Re: Plenary Genitive

From: Jason Lee (
Date: Mon May 24 1999 - 04:36:30 EDT


I suspect this is one of the wonders of the Indo-European (IE) language
family. From Sanskrit to English, the so-called genitive case, in due
course, has picked up so many nuances in relational abstractions. At the
Koine Greek era, already various 'functionalities' had collapsed into the
same genitive construct; the same is true with English. Some IE languages
show this kind of ╬structural assimilation' more than others (e.g. Latin
retains the ablative forms, even if they often look like datives, whereas
Greek in the same era does not). Nonetheless, it is somewhat interesting to
see such a highly inflected language as Greek would absorb multiple
functions in singular forms, particularly the genitive, although language
morphology tends to simplify through time. Indeed, the resolution of
ambiguities resides primarily in the context, whether immediate or remote.
Often the big picture will arbitrate (e.g. I John 2:15 AGAPH TOU QEOU is
ambiguous in the immediate context as to whether it is the love from the
Father - subjective genitive - or the love for the Father - objective
genitive, but perhaps it is not so ambiguous to those who are acquainted
with the biblical gospel message as a whole). Herein requires not only the
knowledge of a grammarian, but much more the expertise of an exegete, which
no doubt came from learning of the letters and of the Spirit.

>From the translation point of view, the task is particularly interesting
(and sometimes challenging) when the target language does not admit such an
ambiguity due to the lack of a similar multi- purpose structure in its
syntax. For example, the Chinese Union Version (1911) of the Bible had to
translate AGAPH TOU QEOU in I John 2:15 as ╬the heart to love the Father,'
which resolved any ambiguity in the Greek phrase by itself. This kind of
amplification is often desirable or noted as a footnote when necessary. The
so-called appositional genitive can also be a potential problem in a non-IE
target language wherein such a structure does not exist. In John 2:21 TOU
NAOU TOU SOMATOS AUTOU, it is clear that SOMATOS is appositional to NAOU
and may be translated without using a functional or structural genitive,
and the paraphrase goes like: ╬referring to His body as the temple.' The
immediate context helps to resolve this genitive abstraction. In Gal. 3:14,
however, a bigger context, including the Pentateuch, is needed perhaps to
genitive in function, instead of the possessive. The English syntax can
mimic the Greek, being in the same language family. The translator of a
non-IE language will need to determine what it supposed to mean by being
familiar with the broader context of the Scriptures, and this can be
challenging as well as subjective.


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