Introducing: Greek Prepositions in the New Testament, Pt I

Greek Prepositions in the New Testament:
A Cognitive-Functional Description
by Rachel & Michael Aubrey

For Part II: Introducing: Greek Prepositions in the New Testament, Pt II
For Part III: Greek Prepositions in the New Testament, Pt III

When Rick Brannan invited Rachel and I to contribute the entries on prepositions for the Lexham Research Lexicons (see here for Rick’s discussion of them), he said they were looking for lexical discussion/analysis that was more than just glosses and went beyond what’s typical in a lexicon. Logos was interested in developing something that would be more practical and meaningful than the complex (and often convoluted) lexical entries on the one hand and the overly simple spatial charts on the other, where only the most basic spatial relationships conveyed by a preposition are presented with no way of signaling the more abstract means of construing prepositional meaning.

https://i0.wp.com/biblicalgreek.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/greekprepositions.jpg
A purely spatial account of Greek prepositions

Traditional lexical entries already tend to feel chaotic, simply because they are obligated to squeeze as much information into as small a space as necessary. But beyond that basic fact, they also tend to raise consequential semantic questions as a byproduct of their general organization. Consider BDAG’s entry for ἐκ as an example, which I have outlined below.

BDAG outline entry for the preposition ἐκ
BDAG’s outline for the preposition ἐκ

Here, BDAG lays out five primary senses and then a sixth for miscellany. The entry does a fairly effective job communicating what ἐκ means, but it also raises a number of questions. Senses #1 and #2 receive the same gloss, but effectively distinguish in their definitions that #1 involves separation between two entities and (usually) motion (1a), while #2 designates the relative positions and direction of one thing “from” another.

Sense #3 introduces some confusions, however. All the abstract senses (except time) are grouped into one heading: “marker denoting origin, cause, motive, reason. The last three are readily understood as related, and by extension, it appears that BDAG wants users/readers to assume that they also share a relationship with ORIGIN. This relationship is taken as a given, but there is no explanation of the nature of that relationship (e.g. CAUSE derived from ORIGIN).

Sense #4 introduces an entirely different situation, where semantics and syntax are blended into a single thing without comment. Periphrasis is a syntactic construction. Partitive and value are semantic. And both partitives and value expressions with ἐκ are expressed in non-periphrastic syntactic contexts.

Sense #5 is good. There is a unified meaning for the sense, with two clearly delineated sub-senses, but sense #6 is simply miscellany. The subsenses introduce other confusions. Of course ἐκ is “like the OT use of מִן”, but BDAG provides little data for understanding their differences or how מִן might affect the usage of ἐκ in the NT (if it does). Similarly: do adverbial expressions relate to the previous sense or are they somehow wholly distinct? Grouping usages into a category of miscellaneous can only cause semantic confusion.

In Part II, I want to illustrate how we have attempted to provide an account of Greek prepositions that emphasizes understanding the Greek of the New Testament on its own terms in a manner that integrates the more abstract usages of prepositions to their more basic spatial senses.

Our work in this little volume is not comprehensive, but we hope that it provides an accessible and practical starting point for understanding how Greek prepositions function in the Early Roman period, how those functions relate to one another, and how processes of language change alter those functions over time (e.g. how metaphor and analogy impact preposition usage).