Case revisted

From: Jay Adkins (
Date: Tue Nov 09 1999 - 10:40:16 EST

I am trying to help a friend learn 1st year Greek. He is entering Seminary
in late January, but is expected to have his 1st year of Greek prior to
admission. I can only hope I am of more help then harm. This is most
likely too far off topic to be answered on the list, but I would really
appreciate any response to the following outline. I know there is debate
that may in part by some be derived from a certain hermeneutical base and
is why I am asking for off list replies. I am sure some will disagree with
my conclusion, what I am wondering if there are any who would agree?

1. Case is determined in two different ways.
        a. Some say it is a matter of form & we therefore have 5 cases in the
        b. Some say it is a matter of function & we therefore have 8 cases in the
                i. While most scholars today will select the former as being true. There
is no lack of those who prefer the latter either. I do not. I chose, once
again, none of the above.
                ii. Case is important, according to David Black says that, "About 60% of
all words in the NT use case endings." It's Still Greek to Me, page 45.
(57.79% according to Wallace, page 31)
                iii. The chart below shows the two different case systems:

Nominative Nominative
Genitive Genitive
Dative Dative
Accusative Accusative
Vocative Vocative

     c. The newer 8 case system is based upon cases found in other
primitive Indo-European languages, particularly Sanskrit. "When Greek
cases were studied in the light of these eight Sanskrit cases, it was
discovered that the same general distinctions prevailed. This sound method
of comparative philology has brought the twentieth century Greek grammarian
to recognize that there are eight cases in Greek instead of five. In
addition to the process of comparative investigation, this conclusion is
also based upon the very obvious fact that case is a matter of function
rather than form.... In the simplest typical sentence the noun is the
subject, and therefore, in the nominative case. It is absurd to think of
turning this statement around, and saying that the noun is in the
nominative case, and, therefore, the subject." Dana & Mantey, page 65-67.
               (1) An Example I found:
                    Paul Slave of Christ of Jesus
Both Paul and slave are in the nominative form, but both are not the

     d. Wallace says, "an appeal to an earlier usage.... may have little
or no relevance to the present.... Further, the appeal to such older
languages as Sanskrit is on the basis of forms, while the application to
Greek is in terms of function. We have few, if any, proto-Greek or early
Greek remains that would suggest more than five forms. Second, the "very
obvious fact" that case is a matter of function rather than form is not as
obvious to others as it is to eight-case proponents. And it is not carried
out far enough. If case is truly a matter of function only, then there
should be over one hundred cases in Greek. The genitive alone has dozens
of functions" (page 33-34).

     e. Practicality speaking (IMHO), case is not primarily a matter of
mere form or mere function. Function can't be determined by form alone as
our example above in 1. C. 1. I think proves that. Yet, Wallace is
absolutely correct when he suggests if case is a matter of function alone,
8 is not enough. What I think is often overlooked is that grammar does not
determine what language means. Grammar looks at what is already there and
tries to formulate rules that explain what has or is occurring. These
rules do not govern the language, they are an attempt to explain it.
          i. Lets look at some English examples:
               (1) Bake me a cake.
               (2) He likes to bake.
               (3) Why don't you just dog the guy until the job is done?
               (4) That is one big dog.
          ii. Language, rather English or Greek, uses the same terms in
the same forms to perform different syntactical functions in different

     f. Either the 5 or 8 case systems would appear to me to have its
strengths and weaknesses. The real strength of the 8 case system is in its
pedagogical value, which even Wallace agrees. Although it in no way covers
all the functions of any given form, it at least gives the beginning
student the concept that context is needed to determine function. While
there are certainly more than three functions of the dative, most
proponents of the five case system use dative, locative and instrumental as
major subheadings, by the means of redefining (pure dative uses, local
datives uses, and instrumental datives uses).
Sola Graita,
Always Under Grace!

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