Category Archives: grammar

Neuter Plurals Singular Verb

This post discusses a textual variant in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 26, verse 31, as follows:

διασκορπισθησεται 𝔓³⁷ 𝔓⁴⁵ D E F K U V W Γ Δ Θ Π Φ ƒ¹ 2 28 565 579 1424 pm Eus Chrys Or-pt TR RP διασκορπισθησονται 𝔓⁵³ ℵ A B C G H L M S Σ 067 0281 ƒ¹³ 33 157 700 892 1071 1241 pm Or-pt SBL TH ΝΑ28 {\} lac 𝔓⁶⁴ N P Q Ζ 0233 346

The nominative substantive, the subject of our sentence here, is τα προβατα, “the sheep,” a neuter plural subject. But the BYZ text couples with it a singular verb, διασκορπισθησεται, while the NA28 text uses a plural verb, διασκορπισθησονται.

Classical, Attic, Greek had a grammar rule that broke the grammar rules.  Usually, verbs must agree in gender, number and case with the subject noun.  This is called concord.  But there was a rule that neuter plural subjects usually took a singular verb.

BDF §133: “This is because neuter plurals were originally in part feminine singular collectives: Schwyzer ɪ 581 f.). The rule appears to have been most strictly followed in the Attic dialect (Schwyzer ɪɪ 607); Homer and Koine are less consistent, while the plural is used exclusively in MGr.  In the NT (as in the LXX and pap.: Mayser ɪɪ 3, 28 ff.) there is marked diversity, and often in individual instances the MSS diverge.  The plural is used for the most part in Herm. (1) The plural is used especially with neuters designating persons (also class., K.-G. ɪ 65), most frequently with ἔθνη, less often wth τέκνα and δαιμόνια. (2) The singular, on the contrary, preponderates with words having non-personal meaning (even when a numeral is inserted: ἐὰν γένηται…ἑκατὸν πρόβατα Mt 18:12), (3) and even more so with abstracts and pronouns (ταῦτα, ἅ etc.).—For stereotyped ἴδε, ἰδού, ἄγε used in spite of a plural subject, s. §144.”

Smyth §958: “A neuter plural subject is regarded as a collective (996), and has its verb in the singular: καλὰ ἦν τὰ σφάγια the sacrifices were propitious X.A.4.3.19.  Here, sheep are a herd, a collective, so take a singular verb, the herd is scattered.  But Smyth then says in §959, “A plural verb may be used when stress is laid on the fact that the neuter plural subject is composed of persons or of several parts: τὰ τέλη τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων αὐτὸν ἐξέπεμψαν the Lacedaemonian magistrates despatched him (Thuc. 4.88), φανερὰ ἦσαν καὶ ἵππων καὶ ἀνθρώπων ἴχνη πολλά many traces both of horses and of men were plain X.A.1.7.17. (a.) With the above exception Attic regularly uses the singular verb.  Homer uses the singular three times as often as the plural, and the plural less frequently with neuter adjectives and pronouns than with substantives.  In some cases (B 135) the metre decides the choice.” 

Here in Mt 26:31 the sheep are persons, so one cannot declare with absolute certainly which reading in this variant is grammatically correct for classical Greek.  Now, there are many other examples of this category of variant in Matthew, but I am showing this one because so many papyri are extant.  The testimony is equally early for both readings.  Each has a III century papyrus in support, 𝔓⁴⁵ and 𝔓⁵³.  The Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, does not pertain here, as Zech 13:7 in the LXX does not have the same sentence structure, that is, there is no neuter plural subject.  Rather it says, “Strike the shepherds, and remove the sheep…” 

Now a question for us is, was Matthew (or his translator, if he wrote his gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic) bound to follow Attic rules, or even familiar with Attic rules?  Possibly editors or copyists of Matthew corrected what they thought was incorrect grammar, to follow the Attic rule.  But in this variant we probably have a legitimate exception to the Attic rule since the sheep are persons.  This explanatory note, and many like it, can be read in my translation of the gospel of Matthew, downloadable here.

