Re: Hebrews 11:1

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun May 09 1999 - 08:12:33 EDT

My thanks to George for "making work for me" (see below, s.v. PRAGMATA
PARECEIN TINI) and so forcing me to examine ever more closely the syntactic
structure of Hebrews 11:1. The last time I looked at this verse was several
years ago when assisting a friend preparing her ordination sermon, and I
don't think I got nearly so deeply into the "guts" of this sentence back

At 2:37 PM -0700 5/8/99, George Blaisdell wrote:
>>From: "Carl W. Conrad"
>>I really think that PRAGMATWN depends upon the predicate nominatives found
>>on either side (hUPOSTASIS and ELEGCOS), and then the passive participles,
>>one of them negated, both qualify PRAGMATWN.
>Of course they do! The question I am addressing has to do with the word
>order and its implications for translation, not the grammar per se.
>>But I think it is fundamentally wrong and misleading to take PRAGMATWN
>>directly with PISTIS;
>Grammatically, I agree joyfully ~ The issue here is the import of the center
>of the 'ring', where the ring itself is seen as the 'predicate nominative'
>of PISTIS. Is the center of that ring the center of the meaning? I want to
>think so...

George, I can see that you WANT to think so. What I CAN'T see is why you
should want to translate in a way that makes the most of word-order but
allows the word-order to override the syntax. Because that, it seems to me,
is what you do in these lines from your earlier post:

>If yes, then the definition centers on and turns around [c], PRAGMATWN,
>which itself affixes to both parallels, so that the primary sentence becomes
>ESTIN DE PISTIS PRAGMATWN by chiastic emphasis, and the predicate
>nominatives are themselves modifiers of PRAGMATWN. This feature makes
>"things" as its gloss woefully inadequate, utterly losing the central and
>'pragmatic' emphasis so clearly indicated by the centrality and bifurcation
>of the term.

And this is precisely what troubled me: you want to link PRAGMATWN to
PISTIS before bringing in the predicate nominates which must link to PISTIS
before PRAGMATWN can come into play. You are so beguiled by the central
position of PRAGMAATWN in the group (participle/predicate
nominative/genitive noun dependent on the predicate nominative/second
predicate nominative/second {negated} participle) that you want to see it
as the key word in the whole 5-expression group and thereby make it the
primary word linked to PISTIS. But there is a simpler explanation, I think,
for the position of PRAGMATWN between the two predicate nominatives, and
that is that it is dependent upon BOTH predicate nominatives, which is why,
in those versions you are disparaging (KJV, RSV), the word gets translated
twice, once with each predicate nominative:

"Now faith is the substance of THINGS hoped for, the evidence of THINGS not
seen." While I don't much like "things" for PRAGMATA in these versions
(because what the believer hopes for but does not see is hardly so neutral
as just any kind of "thing"--and it also seems to me that actions and
events: what God will do--is really the focus of PRAGMATA here.

Note too the punctuation in 11:1: While I don't have NA27 with me here in
the mountains, I do have USB4 and it marks the text with a comma after
hUPOSTASIS; so far as I can see, nobody has suggested that it should come
instead after PRAGMATWN, and yet that seems to me at least as reasonable
because I think that PRAGMATWN does indeed belong with both predicate
nominatives--ALTHOUGH, if one is going to use "of things" in each instance,
then conceivably the genitive plural ELPIZOMENWN might conceivably be
understood as a neuter plural substantive rather than dependent on
PRAGMATWN. My own preference would be to group PRAGMATWN with ELIPIZOMENWN
hUPOSTASIS directly and then understand it as implicitly repeated to
construe with the second predicate nominative and participle in the normal
fashion of Greek elliptical expression.

At any rate, I think there IS a reason for the central placement of
PRAGMATWN in the five-expression phrase: NOT the highlighting of the word
PRAGMATA but RATHER the positioning of the genitive-plural expression
centrally between the two predicative nominatives with which it must be
construed. As I've argued before, I believe that the more important
positions in a Greek clause are beginning and end of the clause rather than
its center.

>The point of this passage, on this approach, is that "Faith is of practical
>actions..." ~ It is above all pragmatic [which is utterly missed in the RSV
>and I believe all other renditions]. And this pragmatism works out in two
>directions, forming the two predicate nominatives, each with its associated
>participle, first one, then the other. Which gives rise in my understanding
>to the question "Why first this one, then this other one? Would there be a
>different understanding conveyed if that order were reversed?" Hence my
>lingering question about implied causlality. [Is there any?]

Perhaps something more needs to be said about the way you are picking up
this PRAGMATWN and running (away) with it. One thing I think you are doing
is stretching the meaning of the word PRAGMATA to link it by associations
to the distinctive usage associated with the modern American Pragmatist
philosophy of William James et al. The referent of PRAGMATA here must, I
think, be the events of the end-time as God works out his will to
consummation: that is what is hoped for but not seen, as the participles
agreeing with PRAGMATWN, ELPIZOMENWN and OU BLEPOMENWN, state. I will grant
that PRAGMA, particularly in the plural, PRAGMATA, has a range of senses in
ancient Greek but all are pretty clearly related to the verb PRATTW from
which this object-noun in -MA derives, and in every instance PRAGMATA means
"things done/actions accomplished" or "things to be done/actions to be
accomplished." One of the more common Attic usages is in a sort of
colloquial idiom PRAGMATA PARECEIN TINI, the nearest American colloquial
English for which would be "make work for someone." The phrase normally
means, "be a busybody," "be a nuisance." But the PRAGMATA referred to in
the genitive plural PRAGMATWN in Heb 11:1 has reference to what God will
do, not to what believers do.

>>I think it's intolerable that PRAGMATWN should be construed as objective
>>genitive to a
>>noun farther removed from either of those immediately adjacent to it.
>Well, I certainly have no tolerance for it! :-) d'accord!

Then I must have misunderstood you entirely, George--I certainly had the
impression that you wanted to translate the clause, owing to what you saw
as the emphasis, something like "Faith is of actions ..." and then go on to
bring in the predicate nominatives and the participles separately. Finally,
let me suggest my own endeavaor to preserve the grammar and the 'chiastic'
word order of Heb 11:1. This is all the more 'chiaastic' because I present
the translation of PRAGMATWN a second time, so that the structure of

"This is faith: when we hope, it is our assurance of the events we hope for
and of those events it is our touchstone although we do not see them."

Without the repetition of the translation of PRAGMATWN, it becomes:

"Here is faith: when we hope, our assurance of the events we hope for and
our touchstone, although we do not see them."

Admittedly this is a paraphrase rather than a literal translation, because
one must insert the links that the target language requires if one is to
keep items in the order in which they appear in the original language.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243

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