This chapter is all about little words like "the", "is", and "this". You might think that this chapter is less important than the others, but the material presented here is fairly crucial to understanding how Greek thinks. You will learn that the article in Greek functions quite differently from the article in English, and that the verb "to be" is also used somewhat differently. A precise understanding of these little words, which occur quite frequently, will help dramatically in your reading skills.
The Greek verb eimimeans "to be", and like the English word "to be", it is one of the most common words in the language. In an earlier chapter, we showed that both English and Greek words can take different forms depending on who we are talking about, e.g."he is", "you are", "I am". In the chapter on verbs, we also introduced terms like "first person singular", which means "I", and "first person plural", which means "we".
In previous chapters on verbs, we have discussed subjects and objects. The verb eimi does not have an object, it has a predicate. Compare these sentences:
The verb "hit" takes an object; it tells you who the boy hit. The verb "is", like the Greek eimi , has a predicate, which tells you something that is "predicated" about the boy. The predicate makes statements about the boy himself.
Predicates are nominative, just like subjects. Case does not distinguish the subject from the predicate. In general, the article is used to distinguish them: the subject has the article, and the predicate does not. This is discussed in more depth later in this chapter, in the section on the use of the article.
The following table shows the present tense forms of eimi, the English equivalents, and the grammatical terms used to describe them:
Note:in this course, we have not yet said much about accents, but the accent on eiis very important, because it is the only thing that distinguishes it from the word that means "if". Consider the following sentence:
These are two different words, and both are quite common. The word that means "if" does not take an accent.
Let's practice these forms with the gizmo:
And now let's practice it the other way around, translating from English into Greek:
Now let's practice these forms using some examples. Supply the missing Greek word:
Translation: "if you are the son of God". In English, it is unusual to say "the son you are" rather than "you are the son", but this is quite common in Greek. Word order frequently needs to be changed when translating.
Translation: "Lord, I am not worthy".
To English speakers, the verb eimioften seems to be missing. Consider the following phrase:
This is translated "That Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father". However, there is no word in Greek that corresponds to the English word "is". The verb eimiis often implied in Greek. In general, if a phrase seems to be missing a verb, try inserting a form of eimi.
In the last chapter, we learned how to decline the Greek article:
Since learning the declension of articles and nouns is a lot of work, I decided not to go into detail on the meaning of the article in that chapter. However, since the article accounts for 14% of the words in the Greek New Testament, and conveys a great deal of meaning, it is worth spending some time now learning precisely how it is used and how it is to be interpreted - especially since the Greek article is quite different from the English articles. Careful attention to the material in this chapter is important for a good understanding of the Greek language.
As you work your way through this section, you may be surprised that a little word like the article commands so much attention. The Greek article is very subtle, and difficult to grasp. As a matter of fact, the Little Greek still hasn't grasped some uses of the article. However, a good understanding of the basic uses of the article will dramatically improve your ability to read Greek.
The Greek article corresponds roughly to the English word "the". A better way to understand the use of the Greek article, though, is to think of it as equivalent to the gesture of pointing to something. Pointing to something distinguishes it from anything else; in grammatical terms, it makes the thing you point to "definite". In English, "the" is called the "definite article" because it also makes the thing it points to "definite", and the Greek article is often best translated with "the", as in these examples:
Oops, one of these examples doesn't work that way. In English, we do not say "the God", we say God, but Greek often uses the article when referring to God, Jesus, or particular people. If you think of a finger pointing to God when you see the phrase o logoV, that will help you appreciate a shade of meaning that can not easily be translated into English. For instance, consider this example from John 1:1b, which we saw in the first lesson:
In English, "God" is already definite without the definite article, and we would not say "and the word was with the God". If we did, we would be implying that there is more than one God, which the Greek does not imply. The original Greek can best be appreciated by imagining a few gestures:
"and (finger points to) the word was with (finger points to) God".
We have already mentioned that the English word "the" is the definite article. English also has an indefinite article, "a", but Greek does not have an indefinite article. The Greek article is always definite, and it should not be translated with the indefinite article "a". In the above example, it would be quite wrong to translate "a word was with God" or "the word was with a God".
If a noun with an article is always definite, you might think that a noun without an article is always indefinite. This is not true. Some beginners try to write "a" in front of any noun that does not have the article, and this probably works in the majority of cases, but is drastically wrong in others. Here are some guidelines you should learn:
If a noun is clearly definite in the given context, Greek often omits the article, and in these cases the translation will generally use the word "the". We saw one example of this in John 1:1:
This does not mean "in abeginning was the Word", it means "in the beginning was the Word". The writer did not feel the need to use the article, because he felt it was sufficiently clear that there was only one beginning. Of course, if we knew that a particular writer believed that there were many beginnings, then we would be justified in translating this as "a" beginning. The grammar does not clear up every possible misunderstanding unambiguously; if there were doubt about John's beliefs here, it might be necessary to read more of John's writings to learn his views.