Definite Article Variant

In Matthew 13 verse 2, there is a Greek textual variant involving the Greek definite article, in this case the neuter singular accusative, with the word for boat, so το πλοιον.

The pre-9th century witnesses are as follows:

πλοιον ℵ B C L W Z Σ SBL TH NA28 {\} το πλοιον D E Φ 𝔐 TR RP lac A N P 0233 0281

Note that the Textus Receptus contains the definite article with “boat,” but the English translations based on the TR do not say “the boat” but rather “a boat / a ship.”  See the Geneva Bible, Tyndale, Bishops’ Bible, the KJV, and the NKJV, which all say “a” not “the.”  This is because the definite article in Greek does not necessarily mean “the” in English.  The article here is not anaphoric, as it cannot be referring back to a known boat, since there is no boat mentioned previously in the context.  The article cannot be referring to “the only” boat, because there were several boats owned by the disciples, besides the fact that other people could have had boats on hand.

To download my translation of Matthew containing this footnote, click here.

Acts 21 verse 40

Acts 21:40, 22:2
⁴⁰And after he gave him permission, Paul stood on the steps, and motioned to the people downward with his hand.  And when it was largely quiet, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, and said…
²And when they heard him addressing them in the Hebrew language, they offered greater silence.

Here I am focusing on the progression from “when it was largely quiet” in 21:40 to “they offered greater silence” in 22:2.

πολλῆς δὲ σιγῆς γενομένης προσεφώνησεν τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ λέγων
largely and quiet became, he addresed in the Hebrew language, saying

Ἀκούσαντες δὲ ὅτι τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ προσεφώνει αὐτοῖς μᾶλλον παρέσχον ἡσυχίαν.
when they heard and that in the Hebrew language he addressed them greater they offered a silence.

Starting with Wycliffe and Tyndale, they interpreted πολλῆς as an adjective rather than the adverb it is in this context.  And most all of the translations tells us that the mob became very silent merely because Paul motioned with his hand. Really, the mob that was just trying to kill him?

Wycliffe
Poul stood in the grees, and bikenede with the hoond to the puple. And whanne a greet silence was maad, he spak in Ebrew tunge, and seide,
And whanne sum herden that in Ebrew tunge he spak to hem, thei yauen the more silence.

Tyndale
Paul stode on ye steppes and beckned with the honde vuto the people and ther was made a greate silence.
Whe they hearde that he spake in ye Ebrue tonge to them they kept the moore silence.

Some translations do not even translate the word πολλῆς:

God’s Word
So Paul stood on the stairs of the barracks and motioned with his hand for the people to be quiet. When the mob was silent, Paul spoke to them in the Hebrew language.
When the mob heard him speak to them in Hebrew, they became even more quiet.

Good News Bible
so Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand for the people to be silent. When they were quiet, Paul spoke to them in Hebrew:
When they heard him speaking to them in Hebrew, they became even quieter;

CEV
so Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people. When they were quiet, he spoke to them in Aramaic:
When the crowd heard Paul speak to them in Aramaic, they became even quieter.

Many translations that do translate πολλῆς end up contradicting themselves, such as the NLT.  Verse 31 says there was “a deep silence” but then in v. 2 it says “the silence was even greater.”
How can you have a silence greater than “a deep silence”?  And there is no word for “even” in the Greek.

New Living Translation

so Paul stood on the stairs and motioned to the people to be quiet. Soon a deep silence enveloped the crowd, and he addressed them in their own language, Aramaic.
When they heard him speaking in their own language, the silence was even greater.

Now I will focus on the word παρέσχον in 22:2, which is 3rd person plural, they, they were offering.  The NLT does not correctly render that “they” part, see above.  But most translations do not correctly render the verb as “offered, afforded, gave” to someone.  Instead, they say something like “became” or “were”:

KJV
Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,
And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence:

NKJV
Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,
And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent.

TNIV
Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic
When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

CSB

Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in Aramaic:
When they heard that he was addressing them in Aramaic, they became even quieter

ESV
Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:
And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet.

