4:3
(32)       εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν γῆν Jn 3:22
(33)       εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ Jn 3:5

146.4 Ἀπό, ἐκ (ἐξ) :

(34)       ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ Jn 8:42
(35)       ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου Jn 8:23
(36)       ἀπ’ ἐκείνης τῆς ὥρας Jn 19:27
(37)       ἀπὸ τῆς γενεᾶς τῆς σκολιᾶς ταύτης Acts 2:40

146.5 Since each of these prepositions is employed with a single case, each signals the appropriate case of the head term; in all examples given above, the article seconds that signal (the article immediately precedes the head term). The article further supplies number and in some instances gender. The case, number and even gender of the head nominal term in word groups such as these are thus advanced to the reader before he reaches the inflectional ending of the nominal head.

1460. The limits of these word groups are signaled in context, in addition to other factors, by the congruence of the procession of inflectional endings, e.g. ἐν -ῇ -ᾷ (25), ἐκ -οῦ -οῦ (34), ἐν -ῳ -ῳ -ῷ -ῳ (26), ἀπό -ῆς -ᾶς -ῆς -ᾶς -ῆς (37). Attention should be constantly directed to such word groups. Learning to grasp them at a single glance will make the inflectional patterns of the nominal system much easier to master, the sentence much easier to resolve, with the consequence that one's reading rate will improve more rapidly.

147. Since ἐν and σύν are always followed by the dative, one may confidently expect them to be followed only by the following forms of the article: τῷ, τῇ/τοῖς, ταῖς (where the article occurs and where an adjective or pronominal adjective in predicate position [§128] does not intervene, as e.g. in (30)). Εἰς will be followed only by τόν, τήν, τό/τούς, τάς, τά; ἀπό and ἐκ only by τοῦ, τῆς/τῶν.

1470. Ἐν, σύν occur only with the dat., εἰς only with acc., ἀπό, ἐκ (ἐξ) only with gen. On this basis alone it is possible to extend the possibilities of case identification (but not identification of number and gender) to those instances where the article does not occur.

1470.1 The following are examples of first and second declension nouns, the inflectional endings of which are already familiar:

(38) ἐν θεῷ Jn 3:21    
(39) σὺν Χριστῷ Rom 6:8
(40) ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς Jn 8:44
(41) ἐκ θεοῦ Jn 1:13

1470.2 But the prepositional signal works equally well for third declension nouns and indeclinables:

(42) ἐν ὕδατι Jn 1:26       
(43) ἐν Καφαρναοὺμ (indeclinable) Jn 2:12
(44) ἐξ αἱμάτων Jn 1:13
(45) ἀπὸ βησαϊδά (indeclinable) Jn 1:44

1470.3 And for pronouns:

(46) ἐν ᾧ (relative)                      Jn 1:47      
(47) ἀπ’ ἐμαυτοῦ (reflexive) Jn 8:28
(48) ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ (personal) Jn 10:18

1470.4 The case of each noun and pronoun is signaled by the preposition apart from the inflectional ending of the noun. The latter reinforces the former, of course, and indicates number (in (38)-(41), -ῷ, -ῆς, -οῦ are all singulars), but not necessarily gender (-ῆς is feminine, but -ῷ and -οῦ may be either masculine or neuter). One can thus specify the case of the nominal heads in (42)-(48), even though one may not know the inflectional patterns of these nouns (or pronouns).

1471. It should be emphasized that the sentence is a kind of puzzle, the various pieces of which provide clues to the arrangement and hence the meaning of the whole. Most sentences provide a variety of interlocking clues to their structure. One is invited to read these clues by whatever means is at his disposal. What the student now has at his disposal is the inflectional pattern of the article, the inflectional patterns of all first and second declension nouns, and five one-case prepositions, together with some common word clusters in which these and other nominal elements occur. One can go a very long way with the formal analysis of nominal word groups with only so much in hand.