[b-greek] The text of Luke 2:2 and word order

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Tue Jun 26 2001 - 04:21:42 EDT

This text has been discussed many times, but the other day I came to realize
that I have been focusing on the wrong Greek text.

In the GNT and Nestle-Aland the text reads


This text I now consider ungrammatical and unlikely to be original for the
following reasons:

1) hAUTH APOGRAFH cannot be a noun phrase with a demonstrative modifying a head
noun. The reason is that if this was a noun phrase meaning "first census" it
would have to be hAUTH hH APOGRAFH. As far as I know it is unacceptable Greek
without the article, since hOUTOS requires the article when it modifies a noun
as part of a noun phrase. The definite article is obligatorily present in Greek
because hOUTOS is inherently +definite.

2) if hAUTH is a noun phrase by itself with the demonstrative being used
substantively meaning "this one" then I would consider APOGRAFH PRWTH as a noun
phrase meaning "a first census". However, the word PRWTH strongly suggests that
the census mentioned is being compared to another census which is not the first.
If this was the case, the order should have been PRWTH APOGRAFH and the absence
of the article is curious.

However, when I checked the variant readings, sure enough, the majority of
manuscripts, including the second corrected version of Sinaiticus, include the
article and read:


There is little doubt in my mind that this is the original text, mainly because
the other one is ungrammatical.

Because of the word order it is very unlikely that hH APOGRAFH PRWTH constitutes
a noun phrase, because if so, the order would have been hH PRWTH APOGRAFH.
Furthermore, I would have expected hH APOGRAFH hH PRWTH if PRWTH were to follow
its head noun. (Similar to hH FWNH hH PRWTH - the first sound I heard - in Rev
4:1). The unmarked (or most common) order for a somewhat emphatic and
contrastive word like PRWTOS is to come before the noun it modifies. (Normally
an adjective follows its head in Greek, but the lexical weight of a few
adjectives cause them to normally precede their head. This is a direct corollary
of the basic word order principle in Greek: most important things come first.)
There are a few cases where the noun precedes PRWTOS to show that the idea
contained in the noun is more important than the fact that it is the first.
(Apart from Rev 4:1 above, there is another example in Rev 20:5-6: hAUTH hH
PRWTHi - This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has
part in the first resurrection. The focus in the context is whether one takes
part in the resurrection or not. Whether it is the first or not the first is a
relatively unimportant issue. In fact, Rev does not use the word ANASTASIS for a
second resurrection, but it talks about the dead coming before the judgment.
First resurrection is not compared to a second resurrection, bit to the second

Therefore, I take hAUTH hH APOGRAFH as a noun phrase meaning "THIS census" in
contrast to some other census. If there was no contrast, but simply a back
reference to a census which was known by the reader to be the first, it would
have been hH APOGRAFH hAUTH.

This leaves PRWTH as a predicate, giving some added description of THIS census
as opposed to another census. The original hand of Sinaiticus has EGENETO PRWTH
instead of PRWTH EGENETO which supports the suggestion of PRWTH as a substantive
use of an adjective as an NP.

The word PRWTH with a following genitive can according to BAGD point 1 a under
PRWTOS be used with a "genitive of comparison" as in PRWTOS MOU HN "he was
earlier than I=before me" John 1:15,30. Although BAGD does not list Luke 2:2
under this possibility, it seems to me that this is certainly a viable option
for Luke 2:2. The following rendering is a literal translation with some implied
information in parentheses. It also helps me to understand why the text has
EGENETO "it happened" rather than just HN "it was".

THIS census (that I just talked about and which is not well known) happened
before/prior to when Kurenios was governing Syria (he who is famous for
overseeing the other census in 6 AD that everybody knows about because it caused
a great rebellion).

This other, famous census is simply referred to in Acts 5:37 as "the census" (in
the days of the census.)

Any comments?

Iver Larsen

Iver Larsen

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