[b-greek] Re: Negation

From: Iver Larsen (alice-iver_larsen@wycliffe.org)
Date: Wed Feb 14 2001 - 06:22:55 EST

Thanks, Jonathan, for your help.

> Stanley Porter (_Idioms of the Greek NT_) explains that a negative can
> negate either a whole clause (e.g. a verb) or a word. He says, "Clause
> negation often but not alway [sic] appears at the beginning of a clause
> or proximate to the verb" (p. 282).
> BDF (Section 433) says, "The negative stands as a rule before that which
> is to be negated." Below that it says, "The separation of the negative
> from the verb to which it belongs can be ambiguous"--and it lists Acts
> 7:48 and James 3:1 as two examples.
> Hope that helps,

I agree with Porter and I think this is a generally accepted position in modern
linguistics. (I would need to study in detail what else Porter might say about
it. It sounds like a good book to get hold of.) The BDF general statement is
fine, but the sentence about the negative "belonging" to the verb is incorrect,
according to the quote by Porter. The negative "belongs" to the word (or phrase
or even clause) it precedes and negates. And the comment about "ambiguous"
indicates the lack of understanding of word order displayed by BDF.

The Classical Greek scholar Friedrich Blass published his first NT Grammar in
1896. It appears that he was not much aware of the significance of Greek word
order. He had probably not encountered the book: Rotherham, Joseph. 1878, The
New Testament Critically Emphasized. I don't know whether Rotherham is the first
scholar to realise the significance of Greek word order, but his insights have
unfortunately been largely ignored until the last few decades.

Let us look briefly at Acts 7:48 and James 3:1 to see if it helps to look at the
word order.

"Solomon built him a house, but not the-most-high in a (house) made with hands

In the first clause, the fronted subject indicates that the topic is, first,
Solomon, secondly, building (a house), and lastly, a house for God. In the
second clause "the most-high" and "hand-made" are fronted before the verb and
therefore emphasised more than "dwelling." Assuming that OUC negates hO
hUYISTOS I understand it to contrast God with ordinary people. Yes, people dwell
in houses and the most-high God dwells somewhere, but not in a house, at least
not in the kind of house built by human hands. Whatever the ambiguity is that
BDF sees here, it must be a result of the wrong assumption that the negative
somehow "belongs" to the verb. (The German BD says here "es ist doch wohl nicht
gemeint, dass jemand anders darin wohnt" - "it surely cannot mean that another
person lives in it." Yes, that is not the point. It is not a matter of who lives
in the house, because the house is not in focus, but it is a matter of where the
Most-High lives. Stephen is indirectly attacking the Jewish leaders who had a
high regard for the physical Temple of Solomon as God's dwelling place, but
refused to believe in Jesus as the true, spiritual Temple where the Most-High
had shown himself to dwell.)

"Not many (of you-plur) should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we
(who are teachers) shall receive more severe judgment"
James considers himself a teacher and is aware of the strict judgment to be
applied to teachers in the Body of Christ. He is not saying that people should
not become teachers. He is saying that only a few (not many) should aspire to
that awesome office. Again, we can say that MH negates the whole clause, but
only if we somehow keep the Greek emphasis on the contrast between "many
(unqualified, not passing the judgment test) teachers" and "a few (qualified,
passing the test) teachers."
The Greek structure can be carried over into English as in NRSV: "Not many of
you should become teachers..."

But the Greek structure of Acts 7:48 cannot be carried over into English.
NRSV has done quite well by emphasising Solomon in the first clause and adding
the plural form of houses: "But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet
the Most High does not live in houses made with human hands." The word "yet"
contrasts with the emphatic "it was Solomon" and helps to give proper emphasis
to "Most High."

Iver Larsen

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