To or about?

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To or about?

Postby Iver Larsen » November 20th, 2012, 2:20 pm

Today I was looking at Rom 11:2-4. I am just here quoting the part that is relevant for my question:

οὐκ οἴδατε ἐν Ἠλίᾳ τί λέγει ἡ γραφή, ὡς ἐντυγχάνει τῷ θεῷ κατὰ τοῦ Ἰσραήλ; ... 4 ἀλλὰ τί λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ χρηματισμός; Κατέλιπον ἐμαυτῷ ἑπτακισχιλίους ἄνδρας, οἵτινες οὐκ ἔκαμψαν γόνυ τῇ Βάαλ.

All English versions I have looked at translate the ἐν with either "of" or "about". When I look at the impressive list of senses in Louw and Nida they do not include "about":

a in (location): 83.13
b among (location): 83.9
c on (location): 83.47
d at (location): 83.23
e in (state): 13.8
f into (extension): 84.22
g in union with (association): 89.119
h with (attendant circumstances): 89.80
i with (instrument): 90.10
j with (manner): 89.84
k with regard to (specification): 89.5
l of (substance): 89.141
m to (experiencer): 90.56
n by (agent): 90.6
o by (guarantor): 90.30
p by (means): 89.76
q because (reason): 89.26
r so that (result): 89.48
s when (time): 67.33
t during (time): 67.136
u in (content): 90.23

So, is the meaning here really "about Elijah"? What about "Don't you know what Scripture says to Elijah?" Quite often Scripture is personified and given a voice with the understanding that it is God who is speaking. The disctinction between "it says" and "he says" is often blurred when Scripture is quoted, especially in the book of Hebrews.
In this case, verse 4 clarifies what God said to Elijah where we find the dative pronoun αὐτῷ as the recipient of the divine voice as recorded in Scripture.

The only other instance I could find where most English versions translate ἐν with "about" is ὅτι ἀποροῦμαι ἐν ὑμῖν. Would this not rather by "I am puzzled by you" or "I am puzzled because of you" rather than "I am puzzled about you"? Well, I suppose number k "with regard to" is a possibility. What do you think?
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Re: To or about?

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » November 20th, 2012, 4:09 pm

Iver Larsen wrote:οὐκ οἴδατε ἐν Ἠλίᾳ τί λέγει ἡ γραφή,
[...]
So, is the meaning here really "about Elijah"? What about "Don't you know what Scripture says to Elijah?"


How about an ellipsis: "Don't you know what the Scripture says in [the text about] Elijah"?
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Re: To or about?

Postby Jason Hare » November 20th, 2012, 7:41 pm

Iver Larsen wrote:The only other instance I could find where most English versions translate ἐν with "about" is ὅτι ἀποροῦμαι ἐν ὑμῖν. Would this not rather by "I am puzzled by you" or "I am puzzled because of you" rather than "I am puzzled about you"? Well, I suppose number k "with regard to" is a possibility. What do you think?


Why not "with regard to," if that is a viable translation of ἐν in some circumstances? It doesn't seem like it could be otherwise.
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Re: To or about?

Postby George F Somsel » November 21st, 2012, 2:41 am

I would tend to agree with Jason here.

