PRWTH in Luke 2:2

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Thu Oct 1 09:42:26 EDT 1998

I'll respond at once to Carlton and Jim:

At 7:46 AM -0500 9/30/98, Carlton Winbery wrote:
>I am very hesitant to instruct Carl on any thing Greek, but I seem to
>remember that when this adjective (PRWTOS) is used as "first" in the sense
>of the first time, it usually is neuter accusative, PRWTON, at least in the
>NT.  I agree with Carl that EGENETO here seems to be an event, "it
>happened."  Given that PRWTH then agrees with APOGRAFH, I would take it as
>attributive.  "This first enrollment happened . . ."  The package would be
>neater if we had hAUTH hH APO- as indeed a corrector of Aleph,
>Alexandrinus, Ephraemi, 33 and a host of other minuscules have it.  But I
>think even without the article both hAUTH and PRWTH are attributive to
>APOGRAFH, not the best of Greek, but certainly understandable.

Please do not hesitate to instruct me in anything in which I may be
instructed--and that's no small item! I agree that one normally uses the n.
acc. PRWTON to indicate adverbially, "for the first time." Nevertheless, as
I'm afraid we've had plenty of opportunity to observe, neither English nor
Greek is limited to one way of indicating something, although one way may
be more commonly used by "better" writers. The predicate use of nominative
adjectives in agreement with the subject is common enough in classical
Attic (hHSUCOS EKAQEUDON, "I was sleeping peacefully," and QATTWN TRECEI
EKEINOS QANATOU, "That one runs more swiftly than death."), and although I
can't call to mind an instance in the NT offhand, I think it's found there
too. I like your way of reading it, and it seems to me that Dan Wallace
also says something to the effect that the phrasing is problematic no
matter which way we want to understand the grammar.

At 8:08 AM -0500 10/1/98, James P. Ware wrote:
>On Wed, 30 Sep 1998, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>> I'm still puzzled by the actual
>> relationship of the elements in the phrase hAUTH APOGRAFH PRWTH EGENETO--as
>> I would NOT be puzzled if it were hAUTH APOGRAFH PRWTH HN. That is to say,
>> what disturbs me is that EGENETO here does not seem to me to be a copula
>> like EIMI but rather an eventive verb; for that reason APOGRAFH doesn't
>> seem to me to be a predicate noun,
>To me this verse is getting more interesting the more we discuss it.  I
>agree that GINOMAI has an "eventive" force that EIMI does not.
>However, this does not rule out it being complemented by a predicate
>adjective or noun--see, for example, Phil 2:15, 3:17, Acts 1:22, Eph 3:7,
>Gal 3:13, Gal 3:24.  I believe this is quite frequent.

I have checked over these passages and I really don't think they are
equivalent; it seems to me that in each of them the verb GINESQAI/GENESQAI
(whatever the tense/aspect) has the sense of a copula or of "turn out to
be, happen to be"--i.e. it's not eventive. Isn't this really a bit
different? Can we really read it as "This turned out to be (a) first
enrollment at the time when Quirinius was governor of Syria"? Seems a bit
odd to me.

>>and I'm thinking (out loud,
>> electronically ...) that it really OUGHT to construe as the noun to an
>> adjectival hAUTH--BUT, if that were the case, the phrase really OUGHT to be
>> written: hAUTH hH APOGRAFH PRWTH EGENETO, where I'd clearly understand
>> PRWTH as adverbial: "This census first took place ..." This may be an
>> instance of a construction that I've been looking at for so long that what
>> is obvious utterly escapes me. I'm still seeking enlightenment.
>I agree that, if hAUTH were an adjective modifying APOGRAFH, it ought to
>be in explicit predicate position with an articular APOGRAFH.  In fact, I
>am taking the view that, whenever the demonstratives hOUTOS and EKEINOS
>are adjectival, they are in explicit predicate position with an articular
>noun, and that they cannot serve as an adjective to an anarthrous noun (at
>least in the NT).  In all other cases the demonstratives have a
>pronominal function.  I don't know of any exceptions to this, although I
>may be mistaken.  If this is so, then hAUTH would function as a pronoun in
>Luke 2:2.  Both hAUTH and APOGRAFH are nominative; APOGRAFH is anarthrous
>and thus grammatically indefinite, whereas hAUTH is a pronoun and thus
>grammatically definite.  Therefore I would take hAUTH as the subject
>nominative, and APOGRAFH are the predicate nominative, according to the
>rule of thumb that in copulative constructions with one definite noun and
>one indefinite, the definite noun (or pronoun) is the subject, while the
>indefinite substantive is the predicate.  I don't see any problem with
>taking APOGRAFH as the predicate of EGENETO, since GINOMAI can take a
>predicate, as discussed above.  And, it seems to me, the construction
>hAUTH APOGRAFH PRWTH EGENETO requires us to take it this way.  Thus the
>sense would be: "This was the first census taken when Quirinius was
>governor of Syria."  But perhaps there are possible exceptions to this
>normal use of the demonstratives of which I am unaware.  I too
>am seeking enlightenment!


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad at OR cconrad at

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