Matt 6:1 Syntax

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Tue Jan 12 11:33:43 EST 1999

At 2:59 PM +0000 1/12/99, Jonathan Ryder wrote:
>A query re syntax of this verse:
>H D Betz in his commentary on SM (Fortress 1995) says PROSECETE takes
>two objects, one direct THN DIKAIOSUNHN and one indirect MH POIEIN...
>and translates vs: 'Be on guard concerning righteousness, not to act
>before the people ...', insisting that usual translations, eg 'Take heed
>that ye do not do your righteousness...' (RV) 'Christianize' Jewish
>I assume that 'usual translations' take MH POIEIN as 'object' or
>complementary infinitive to PROSECETE and THN DIKAIOSUNHN hUMWN as the
>object of POIEIN
>My questions are as follow:
>1.    Do I assume correctly re usual translation as detailed above?
>2.    Are both options syntactically possible?
>3.    Is there any grammatical/syntactical/lexical reason/evidence for
>preferring one or the other or is this an exegetical question?

This is an interesting question. My own inclination, I confess, is to
understand MH POIEIN as a complementary infinitive to PROSECETE and THN
DIKAIOSUNHN hUMWN as object of POIEIN (I've written the whole phrasing out
to leave no room for misinterpretation--if I'm wrong on this one, I shall
be absolutely wrong!).

I don't understand Betz's argument here. A very quick Accordance search of
LXX discloses several instances of DIKAIOSUNHN POIEIN: Gen. 2;13, Tob. 4:5,
Tob. 14:7, Isaiah 58:2, Ezekiel 18:17, 33:16, 45:9. So I don't understand
how he can say that taking DIKAIOSUNHN hUMWN as object of POIEIN is to
'Christianize' Jewish usage or Jewish theology. Moreover, it strikes me as
exceeding strange to use POIEIN absolutely in the sense of 'practice'
without an object; I could imagine PRATTEIN being used absolutely like
that, but POIEIN, since it implicitly means to bring something into being
rather than to perform an act, seems strange if understood in that sense of
'practice' and used absolutely. Upon checking LSJ/Glare I do find (B) POIEW
used like PRATTW, but normally with an object, and then (B.II) POIEW used
absolutely as opposed to PASCW or in a medical sense of 'be
efficacious'--but neither of these really seems to me to fit here, and
given the evidence of LXX usage of DIKAIOSUNHN POIEIN, it still seems to me
that the "usual" way of understanding the syntax here is more likely.

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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