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

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Thu Jun 28 2001 - 13:33:45 EDT

Allow me to make a few more comments. I am looking at the text not so much from
a historical or theological perspective as from a linguistic study of the Greek
language using some principles from modern discourse linguistics.

Carl wrote:
> I don't think we are going to resolve the problems of this verse to
> everyone's satisfaction or even eliminate all the problems; it may be that
> we simply don't have it in the formulation in which it was originally
> composed. Nevertheless when I say that I understand it to mean "This census
> first took place when Quirinius governed Syria" I mean that I think the
> hAUTH enters into play: Luke describes this census as a universal census of
> the Roman empire (I'm a little bit skeptical about that too, but again,
> it's beside the point); I'm understanding Luke to say that a universal
> census of the Roman empire first took place during the governorship of
> Quirinius in Syria--i.e. the year we refer to as 6 A.D. That's my view of
> this troublesome verse, and beyond that I really don't want to speculate.

We may not resolve the issue, but it is still of interest to me to see whether a
discourse analysis offers any help. I looked up Wallace's discussion but was not
satisfied, partly because he works from what I believe now is the wrong text.

First, of course, we should try to establish the original text and I think it is
beyond reasonable doubt that the original text included the definite article.
Carl accepted this, but to go into details about it would probably move us into
the TC-list domain.

So, the text we are looking at is:


This sentence consists of an NP functioning as subject, an adjective functioning
either as a predicate to the subject or as an adverb relative to the verb. The
final genitive participial clause/phrase is temporal.

I believe we need to distinguish carefully between the discourse function of
fronted phrases within the sentence structure and the discourse function of
fronted words within a phrase structure.

The fronting of the NP subject within the whole sentence is related to the
concept of topic and comment. Luke wants to make a comment about the topic of
this census under discussion. Even with the whole NP fronted before the verb,
there are two options concerning the order of words within the NP.

My thesis from a fairly thorough study of the demonstrative in NT Greek in
relation to constituent order in an NP is that hAUTH hH APOGRAFH indicates a
contrast between this census and some other census mentioned or implied in the
context. On the other hand, hH APOGRAFH hAUTH would be a back reference to an
already known census without any particular contrast intended.
This thesis can be tested with other similar occurrences of the demonstrative
occurring in NPs and if the thesis is wrong I am open to be corrected.

If this reasoning is correct so far, then a contrast is intended between this
census and some other census, not mentioned in the text. Rather it is implied
and therefore it would have to be part of the background knowledge of Theophilus
and Luke's contemporaries.

The next two words are PRWTH EGENETO. If the intended meaning was that this
census was the first under Quirinius, I would have expected something like hH
PRWTH HN. Normally, PRWTOS refers to the first or foremost in a series of two or
more comparable concepts. In the context of Luke 2:2 there is no other census
mentioned, but a temporal phrase pointing to the governorship of Quirinius
follows. In the context of Luke-Acts as a whole and the whole NT, we only hear
of one other census, the one which Luke refers to as "the census" in Acts 5:37.
The wording in Acts suggests that this census was very well known at the time
when Luke is writing even though it happened many years earlier. It further
suggests that the other census mentioned in Luke 2:2 was not well known.

Going back to sentence constituents the word PRWTH is fronted before the verb
making it somewhat important for Luke to tell us that this census was PRWTH some
other census. The confusing thing for us is that the other census is only
referred to indirectly by "when Quirinius was governor" instead of the more
elaborate "the census that happened when Quirinius was governor". My guess is
that Quirinius was simply known at the time as the man who oversaw the famous
census. He may not have been remembered for anything else so many years later.
The Quirinius census had serious implications for the Jewish nation.

Let me leave Luke 2:2 here and just look at two other references I noticed in a
footnote to Wallace's article, because they are of interest relative to the
position of the demonstrative and the feature definiteness.

My thesis is that if an NP consists of just a head noun and a demonstrative, the
definite article has to be present.

There are a few cases of more complex NPs which involve a head noun, a
demonstrative and what I call a strong quantifier (non-standard term.)

Acts 24:21 PERI MIAS TAUTHS FWNHS about this ONE statement

Here the word ONE is fronted within the NP indicating that although Paul is
claiming to be innocent, he is allowing the possibility of the accusers to focus
on ONE sentence, which did cause quite an uproar. I suspect that the presence of
the word ONE is the reason that the article is not needed. The word ONE is
relatively more prominent than THIS. I think there is still some prominence to
TAUTHS, since it could have come last as in PERI MIAS FWNHS TAUTHS. Or in
different words, "this" is relatively more prominent that "statement" but less
prominent than "one". Such degrees of prominence cannot be shown in English,
apart from using stress in spoken language.

Acts 1:5 OU META POLLAS TAUTAS hHMERAS after these not many days.
The most prominent part of the NP is POLLAS. Again, the demonstrative is not in
the most prominent position within the NP. Jesus has probably been talking about
these days of waiting before, since he says that he has repeatedly talked to his
disciples about the promised Holy Spirit. The focus in this context is that it
will happen very soon. The word "these" does not seem to carry a contrastive
sense, rather a reference to known information. In English it is difficult to
maintain the word. A free translation which may capture the intention of it
could be: "within these few days that you have heard me talk about earlier".
(From OT background, the Holy Spirit had to come on the festival of
Weeks/Pentecost. The giving of the Torah to Moses could only be matched by the
giving of the Holy Spirit to the believers. I am sure this is part of what Jesus
was teaching the disciples during the 40 days after the resurrection, but if
course I cannot prove that.)

"but even on top of all these (things/matters) this (day) (= today) is (the)
third day since these (things) happened"
Here it seems that we have an NP: TRITHN hHMERAN = third day and a substantive
use of the demonstrative TAUTHN with "day" implied. (The use of AGW is a bit
difficult, possibly: "time" has brought this (day) to be the third day).

None of these constitute examples that would cause me to abandon the thesis that
an NP consisting of a head noun plus the demonstrative requires the article in
Greek as long as we allow the occurrence of strong quantifiers like "one" and
"many" within the NP to make the presence of the article unnecessary.

All for now,
Iver Larsen

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