⑧ marker denoting the object to which someth. happens or in which someth. shows itself, or by which someth. is recognized, to, by, in connection with: ζητεῖν τι ἔν τινι require someth. in the case of someone 1 Cor 4:2; cp. ἐν ἡμῖν μάθητε so that you might learn in connection w. us vs. 6. Cp. Phil 1:30. ἵνα οὕτως γένηται ἐν ἐμοί that this may be done in my case 1 Cor 9:15 (Just., D. 77, 3 τοῦτο γενόμενον ἐν τῷ ἡμετέρῳ Χριστῷ). ἐδόξαζον ἐν ἐμοὶ τὸν θεόν perh. they glorified God in my case Gal 1:24, though because of me and for me are also possible. μήτι ἐν ἐμοὶ ἀνεκεφαλαιώθη ἡ ἱστορία GJs 13:1 (s. ἀνακεφαλαιόω 1). ποιεῖν τι ἔν τινι do someth. to (with) someone (Epict., Ench. 33, 12; Ps.-Lucian, Philopatr. 18 μὴ ἑτεροῖόν τι ποιήσῃς ἐν ἐμοί; Gen 40:14; Jdth 7:24; 1 Macc 7:23) Mt 17:12; Lk 23:31. ἐργάζεσθαί τι ἔν τινι Mk 14:6. ἔχειν τι ἔν τινι have someth. in someone J 3:15 (but ἐν αὐτῷ is oft. constr. w. πιστεύων, cp. v.l.); cp. 14:30 (s. BNoack, Satanas u. Soteria ’48, 92). ἵνα δικαιοσύνης ναὸν ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ σώματι ἀναδείξῃ AcPlCor 2:17 (s. ἀναδείκνυμι 1).—For the ordinary dat. (Diod S 3, 51, 4 ἐν ἀψύχῳ ἀδύνατον=it is impossible for a lifeless thing; Ael. Aristid. 49, 15 K.=25 p. 492 D.: ἐν Νηρίτῳ θαυμαστὰ ἐνεδείξατο=[God] showed wonderful things to N.; 53 p. 629 D.: οὐ γὰρ ἐν τοῖς βελτίστοις εἰσὶ παῖδες, ἐν δὲ πονηροτάτοις οὐκέτι=it is not the case that the very good have children, and the very bad have none [datives of possession]; 54 p. 653 D.: ἐν τ. φαύλοις θετέον=to the bad; EpJer 66 ἐν ἔθνεσιν; Aesop, Fab. 19, 8 and 348a, 5 v.l. Ch.) ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί Gal 1:16. φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς Ro 1:19 (Aesop 15c, 11 Ch. τ. φανερὸν ἐν πᾶσιν=evident to all). ἐν ἐμοὶ βάρβαρος (corresp. to τῷ λαλοῦντι βάρβ.) 1 Cor 14:11 (Amphis Com. [IV B.C.] 21 μάταιός ἐστιν ἐν ἐμοί). δεδομένον ἐν ἀνθρώποις Ac 4:12. θεῷ … ἐν ἀνθρώποις Lk 2:14.—Esp. w. verbs of striking against: προσκόπτω, πταίω, σκανδαλίζομαι; s. these entries.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (s.v. ἐν). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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Re: To or about?

Postby David Lim » November 21st, 2012, 3:04 am

Iver Larsen wrote:Today I was looking at Rom 11:2-4. I am just here quoting the part that is relevant for my question:

οὐκ οἴδατε ἐν Ἠλίᾳ τί λέγει ἡ γραφή, ὡς ἐντυγχάνει τῷ θεῷ κατὰ τοῦ Ἰσραήλ; ... 4 ἀλλὰ τί λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ χρηματισμός; Κατέλιπον ἐμαυτῷ ἑπτακισχιλίους ἄνδρας, οἵτινες οὐκ ἔκαμψαν γόνυ τῇ Βάαλ.

[...]

So, is the meaning here really "about Elijah"? What about "Don't you know what Scripture says to Elijah?" Quite often Scripture is personified and given a voice with the understanding that it is God who is speaking. The disctinction between "it says" and "he says" is often blurred when Scripture is quoted, especially in the book of Hebrews.
In this case, verse 4 clarifies what God said to Elijah where we find the dative pronoun αὐτῷ as the recipient of the divine voice as recorded in Scripture.

The only other instance I could find where most English versions translate ἐν with "about" is ὅτι ἀποροῦμαι ἐν ὑμῖν. Would this not rather by "I am puzzled by you" or "I am puzzled because of you" rather than "I am puzzled about you"? Well, I suppose number k "with regard to" is a possibility. What do you think?


