RE: Ephesians ~ Generic Dative ~ Chiasmus

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Apr 27 1999 - 15:06:29 EDT

<x-rich>At 8:21 AM -0700 4/27/99, George Blaisdell wrote:

>>From: "Carl W. Conrad"


>>I respond to this only as an unregenerate orthodox believer in


>>Greek grammar; while I am dubious occasionally about some particular

>>interpretation of traditional grammatical categories, I am not yet


>>ready to abandon them in favor of attacking a text armed with nothing


>>than intuition and imagination.


>Dear Carl ~


>I am not asking anyone to abandon anything, and especially not for the

>sake of 'attacking' a text... Irreligious of armament!! :-)


>There is nothing wrong at all, imho, in understanding this passage in

>English as "By Grace you are saved through faith." It clearly says

>that. The compound verb [periphrastic] of EINAI plus the perfect

>really should be taken as you say.


>Yet we would translate it the same if it were not periphrastic, but

>simply 2nd indicative.

I have no idea what second indicative means here,unless perhaps you
mean the fully-conjugated form SESWiSQE. But this does give me an
opportunity to get at what I really think underlies all this business
about wanting to translate the ESTE by itself and SESWiSMENOI as a
separate element. And that is that this is a PRESENT PERFECT tense
form; in an earlier era it might have been written SESWiSQE just as he
writes the 2 plural perfect in a non-periphrastic form in
<color><param>0000,7777,0000</param>MEMNHSQE in 1 Cor 11:2</color>. But
if we bear fully in mind what this PRESENT PERFECT tense form actually
means--that its aspect is stative and that the form is talking about
the condition that now holds because the action of the verb has been
completed, then we realize that ESTE SESWiSMENOI means that those being
addressed are at the very moment in which they are addressed asserted
to be fully in possession of salvation. So yes, it would have this same
meaning were it written SESWiSQE as if it were written ESTE
SESWiSMENOI--but it would NOT have that meaning without the two parts
of the periphrastic perfect being understood as a unit. That's my
point: you cannot isolate the ESTE from SESWiSMENOI and deem it to have
a meaning in the Greek here all by itself. It just doesn't have that
meaning by itself; it has it only in conjunction with the participle.

>My only lens here is the question: "Why periphrastic?" Hence the

>focus on the centered ESTE, which *can* stand alone, yet here is

>obviously not standing alone, and the conclusion that "you are

>existing" is a strong part of the meaning of this passage.

ESTE can stand alone only when it does mean "you exist"--and saying
that it DOES have that meaning here won't make it so.

>>Granted, ESTE is here centered between CARITI and SESWiSMENOI; why


>>should mean that ESTE is a 'stand-alone' verb is not so easy to say.


>I hope that I have answered this above... The reason is simply that

>the periphrastic form emphasizes ESTE in a way that the indic 2nd pl

>perf passive does not.

And I say that this is simply not true. There is not an iota of
difference in meaning between the three forms of the second person
plural perfect passive: ESTE SESWiSMENOI, SESWiSMENOI ESTE, and
SESWiSQE. It doesn't matter whether the ESTE precedes or follows the
participle. The meaning is identical for any one of these three

>>Suppose we had an English sentence, "Truly you have sinned," would we


>>entitled to say, by the same logic, "you have" is a 'stand-alone'


>>Certainly not; "you have sinned" is a verb compounded of the


>>"have" and the participle "sinned," even as ESTE SESWiSMENOI is a


>>compounded (the usual term is "periphrastic") of the auxiliary ESTE

>and the

>>participle SESWiSMENOI.


>And again, the Greek uses the periphrastic form for a reason here...

>At least that is my assumption...

