Re: Some clarity on DIA

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 19 1997 - 21:29:43 EST

At 7:28 PM -0600 3/19/97, Alan M Feuerbacher wrote:
>I'd like to get some input on the meaning of the Greek DIA. Most
>of the time it means "through" or "by" or something similar, but
>it sometimes has other meanings. How does one distinguish among
>the various meanings to understand a particular passage when the
>context provides an apparently uncertain guide?
>For example, in Romans 1:1, 2, God is said to give his gospel
>THROUGH his prophets; in 1: 4, 5, grace and apostleship are
>received THROUGH Christ; in 2:16, God judges THROUGH Christ.
>Similarly, in Hebrews 1:2, God makes the world THROUGH his Son;
>in Colossians 1:16, all things were created THROUGH the Son;
>in John 1:3, all things were made THROUGH the Word; etc., so
>that Christ is presented as the mediator of creation.
>However, in Romans 11:36 and Hebrews 2:10, the same word is used
>of God, who can in no sense be called a mediator of creation, but
>rather, the originator:
> For from him and through him and to him are all things.
> (Rom. 11:36; NIV)
> It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything
> exists. (Heb. 2:10; NIV)
>In the latter, DIA is even used in two different senses -- "for"
>and "through". In both passages I think "through" could just as
>well be rendered "by", which has more of a flavor of origination
>than does "through".
>Since DIA seems to be used in two rather different senses, both
>in the sense of origination and in the sense of mediation, how do
>I make sense of this?

No small question this one. I hope that Micheal Palmer will have his input
into this one because I suspect he will put a very different spin on it
>from what I have to say, as what I have to say may be slanted from my
Classical Attic viewpoint, although I dn't think it irrelevant to the Koine
of the NT.

(1) Let me begin with what Louw-Nida offer by way of a summary in their
index to usages of DIA in the NT. I'm certainly not going to try to discuss
each one but rather search for what, if anything, is the common element.

DIA a. by (agent)
        b. by (instrument)
        c. through (means)
        d. on behalf of (benefaction)
        e. because of (reason participant)
        f. on account of (reason)
        g. through (extension)
        h. along (extension)
        i. during (time)
        j. throughout (time)
        DIA units
        DIA BRACEWN briefly
        DI' ETWN after years
        DI'hHMERWN a few days later
        DI'OLIGWN in a short time
        DIA PANTOS regularly
        DIA PANTOS always
And for good measure, let me add one not in the NT: DIA PASWN musical
octave, sometimes written as one word DIAPASWN. Some of these prepositions
with adjectives must have an implicit noun, I think, unless one wants to
assume that they are neuter plural substantives, as some may be: DIA PANTOS
(CRONOU) will mean "regularly" in the sense of "at intervals on a
continuum" but "always" in the sense of "from alpha to omega without

It does seem like a bewildering array of senses. My first Greek teacher
used a set of diagrams for several of the prepositions that seemed to have
some sort of relationship to a circle (EN as a dot within the circle; EIS
as an arrow moving from the outside to the inside of a circle; EK as an
arrow moving out of the circle; etc.); DIA was an arrow cutting through the
circle from outside on one side to outside on the other side. This has
always been helpful to me, at least as a mnemonic device, whether it's the
best scheme imaginable or not for representing the function of DIA, which
seems to me to be "intersection" or "transition from and to." As a prefix,
DIA usually seems to indicate interrelationship between two or more parties
or things, as DIALEGOMAI, or transition across an area marked by two
boundaries, as DIERCOMAI. Sometimes it may involve a notion of completion
(from one end to the other); and that's by no means exhaustive.

Here's where Micheal can be helpful in ways I cannot, because I tend to
think of DIA having this sense of intersection, intervention, transition
between points (along a course), mediation between, etc. in conjunction
with the kinds of meanings that the different cases have: partitive
genitive, ablatival genitive, accusative of extent, accusative of
specification, etc.

This is all very vague, I realize. I wish I could put my finger on the text
where some Stoic poet (Aratus, I think, but it may well be Cleanthes in his
Hymn to Zeus, or it may be Callimachus' Hymn to Zeus) who plays upon the
DI' stem of the divine name ZEUS and uses its accusative DIA to pun upon
the varied kinds of causality and mediation roles that he sees Zeus engaged
in as he sustains the world-order--not at all unlike some of the passages
that Alan has cited referring to roles of God the Father and of Christ as
mediator. At any rate, it seems to me that the usage with the genitive
expresses one extreme of the sense: DI' hHMERWN: "in the course of an
interval between days" = "after a few days"; DIA PASWN (scil. CORDWN):
"from low C to high C" = a musical octave. But DIA with genitive can
express agency--what is it: "through the intervening X"? DIA with
accusative can mean "for the sake of/because of" (perhaps "by way of?" "in
terms of?") or it can mean "in transit along."

I'm not sure that it's really possible to catalog all the different ways
that DIA can be and is used. This is one of those matters that one learns
patiently over a long course of time as one reads more and more Greek and
explores that ever-changing terrain that is the whole range of Greek lexis.

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

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