Re: Acts 4:32 what are the arguments of *hn*?

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Sun May 25 1997 - 01:00:20 EDT

At 11:13 AM +0000 5/24/97, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:
>Acts 4:32 what are the arguments of *hn*?
>This is a simple question. The first clause of Acts 4:32 *tou ... mia*
>begins with a genitive construction. Is this genitive construction one
>of the arguments of *hn*? Rewording the question somewhat, can *kardia
>kai psuch* and *mia* be construed as the two arguments of *hn* and the
>genitive construction be construed as limiting *kardia kai psuch*?
>I guess this is a question about word order in NT Greek. Are there any
>hard and fast rules about the order of the arguments for *eimi*? Also,
>can a genitive construction be separated from the substantive it
>limits by a verb?
>The English translations appear to take the genitive construction as
>the first argument of *hn.* Is this the only way to analyze this

For those of you unfamiliar with the term 'argument' used in linguistics as
well as logic, it refers to the subject and the object(s) or complement(s)
of a verb. It can also be applied to nouns to talk about the subjective and
objective genitive which can perform similar functions to the subject and
object of a verb.

Now for Clayton's question:

I would not read the genitive construction as an argument of HN in Greek,
though it may be necessary to make it an argument of "be" in an English
translation if we want to acheive the semantic/pragmatic effect which the
Greek sentence has.

Let's start with the structure of the Greek. I see the genitive
construction as a modifier of KARDIA KAI YUCH, with the two arguments of HN
being KARDIA KAI YUCH and MIA (The heart and life of the community of those
who believe are one).

This reading takes KARDIA KAI YUCH (modified by TOU PLHQOUS TWN
PISTEUSANTWN) as the subject and MIA as the complement. The verb EIMI
assigns nominative case to all of its arguments. While there are verbs
which assign genitive case to one of their arguments, the genitive is far
more commonly used to mark an adnominal modifier.

While the word order is certainly unlike anything we would normally find in
English, a modifier *can* be separated from the word or words that it
modifies in Greek, being placed on the other side of the verb from that
word (or those words). Many readers would argue (and I would agree) that
placing such a modifier before the verb when the word(s) it modifies come
after the verb has the effect of making the modifier the focal point of the
sentence. If this is the correct way to understand the motivation for this
word order, then we might paraphrase Acts 4:32 as

        The community of those who believe is one in heart and life

making "the community of those who believe" the subject in English
(although it is *not* in Greek), and relegating "heart and life" to the
status of a modifier of 'one' (saying in what sense the community is one),
to achieve a similar effect.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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