The article may be present or absent for abstract nouns like "love", "joy", "peace", etc., but the absence of the article for these nouns does not cause difficulty for the English speaker, because English behaves the same way. However, when Greek uses the article with abstract nouns, the English speaker may stumble. Consider this example from Revelation:
In English, we would say "blessing and honor and glory and power", not "the blessing and the honor and the glory and the power".
In Greek, the article is often absent in order to distinguish the subject of a sentence from the predicate. This deserves a full explanation, and is discussed in the next section.
At the start of this course, we read John 1:1, which contains the following phrase:
The subject normally has the article; the predicate does not. In Greek, as in English, both the subject and the predicate are nominative, so the cases do not distinguish subject from predicate. Instead, the article is used to identify the subject: the noun with the article is the subject, the noun without the article is the predicate. In English, the subject comes before the predicate, so when we translate this we must change the word order:
And the Word was God.
Note that "the Word was God" does not mean the same thing as "God was the Word", so it is important to correctly identify the subject before translating. In the following verse, "God" has the definite article. You should be able to supply the missing words, remembering that they occur in the nominative case:
This means "for God is light", not "for light is God". Make sure you can answer these questions: What is the subject of this sentence? What is the predicate? What grammatical feature is used to mark the subject and distinguish it from the predicate?
If both the subject and the predicate have the article, then they are equivalent and interchangable.
In this verse, the Greek states that "the eye" is "the light of the body", and also that and "the light of the body" is "the eye". Either "light of the body" or "eye" may be the subject of this sentence, and either may function as the predicate.
Consider the following examples - can you explain the
translation for each Greek phrase?
A substantive is a word or phrase that acts like a noun and has a meaning like that of a noun. In Greek, the article is able to transform just about any part of speech into a substantive. This is also possible in some phrases in English; e.g. "good" and "best" are both adjectives, used to describe nouns in phrases like "the good girl" or "the best sandwich"; however, in the proverb "the good is the enemy of the best", both "good" and "best" are transformed into nouns by the use of the article. Luke 6:45 is a good example of this in Greek. In English, the verse reads:
Luke 6:45 "The good person, from the good treasure of the heart, brings out the good (i.e. that which is good)"
In the first phrase, "the good person", the word used for good is the adjective agaqoV:
In the last phrase, "brings out the good", the article is added to the same adjective to make it a substantive:
The substantive-forming powers of the article are easiest to understand with adjectives, but in Greek, just about any word or phrase can be changed into a substantive. For instance, the phrase ek nomoumeans "of law"; in Romans 4:14, an article is added to this to form a substantive that means "those who are of law", those who base their lives on law rather than grace:
In Matthew 5:15, the phrase en th oikiameans "in the house"; by adding the article, this becomes toiV en th oikia, "the (plural) in the house", or "those in the house":
The substantive-making powers of the article also apply to verbs, as in this verse:
This means "everyone who looks at a woman". In context, it means "anyone who looks at a woman in order to lust after her," and applies only to those who look with that purpose in mind. Note how the verb blepw, "to see", becomes a noun, "one who sees" or "one who looks at". This is very common in New Testament Greek, and is often used for phrases like "the one who hears", "the one who asks", etc. When verbs are used this way, they take on special forms which will be discussed much later in this grammar (participles and verbal nouns). For now, don't be surprised when an article turns a verb into something that looks and acts a lot like a noun.
men ...deis often used to contrast different conditions. A good way to understand this construction is to think of a set of conditions laid out in front of the speaker, with the first condition marked by menand each of the others marked by de:
In this case, men ...deis not directly translated, except perhaps with a semicolon: "for they killed them; you build their tombs." Some beginning grammars suggest that men ...debe translated "on the one hand"..."on the other hand", but this is generally a bad translation.
By adding the article to men ...de, the two words are transformed into substantives - "the one...the other". For instance, in this verse, Jesus describes the different yields that may come when seed is planted:
One way to understand the force of the article in this sentence is to think of Jesus pointing to the different yields he envisions, laid out in front of him in his mind as he speaks, first pointing to the one that yields 100, then to the one that yields 60, the the one that yields 30.
