Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, November 25

When does “Of” mean “Namely” or “Is”?

This is a rather technical blog on the nature of Greek appositional constructions. I imagine I lost many of you with that first sentence, but the distinction between the two forms is important exegetically. If you read "x of y," is "y" the same thing as "x" or is "y" explaining something about "x"?

It is easy to confuse the two different types of appositional statements, so I thought I would do a more grammatical blog, and I’ll be using Daniel Wallace’s definitions and illustrations (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) and showing why the differences are important.

First of all, an appositional form is when you want to use a noun to clarify another noun. θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν (“God our Father”) identifies “God” as being our “Father.” If you want to confirm that a word is appositional, insert something like “which is,” “that is,” “namely,” or, “who is.” “God, who is our Father.” If it makes sense, you probably have an appositional construction.

Genitive of Apposition

The “genitive of apposition” only requires that the second noun be in the genitive. I prefer the title “Epexegetical Genitive” because it gets at the essence of the construction; the word in the genitive is exegeting, explaining, clarifying its head noun.

In the case of the exegetical genitive, the genitive “typically states a specific example that is a part of the larger category named by the head noun. It is frequently used when the head noun is ambiguous or metaphorical” (Wallace).

When you find this construction, the exegetical question you ask is, “How does the genitive clarify the meaning of the head noun?” Answer this question in Dan’s following examples.

  1. γῆς Αἰγύπτου (“the land of Egypt”)
  2. σημεῖον περιτομῆς (“the sign of circumcision”)
  3. τὸν θώρακα τῆς δικαιοσύνης (“the breastplate of righteousness”)

To state it another way, Wallace gives the example of “the sign of circumcision” that “can be unpacked as ‘circumcision is a sign’ (but not ‘a sign is circumcision’).”

Simple Apposition

“Simple apposition” requires both nouns to be in the same case, and this construction occurs in the genitive, dative, and accusative cases. The second noun does not clarify the meaning of the head noun. It merely gives a “different designation that either clarifies who is the one named or shows a different relation to the rest of the clause than what the first noun by itself could display. Both words thus have the same referent, though they describe it in different terms.”

To confirm that you are looking at a genitive in simple apposition, reverse the order using “is.” “Paul the apostle” can be “Paul is the apostle” and “the apostle is Paul.”

You decide

Here are some appositional constructions from Wallace. Which is simple and which is exegetical?

  1. ἡ ἑορτὴ τῶν ἀζύμων (“the feast of unleavened bread,”Luke 22:1)
  2. εἶδον τὸ παιδίον μετὰ Μαρίας τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ (“they saw the child with Mary, his mother,” Matt 2:11)
  3. ἔλεγεν περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ (“he was speaking concerning the temple of his body,” John 2:21)
  4. αὐτός ἑστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος, τῆς ἐκκλησίας (“he is the head of the body, the church,” Col 1:18)
  5. τοὺς λόγους τῆς προφητείας (“the words of the prophecy,” Rev 1:3)
  6. σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“our Savior, Jesus Christ,” Titus 2:13)

The answers are in his grammar, pp. 908f.