Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

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Stephen Carlson
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Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 8th, 2020, 10:07 pm

In a bit of an experiment with using the forum, I will, from time to time, excerpt statements from various Greek grammars on the particular topic of the articulation of prepositional objects. I will give some thoughts as they occur. You are welcome to give yours.

Grammars excerpted: von Siebenthal 2019 (this post), Wallace 1996, Porter 1992, Levinsohn 2000, Moule 1959.

First up is the recently translated Heinrich von Siebenthal, Ancient Greek Grammar for the Study of the New Testament (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2019).
von Siebenthal 2019:182-3 wrote: 130 Usage differences between Ancient Greek and English (^ BR §148f)
130a I. Cases in which Ancient Greek does not use the article, while English does:
***
3. Often before a noun phrase embedded in a prepositional phrase (^ 133a), e.g.:
παρὰ _ θάλασσαν by the sea (Ac 10:6)
ἐκ _ νεκρῶν from the dead (Ac 17:31)
von Siebenthal 2019:188-90 wrote: 133 Definiteness without the article (^ BR §149.205; BDF §252-259; Z §171-183)
I.Certain types of phrases lacking the article may still refer to something definite:
133a1. This often applies to noun phrases embedded in preposition phrases (^ 184-186), in CG mainly in phrases used as adverbs, in KG/NT, however, more generally, e.g.:
ἀπ' _ ἀρχῆς from the beginning (1Jn 2:7)
ἐκ _ νεκρῶν from the dead (Ac 17:31)
ἐκ _ χειρὸς ἐχθρῶν from the hand of our enemies (Lk 1:74)
παρὰ _ πατρός from the Father (Jn 1:14)
ὑπὲρ _ ἁγίων for the saints (Ro 8:27)
πρὸς _ κέντρα against the goads (Ac 26:14)

***

133f II. In the NT the article with the nouns θεός god/God and κύριος lord/Lord (^ BDF §254) makes clear that the phrase is meant to refer to the one God/Lord, who revealed himself in Jesus Christ and previously to Israel. However, even with such a reference these nouns may be without the article in following cases:
  • frequently when embedded in a preposition phrase (^ 133a), e.g.:
ἐν _ θεῷ / έκ _ θεοῦ / ὑπὸ _ θεοῦ / παρὰ _ θεοῦ etc.

***

133g Important points relevant to text interpretation (^ Z §176ff):
***
2. When concrete nouns are used without the article, this may be significant: indefiniteness is generally indicated (^ 130a). However, in the following cases something definite may be referred to, even though the NP is without the article:
***
c) if it is embedded in a preposition phrase (^ 133a);
***
From a pedagogical perspective, I'm of two minds of how much cross-linguistic comparison there should be between the user's L1 and L2 (here, English and Greek) specifically, especially in this case where article usage is often idiomatic. In other words, is it Greek being weird or is it English (or both)? On the other hand, I think it is good to manage the user's expectation that the Greek article does not correspond to the English article one-for-one. On the gripping hand, I'm reluctant to endorse leading off with the cross-linguistic comparison.

The only guidance as to the articulation of prepositional objects is that it is "often" anarthrous. This vague characterization of frequency is lacking as a matter of observational adequacy (how often is "often"?), and as a matter of descriptive adequacy it provides no guidance for the user of when to use the article, when to not use it, and what it would mean.

