From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Sep 20 1997 - 07:59:22 EDT

At 6:04 AM -0500 9/20/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>At 02:37 AM 9/20/97 EDT, Paul S. Dixon wrote:
>>In this verse of luscious exegetical nuggets comes this intriguing
>>phrase, hAMARTANONTA hAMARTIAN (1 Jn 5:16). It is translated,
>>"committing a sin" (NASV), " committing ... sin" (RSV), "sin a sin"
>>(KJV), and "commit a sin" (NIV).
>Yes, this is one of those Greek uses that translates badly into English,
>which has no acceptable equivalent. Smyth and Robertson both call it the
>cognate accusative. Smyth treats it in sections 1563 - 1577; Robertson's
>Massive Yellow Tome treats this under the heading "cognate accusative" (p.
>477 ff). Other examples include ECARHSAN XARAN (Mt. 2:10), FULASSONTES
>FULAKAS (Lu 2:8).

Since Jonathan was too busy (uxorious?) to finish his response, let me just
say that the "cognate accusative" is really a pretty common thing (I have
an elderly lawyer friend who likes to say that he vowed as a young man
never to marry a woman who didn't know what a Cognate Accusative was--but
he broke that vow about sixty years ago--he's now in his 90's). It's in
English, Greek, and Latin and probably in several other languages as well:
"fight the good fight," "see the sights," PUGNAM PUGNARE, etc. It's called
that because both verb and nominal object are from the same root,
obviously. Superficially it's like the Hebrew construct infinitives, which
are used for emphasis and which are rather quaintly translated in the LXX
as cognate accusatives. In those particular instances I think we probably
should read special emphasis, but an ordinary cognate accusative is little
more than a matter of idiom.

BUT, is it possible, Paul, that you have opened up yet another can of worms
by reminding us of this phrase in 1 John, in fact, perhaps two cans of
worms, or should I say a can with two worms in it?

(1) The lesser worm is the phrase in 5:16 hAMARTIAN MH PROS QANATON. We
(read "I") learned that a prepositional phrase cannot modify a noun as an
adjective. One might argue that MH PROS QANATON really construes with
hAMARTANONTA rather than with hAMARTIAN, but that seems ruled out by the
ERWTHSEI. I suppose (I've never studied canon law and have no plans to do
so) that this passage, 1 Jn 5:16-17, is the chief source of the distinction
between a "mortal" and a "venial" sin--and that "venial" probably derives
from the Latin equivalent of a MH PROS QANATON used as an adjective in
Johannine Greek in our passage. So that usage in Johannine Greek of a
prepositional phrase as an adjective is an interesting "irregularity"--I
suppose we might call it a "grammatical venial sin." One might also say
that it's a worm we can live with.

(2) The greater worm (nibbling at my mind, at least) is the question, how
does this bifurcation of hAMARTIA into mortal and venial sin bear upon our
former worm (if I may speak thus affectionately of it), namely the
relationship of 1 Jn 3:9 and 1 Jn 1:5-10? Does 1 Jn 3:9 mean that one
CANNOT commit a "mortal" sin but CAN commit a venial sin? Are the subjects
of 1 Jn 1:8 and 9 possessors and confessors respectively of "mortal" or of
"venial" sins? Perhaps the answers to these questions are immediately
evident to a keen logician and canon lawyer, but as I am neither the one
nor the other, I'm a bit curious about how the relationship of 1 Jn 5:16-17
and 3:9 and 1:5-10 is to be understood.

I'm halfway facetious about this worm, for I fear the thread that it might
unleash (Away with you, Clotho!), but it's nibbling away at my mind. Can
someone slay the dragon?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:29 EDT