Greek Prepositions in the New Testament, Pt IV

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

I want to conclude this series about our new work on Greek prepositions by discussing (1) the language data itself and (2) our methodology for analysis. I’ve already addressed the theoretical framework we’re using for our analysis. So, let’s look at the data.

There was an important constraint on this project. With the exception of the prepositions ἐκ and ἀπό (where we already had a larger corpus analysis completed), we only looked at New Testament data. This is a fundamental constraint that will need to be rectified in future work and analysis.

The textual analysis was the SBLGNT, which we used in conjunction with the Cascadia Syntax Graphs of the New Testament treebank. The search implementation of Cascadia does not lend itself to practical organization of structured data, but with some creativity, we were able to get the relevant phrasal information into a usable format for annotation: the head of the PP (the preposition) and the head of its daughter phrase (usually a noun or pronoun). Cascadia made it possible for us to do in weeks what otherwise would have taken months. Proximity searches, by themselves, are effectively useless in this context. We need actual information about actual syntactic heads of phrases. Greek phrase structure and information structure involve too many variables to make that possible with mere proximity. Without the Cascadia Syntax Graphs of the New Testament, this project would not have been completed in time for the launch of Logos 9. Syntax databases in Logos are almost certainly the most underutilized research tool in the software.

This provided the most efficient means of getting the data we needed. With the right syntactic search query, an export to MS Word, and a judicious use of find and replace provided us with sufficiently structured data to form a foundation for analysis.

The data analysis itself is not comprehensive for all prepositions in the New Testament. For the highest frequency ones, we focused on representative usages and the processes that motivate usage. This, at least, provides readers with some guideposts about how prepositions function more generally for dealing with less common patterns that we do not discuss.

The short-term goal for this project was to provide pastors and scholars with a set of guideposts for understanding how prepositional phrases function and the kinds of semantic patterns and collocations they are most likely to encounter in their reading of the Greek New Testament texts.

We have long terms goals for more general work on Greek prepositions, however, that go beyond this volume:

  • Complete coverage of the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament for all prepositions
  • Useful and relevant supplementary evidence from the documentary papyri and other historically contemporaneous literary texts
  • A descriptive account of the syntax-semantic interface of prepositional phrases within Greek clause structure
  • A descriptive account of prepositional phrases at the discourse interface

These priorities have significant import for students, pastors, and scholars in the Western church, but our intent is to balance this in a manner that prioritizes the needs of the global Bible translation movement. Many readers will remember our discussions last year about the great need for new tools and resources for minority language Bible translation (See: We need new language resources for translation and Biblical Language Pedagogy for Bible Translators).

The underlying data for this project is an excellent example of the kind of work we will be doing for Wycliffe Bible Translators once we are full funded in our monthly ministry budget. We will be systemically leveraging corpus-based study of Greek and Hebrew to equip national translators and translation consultants with better tools and biblical language data for solving translation problems, enabling us to serve the global church and the Bibleless people in meaningful and substantive ways.