NABRE
Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people; and when all was quiet he addressed them in Hebrew.
When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew they became all the more quiet.

NASB
Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying,
And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he *said,

NET
Paul stood on the steps and gestured to the people with his hand. When they had become silent, he addressed them in Aramaic,
(When they heard that he was addressing them in Aramaic, they became even quieter.)

NRSV
Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:
When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew, they became even more quiet.

Here is how it should be translated:

DRP
Paul stood on the steps, and he motioned to the people downward with his hand.  And when it was largely quiet, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, and said,
And when they heard him addressing them in the Hebrew language, they offered greater silence. You can download the DRP translation here .

Effectual Prayer James 5:16

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  KJV

Is all prayer “effectual”?

πολὺ-ἰσχύει-δέησις –δικαίου-ἐνεργουμένη.

much-is able to do-the prayer-of the righteous-actuated, fully operating

Wycl:     For the contynuel preyer of a iust man is myche worth.

Tynd:     The prayer of a ryghteous man avayleth moche yf it be fervet.

Gen:      for the prayer of a righteous man auaileth much, if it be feruent.

KJV:       The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

ASV:      The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.

ESV: The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

DRP: The fully operating prayer of a righteous person is able to accomplish much.

We can see that the effectiveness of the prayer of the righteous person is conditional on something.  It only works if it is “actuated, fully working.”

Tyndale introduced the idea of fervency, “if it be fervent.” I don’t know where he got that from, since that is not in the Greek.  The ASV and ESV say “as it is working,” etc.  This implies, correctly, that there is a possibility that one’s prayer does not work.  What makes prayer effectual, or “working”?

There are quite a few scriptures which tell us some things that cause our prayer not to work.

The Psalmist of Psalm 66 was a righteous man, but he knew that his prayers did not always work.  In Psalm 66:18 he says “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”

If the person praying is “doubting at all,” the prayer is not effective, James 1:6

If the one praying has unconfessed sin, he is not in fellowship with God, and is in darkness, as it says in many scripture passages such as Psalm 66:18; and in the First Epistle of John.

A married man’s prayers may be hindered if he is not treating his wife like it is layed out in 1 Peter 3:7. 

Matthew 5:23,24 says “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and first go be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  This does not mention prayer specifically, but I think it applies, as God is not interested in what you are bringing to him if you are not resolving what you brother has against you.

This is not a complete list, but are some examples of what might cause prayer to not be “fully operating.”

You can download the DRP translation of James here, with footnotes.

Dative Case Marker Words

Modern Greek differs from New Testament Greek in many ways, and one of the biggest differences is that there are no longer any Dative Case inflections or suffixes on words like there were in Koine Greek. Instead, marker words or helper words came to be used.

See for example Luke 21:23 txt τω λαω ℵ A B C D K L M N Π Ψ ƒ¹ ƒ¹³ 33 157 579 892 1241 2542 lat SBL TH ΝΑ28 {\} εν τω λαω E G H S U W Y Γ Δ Θ Λ Ω 2 124 346 565 700 1071 𝔐 syr-h TR RP επι τω λαω 1424 vg: ira populo huic (KJV) ‖ lac 𝔓⁴⁵ 𝔓⁷⁵ F P Q T 28.

Some recent translations of the Majority text render this “wrath among this people.” I disagree with that, and I render both the NA28 and Majority texts the same way.

So also, where the same construction is found in Romans 16:7, ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, it should be rendered “who are well known to the apostles, and were in Christ before me.”

Acts 21:38; Did the Roman commander assume an Egyptian would know Greek?

Acts 21:38 οὐκ ἄρα σὺ εἶ ὁ Αἰγύπτιος

Did the Chiliarch assume an Egyptian would know Greek?
Or assume an Egyptian would not know Greek?

