Re: hO in 1 John 1:1

From: Carl William Conrad (
Date: Thu Feb 05 1998 - 09:19:25 EST

On Thu, 5 Feb 1998, Benjamin Raymond wrote:

> At 01:04 PM 2/4/98 -0000, Jeff Kendall wrote:
> >Hi Ben,
> >
> >You wrote (snipped):
> >
> >>I brought this up in class (a change in case for hO), and was told that hO
> >>should be taken as nominative in each segment, as there can be a compound
> >>subject (?).
> >
> >If this is what you've been told, it really is incorrect. But from your post,
> >it just seems possible that you may have misunderstood your teacher. Could it
> >be that there has been some confusion because there are two distinct issues
> >here: (a) the case(s) of the relative pronouns; (b) the syntactical
> function of
> >the noun clauses that they introduce (ie whether they are noun clause
> subjects
> >or noun clause objects)?
> I hope I'm not making my teacher out to be a bad guy. I really like him...
> it's just that we butt heads about Greek all the time. I'm rather
> skeptical of his methods/conclusions.
> I asked him again after class today. He admitted that the latter three
> hO's could technically be taken as accusative, but nominative is also
> possible. He still feels that this is some sort of compound subject and
> ought to be taken as nominative. Now, I can see how the whole *section*
> here can be taken as the broad subject of the surrounding context. But I
> can't see how hO can be the subject (compound or otherwise) of an active
> verb of which it is simultaneously the object!
> In English we don't seem to have this problem (or perhaps I should say
> distinction). I can say "that which has seen" and "that which has been
> seen" and the relative pronoun looks exactly the same (no cases). The only
> reason the Greek looks the same is because the neuter is the same form for
> nominative and accusative.
> So I guess my question is this: If the relative pronouns were masculine,
> would the hON be the required form for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th occurrences?
> If the answer is yes, I'll rest easy :-)

The answer is indeed YES.
> >Some commentators understand the parallel noun clauses in 1John 1:1 as the
> >"compound subject" of a verbless copulative sentence with PERI TOU LOGOU THS
> >ZWHS as the complement.

> Ah, that may very well be the piece I am misunderstanding. My instructor
> takes the compound subject to be both the hO and the "we" implied in the
> verbs. Would this be correct (syntactically)?

Quite honestly, I have to say that it seems to me an utterly far-fetched
and unnatural way to understand what is really not that difficult nor
uncommon a Greek construction. Even supposing that one wants to say that
the first hO with HN is nominative and has the sense TOUTO hO (Latin ID
QUOD) and that one views the other instances of hO (each of which must be
accusative in its own clause-syntax) as relative pronouns referring back
to the first hO as their antecedent, I'd have to say that the construction

        Nominative (implicit ESTI) PERI TOU LOGOU

is, at best, a solecism--intelligible only as an un-Greek expression.
> >eg Smalley in his Word commentary renders the verse as
follows: > >
> >"What was there from the beginning - which we have heard, which we have seen
> >with our eyes, which we have observed and felt with our hands - is our
> subject:
> >the word of life."
> >
> >I seem to remember that the New English Bible reflects a similar
> understanding
> >of the Greek syntax. Is this what your teacher is trying to convey?
> I think so. While I see value in viewing the text broadly like this, I'm
> still tending to look at the cases as they must be taken in their immediate
> contexts.

In my opinion, this way of looking at the Greek confuses the question of
the way the Greek syntax works with the question of how best to translate
the Greek into English (or some other language). Personally I think that
creates a major obstacle to understanding the alien text on its own terms.
How to convey the sense of the Greek into another language shouldn't
really be dealt with until after one is confident that one understands the
Greek construction. More on this below.
> Even given the broad understanding, would it be appropriate to refer to all
> the pronouns as nominative?

No: that's really an instance of cutting the Gordian knot once you've
decided that you can't untie it.

> >Others understand verse 2 as a parenthesis with verse 1's series of parallel
> >noun clauses being resumed in verse 3. In this case, these noun clauses are
> >understood as direct objects of the verb APAGGELLOMEN in verse 3. This
> >understanding is reflected in the different renderings of RSV or NASV and the
> >NIV.
> >
> >Hope this helps,
> Yes! The last paragraph is a good summation. I tend to see the passage as
> the NASB translators did, although the fact that the whole section
> functions as the object of APAGGELLOMEN (reiterated in the hO of v.3) does
> not alter the cases of each relative pronoun (i.e., I still take the first
> hO in v.1 as nominative).

The fact of the matter is, I think, that the Greek text as the MSS give it
to us lacks a verb--and ESTI can only be supplied to link the sequence of
relative clauses beginning with hO to PERI TOU LOGOU in a very
unsatisfactory way. I think that the UBS committee has done the right
thing by punctuating after ZWHS with a dash; what this means is that we
have an anacoluthon--an incomplete sentence, and that after the sentence
gets this far, the writer starts over with a new subject and predicate in
verse 2. How to translate this, i.e., whether to carry the anacoluthon
over into English and so to reproduce the structure of the Greek, is a
different question altogether from analyzing and understanding the Greek
text. It appears to me that the commentators cited above are really
confusing the very different matters of understanding how the Greek works
(insofar as it does work) and of conveying what the writer meant with his
Greek to say into English.

I don't like to be so redundant, but I don't think the point can be
overemphasized: the FIRST step is to understand the Greek; only AFTERWARDS
can one go on and decide how best to convey the MEANING of the Greek into
another language. It is fundamentally wrong to attempt to force the
structure of a meaningful translation onto the syntactic structure of the
Greek text, and to do so will only render the Greek text into gibberish.

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

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