Re: Dative in John 4:23

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Wed Mar 12 1997 - 23:11:04 EST

In my reply to the following comments, UPPERCASE = emphasis, not shouting.

At 3:29 PM -0500 3/12/97, H. Fred Nofer wrote:

>I appreciate your focusing on the basic case of PNEUMATI and ALHQEIAI
>following the EN, but I must be missing something. Maybe it is because
>of viewing case from a different perspective, but isn't the purpose of
>parsing to gain an accurate translation? If so, then isn't it necessary
>to go beyond form to function?

Yes. And if I implied otherwise I did so accidentally. Perhaps I should
have worded my comments more carefully!

>To translate accurately, one must
>identify the function of the dative: locative dative, instrumental
>dative, etc. (I really prefer the eight case system where function is
>more obviously identified beyond form, but I "date" myself).

The point that I was trying to make is that you NOT have to identify the
function of the DATIVE; you have to identify the function of the
PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE in which it occurs. The dative is used, not to convey
any particular function, but because the author had no other choice! EN
*must* be followed by a dative.

The exegetical question is "What is the function of the prepositional
phrase with EN? Is it used to indicate location (locative), means
(instrumental), etc. It is the prepositional phrase, not the dative case,
which carries these functions in John 4:23, since the dative case is
mandatory no matter what the author intended. The preposition EN may be
used in several different ways (just as the dative case may be).

This whole question points to a real weakness in the materials available
for teaching Greek. Many (dare I say "most") beginning grammars teach the
supposed meanings of the various case forms without ever mentioning that
these do not apply when the noun, adjective, etc. is the object of a
preposition. In that case, the preposition takes over the function of
communicating SEMANTIC case relations. [By the way, this was not always the
case. I'm sure Carl Conrad could give us a great discussion of the *change*
in the function of prepositions from classical to hellenistic Greek.]

>Andrew, I
>believe had already identified these as datives. I quote, "Now, the
>question I have is what kind of dative...." But maybe I am missing your
>point, Micheal, but IMHO simply parsing these as datives seems to be
>begging the question.

Yes, it would be. That's not what I meant to do, but having reread my own
post, I see clearly how you could have thought that's what I meant. Sorry.
My point was quite different. I meant to simply refocus the question from
the case of the nouns onto the preposition. That, after all, is where the
semantic weight clearly falls in the hellenistic period, especially with
prepositions which only allow one case.

But even with prepositions which allow more than one case for their object,
the case of the noun does not convey exactly the same posibilities that it
would outside of a prepositional phrase. Take the preposition DIA, for
example. Its object can be either genitive or accusative. The case of its
object serves to indicate to the reader which meaning of DIA is intended.
For example, in the phrase DIA CRISTON in 1 Corinthians 4:10, the
accusative case of CRISTON does not communicate the same range of
possibilites that it would outside that prepositional phrase. It merely
tells the reader which meaning (or class of meanings) to choose for DIA. It
tells the reader that DIA means, roughly, something like our English phrase
"because of" rather than "through" (the main option when the case of its
object is genitive). The relevant exegetical question, then, becomes, "what
exactly is meant by this causal relationship?" That is, in what sense is
Christ the *cause* of our being "fools" (HMEIS MWROI DIA CRISTON)? The NRSV
renders this clause as "We are fools *for the sake of* Christ". The
translators have examinged the function of the prepositional phrase DIA
CRISTON, not the case of CRISTON, and determined that the appropriate view
of the causeal relation is that Christ is the 'reason for' our being
perceived as fools.

I hope this makes my view of case within prepositional phrases a little
clearer. Others may disagree (some even strongly) because this is one of
those areas where even the large reference grammars are unclear. The
language had changed a great deal since the classical peiod with respect to
the use of prepositions, and the standard reference grammar available right
now have such a strong emphasis on the relationship between hellenistic
(biblical) Greek and the earlier stages of the language that in a few
places they fail to delineate clearly the parameters of interpretation for
the hellenistic period. This is one of those cases.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:09 EDT