Now let's look at the particular examples of anarthrous definite objects cited in § 133a:
  • 1 John 2:7 Ἀγαπητοί, ούκ ἐντολὴν καινὴν γράφω ὑμῖν ἀλλ' ἐντολὴν παλαιὰν ἣν εἴχετε ἀπ' ἀρχῆς· Beloved, it's not a new commandment that I'm writing to you but an old commandment which you had from the beginning -- From what I can tell, ἀρχή is always anarthrous as the object of a prepositional phrase in the NT, but English idiom requires the article. But is it always definite? In other words, is this really referring to some beginning identifiable to the reader? Or, is it better, given the lexical consistency of ἀπ' ἀρχῆς, to see the prepositional phrase as an adverb that means "all along" and thus non-referential and perforce not definite?
  • Acts 17:31 ... ἀναστήσας αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν. having raised him from the dead -- NT usage is not consistent (e.g. Eph 5:14 ἀνάστα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν) but it is usually anarthrous (43/46). It would be good to account for why that is. But does it have to be definite here? It does not seem that the identifiability of the plural νεκρῶν is at issue here.
  • Luke 1:74 ἐκ χειρὸς ἐχθρῶν ῥυσθέντος rescued from the hand of (our) enemies -- Does this have to be definite? It feels non-specific. Again we have a plural ἐχθρῶν (presumably the singular χειρός distributes).
  • John 1:14 δόξαν ... παρὰ πατρός a glory ... from the Father -- Good example of an anarthrous but identifiable (or "definite") object. It shows that the article can be omitted but not why.
  • Rom 8:27 ... ὅτι κατὰ θεὸν ἐντυγχάνει ὑπὲρ ἁγίων because it is in accordance with God that it intercedes for the saints -- We have another plural here, and the question again is whether it has to be definite? In English, there is an implicature of the failure to use the definite article in this context means that only "some" are in mind, less than the whole. But is this true of Greek as well?
  • Acts 26:14 σκληρόν σοι πρὸς κέντρα λακρίζειν it is tough for you to kick against the goads -- This is an idiomatic expression, no actual goads are in view. Thus is hard to buy into the claim that it is definite, even though an idiomatic English translation would use the definite article. This use of the definite article in non-referring, idiomatic expressions is an interesting puzzle in English (see the literature of the "weak definite"), but irrelevant to the Greek of this example.
In sum, von Siebenthal only presents one clean example of an anarthrous definite object of a preposition and that is John 1:14. What's common to all the examples is that their English translation is most felicitous with the article. Some of these are to avoid a certain implicature of non-exhaustiveness in the plural that I'm not convinced is conveyed by the Greek. (The German original has different examples, not all with the article.) But due to the idiomatic quirks of English, this seems to be a poor criterion to recognize whether a prepositional object is definite.

Aside from warning the user that Greek may not have the article where English expects a definite object, I don't find von Siebenthal's grammar very insightful on this topic.
Last edited by Stephen Carlson on July 12th, 2020, 9:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by Barry Hofstetter » July 9th, 2020, 1:32 am

Interesting observations, certainly. Of course, I have to say it -- Latin. No article at all, definite or indefinite. I wonder how Latin speakers in ancient times conceptualized the article? Did they say "What is that thing actually doing?" I suspect not, they just learned how to use the language. We have Latin speakers who wrote Greek who use the article very well and very idiomatically, but did they ever reflect on their own language not having it?

I am not sure that descriptive grammar needs to go deeply into "why." Why the article is "frequently" omitted in prepositional phrases is an interesting question, but that it happens is even more important to one learning the language.
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Re: Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 9th, 2020, 2:06 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
July 9th, 2020, 1:32 am
Interesting observations, certainly. Of course, I have to say it -- Latin. No article at all, definite or indefinite. I wonder how Latin speakers in ancient times conceptualized the article? Did they say "What is that thing actually doing?" I suspect not, they just learned how to use the language. We have Latin speakers who wrote Greek who use the article very well and very idiomatically, but did they ever reflect on their own language not having it?
Do we have Latin grammars of Greek? I can't recall off-hand; maybe there were. We do have Greek grammarians from antiquity like Apollonius Dyscolus, and, yes, I'd like to get around to what he says. As for the latter point, very few people ever reflect on the language they speak, and that's OK. But I'm an academic and formalizing knowledge is what academics do. I make no apologies for that.
Barry Hofstetter wrote:
July 9th, 2020, 1:32 am
I am not sure that descriptive grammar needs to go deeply into "why." Why the article is "frequently" omitted in prepositional phrases is an interesting question, but that it happens is even more important to one learning the language.
Depends on what's meant by "learning the language." If you just ignore all the articles and pretend it's Latin, yeah, I suppose you'll get most of the gist. If, however, you're on a "living language" approach or doing Greek composition, then I think you'd have to acquire a good feel for when to use one and when not to. The question I'm asking is: how good are our resources are in accounting for the actual usage of the article (on this narrowly focused topic)?

