RE: Ephesians ~ Generic Dative?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Apr 24 1999 - 17:56:13 EDT

I respond to this only as an unregenerate orthodox believer in traditional
Greek grammar; while I am dubious occasionally about some particular
interpretation of traditional grammatical categories, I am not yet quite
ready to abandon them in favor of attacking a text armed with nothing more
than intuition and imagination. George knows very well the point from which
I am coming here, and he is certainly entitled to his belief that
traditional grammarians have exercised an arbitrary and shackling power
over the untrammeled imagination of the lay interpreter of the Greek text;
there may even be some who agree with him. I only express my bias here as
he has expressed his.

At 9:32 AM -0700 4/24/99, George Blaisdell wrote:
>>From: "Bill Ross"
>>>It seems to me that it ought to read:
>>> "In grace are you, having been saved through faith"
>Hi Bill ~
>The center of this is ESTE, enclosed by XARITI and SESWiMENOI. From
>which I have always taken it to mean that ESTE is a 'stand-alone'
>verb. I could be wrong...
>The core 'sentence,' then, would be "You are existing."

Granted, ESTE is here centered between CARITI and SESWiSMENOI; why that
should mean that ESTE is a 'stand-alone' verb is not so easy to say.
Suppose we had an English sentence, "Truly you have sinned," would we be
entitled to say, by the same logic, "you have" is a 'stand-alone' verb?
Certainly not; "you have sinned" is a verb compounded of the auxiliary
"have" and the participle "sinned," even as ESTE SESWiSMENOI is a verb
compounded (the usual term is "periphrastic") of the auxiliary ESTE and the
participle SESWiSMENOI.

>The first word, which announces the theme of the thought, is XARITI, a
>simple dative ~ a generic dative ~ for which we really have no English
>equivalent. "In grace", "By grace", [or even thankfulness!] all fall
>short of the impact of the Greek simple dative here, imho, because
>without a preposition, and without even an article, it really would
>seem to mean ALL of these, unless further restricted by context.
>The last word then gives us the reason for the first, and both first
>and last modify the center, which is the core of this sequence. The
>first locates, and the last explains, the very existence of those whom
>he addresses.
>In English we might say "Your very existence is in Grace, [because]
>you have been saved..." But this is not the Greek, you see, and might
>miss other importance in the way the Greek speaks. It does honor the
>centrality of ESTE, however.
>The Greek simply says "In grace you exist having been saved..."
>The generic dative locates what it modifies in the most general way
>possible, if I am understanding this right.

It appears that we have here isolated a new strain of the virus--er, the
grammatical case traditionally called 'Dative'--this one now to be called
"Generic Dative"--I only hope it isn't 'catching.' To be sure, traditional
eight-case Greek grammar would probably try to relate the usage of this
particular dative form, CARITI, to one of older historical cases,
Instrumental-Comitative, Locative, or true Dative; I think, in fact, that
most would assign it without further question to the category of
Instrumental, and grammarians who prefer to think in terms of five cases
would still assign this CARITI to an Instrumental subcategory of the Dative
(some might call it a "Dative of MEANS"). At any rate, they are likely to
assert that CARITI indicates the instrumentality whereby the salvation
referred to in ESTE SESWiSMENOI has been gained. I am a bit curious to see
whether word of the appearance of the 'generic dative' which 'modifies in
the most general way possible' has been noted emerging elsewhere among the
practitioners of grammar known to list-members.

As for the word-order of CARITI ESTE SESWiSMENOI, I think the most I'd want
to say is that CARITI is indeed emphatically placed initially, and that
CARITI, not ESTE, is the word of major importance in the clause (if it is
really necessary to say that one word rather than another has major
importance). As for the other two words, I can see absolutely no reason why
it should make any difference whether ESTE precedes SESWiSMENOI or
SESWiSMENOI precedes ESTE; the meaning of the compounded perfect passive is
identical in either order, and if there is anything at all working toward a
preference of the order we actually find, I rather think it would be
prosodic: we have an anapaest followed by a trochee that is in turn
followed by what used to be called something like an anaclastic form of the
Ionic a majore, four syllables in the sequence short - long - short -
short; I think the rhythm would be slightly less pleasing if SESWiSMENOI
were to precede ESTE, Nevertheless I don't see that the reversed order of
these two words would make an iota of difference to the meaning of the
clause as a whole, and for all we may do to it in exposing it to the harsh
light of microscopic analysis, it is indeed a marvelous clause: CARITI ESTE

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

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