From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Mon Nov 09 1998 - 06:46:48 EST

Jonathan Ryder wrote:
>Did (psuedo?-)Paul know what a partitive genitive is? Which grammar did he
>use? Did
>he consult it when he wrote his letters? I write this because when
>discussing the
>syntactical possibilities of 'righteousness of/from etc. God' in Romans 3 in a
>lecture recently, the comment was made that the syntactical categories take on
>different shades of meaning if you are reading an British, American or German
>commentator, particularly the latter. Perhaps this would be the case in
>Col 1:15.

Dear Jonathan,

Your comments are important because they stress the fact that the Bible
writers and we moderners have different presupposition pools, and we must
take this into accout when we try to understand the text of the Bible.
Regarding lexical semantics, those who created the slogan "A word does not
have a meaning without a context" to a great extent ignored this. WE need
the context to understand the meaning of a word, people in biblical times,
at least those who had the same sociolect, would get the meaning instantly,
usually with little dependence upon the context.

The same was true regarding that which we call grammar. Because I am not a
native speaker of English I often make errors. For instance, I know the
rules regarding the use of 'was' and 'were' and when an 's' should be added
to the present form of the verb. But sometimes I have to analyze a sentence
to choose the right form. A native speaker who has never learned the rules
of English grammar, will be able both to choose the right form and to
discover my error instantly. Regarding Paul or (pseudo?-)Paul, as you call
the writer, it is meaningful to ask whether the genitive of Colossians 1:15
is partitive or not, provided that we take the two different presupposition
pools into accout.

What we ask for, is whether or not the writer included the PRWTOTOKOS in
the group PASHS KTISEWS,and as a means to connect this question to the
Greek grammatical construction, we ask whether it is a partitive genitive
or not. I do not think the term "partitive genitive" as a Greek grammatical
term has another flavor in Norway or Germany compared with Britain or the

Continuing on the systematic road, I would like to stress another important
point, which can affect our understanding of the biblical text, namely the
difference between semantics and pragmatics. Wes has presented a convincing
study indicating that the sole *meaning* of PRWTOTOKOS is 'the one who is
born first', something which would indicate that a partitive element is a
*semantic* part of the word.
Kyle, however, wrote: "Wallace's points seem very sound and convincing. In
the footnotes, he lists
some of the Biblical passages where PRWTOTOKOS refers to preeminence--1
Chron 5:1; Ps 89:27; Rom 8:29; Rev 1:5." What does the phrase "where
PRWTOTOKOS refers to preeminence" mean? None of the passages referred to
indicate a *lexical* meaning for PRWTOTOKOS different from "the one who is
born first". Was Wallace using pragmatic implicature rather than semantics?

Because the question about semantics versus pragmatics relates to almost
all discussions of texts, I would like to quote from Mari Olsen' s fine
study "A Semantic and Pragmatic Model of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect", p
17. Her definition is: "semantic meanings may not be cancelled without
contradiction or reinforced without redundancy." She illustrates this with
the verb 'plod'. Are the concepts 'slowly' and 'tired' a part of the
semantic meaning of 'plod'? She uses the following sentences:

(1) Elsie plodded along,# but not slowly.
(2) Elsie plodded along,#? slowly.
(3) Margaret plodded along, although she wasn' t tired.
(4) Margaret plodded along; she was very tired.

(1) is contradictory and (2) is redundant, but (3) and (4) are not
problematic. The conclusion is that 'slowness' is a part of the semantic
meaning of 'plod' but this is not the case with 'tiredness'.

Applied to PRWTOTOKOS we can ask: Do we find any semantic elements apart
from 'the one who is born first' in the concept signalled by this word
anywhere in the Bible? If so, it may be applied to Colossians 1:15. If
not, a non-partitive meaning ascribed to the word in this verse is
pragmatic rather than semantic. There is no problem with doing this, but
then the context becomes very important, and the two crucial questions
about the similarity or difference between TA PANTA and PASHS KTISEWS and
the direct agent versus the indirect agent for the verbs of Colossians 1,
becomes even more important.


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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