As to the purpose of Greek grammars, they can be evaluated on a number of different levels of adequacy. The lowest level is "observational adequacy"--do they even describe the phenomenon correctly, even the "exceptions"? The next level is "descriptive adequacy"--do they articulate a good set of rules for producing well-formed sentences that fit the observation data? In my experience, our Greek grammars are wholly inadequate at the descriptive level and most are inadequate even at the observational level.

Another thing I want to probe is how well do the examples illustrate the grammatical claims? I'm actually disappointed how poorly the grammars do on this front.
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Re: Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » July 9th, 2020, 3:44 am

I agree with Stephen on pretty much all about Siebenthal. It's somewhat a disappointment because it doesn't seem to give a thought to possible linguistic explanations to many phenomena. Maybe there's just not enough knowledge about the article that he could say something which isn't unsure or speculation, something which just introduces different kinds of hypothesizing theories? Therefore he says something which can at least be demonstrated. But it doesn't let me understand the article.

It's of course interesting to see how it compares to the English definite article, but my native language is Finnish which doesn't have an article at all, and the use of articles is one of the most difficult things in English for me. Seeing two different idiomatics uses of articles of two different languages doesn't help me much.

As for the examples: "ἐκ νεκρῶν" -- "But does it have to be definite here? It does not seem that the identifiability of the plural νεκρῶν is at issue here." I agree. There are certain examples where the thing is definitely definite, like God, but here we could as well as have any fuzzy group of dead people. It's like an adjective vs. noun. A noun descibes a thing, an adjective descibes a quality.

The important question, of course, is if there happens to be some other explanation to the lack of the article than just a preposition. If there is, it's misleading to lump those examples together. It would even partly lack "observational adequacy" because we would be observing the wrong thing.
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Re: Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » July 9th, 2020, 5:04 am

Interesting example is "out of water", "from water".

* Exodus 2:10 (LXX; versification from RSV etc.)
* Matthew 3:16
* Mark 1:10
* John 3:5
* Acts 8:39
* II Peter 3:5

* Revelation 8:11
* II Samuel 22:17 / Psalms 8:16
* Psalms 69:14
* Psalms 144:7
* Ezekiel 31:5

Why would this be interesting? They look pretty much predictable after all. Identifiable bodies of water are articular (although IMO in Ex 2:10 it's not clearly identifiable in the context of the speaker's utterance).

But maybe this can be compared with "from the dead" etc., as if "the dead" is liquid or mass rather than an identifiable group of things. Of course the dead could be presented as an identifiable whole if needed in the context.
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Re: Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » July 9th, 2020, 7:11 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
July 9th, 2020, 1:32 am
I am not sure that descriptive grammar needs to go deeply into "why." Why the article is "frequently" omitted in prepositional phrases is an interesting question, but that it happens is even more important to one learning the language.
How much the descriptive statements can be separated from "why"? More accurately, how reliable can a description be if it's not understood why it is so? This is related to my previous comment - can it be even observationally accurate if we actually don't know what we observe, and can we know what we observe if we know nothing but some surface phenomenon? In this case, can we actually lump the prepositional phrases together if we don't know whether the preposition is the explanation or not? And how can we know if it's the explanation if we don't know why?
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Re: Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by Barry Hofstetter » July 9th, 2020, 8:26 am

Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:
July 9th, 2020, 3:44 am

It's of course interesting to see how it compares to the English definite article, but my native language is Finnish which doesn't have an article at all, and the use of articles is one of the most difficult things in English for me. Seeing two different idiomatics uses of articles of two different languages doesn't help me much.
So your experience with the article in other languages would be similar to the Latin speaker in ancient times learning Greek. We also have Sahidic Coptic, which had both a definite and indefinite article, but don't always seem to be used in the same way as their English equivalents (my Coptic study is still in its infancy, so take that with a grain of salt).
As for the examples: "ἐκ νεκρῶν" -- "But does it have to be definite here? It does not seem that the identifiability of the plural νεκρῶν is at issue here." I agree. There are certain examples where the thing is definitely definite, like God, but here we could as well as have any fuzzy group of dead people. It's like an adjective vs. noun. A noun descibes a thing, an adjective descibes a quality.
I think it's quite stretch to say it means anything other than what English means by "the dead." But to complicate things further, I see these types of prepositional phrases being used adverbially, and perhaps there was felt no need of the article in prepositional adverbial phrases, though in most cases in English it sounds awkward without it. If the article is used, perhaps it emphasizes the nominal quality of the object. I'm speculating here...
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Re: Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » July 9th, 2020, 10:00 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
July 9th, 2020, 8:26 am
I think it's quite stretch to say it means anything other than what English means by "the dead."
I didn't say that or think that. It's not about what it "means" (whatever that means). The referent is certainly the same -- all the dead people. But think about it this way: we have verbs and they have aspect. We can refer to same events using different aspects. One has all the event in the view. The other views it without referring to the endpoint.

Similarly, although there's only one group of dead people, there's no need to know that there's one whole group when we say "raised from the dead". It's enough to understand that there are dead people. The one who is raised is raised from the state of deadness rather than removed from one group of people.

Anyways, here's something more to analyze:

Most of the time "from the dead" with ἐκ is anarthrous in the NT. Exceptions (there may be more):

I Thess 1:10 καὶ ἀναμένειν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν, ὃν ἤγειρεν ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦν τὸν ῥυόμενον ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ὀργῆς τῆς ἐρχομένης.
Colossians 1:18 καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων
Ephesians 5:14 διὸ λέγει· Ἔγειρε, ὁ καθεύδων, καὶ ἀνάστα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἐπιφαύσει σοι ὁ Χριστός.

The Ephesians passage feels poetic, I'm not sure if it should be analyzed with the same rules (poetry is often different than prose). In the Colossians passage it would be fitting to think of the dead as the whole group: Christ is the first-born from among all of them. But in the Thessalonians passage it's difficult to see any difference between ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν and ἐκ νεκρῶν unless we just presuppose some difference.

Here are some similar phrases with ἀπὸ:

Luke 16:30 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· Οὐχί, πάτερ Ἀβραάμ, ἀλλ’ ἐάν τις ἀπὸ νεκρῶν πορευθῇ πρὸς αὐτοὺς μετανοήσουσιν.
Matthew 28:7 καὶ ταχὺ πορευθεῖσαι εἴπατε τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ὅτι Ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἰδοὺ προάγει ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, ἐκεῖ αὐτὸν ὄψεσθε· ἰδοὺ εἶπον ὑμῖν.
Matthew 27:64 μήποτε ἐλθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ κλέψωσιν αὐτὸν καὶ εἴπωσιν τῷ λαῷ· Ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν
Matthew 14:2 Οὗτός ἐστιν Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστής· αὐτὸς ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο αἱ δυνάμεις ἐνεργοῦσιν ἐν αὐτῷ.

