Re: Distinguishing Genitive from Ablative

From: George Goolde (
Date: Wed Feb 09 2000 - 17:19:52 EST

<x-flowed>Christian wrote:

>Apologies in advance if this question is too simple. This is my first
>post, and while I had several years of greek in college, that was 9 years
>ago and I'm quite rusty. I'm currently working on rectifying this
>situation by working through my old grammars. If my questions are beneath
>the level of this list, please feel free to redirect me to a more
>appropriate forum.
>My specific question is this: How does one distinguish between ablative
>and genitive forms? I know that in some cases it's obvious based on the
>context. But in other's it seems like it's harder to tell. For instance:

There is absolutely no difference between ablative and genitive *forms.*
What is different is the usage. The root idea of genitive uses is
description. The root idea of ablative uses is separation.

Some scholars on this list would not divide these into two categories of
uses but would prefer to make a list of the many uses of the
genitive/ablative form. I do see usefulness in having two categories,
genitive and ablative, with their respective root meanings as I have stated

Whether you regard the two categories or not, the form is the same.

>It seems to me this could be taken several ways:
>1. The teacher sends the servants from the house to the river (abl)
>2. The teacher sends the servants of the house to the river (gen)
>In other words, if I specifically wanted to convey the idea that these
>were "household servants" being sent to the river, how would I do so?

Christian, there are not different grammatical ways to indicate the various
kinds or uses of the genitive. One of the things that makes interpretation
both interesting and difficult is discovering (not determining!) what the
author intended. This is best done by understanding context. The concept
"household servants" means that your intended use would be what we call a
descriptive genitive. But that genitive would not look any different from
any other genitive. I, as a reader, would need to ask the question "What
did Christian mean here?"

That is the basic question we ask as we interpret the Bible text. And
Greek scholars do not always come up with the same answer!

Hope this helps. Your question is an important one that is most appropriate.


George A. Goolde
Professor, Bible and Theology
Southern California Bible College & Seminary
El Cajon, California

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