[b-greek] RE: What OU negates in James 2:24.

From: Iver Larsen (alice-iver_larsen@wycliffe.org)
Date: Wed Feb 14 2001 - 06:22:49 EST

Thanks to Carl for your comments. This is getting rather long, so I'll just make
a couple of brief comments below while also deleted some of the oldest parts
> It's not all very uncommon that it ends a sentence negating an implied
> verb, for example, Mt 22:17 EIPE OUN hHMIN TI SOI DOKEI: EXESTIN DOUNAI
> KHNSON KAISARI H OU -- where the H OU must clearly represent H OUK EXESTIN?

I think one of the reasons we interpret the issue differently is that most of
the traditional Greek grammar apparently does not know what to make of word
order. In the sentence above the focus is on what is allowed and what is not
allowed. This is indicated by having that verb come first in the sentence. The
negative part of the sentence is understood from the first part so that only the
word OU is needed after the H. This passage is not similar to James 2:24.
> >However, Moon has given several examples from English of the need to look at
> >which part of the clause the negative governs.
> And I wonder whether some of the difficulty here doesn't derive from
> thinking in terms of English usage rather than Greek usage, or assuming
> that they must be identical.

I am not at all assuming that English and Greek are identical. English is much
more restricted in placement of the negative particle because the word order in
English is fairly fixed. However, it is a fact that EVEN in English it is
possible to place the negative word in different places and therefore we can
illustrate some of the Greek constructions by similar ones in English. Thanks to
Jonathan Boyd I can now cite that BDF (Section 433) says, "The negative stands
as a rule before that which is to be negated." (I only have the German edition
of BD, but BDF surely carries more weight than I do, and I am gratified that BDF
agrees with me.) The same general rule applies to English and is probably fairly
universal for languages that have a negative particle.

> I think that the contrast in the above instances is clearly indicated by
> the ALLA joining the second clause to the first (or should I say
> "disjoining"?

Yes, ALLA does indicate a strong contrast, but when it occurs it works in
harmony with and not in opposition to two other factors: word order and
placement of the negative. Contrast can be shown by other means than ALLA. ALLA
indicates contrast at clause level, whereas word order indicates contrast at
phrase or word level.

> >Matt 12:29 EAN MH PRWTON DHSHi TON ISCURON "if he does not first bind the
> >strong one"
> >
> >It is not binding or not binding that is contrasted, but what is done first.

In the English sentence above I happened to use a strange negative construction.
I hope people were able to process it. The first "not" governs "binding or not
binding" as a unit. Just an aside.

> >
> >"How could you not-understand that I spoke to you not-about-loaves (but about
> >something else)"
> I am more inclined to think that here too the OU governs the verb (or the
> whole clause) rather than the prepositional phrase, EIPON, rather than PERI
> ARTWN, and that the position of PERI ARTWN is governed by its emphasis.
> Ordinary English, by the way, would convert that Greek to "How is it that
> you didn't understand that I was not talking to you about loaves?"
It seems to me that you are using "ordinary English" to draw a questionable
conclusion. The nuances of Greek are often lost in ordinary English. That is why
I gave a very literal rendering that, admittedly, is not ordinary English. The
purpose was to show the emphasis of the Greek text. In the first part of the
sentence it is a question about understanding or not-understanding (OU negates
the verb), in the second it is not a question about speaking or not-speaking.
Jesus did speak, and the disciples did not understand. Why did they not
understand? They understood his words but they did not understand ABOUT WHAT he
was speaking. So, Jesus clarifies that he was speaking about a different kind of
"yeast", not the yeast-of-loaves.
It is correct that PERI ARTWN is emphasised by its fronted position. As long as
we keep that emphasis, I can accept that OU can be understood to govern the
whole proposition. If I use capitals to show emphasis, this can be indicated in
English by "I was not [talking to you ABOUT LOAVES]" where the brackets indicate
that "not" governs the whole clause, including the emphasis on loaves. The
problem with written English is that the emphasis indicated by stress is more or
less lost. That is why written English at times employs different means to
indicate emphasis. An alternative for the above that more accurately expresses
the Greek emphasis would then be: "How is it that you didn't understand that it
was not loaves I was talking to you about?" (You could argue that since "loaves"
in your translation above is ordered last and since that last position is the
position of emphasis in English, the emphasis on loaves is retained. I would be
willing to accept that, but the emphasis is less clear than in the Greek.)

> Here I would raise a question that has a bearing upon yesterday's question
> (at least it was first raised yesterday) about the negation in OUC
> hARPAGMON hHGHSATO; I'd say that the OUC here, although placed before the
> noun hARPAGMON, actually negates the verb hHGHSATO--although I might be
> willing to accept the view that it negates the whole clause.

I don't see a reason to go against the general rule of BDF, when that rule makes
perfect sense.
I would say that OUC negates hARPAHMON because it is placed before it --although
I might be willing to accept the view that it negates the whole clause. The last
compromise is because of the interplay between the placement of the negative and
the word order chosen. IMO, those two factors cannot be considered independently
of each other. The word order hARPAGMON hHGHSATO requires OUC to come before
hARPAGMON whereas the word order hGHSATO hARPAGMON requires OU to come before

> >There are, of course, lots and lots of examples like this, and it seems to
> >be an
> >almost universal fact of language, that negative particles can govern various
> >parts of a sentence. In Greek, the negative governs the word or phrase that
> >follows immediately after the negative (disregarding discourse
> connectors like
> >GAR, DE etc.) If it is the verb or verb phrase that is negated, this may
> >indicate a negation of the whole proposition.
> My guess is that this is too simple a formulation to account for actual
> usage of OU and MH in all instances. It may be that it's something worth
> studying afresh, although I find it hard to believe that it hasn't already
> been done.

As far as I can see it does account very well for the actual usage of OU and MH
in all instances. The fact that the rule is simple adds to its explanatory
power. And yes, I am sure this has been studied before, so I am grateful that
Jonathan has brought Porter and BDF alongside to support me. At least, I see
myself agreeing with both Porter and BDF as quoted.

Iver Larsen

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