Re: John 3:18 and English article "of"

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Mar 10 1997 - 09:33:41 EST

At 7:49 AM -0600 3/10/97, Martin A. Childs wrote:
>This is what I discovered this morning while looking at John 3:18 in the
>Online Bible:
>Joh 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned but he that believeth
>not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name <3686>
>of the only begotten <3439> Son <5207> of God.
>The phrase "of the only begotten" appears to come out of two words "tou"
>and "monogenous". Is there something about the way these words are
>inflected which requires a possessive sense (hence the supplying of the
>English article "of") rather than as words in apposition?

Yes: the genitive case ending on T/OU and MONOGEN/OUS (the case-ending is
the part following the slash); "of" is not an article but a preposition
that is normally required when translating a Greek genitive, unless one
uses the "'s" form, which in many cases is awkward.

>In other words, must it be translated "the only begotten's name" or can it
>be understood as "the name, (comma) the only begotten"?

This is an interesting question actually; there is such a thing as an
"appositional genitive" but I don't know that anyone has ever argued that
as an explanation of this particular construction. I suspect that the usage
of a phrase like this, "the name of X" could have originated in LXX
translations from the way the Hebrew OT was read aloud, but I'd be leery of
affirming it as what must have happened. The real question is what the
author of John 3:18 meant by using the phrase, ultimately. And there's a
sizable theological problem involved here too: what does "believing in the
name of Christ" mean that is different from "believing in Christ"?--if
there's any difference between the two. This could well be a touchy
theological issue, but I seriously wonder whether the usage of such phrases
as "in the name of the Father, and of the Son ..." involves some implicit
belief in the magical efficacy of invoking the name orally? I think it
probable that what doing this implied for each individual doing it may
differ, but I suspect that to one like Simon Magus the pronunciation of the
name of Jesus might seem like a magic phrase, "Presto Change-o." My guess
furthermore, for what it's worth, is that the phrasing "believe in the name
of Christ" did indeed mean "believe in Christ."

At any rate, I believe this is a more significant question than an innocent
first reading of it (my innocent first reading, that is) seems to imply.

>Similarly, the relationship between "only begotten" and "Son". The Greek
>article before "Son" is suppressed in translation. Does Koine ever use the

Certainly; moreover, although it isn't usually explained this way by
grammarians, I've always believed that the particular device of using the
article before an adjective to indicate that it is attributive is in fact a
means of substantitivizing the adjective and making it an appositive:

        TON ANQRWPON TON AGAQON = "the man, i.e., the good (one)"

However, when the adjective appears in the Greek BETWEEN the article and
the noun, I think it would be more appropriate to say this is a
straightforward attributive adjective. And that is what we have in John 3:18


Now it might (theoretically) be argued that we COULD understand TOU QEOU as
standing in apposition to TOU MONOGENOUS hUIOU in the manner I've just
indicated above. Although that's conceivable, it seems to me almost
inconceivable that such was intended by the author, for the reason that a
pertinentive genitive (a father's name in the genitive case) is the
regularly expected element following upon the word hUIOS. Thus, although
THEORETICALLY one might understand the above Greek phrase as "in the Name,
the only-begotten Son, God"--the normal patterns of Greek syntax and idiom
make it improbable in the extreme.
>a gatherer of crumbs,

So are we all.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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