The Greek article is often used together with deto make a construction that is similar to a pronoun. For instance, this is a common way to say "but he said", "but they said", or "but she said":
Translation: "but he said to them". The word de, which often means "but", can never be placed at the start of a phrase in Greek - it is always the second word in Greek, but is usually the first word in an English translation.
Although this looks a little like the men ...deconstruction we discussed in the previous session, it is actually completely unrelated. In the previous section, the article was used to make men and deinto nominatives; here, the article is used as a pronoun, pointing back to the person mentioned in the previous verse, and making that person the subject of the current verse. Knowing this idiom can be very helpful when trying to figure out who is talking to whom - the word deindicates that the subject of the sentence is different from the subject of the previous sentence; in many cases, it indicates that the speaker has changed:
Translation: "How much do you owe my master? He said: one hundred measures of oil. He said to him: take your bills, sit down quickly, and write fifty". The first speaker, the servant, asks the second how much he owes his master; in the next sentence, o deindicates a new speaker, so it is the second speaker, the debtor, who says "one hundred measures of oil". The next sentence starts witho de, so the speaker has changed once more, and it is the first speaker, the servant, who tells the debtor to sit down quickly and write fifty.
The word deindicates a change in speaker, it does not really mean "but".
"Position" refers to the placement of the article in phrases that contain adjectives or other words that can be used to modify the noun. The placement of the article affects the meaning of these phrases significantly. Compare, for instance, these two phrases:
Translation: "the good person".
Translation: "the person is good".
What is the difference between these two phrases? In the one phrase, the article appears before the adjective; in the other, it appears before the noun, but not before the adjective.
When the article appears just before the adjective, it is treated as a true adjective. This is called attributive position, because the adjective describes the attributes of the noun. There are two variations on attributive position. We have already seen the first:
In this position, the adjective receives greater emphasis than the noun.
The second position repeats the article after the noun:
In this position, the emphasis is on the noun rather than the adjective. In English, both of these phrases should be translated "the good person".
The Lord's Prayer contains another good example of this in Matthew 6:9:
In this prayer, we pray to "Our in-the-heavens Father", which might be also be translated "our heavenly Father". The traditional rendering, "our Father, who art in heaven", is also a good translation.
In predicative position, the article appears before the noun, but not before the adjective. In this position, the adjective "predicates" something about the noun. There are two variations on predicative position:
When genitive nouns or pronouns are used to modify a noun, the most common construction has the genitive article and noun following the noun that is modified, as in the first four words of this verse:
This construction is used in many familiar phrases in the Bible, e.g:
All of these examples use genitive nouns, but genitive pronouns may also be used in this way:
In most cases, either both nouns will have the article or both nouns will appear without the article. Here is the same phrase with and without the article, taken from two different papyrii readings for the same verse:
The genitive noun can also appear between the article and the noun that is being modified. The following is taken from 1 Peter 4:14, where it occurs as part of a more complicated construction:
The correct translation is: "the spirit of God". Here is a similar phrase from 2 Timothy 3:17:
The correct translation is: "the person who is of God". Here is one more example from John:
Translation: "for the sake of the life of the world". Note that the noun that is modified by the genitive does not always appear in the nominative - it can appear in any case.
This construction can also occur with a genitive pronoun instead of a genitive noun:
Translation: "through the faith of you"="through your faith".
In this construction, the neuter plural article can be used without any noun to mean "the things of":
In the above verse, tais not associated with any noun; it means "the things of", as in "the things of God". Translation: "give that which is God's to God". This same use of the neuter plural is used in phrases like "the things of man", "the things of the world", "the things of my Father", etc.
The article of the modified noun may be repeated, and followed by the genitive article and noun:
The difference between this phrase and thn carin tou qeou(without the repeated thn) is subtle. In the translation given above, I translated it with (point) to indicate the pointing nature of the article. To translate this into English, I might say "the grace, namely (the grace) of God", or "the grace that is of God".
Here is another example:
For our last example, let's return to a phrase in 1 Peter 4:14 that we simplified in an earlier example. This relatively complicated phrase nicely illustrates the subtlety of the Greek article:
Pretty scary, eh? Let's take this one piece at a time. The first tois neuter singular, so it must agree with a neuter singular noun; the only one available is pneuma, at the end of the phrase. So far, we have "the.....spirit". The two genitives tell us that this is the spirit of glory and the spirit of God. The second toalso agrees with pneuma. If the phrase said merely to tou qeou pneuma, we would translate it "the Spirit of God"; if it said merelyto ths doxhV pneuma, we would translate it "the Spirit of glory"; however, the two occurences of toboth refer to the same noun, so the two phrases describe the same Spirit, namely "the of-Glory and of-God Spirit".