In my opinion, "ἐν Ἠλίᾳ" indeed means "with respect to Eliyah". I have not seen any example of "ἐν" used to mean "to" in the NT. There are many other instances of "ἐν" meaning "with respect to / according to" (reference), which seems to be the second most common after "in / among" (location) but many of them are classified differently and interpreted differently by others. Here are some examples where I have emphasized what I think is the import of the preposition:
"with regard to whom I am well-pleased" (Matt 3:17, 17:5, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22)
"offended with regard to Jesus" (Matt 11:6, 13:57, 26:31,33, Mark 6:3, 14:27, Luke 7:23)
"perplexed with regard to you" (Gal 4:20)
"be at peace with regard to one another" (Mark 9:50)
"have love with regard to one another" / "the love which God has with regard to us" (John 13:35, 1 John 4:16)
"do what I want with regard to my things" (Matt 20:15)
"faithful/unrighteous with regard to something" (Luke 16:10-12, 19:17)
"do not rejoice with regard to this" / "were merry with regard to the works of their hands" (Luke 10:20, Acts 7:41)
"with regard to this the word is the truth, that ..." (John 4:37)
"if they do these things with regard to the wet tree, what will come to be with regard to the dry?" (Luke 23:31)
"a prophet man, powerful with regard to work and word" / "he was powerful with regard to words and works" (Luke 24:19, Acts 7:22)
"swear by something/someone" (Matt 5:34-36, 23:18-22)
"teach/worship according to truth" (Matt 22:16, John 4:23-24)
"did not stand according to the truth" (John 8:44)
"his works have been worked according to God" (John 3:21)
"according to these two commandments the whole law and the prophets hang" (Matt 22:40)
"according to the compassions of mercy of our God" (Luke 1:78)

And in my dialect of English "I am puzzled by you" conveys almost the same thing as "I am puzzled about you".
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Re: To or about?

Postby Iver Larsen » November 21st, 2012, 5:38 am

It is tricky to argue from an English translation. I would have expected περί in connection with a Scripture talking about a person like in
Acts 1:16 ἔδει πληρωθῆναι τὴν γραφὴν ἣν προεῖπεν τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον διὰ στόματος Δαυὶδ περὶ Ἰούδα
Rom 1:2-3 ὃ προεπηγγείλατο διὰ τῶν προφητῶν αὐτοῦ ἐν γραφαῖς ἁγίαις 3 περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ

George refers to BDAG sense 8, while sense k in Louw and Nida corresponds to sense 12 in BDAG.

The dative is commonly used to refer to the recipient of a speech act as in
Rom 9:17 λέγει γὰρ ἡ γραφὴ τῷ Φαραὼ

We have the same kind of Dative in Rom 11:4 ἀλλὰ τί λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ χρηματισμός; where αὐτῷ refers to Elijah. It was mainly because of the parallelism between verses 2 and 4 that I was wondering whether ἐν Ἠλίᾳ functions like αὐτῷ. On the other hand, would Paul not have written a simple dative without the preposition? So, maybe it is best to consider it to mean "with respect to" which seems to be a possible understanding.
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Re: To or about?

Postby David Lim » November 21st, 2012, 10:08 am

Iver Larsen wrote:It is tricky to argue from an English translation. I would have expected περί in connection with a Scripture talking about a person like in
Acts 1:16 ἔδει πληρωθῆναι τὴν γραφὴν ἣν προεῖπεν τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον διὰ στόματος Δαυὶδ περὶ Ἰούδα
Rom 1:2-3 ὃ προεπηγγείλατο διὰ τῶν προφητῶν αὐτοῦ ἐν γραφαῖς ἁγίαις 3 περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ

I feel that "περι" when meaning "about" is used primarily with conveying thoughts revolving around something, whereas "εν" when meaning "with respect to" is somehow more indirect and also is not restricted to thoughts, as in the examples I gave. For this reason "περι" is natural for the two examples you give above, whereas the author of Rom 11:2 seems to say "ἐν Ἠλίᾳ" almost in passing: "do you not know, with regard to Eliyah, what the writing says, ...". What do you all think? It seems that the conventional way is to take "ἐν Ἠλίᾳ τί λέγει ἡ γραφή" as the content clause, but is it common to have an interrogative content clause beginning with a prepositional phrase?
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Re: To or about?

Postby Iver Larsen » November 21st, 2012, 11:01 am

Thanks, David,

The fronting of ἐν Ἠλίᾳ is interesting. It seems to me that far from this being in passing, the main point is not what Scripture says about Elijah how he felt that God had rejected and abandoned his people. The important point is what God spoke to no less person than Elijah in this passage of Scripture, namely verse 4:"There is still a remnant of my faithful people left." Therefore, God did not abandon his people at the time of Elijah, nor has he done so now.

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Re: To or about?

Postby Stephen Carlson » November 21st, 2012, 11:36 am

I think that George has identified the right sense in BDAG of ἐν here, "in regard to Elijah," "in connection with Elijah," or "in Elijah's case." This, I think is what LN's sense k. So I agree with many of us here about this sense of ἐν.

