Re: Romans 3:19-20

From: Bruce Terry (
Date: Thu Oct 12 1995 - 16:16:33 EDT

On Thu, 5 Oct 1995, Jim McGuire wrote:

>5. It is common for Koine Greek writers to reference the first use of a given
>person with the article, then often without the article on subsequent uses in
>the same passage. So where God has the article in the second clause of John
>1:1, it doesn't in the third, but refers to the same God, not "a god" that is

Actually this is an oversimplification of the use of the article, and to a
certain extent, not correct. For an excellent discussion of the article in
Greek discourse, see chapter 7 of

Levinsohn, Stephen H. 1992. Discourse features of New Testament Greek. Dallas:
   SIL. (The cost is less than $10; a good buy)

Levinsohn points out that the Greek article marks the noun as "known" or
"particular." I would have used the term "specified" myself. Nouns without
the article are unmarked, i.e., they may be either definite or not; the
absence of the article does not say.

With people, articles are regularly used with non-nominative indeclinable
names. Otherwise, the article is often omitted on first mention (main
characters often have the article omitted the first two or three times they
are mentioned). Then the article is regularly used. This is like improper
nouns in English. An example is:

I went into *a* store the other day. *The* store was dirty. I went to *the*
manager of *the* store to complain.

Note that the first mention of *the* store does not use the definite article.
Once introduced, the definite article is used. Even the manager, a part of
the store, becomes definite and takes the article. Frame theory would say
that the whole frame of the store, including the manager, is brought into the
mind and thus becomes definite.

Levinsohn notes that with participants in a narrative, the article is again
omitted when the character is reintroduced, becomes more salient, or makes an
important speech. He does not discuss props in the narrative, but they follow
the same rule. Compare the narrative of Jesus at the wedding in John 2. Both
GAMOS (wedding) and hUDRIAI (waterpots) are first used without the article and
then with the article. Later, when the ARCITRIKLINOS (wedding coordinator :)
is introduced, the article is used, because (like in the English example with
store and manager above) he has been made definite by the introduction of the
GAMOS frame.

Levinsohn notes that QEOS usually takes the article. He says this is because
God is not particularly salient to the discussion. I disagree; I rather
imagine this is because, as Robertson notes in his big grammar (p. 768), the
article is often used with a noun that is the only one of it kind. The
example in John 1:1 that is often referred to lacks the article because of a
grammtical rule that says that articles are omitted on predicate nominatives
that begin clauses unless the subject is obvious (as with proper names and
demonstrative pronouns as subjects). All of the discourse about Colwell's
rule and the relation of the object to the copula is beside the point; the
grammatical rule at work in John 1:1 has to do with the order of the subject
and the predicate nominative.

Levinsohn also notes that abstract nouns lack the article. However, he does
note that when a topic is first introduced, it may have the article. Perhaps
this is what Jim was referring to above.

Note that there are different rules for participants and props in a narrative,
nouns that refer to something unique, and nouns that refer to topics. Neither
Levinsohn's chapter nor my summary of it above should be thought to be
exhaustive. There are many sub-rules that come into play in explaining the
presence or absence of an article in any given case.

Bruce Terry E-MAIL:
Box 8426, ACU Station Phone: 915/674-3759
Abilene, Texas 79699 Fax: 915/674-3769

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