Not Jewish Greek, Pt2: Coordination & Possessives in the Epistles

In the first post (Not Jewish Greek: Possession in Coordinated NP’s, which I wrote far too long ago for anyone to reasonably remember), I attempted to illustrate that there is a clear usage pattern in the Greek Old Testament for marking possession on coordinated noun phrases result in two essential conclusions and one open question. To refresh, the pattern at hand is as follows:

  1. καὶ δῶρα ἔδωκεν τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτῆς καὶ τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς.

He gave gifts to her brother and to her mother (Gen 24:53).

וַיִּתֵּ֖ן לְרִבְקָ֑ה וּמִ֨גְדָּנֹ֔ת נָתַ֥ן לְאָחִ֖יהָ וּלְאִמָּֽהּ׃

First, this construction is not one that appears in non-translation Greek texts (with caveats we’ll get to below). Even Jewish authors like Josephus and Philo do not use it unless they are directly quoting from the Greek Old Testament, which only happens in Philo. It is not a normal Greek construction. In a morphology searched with Logos Bible Software, the follow search string* produces no results in the Perseus corpus.


* The use of a gap of 1-2 words following the καὶ on the second NP was to account for the possible appearance of the Greek article.

Secondly, and equally significant, this construction is entirely comprehensible to native Greek speakers without difficulty. It creates no confusion as to the meaning of the propositions, but simply over-specifies the possessor referent for both NP’s. This is speculation, but in all likelihood, native speakers probably would have viewed it as no more than slightly wordy, if they noticed it at all.

But it does appear in Biblical Greek to various extents. This is especially true in corpuses, like the LXX that are translation Greek from a Hebrew source text, as I noted in the previous post. What is interesting is the lesser degree (in terms of frequency) that the construction appears in the New Testament, which is not translation Greek. Now this corpus shows some interesting patterns of their own. The linguistic context of the construction differs in the Gospels-Acts versus the Epistles versus Revelation. For now, we are focused on the letters.

The search string above produces seven accurate results in the Epistles and Hebrews. Three of these are Old Testament quotes, all of which appear in Hebrews (Heb 8:10, 12; 10:17). The other four are all from the Pauline corpus: 1 Cor 2:4; Phil 4:7; 1 Thess 3:11; 2 Tim 4:1. This is frequency is much more common than what we find in other Greek Christian writers.*

* Recall that even the Apostolic Fathers, only ever used the construction a single time outside of OT quotations (Hermas, Parable 7, 6).

I’m not entirely sure what Paul’s purpose here is. He clearly knows the colloquial Greek construction. The normal pattern for pronoun scope in coordinated NP’s appears, for example, in Romans 1:7 (twice) and in Roman 2:5 (once), with the enclitic pronouns appearing in the prosodic second position of the coordination.

  1. χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
    grace and peace to you from God our father and [our] Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 1:7).
  2. κατὰ δὲ τὴν σκληρότητά σου καὶ ἀμετανόητον καρδίαν…
    because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart… (Rom 2:5)

He uses it it in his instructions to churches in Ephesians.

  1. τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα
    Honor your father and mother (Eph 6:2).

It does seem that Paul, at the very least, takes advantage of having multiple patterns of possession in compound noun phrases as a means of slowing down the flow in information when he needs to.

  1. καὶ ὁ λόγος μου καὶ τὸ κήρυγμά μου οὐκ ἐν πειθοῖ σοφίας ἀλλʼ ἐν ἀποδείξει πνεύματος καὶ δυνάμεως, ἵνα ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν μὴ ᾖ ἐν σοφίᾳ ἀνθρώπων ἀλλʼ ἐν δυνάμει θεοῦ
    My speech and my preaching were not done in persuasiveness of wisdom, but in the a demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Cor 2:4).

In 1 Cor 2:4, here, Paul separates both noun phrases in the compound into distinct prosodic units. The phonological weight of the repetition of the article for each and the pronoun for each maximizes his audience’s attention on the topic of his assertion. If there is a register difference involved here, one might wonder if it is sufficiently unsubtle to be noticed by his audience: that when Paul is speaking about his speech not being rhetorically persuasive, he is using a construction that might be said to diverge from normal expectations of style.

When the compound noun phrase appears in in the asserted, focal portion of the clause there is a similar effect, as below in Philippians 4:7.

  1. ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ ὑπερέχουσα πάντα νοῦν φρουρήσει τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν καὶ τὰ νοήματα ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ
    The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7)

But it is still difficult, especially with such a small handful of examples to draw a firm conclusion from Paul’s usage. There does at least seem to be some sense that the contexts here uses it, such as in example (6) above and examples (7) and (8) below still might be construed in terms of register choice: Philippians 4:7 and 1 Thessalonians 3:11 certainly have a degree of a benedictive style.

  1. Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ ἡμῶν καὶ ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς κατευθύναι τὴν ὁδὸν ἡμῶν πρὸς ὑμᾶς·
    Now may God himself, our father and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you (1 Thess 3:11).

Likewise in 2 Timothy 4:1 Paul adopts other elements of theological language

  1. Διαμαρτύρομαι ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, τοῦ μέλλοντος κρίνειν ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς, καὶ τὴν ἐπιφάνειαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτοῦ·
    I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus who is going to judge the living and the dead and in his advent and his reign (2 Tim 4:1).

Is Paul borrowing style elements from his own holy text for his own spiritual language? Maybe. Or maybe not. Again:

The data from the Gospels is far more interesting than Paul. There is more diversity, both in contexts and in kinds of speakers using this particular construction. Together this actually provides more space for finding and evaluating potential motivations for its usage.

And again, I must emphasize this coordinated possession construction is perfectly intelligible to any native Greek speaker. This is not a different Greek. This multi-part squib is heavy on speculation for this fascinating turn of phrase, in the face of a data desert. There will be at least one more part to this series, perhaps two, depending on whether I end up splitting up John from the other gospel writers.