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

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Tue Jun 26 2001 - 07:21:28 EDT

At 10:21 AM +0200 6/26/01, Iver Larsen wrote:
>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
>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
>phrase meaning "a first census". However, the word PRWTH strongly suggests
>the census mentioned is being compared to another census which is not the
>If this was the case, the order should have been PRWTH APOGRAFH and the
>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
>the other one is ungrammatical.
>Because of the word order it is very unlikely that hH APOGRAFH PRWTH
>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
>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
>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
>instead of PRWTH EGENETO which supports the suggestion of PRWTH as a
>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
>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
>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?

You might want to look at Dan Wallace's discussion of the problems of this
text at http://www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/luke2-2.htm I do think that most
of the efforts to solve the problems of this text have been triggered by a
desire to resolve the anachronism between this datum and that of Lk 1:5.
Dan Wallace's note is (IMHO) remarkable in its resistance to tampering with
the text from that sort of a motive.

Personally, I agree that hAUTH hH APOGRAFH is most probably the original
form of the subject; I think, however, that PRWTH is adverbial with EGENETO
(and that the word-order PRWTH EGENETO is more probable) and that EGENETO
does here mean "occurred/took place" (= Latin FACTUS EST), and finally that
hHGEMONEUONTOS THS SURIAS KURHNIOU is a genitive absolute explaining PRWTH
EGENETO: "This census first took plac/was held when Quirinius was governor
of Syria."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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