Hellenistic Greek (and I’m guessing Classical as well) allows for two types of non-verbal predicates.* In English grammar, non-verbal predicates are expressed by means of the linking verb, “to be.” English non-verbal predicates tend to express, existential (“I am a man.”), attributive (“I am short.”), or locative meaning (“I am in Canada.”).
In Greek, non-verbal predicates are expressed in two different ways. One of these uses the copula, εἴμι, while the other lack a verb entirely. The other does not use a verb at all. For example, in Mark 12:26, we see: “Ἐγὼ ὁ θεὸς Ἀβραὰμ” (I [am] the God of Abraham).
Greek non-verbal predicates express a extra meanings as well that English does not, such as possession, where the author uses the dative case, as in Luke 7:41, “δύο χρεοφειλέται ἦσαν δανιστῇ τινι,” This literally means something like, “To a certain money-lender was two debtors.”**
Now if we assume that meaning implies structure, then we should ask what the difference between these two types of non-verbal predicates is. What is the difference in meaning between the non-verbal predicates that have an overt copula and those that lack a verb entirely?
About two years ago I wrote a paper on verbal ellipsis in Paul’s letters. The paper originated from my frustration with conflicting statements made by scholars regarding the relationship between Ephesians 5:21 and 5:22. The main problem is that when scholars arrive at verse 22 the first question they ask is, “What verb form should we be inserting here?” rather than “What is the significance of Paul not using a verb here?” Ellipsis has its own pragmatic significances, which I examined and articulated in that paper.***
Essentially, I argued that the purpose of ellipsis was to highlight and emphasize new information in relation to previous known information (a good example is 2 Cor. 1:7, where ; that ellipsis in Greek is, in a sense, didactic, or at least it lends itself quite easily to teaching, while is a major reason we see it so often in Paul’s letters.
But coming back to non-verbal predicates, Greek’s verbless clause version of non-verbal predicates are a different animal than ellipsis, something I’ve emphasized before. This is clearly seen distributionally. Clauses with elided verbs cannot begin new sections of a discourse, whether sentences or paragraphs. They are always subordinate to another clause. But our verbless non-verbal predicates can begin new sentences simply because they are not necessary subordinate to any other clause.
Even with this difference, at present, I’d like to hypothesis that the basic pragmatic meaning of the non-verbal predicate with no verb at all is essentially the same as that of ellipsis: the highlighting of information, though at this point, I don’t think I would necessary want to say that the highlighted information in these clauses in necessary always new information as well, perhaps simply prominent.
Anyway, these are just some general thoughts that I haven’t yet tested on any particular text, but I am curious about feedback, if you have any.
**This sort of possessive construction isn’t uncommon, even if we don’t have it in English. In fact this is the normal way of expression possession in Russian as well. As far as I know, Russian has no verb with the meaning “to have” as in “I have a hat.” Interestingly enough, these sorts of constructions are places where all translations cease to be literal in any way (though the KJV’s relative pronoun agreement in this verse is fascinating).
***I wrote the paper before I began my linguistic studies, thus my description of the pragmatic significance of ellipsis is somewhat inexact in a number of ways, though I still believe that my basic generalizations are correct. Presently, I’m revising the paper by adding some additional information, making the examples more and introducing a more precise set of terminology.