Re: EN of the personal agent & 1 Cor 6:4

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Oct 09 1999 - 17:40:01 EDT

At 3:36 PM -0500 10/9/99, Steven Craig Miller wrote:
>To: Clayton Stirling Bartholomew,
><< I know this is an old topic but I keep hearing this mystical talk as if
>the EN + Dative meant this or that and it gets me going again. >>
>I don't know what you mean by "gets me going again," I hope this doesn't
>constitute a personal problem, and if it does, I hope you seek the
>appropriate professional help. As for "hearing this mystical talk," I'm at
>a loss to know to what your refer. I haven't seen any messages posted on
>this subject which contained any "mystical talk." Perhaps some, perhaps
>even myself, have poorly conceived some grammatical point concerning the
>Greek language, but I wouldn't refer to such as "mystical talk," it is
>merely someone's (perhaps even my own) attempt to come to grasp with the
>Greek language.

Newcomers to B-Greek must become inured to Clay's style of argumentation.
As one who has been around on B-Greek for several years now, I'm not sure
that I am quite yet inured to it. I hope I may say this without giving
offense to Clay (and I really think that I can; he's a pretty tough
fellow), but much of what he does quite regularly is fulminate against
grammatical "theories," hypotheses, even my own "gut-feelings" about the
syntax of certain combinations in any particular context. It is not as if
Clay had a theory of grammar of his own; it is more as if his understanding
of the Eden story is that humanity has been condemned to grammatical
confusion by some primal ingestion of the fruit of the tree of grammatical
lore (perhaps it would be better to speak of the Babel story?), and his
preferred exegesis of TOTE DE EPIGNWSOMAI KAQWS EPEGNWSQHN is, "Then will
the mysteries of Greek linguistic arcana at last be made known to me." In
this present evil age he will prophesy against, yea, verily denounce
grammatical notions that seem to him nonsensical. Some will find that to be
the voice of one crying in the wilderness and will not be so sure whether
he heralds anything on the horizon or not.

And perhaps there is some justification. It does help, I think, to be
reminded that even in the matter of Greek grammar we "see through a glass
darkly," even if we think we see the light. I myself have had occasion to
decry the readiness of present-day grammarians to invent new grammatical
categories and to urge that we not imagine that our analytical categories
of "subjective" and "objective" genitive or of temporal, causal,
conditional, or concessive types of circumstantial participles had any
bearing on the mind of Paul while he wrote the first letter to the
Corinthians. These are the ways in which we divvy up the instances of
genitives dependent on verbal nouns or adverbial participles in terms of
the more frequent patterns of usage we observe: our grammar describes
usage, usually in terms that we need to convey the sense of the Greek into
our preferred target language; that is to say, our grammars tend to be
keyed to the structures in our target language as much as or more than to
the real structures of the original language.

>I've been reading Greek for over fifteen years, but I would be the first to
>admit that there are many finer points which I don't understand. If EN +
>the dative be one of them, I would be more than happy to have my ignorance
>properly corrected. Unfortunately, I found very little in your message
>which personally helped me to a better understanding of the Greek language.
>Perhaps you could discuss specific examples, that might help me understand
>the point you were trying to make.

I've been reading Greek for close to fifty years, and there's far more
about Greek that I DON'T understand than there is that I DO. I depend, when
I read Greek, upon the accumulated lore of more than two millennia of Greek
speakers and thinkers and the painstaking efforts of grammarians and
lexicographers who have helped us all to make sense of the crafted speech
and writings of those who thought in Greek. I have myself tried to
summarize in writing some of the ideas I have about how Greek works, but I
certainly don't deem it a science.

As for EN + Dative, I'd simply say that more instances (by far) of it are
used in a context indicating locative usage than any other. At some point,
perhaps helped along by the influence of translators of Hebrew into Greek
who found EN + Dative a pretty handy construction to convey Hebrew
prepositional phrases using BE, EN + Dative came to have in Hellenistic
Greek not infrequently an instrumental sense which in older Greek generally
didn't need a preposition at all to express means or instrumentality.
Generally, as has been noted PERSONAL agency with a passive verb normally
takes hUPO + Genitive--and yet we have a Dative of Agent not uncommonly
with Perfect Passive verbs and occasionally even with present passives;
probably these datives are essentially the same usage as Dative of
Possession: EMOI TAUTA PEPRAKTAI = "The accomplishment of these things
belongs to me." Now, the question is whether we ever have EN + Dative with
a passive verb to express personal agent, or should we see an instrumental
usage as in some instances almost indistinguishable from personal agency? I
would agree that one could form a little list of questionable instances of
EN + Dative where we might argue personal agency, but I really wonder
whether there are enough of them to constitute a distinct and discernible
grammatical function of EN + Dative. I think that what I'd prefer to say is
that sometimes there's just no clear distinction drawn between kinds of
what Aristotle would call "efficient causes."

>The example which began this discussion is 1 Corinthians 6:4, which the
>NRSV translates as follows:
><< If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who
>have no standing in the church? >>
>The question that was asked was whether EN THi EKKLHSIAi might mean "by the
>church" as opposed to meaning "in the church." My answer was that EN plus
>the dative is not normally used to express agency. What do you think?

And I would agree; I'd be disinclined to think that EXOUQENHMENAS EN THi
EKKLHSIAi clearly and distinctly means that the congregation is the agent
of EXOUQENHSIS, or even if it is, it looks to me like the focus of EN THi
EKKLHSIAi is more WHERE the EXOUQENHSIS is efficacious, even if the
congregation is responsible for status-reduction/elimination referred to by
the participle.

At any rate, if you go very far at splitting grammatical hairs and
declaring that a new constellation of lexical elements has been spied
somewhere in the far reaches of the Greek-speaking universe and if you
assert, in language tantamount, even if not quite so colorful, "Behold, I
show you a mystery ...," you can surely expect that Clay will cry foul. Is
that being unfair, Clay?

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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