Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

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Danny King
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Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by Danny King » September 3rd, 2015, 12:50 pm

Why is Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις always translated "Vengeance is mine"? ἐμοί is dative but mine is possessive. Isn't it better translated, "Vengeance is for me"?
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Thomas Dolhanty
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Re: Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » September 3rd, 2015, 8:47 pm

Danny King wrote:Why is Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις always translated "Vengeance is mine"? ἐμοί is dative but mine is possessive. Isn't it better translated, "Vengeance is for me"?
The dative case can be used to express possession, although it is not nearly as common as the genitive used for that purpose. Read the following from Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics):
Wallace - pg 149 wrote:7. Dative of Possession [belonging to]

a. Definition
The dative of possession functions like a genitive of possession under certain conditions; see semantic discussion below.

The dative substantive possesses the noun to which it is related. In other words, the dative of possession is that to which the subject of an equative verb belongs. This occurs with equative verbs such as εἰμί, γίνομαι, and ὑπάρχω. It possesses the subject of such verbs. The usage is not especially common.

b. Key to Identification

Instead of the word to, supply possessed by or belonging to.

On occasion (especially if the dative is in predicate position after an equative verb), it may be more helpful to regard the dative as the semantic equivalent of a nominative subject and put the actual subject in the predicate (e.g., treat as direct object). For example:

Acts 8:21
οὐκ ἔστιν σοι μερὶς οὐδὲ κλῆρος ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τούτῳ
neither a share nor a lot in this matter belong to you

This could be converted to “you have neither a share nor a lot in this matter.” (The dat. becomes the subject and the subject is placed in the predicate—here, as direct object.)

Acts 2:43
᾽Εγίνετο δὲ πάσῃ ψυχῇ φόβος, πολλά τε τέρατα καὶ σημεῖα διὰ τῶν ἀποστόλων ἐγίνετο.
And fear came upon every soul, and many signs and wonders were taking place through the apostles.

The first clause could be converted to “every soul became afraid.” Once again, the dat. becomes the subject, and the subject is placed in the predicate (in this instance, it becomes a predicate adjective).
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Re: Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by Danny King » September 4th, 2015, 4:45 am

Thank you very much, Thomas Dolhanty, for the reply. The presence of the assumed equative verb should settle the case.

I read through Wallace but very little of it seems to stick. Don't you feel that Wallace might be a tad guilty of over-categorizing? How are we supposed to remember 33 functions for the genitive and 27 for the dative? I'm currently reading Murray J. Harris' "Colossians and Philemon" from the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series and in Col 1:15, the phrase, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως - firstborn over all creation, Harris writes (pg. 40), "similarly, Wallace 104, 128, who classifies this as a "gen. of subordination" a category unknown to the standard grammars". Indeed, I can never seem to recall commentators using the type of syntactical categories used in Wallace's book. I used to consider Wallace as the standard reference text but it seems his Greek grammar is quite alien to the one used by commentators.

I'm considering getting another grammar book, hopefully one closer to the "standard grammars". The problem is that a lot of these are very old and some are prohibitively expensive. Andreas J. Köstenberger is coming up with a new book called "Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament" which will be out in the middle of next year. Perhaps this is the one to get.

Thanks again for answering my question.
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Re: Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by cwconrad » September 4th, 2015, 7:30 am

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:
Danny King wrote:Why is Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις always translated "Vengeance is mine"? ἐμοί is dative but mine is possessive. Isn't it better translated, "Vengeance is for me"?
The dative case can be used to express possession, although it is not nearly as common as the genitive used for that purpose.
Our concern here is not with how translators handle Biblical texts but more directly with what the text can be shown to mean in terms of its vocabulary and syntax. This is pretty clearly a case of dative of the possessor which ordinarily does involve an explicit or -- as in this instance -- implicit copula: ἐμοί (ἐστιν) ἐκδίκησις: "Vengeance (belongs) to me." Moreover ἐκδίκησις is a substantival noun in -σις, which ordinarily indicates the process or performance of the action indicated by the verb (ἐκδικεῖν). This is a direct citation from Dt 32:35 לִ֤י נָקָם֙ and it is also cited in Heb 10:30. If, on the other hand, we were to consider how best to put either the Hebrew text לִ֤י נָקָם֙ or the Greek text Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις into English, it seems to me a matter of six of one or half a dozen of the other whether we say, "Vegeance is mine" or "Vengeance is for me (to carry out)." I don't think there's any suggestion that "I am the one who is being avenged." The point is rather that judging, condemnation is a privilege reserved to God, not something for angry mortals to assume as their own privilege.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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Re: Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by Jonathan Robie » September 4th, 2015, 7:37 am

You say you are looking for a better grammar for this. I really like Funk's A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek, it's quite sensible on things like the Genitive. You can also read it online.
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Re: Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by Danny King » September 4th, 2015, 10:15 am

Carl, when I first thought it should be translated "Vengeance is for me", I was thinking of the Dative of Advantage, ie., an advantage (or like you say, privilege) reserved only for God. Do you think this applies?
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Re: Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » September 4th, 2015, 12:09 pm

Danny King wrote:I read through Wallace but very little of it seems to stick. Don't you feel that Wallace might be a tad guilty of over-categorizing? How are we supposed to remember 33 functions for the genitive and 27 for the dative? I'm currently reading Murray J. Harris' "Colossians and Philemon" from the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series and in Col 1:15, the phrase, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως - firstborn over all creation, Harris writes (pg. 40), "similarly, Wallace 104, 128, who classifies this as a "gen. of subordination" a category unknown to the standard grammars". Indeed, I can never seem to recall commentators using the type of syntactical categories used in Wallace's book. I used to consider Wallace as the standard reference text but it seems his Greek grammar is quite alien to the one used by commentators.