On this point you are quite right, but (so I think) you are mistaken
about what that reason is: you seem to think it's because ESTE
SESWiSMENOI means something ever so slightly different from what
SESWiSQE would mean. But it doesn't mean anything different. The reason
why the periphrastic form is preferred for a verb like SWiZW is that,
however easy it is to add the 2nd plural MP ending -SQE to a perfect
passive stem ending in a vowel (LELU-SQE, MEMNH-SQE), it is awkward to
add that ending to a consonantal stem, which in this case would be
SESWiD-; when you join these elements, you get SESWiD-SQE, which must
undergo some phonological manipulation (specifically: {1} assimilation
of D to S, yielding SESWiS-SQE; {2} simplification of the double SS to
single S, yielding SESWiSQE) to become the appropriate fully-conjugated
form. It is the phonological awkwardness of the combination of perfect
passive stem ending in consonants with the regular MP endings that
accounts for the emergence of these periphrastic forms. But the
emergence of the periphrastic forms is NOT to be explained by some
difference of meaning that the periphrastic forms have from the
full-conjugated forms.

>>>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,


>>grammatical case traditionally called 'Dative'--this one now to be


>>"Generic Dative"--I only hope it isn't 'catching.'


>I do not wish to be anyone's virus, Carl. And I wish you continued

>good health! :-)

Thank you very much, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished!

>I simply do not have a good grammatical vocabulary. Perhaps I should

>have said 'plain dative', or 'unmodified dative'. I intended it to

>mean the same as in 'generic medication'. It is just a noun in the

>dative case, so that we do not have an English equivalent, for our

>dative is determined by a preposition. Without any preposition in the

>Greek, it must either be understood by its context of usage, or

>comprehensively if not so limited. And I understand the dative to be

>in the widest sense locative, which includes, but is not limited to,


A parallel for what you're trying to say about the dative might be
found in the English preposition-noun combination (OF + {noun}); this
is capable of taking any number of different nuances of meaning: if the
noun is "books," then "of books" means one thing in the combination "a
pile of books" but something quite different in the combination "my
love of books" and something still quite different from that in the
combination "the purpose of books." I think we would want to say that
this phrase formula is a structural one--and in that sense one might
call it generic: its meaning has to be determined for each concrete
usage differently. But that phrase formula doesn't have a semantic

On the other hand, the Greek dative is not structural but semantic;
here we have a single case-ending that is used in several distinct
ways: to indicate location in space or time, to indicate means, to
indicate manner, to indicate a person involved in an action or event or
even to indicate possession, when used with a form of EINAI. CARITI
ESTE (if that's what we had) might mean "you belong to CARIS" (assuming
that CARIS is a person who can own you), or it can mean "you are
currently at CARIS (assuming that CARIS is the name of a community at
which you have arrived). I rather doubt that this phrase could mean
anything else by itself. But the possible meanings of the dative form
CARITI are limited to those that are rather clearly laid out in the
categories of dative to be found in the grammar reference works. What
these different datives have in common is nothing more than a
case-ending; they do NOT have a simple shared semantic significance.

Let me take this opportunity to respond to one other matter related to
this whole discussion: the supposed central placement of ESTE between
CARITI and SESWiSMENOI. I think a distinction ought to be made between
chiasmus, where a series of items in a definitive sequence (A B C D E)
is repeated in reverse order:(E' D' C' B' A'). Of course it doesn't
need to be that many elements. I had a splendid example in a passage of
Homer's Odyssey I was reading with a couple students today:



                (description of Olympus follows over five lines), then:)


Here we have elements, in order: (a) "thus having spoken she", (b)
"away went Athena to Olympus", and then, on the other side of the
description of Olympus, (b') "thither went Athena", and (a') "when she
had spoken to the girl."

This is what's called "ring composition" as an epic device, and
chiasmus is a term used for the prose equivalent. BUT one should not
confound Chiasmus with a notion of central placement of the most
important idea in a Greek phrase; central position has no particular
importance in Greek word-order as such; more important are initial and
final positions, and initial position is rhetorically more important
than final position. All of which is a circuitous way of saying that
the supposed central position of ESTE in Eph 2:5 has in itself no
meaning whatsoever. The meaning of CARITI ESTE SESWiSMENOI has nothing
whatsover to do with word-order and everthing to do with grammar and


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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