Many translations appear to believe that the Chiliarch assumed an Egyptian would not know Greek.
But some, like the Complete Jewish Bible, appear to believe the Chiliarch thought an Egyptian would know Greek.
Some are ambiguious or slightly implying affirmative, saying “Are you not that Egyptian?”
This is quite different from some, which say “Then you are not that Egyptian.” (See all the translations listed with their renderings, at the bottom of this post.)

But what are the rules of Greek grammar here?
The BDF grammar §440 says “οὐ is employed to suggest an affirmative answer, μή (μήτι) a negative reply; in the latter, μή with the indicative is an external indication that it is a question, since independent μή can be used in no other way than interrogatively”
So according to BDF, the correct translation here, employing οὐ, would be “Then you are that Egyptian, aren’t you.”
Combined with ἄρα DeBrunner says in §440(2) “Οὐκ ἄρα denotes astonishment in Ac. 21:38 (‘why, are you not…’), elsewhere it corresponds to ‘well’ or ‘then’. “
Hmm, why different only here, DeBrunner? I do not agree. I think the Chiliarch is saying, “Then aren’t you that Egyptian?” and assuming an affirmative answer, since that is the grammar.
BDAG says it means “are you not, then…” With ἄρα being inferential or consequential. (With οὐ suggesting an affirmative answer of course.)

I conclude that those translations which render it “then you are not that Egyptian” or, “I thought you were that Egyptian” are incorrect. And it is apparent to me, that the Roman commander assumed an Egyptian would know Greek. To read my translation of this verse, you can download my translation.

KJ21 Art not thou that Egyptian…?
ASV Art thou not then the Egyptian…?
AMP Then you are not [as I assumed] the Egyptian…?
AMPC Are you not then [as I supposed] the Egyptian…?
BRG Art not thou that Egyptian…?
CBW Are you not the Egyptian…?
CSB Aren’t you the Egyptian…?
CEB Aren’t you the Egyptian…?
CJB Say, aren’t you that Egyptian…?
CEV Aren’t you that Egyptian…?
DARBY Thou art not then that Egyptian?
DLNT Then are you not the Egyptian…?
DRA Art not thou that Egyptian…?
ERV Then you are not the man I thought you were. I thought you were the Egyptian.
EHV Are you not the Egyptian…?
EMTV Are you not then the Egyptian…?
ESV Are you not the Egyptian, then…?
ESVUK Are you not the Egyptian, then…?
EXB I thought you were [L Are you not…?] the Egyptian.
GNV Art not thou the Egyptian…?
GW Aren’t you the Egyptian…?
GNT Then you are not that Egyptian…?
HCSB Aren’t you the Egyptian…?
ICB I thought you were the Egyptian.
ISV You’re not the Egyptian…are you?
PHILLIPS Aren’t you that Egyptian…?
JUB Art not thou that Egyptian…?
KJV Art not thou that Egyptian…?
AKJV Art not thou that Egyptian…?
LAMSA Are you not that Egyptian…?
LEB Then you are not the Egyptian…?
TLB Aren’t you that Egyptian…?
MSG I thought you were the Egyptian.
MEV Are you not the Egyptian…?
MOUNCE Then you are not the Egyptian…?
MURD Art not thou that Egyptian…?
NOG Aren’t you the Egyptian…?
NABRE So then you are not the Egyptian…?
NASB Then you are not the Egyptian…?
NCV I thought you were the Egyptian.
NET Then you’re not that Egyptian…?
NIRV Aren’t you the Egyptian…?
NIV Aren’t you the Egyptian…?
NKJV Are you not the Egyptian…?
NLV Are you not the man from the country of Egypt…?
NLT Aren’t you the Egyptian…?
NMB Are you not that Egyptian…?
NRSV Then you are not the Egyptian…?
NTE Aren’t you the Egyptian…?
OJB Then you are not the Egyptian…?
TPT Aren’t you that Egyptian…?
Recov You are not then the Egyptian…?
RSV Are you not the Egyptian, then…?
TLV Then you’re not the Egyptian…?
VOICE We thought you were that Egyptian.
WEB Aren’t you then the Egyptian…?
WE I thought you were the man from the country of Egypt.
WYC Whether thou art not the Egyptian…?
YLT art not thou, then, the Egyptian…?