I'm considering getting another grammar book, hopefully one closer to the "standard grammars". The problem is that a lot of these are very old and some are prohibitively expensive. Andreas J. Köstenberger is coming up with a new book called "Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament" which will be out in the middle of next year. Perhaps this is the one to get.
Wallace, is guilty not only of “over-categorizing” but also, I am told by those who know, of “mis-categorizing” in places. Still I find his grammar very useful often. It is one of a very substantial collection of beyond-basic grammar books I’ve accumulated. Smyth is probably the best one that I have, but I find the format quite unfriendly, so unless I really feel that I have to dig, I don’t go there first.

I will confess, though, that it is beyond my capacity to sit down and read through a book like Wallace cover to cover. I’ve tried a couple of times but always slip into a state of semi-consciousness somwhere between the Dative and the Article! I prefer to be taught by the Greek text itself, and to repair to the grammars when necessary. That way I not only remember but I understand – or at least I have the illusion of understanding - the grammar in question. (I do believe, though, that it is wise to start with a fairly thorough knowledge of elementary grammar that you can glean from something like Mounce.)

When I come across this construction in the ordinary course of reading, I do not think of categories, or possession but rather, “TO ME is Vengeneance, says the Lord.” The dative here strikes me as more forceful than the genitive would be in this instance – ‘to ME … NOT to you’. I couldn’t defend the grammar of that, but that is the impression the text leaves me with. Perhaps it is because possession with the dative is not so common. The more Greek text I read, the more I have confidence in those impressions, just as the more English poetry I read, the more I am confident about the impression I take from the poetry.

Finally, it is noteworthy, I think, that the underlying Hebrew from Dt. 32:35 (לי נקם) which Carl pointed out is most simply rendered in English (or Greek) as: ‘to me (לי) (is) vengeance (נקם)’.
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Re: Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by Jonathan Robie » September 4th, 2015, 12:52 pm

I think Wallace and Mounce have both written very useful books, but I also think their categories are a weak point in their grammars.

One problem is that these categories describe not just the meaning of the syntactic feature they are discussing, but particular interpretations of passages that use them, in context, often reflecting translation choices made in various Bible translations. But the syntactic feature is only part of that overall meaning. Effectively, the categories wind up reflecting English translations more than they reflect the underlying Greek.

Another problem is that the categories are described as though you should look at a particular use of a feature, read through the list of possibilities, and pick one. It's much better to get a feeling for what the syntactic feature means inherently, in Greek, and how it interacts with the rest of the sentence.
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Re: Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by Jonathan Robie » September 4th, 2015, 12:58 pm

cwconrad wrote:This is pretty clearly a case of dative of the possessor which ordinarily does involve an explicit or -- as in this instance -- implicit copula: ἐμοί (ἐστιν) ἐκδίκησις: "Vengeance (belongs) to me." Moreover ἐκδίκησις is a substantival noun in -σις, which ordinarily indicates the process or performance of the action indicated by the verb (ἐκδικεῖν). This is a direct citation from Dt 32:35 לִ֤י נָקָם֙ and it is also cited in Heb 10:30. If, on the other hand, we were to consider how best to put either the Hebrew text לִ֤י נָקָם֙ or the Greek text Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις into English, it seems to me a matter of six of one or half a dozen of the other whether we say, "Vegeance is mine" or "Vengeance is for me (to carry out)." I don't think there's any suggestion that "I am the one who is being avenged." The point is rather that judging, condemnation is a privilege reserved to God, not something for angry mortals to assume as their own privilege.
I agree.
Danny King wrote:Carl, when I first thought it should be translated "Vengeance is for me", I was thinking of the Dative of Advantage, ie., an advantage (or like you say, privilege) reserved only for God. Do you think this applies?
I don't think so, but the dative of possession is closely related to the dative of advantage - if it's mine then it is reserved only for me.

I think we probably agree on what this means. Once we reach that point, searching for other candidate categories isn't all that useful. And reasoning about what it might mean in English is less useful than reading it carefully several more times in Greek.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις (Romans 12:19)

Post by Danny King » September 4th, 2015, 3:09 pm

Very interesting posts, Thomas and Jonathan, thanks.

I did basic Greek with Mounce and Black. I much prefer Black to Mounce. I don't think Mounce is a good choice as a first time book for a beginner learning on his own. It's confusing and the material is all over the place. And then intermediate Greek with Wallace. I immensely enjoyed reading Wallace cover to cover; it took me slightly less than 5 months. I find that I can read books of this nature (including commentaries and theological journals), which most people find extremely boring by reading a little each day. I usually try to read 4-6 pages a day. I'm only now getting disappointed with Wallace when New Testament scholars do not use his terms and categories. The main reason I'm learning Greek is to understand the technical commentaries and it's a tragedy for me to find that commentators are not on the same page as my reference text.

Jonathan, your last sentence strikes me hard: "And reasoning about what it might mean in English is less useful than reading it carefully several more times in Greek." I wish I could do that but just reading the text in Greek makes no sense to me at all. I have to translate it into English before it has meaning. I know this is wrong but Greek is still too alien a language for me. Hopefully, with improvement, I can eventually derive meaning from the Greek itself rather than having to translate first.
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