Matthew uses ἐκ νεκρῶν many times, without the article. Is it coincident that with ἀπὸ there's more often τῶν? Why?
Barry Hofstetter wrote:
July 9th, 2020, 8:26 am
I'm speculating here...
I'm speculation everywhere :) And I'm not arguing against you. This is just an interesting topic.
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Re: Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by nathaniel j. erickson » July 9th, 2020, 10:40 am

How much the descriptive statements can be separated from "why"? More accurately, how reliable can a description be if it's not understood why it is so? This is related to my previous comment - can it be even observationally accurate if we actually don't know what we observe, and can we know what we observe if we know nothing but some surface phenomenon? In this case, can we actually lump the prepositional phrases together if we don't know whether the preposition is the explanation or not? And how can we know if it's the explanation if we don't know why?
It seems to me that these are the vary sort of questions that are what make descriptive grammar valuable. Since there are so many phenomenon in Ancient Greek (not to mention modern languages) which we don't have a explanation for, or even a way of clearly describing the possible issues, descriptive explanations are very useful to people who want to be reading/translating from the language right now while others are working on better explanations. I imagine that von Siebenthal, in writing what is essentially a reference grammar, primarily has this audience in mind and thus provided a description that is far more useful to most readers of his grammar than many a speculative account of "why" Greek functions the way it did.

Some further difficulties with trying to adequately describe the articular vs. non-articular prepositional phrase issue that need to be considered:
A thorough investigation would need to check different manuscripts, at best, but at least other critical Greek NT to see if the article usage in these prepositional phrases is even consistent across the manuscript traditions. Are we analyzing Ancient Greek usage patterns, or usage patterns of Byzantine monks, or of Modern Scholars. The answer is probably some admixture of all of the above, which is joy of linguistic analysis applied to a text-language.

If we open up even just the "ἐκ (τῶν) νεκρῶν" phrase to a wider variety of Greek texts, then we have more explaining to do, some of it from close chronological proximity and some not. In the Diogenes database, the articular and non-articular versions appears as follows:
ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν: 339
ἐκ νεκρῶν: 1909
On the one hand, there seems to be a clear "preference" for non-articular. But, after some preliminary scanning through some random samples I see the following directly relevant texts: in the centuries shortly following the NT, Jesus is described as rising "from the dead" with both articular and non-articular versions of the prepositional phrase. He is the "firstborn from the dead" with both the articular and non-articular versions of the phrase (the NA 28 text of Col 1.18, where this phrase comes from, is articular). Is this evidence of different text-traditions? Is it evidence of some deep difference in linguistic functionality of the prepositional phrase? Is it evidence of corrupt manuscripts of these other sources? Or that different people just liked to say the phrase in different ways at different times?

Though it is often a faux pas in linguistic description to appeal to speaker's choice, one has to wonder if the usage or non-usage of the article in (at least certain) prepositional phrases in certain instances was heavily influenced by the personal preferences of the speaker/writer?
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Re: Greek Grammars on the Articulation of Prepositional Objects

Post by Barry Hofstetter » July 9th, 2020, 11:45 am

Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:
July 9th, 2020, 10:00 am
I'm speculation everywhere :) And I'm not arguing against you. This is just an interesting topic.
Of course, same here. I thought it would be fun to search some extra biblical literature, and came up with this example from Euripides Helen:

νεκρῶν φέροντας ὀνόματʼ εἰς οἴκους πάλιν (399)

"Bearing the names of the dead again to their homes..."

Here, the context indicates a specific group of dead, and so English requires the article, but the Greek doesn't have it.

I also found this lovely line, explainable on other grounds (the "palisade" was made out of dead bodies, and so doesn't require the article), but it's a fun sentence.

τότε γε μὴν καὶ ὁ Ἀντώνιος ἔνοπλος ἐπὶ τῶν φυλακτηρίων ἀντιδιενυκτέρευε τῷ Βρούτῳ, χάρακα περιθέμενος ἐκ νεκρῶν σωμάτων καὶ λαφύρων συμφορηθέντων.(4.130).

Appian. (1879). The Civil Wars. (L. Mendelssohn, Ed.). Medford, MA: Teubner.

Almost needless to say, the ECF's tend to use the phrase almost exclusively without the article, perhaps in imitation of the predominant NT usage.
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