Greek Definite Article

Acts 8:5

Here is a Greek textual variant that should demonstrate to beginners in NT Greek that maybe they don’t know how to interpret the definite article.

The Textus Receptus and the Robinson-Pierpont Greek texts both read εις πολιν της Σαμαρειας, without the definite article την present before πολιν, “city.”  Here are some translations from the Textus Receptus:

KJV

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

NKJV

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.

MEV

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.

 

The UBS / NA text reads, εις την πολιν της Σαμαρειας, with the definite article την present before “city.”

Here are some translations reputedly from the UBS text:

NIV, TNIV

Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.

RSV

Philip went down to a city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ.

HCSB

Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.

CEB

Philip went down to a city in Samaria and began to preach Christ to them.

CJB

Now Philip went down to a city in Shomron and was proclaiming the Messiah to them;

NABRE

Thus Philip went down to [the] city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.

NASB

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.

ESV

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.

NRSV

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.

GNT

Philip went to the principal city in Samaria and preached the Messiah to the people there.

MOUNCE

Philip went down to the main city of Samaria and began proclaiming to them the Christ.

NET

Philip went down to the main city of Samaria and began proclaiming the Christ to them.

πολις της Σαμαρειας, for the city of Samaria had been utterly destroyed by Hyrcanus, and the city built by Herod on its site was called Σεβαστη, that is, Augusta, in honour of Augustus. Samaria comprised the tract of country formerly occupied by the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, west of Jordan, lying between Judea and Galilee, beginning, says Josephus, at Ginea in the great plain, and ending at the toparchy of Acrabateni.

The manuscripts:
txt πολιν C D E H P Ψ 049 056 33 1611 1739 1891 cop-sa,bo,meg chrys TR RP την πολιν ?⁷⁴ ℵ A B 1175 SBL [NA28] {C} lac ?⁴⁵ L

 

 

John 15 verse 8

I just made a TC footnote on the variant in John 15:8 regarding γένησθε (aorist subjunctive) in the NA28, versus γενήσεσθε (future indicative) in TR RP.  The UBS5 and NA28 footnotes cite ALL the Old Latin manuscripts as being in support of the γένησθε (aorist subjunctive) reading.  This is true insofar as the subjunctive versus indicative mood question.  But the Latin verbs do not agree with the Greek verbs exactly.  They read in fact: sitis (pres subj) “be” it-a,d,e,q,r¹ efficiamini (pres pass subj) “be made, be proven” it-aur,b,ff² possitis fieri “be able to become” it-f.  Certainly, none of the Latin manuscripts have a future tense verb.

A limitation of Coptic to render Greek is shown in the change from the UBS3 footnotes to now in the UBS5 footnotes.  The UBS3 footnote cites cop-sa,bo,ach2 in support of γένησθε (aorist subjunctive) of the NA28, but now in the UBS5 and NA28, the Coptic is not cited for any reading.  If you were to read the English translations of the Sahidic and Bohairic Coptic texts, you might think that they do support the NA28 reading, because they read in English, “and become to me disciples” (Sahidic) and, “and that ye be to me disciples” (Bohairic).

However, J. Martin Plumley writes in Metzger’s book “The Early Versions of the New Testament, Their Origin, Transmission and Limitations,” Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2001, p. 149, the following: “The well-developed system of auxiliary verbs in Coptic, while capable of dealing with the main temporal aspects of the Greek verb, are less able to represent the more subtle distinctions of mood, especially the subjunctive.  Thus, where Coptic uses a future tense containing the element -NA-, it is not possible to decide whether the Greek text showed the future indicative or the aorist subjunctive.”

Another example of the limitation of Coptic is when applied to the extremely common variant in the Greek MSS of τε versus δε, or ουτε v. ουδε, because Coptic did not distinguish between t and d, and d was usually but not consistently, defaulted to t.

To read the footnote on John 15:8, you can download the gospel of John here.