I'm not sure I would agree that ἐν Ἠλίᾳ is fronted, because I construe it with οἴδατε instead of λέγει. In any case, however, the discourse function seems to be the same, providing a topical frame for the clause τί λέγει ἡ γραφή. This topicalizing discourse function fits the sense of ἐν as identified above.
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Re: To or about?

Postby David Lim » November 21st, 2012, 9:04 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:I'm not sure I would agree that ἐν Ἠλίᾳ is fronted, because I construe it with οἴδατε instead of λέγει. In any case, however, the discourse function seems to be the same, providing a topical frame for the clause τί λέγει ἡ γραφή. This topicalizing discourse function fits the sense of ἐν as identified above.

Yea I was wondering whether I was totally off, because I also linked it with "οἴδατε" outside "τί λέγει ἡ γραφή", such that it somewhat encompasses even the later clauses (which is what I meant by "almost in passing"), but the translations I looked at didn't seem to think the same. I also tried searching for instances of an interrogative content clause beginning with a prepositional clause but couldn't find any.

Also, I just checked some commentaries and it is a little interesting:

Barnes wrote:Of Elias - Of Elijah. Greek, "Elijah" ἐν Ἡλιᾳ en Hēlia. This does not mean that it was said about Elijah, or concerning him; but the reference is to the usual manner of quoting the Scriptures among the Jews. The division into chapters and verses was to them unknown. (See the Introduction to the notes on Matthew.) Hence, the Old Testament was divided into portions designated by subjects. Thus, Luke 20:37; Mark 12:26, "At the bush," means the passage which contains the account of the burning bush; (see the notes on those places.) Here it means, in that passage or portion of Scripture which gives an account of Elijah.


Vincent wrote:Of Elias (ἐν Ἡλίᾳ)

Wrong; though Rev. has retained it: of Elijah, with in in margin; probably in order to avoid the awkward circumlocution in the passage treating of Elijah, or the ambiguous in Elijah. See on in the bush, Mark 12:26. Thucydides (i. 9) says: "Homer, in 'The handing down of the sceptre,' said," etc.; i.e., in the passage describing the transmission of the sceptre in the second book of the Iliad. A common form of quotation in the rabbinical writings. The passage cited is 1 Kings 19:10, 1 Kings 19:14.


And at Mark 12:26:

Barnes wrote:How in the bush - At the burning bush. See Exodus 3:16. The meaning is, "in that part of the book of Exodus which contains the account of the burning bush. When there were no chapters and verses, it was the easiest way of quoting a book of the Old Testament "by the subject," and in this way it was often done by the Jews.


Vincent wrote:How in the bush God spake

An utterly wrong rendering. In the bush (ἐπὶ τοῦ βάτου), refers to a particular section in the Pentateuch, Exodus 3:2-6. The Jews were accustomed to designate portions of scripture by the most noteworthy thing contained in them. Therefore Rev., rightly, in the place concerning the bush. Wyc., in the book of Moses on the bush. The article refers to it as something familiar. Compare Romans 11:2, ἐν Ἠλίᾳ; i.e., in the section of scripture which tells of Elijah. There, however, the Rev. retains the A. V. of Elijah, and puts in in the margin.


Any comments on these two commentaries? If true, our initial question would disappear, but I am not too sure, because Mark 12:26 actually has "οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε ἐν τῇ βίβλῳ Μωϋσέως ἐπὶ τοῦ βάτου" and "επι" can be used to specify a topic, similar to what we have discussed of "εν" used to specify a reference point. Iver's example in Gal 4:20 suggests that perhaps there is nothing wrong with understanding it that way, and there is another similar construction:

[Acts 5:24] ὡς δὲ ἤκουσαν τοὺς λόγους τούτους ὅ τε στρατηγὸς τοῦ ἱεροῦ καὶ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς διηπόρουν περὶ αὐτῶν τί ἂν γένοιτο τοῦτο.
Here "περὶ αὐτῶν" is clearly not part of the content clause, but here "αυτοι" are really the focus of the perplexity, whereas in Gal 4:20 it seems to connote more that "your behaviour perplexes me", and in Rom 11:2 Eliyah is not the focus so much as the event that occurred involving him. So I think there is still quite a clear difference between "περι" and "εν" used in such function.
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