[b-greek] Re: One subject, two or More verbs

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Thu Sep 21 2000 - 08:58:15 EDT

At 2:37 PM +0300 9/21/00, Tom Belt wrote:
>Hi all-
>This is plaintext with no encoding! Let's cross our fingers.
>Re: Acts 19.6: ELALOUN TE GLWSSAIS KAI EPROFHTEUON ("They spoke with tongues
>and prophesied") [and similarly 10:46: LALOUNTWN GLWSSAIS KAI MEGALUNONTWN
>QEON ("...speaking in tongues and extolling God")].
>Somebody clue me in here. One subject ("they"), but two verbs (ELALOUN and
>EPROFHTEUON in the case of 19.6). How am I to understand what "they" did?
>Did each of them both "speak in tongues" and "prophesy"? Did some "speak
>with tongues" and some "prophesy"? Since one may represent a group (as in
>"The Pharisees asked Jesus..." being understood as "one" asking on behalf of
>the rest), may we possibly understand this as meaning only some of those
>present either spoke in tongues or prophesied (or both), while some did
>nothing? Lastly, on a somewhat different note, what grammar is appealed to
>in claiming that "spoke in tongues and prophesied" refer to one and the same
>The whole question revolves around the relationship between a plural subject
>("they") and a string of consecutive verbs connected by KAI. Are we
>understand that each of those referred to in the subject performed each verb
>in the string? Or was the whole involved in a distributive sense (i.e. a
>percentage of them spoke in tongues while the rest prophesied)?

It is of course true that, in Greek as in many languages with verb
inflection, a pronoun or substantival subject is not required and will only
be stated if the speaker/writer deems it important for the hearer/reader to
know who the subject of the verb is; esp. in the NT it is not at all

uncommon for the subject to be omitted; one of my favorite little bits of
vagueness achieved by omission of a subject is Mark 2:3 KAI ERCONTAI
that AUTON refers to Jesus, but I've never been fully clear in my mind
whether the ones who "come bringing a paralytic to him" are different from
"the four" persons "by whom the paralytic is carried." Perhaps the four are
slaves or servants and it is their master(s) who are bringing the paralytic
to Jesus. But quite frankly, I think it's just as easy to suppose that the
"bringers" and the four "carriers" are identical. The only thing at all
that is certain is that my question is irrelevant; if the narrator felt it
was at all important he would have written it more clearly, but as it is,
the only detail that's important for the reader is that the paralytic is
sufficiently powerless and large or heavy that it requires four persons to
carry him in his litter, which is to say, he really WAS helpless.

So with Acts 19:6 and 10:46, the author (presumably Luke) doesn't deem it
important to indicate who is doing what; nevertheless, I think that if it
had been his intent to specify that all were not involved, I believe we
would have had something more like what we get in the clear distributive
phrasing in Mark 12:5 (Parable of the Vineyard) KAI ALLON APESTEILEN:
APOKTEINONTES. So above, if [Luke} had meant us to understand distribution
of the subjects, I think we would have something like ELALOUN hOI MEN
MEGALUNONTWN QEON. As the text stands, however, I think the assumption
ought to be that in both passages the two verbs refer to a common plural
subject. I think, in fact, that the linkage of the verbs in 19:6 by TE ...
KAI makes it impossible to conceive that different subjects of the two
verbs are intended to be understood.

In sum, (1) it's not really important to the narrator to clarify who it was
that did which particular thing; (2) it makes most sense to understand the
same subject with both verbs, because (3) there are standard patterns for
specifying distribution of roles when different people are doing different
things, even if those subjects are nameless.


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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