Hebrews 2:10 DIA

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Thu Jul 29 08:48:03 EDT 1999

At 7:01 AM -0400 7/29/99, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>This threw me for a loop this morning:
>The phrase DI' hON TA PANTA KAI DI' hOU TA PANTA refers to God. The first
>DIA, with the accusative, means "for the sake of"; the second, with the
>genitive, means - at least I thought - "through the agency of". I remember
>first encountering this use of DIA when reading John the first time, where
>I thought the whole point of using DIA in this way was to distinguish the
>primary agent of creation (God) from the secondary agent of creation
>(Jesus).  Some verses where I thought this distinction was carefully made
>using DIA occur in John 1:3, John 1:10, Colossians 1:16.
>Hebrews 2:10 threw me for a loop because it uses DIA+genitive for God, who
>would be the primary agent, using the distinction made above.  Other verses
>that seem to use this in a similar way occur in 1 Cor 1:9, 1 Cor 12:8,
>Hebrews 2:10, Hebrews 13:11, 1 Pet 2:14, etc (references thanks to Zerwick,
>section 113).

I HOPE we can keep discussion of this question focused on grammatical
possibilities and avoid theological ramifications. Having said that, I have
to say that I'm not sure why it's necessary to assume that the relative
pronoun in DI' hON and DI' hOU refer to different 'persons.' After all, the
ultimate object of the verb in 2:9 is IHSOUN. To me it seems more natural
to understand AUTWi and the two relative pronouns as referring to the same
'person'--to IHSOUS. Moreover, I'd understand AUTWi not as a subject of
TELEIWSAI distinct from TON ARCHGON THS SWTHRIAS. In fact, although
TELEIWSAI is often enough a transitive active verb, it appears also to be
used frequently enough in an intransitive sense, and I would understand it
that way here too: not that God makes Jesus perfect, but that Jesus fully
accomplishes his mission. It was appropriate for him/Jesus; what was
appropriate? that He should complete his mission in a certain way; why was
it appropriate for him? because he is the mediator and agent of all things.
This is the way I read the grammar of the sentence, quite apart from how
one wants to understand the theology of it.

As for the distinction between DI' hON and DI' hOU, I'm not so sure that it
is so simple a matter as the distinction between "for the sake of" and
"through the agency of." I think that DIA with accusative is open to a
broader variety of senses which might be most simply represented as
"through the mediation of whom" "by way of whom"--i.e. the completion of
the process requires involvement of the object of DIA. You might note, by
the way, that the genitive with DIA at the end of the verse, PAQHMATWN,
can't rightly be understood in terms of agency at all--it must mean
something like "in the course of successive ordeals of suffering." One
vivid memory from my own first year of Greek is the endeavor to understand
prepositions and their cases in terms of geometrical diagrams: DIA with
Genitive was represented by a dotted arrow intersecting both sides of a
circle and indicating the passage from one side of something through to the
other side of it; DIA with Accusative was represented with a dotted arrow
passing through a point and indicating an essential point of intersection
for the completion of an action. I'm not sure that really works in every
instance, but I've always found it helpful when trying to sort out the
range of senses which DIA may take in different contexts.

So I'd understand the verse and convey its sense thus by way of paraphrase:
"It was appropriate that he, inasmuch as all things are mediated by him and
all things exist through his agency, that the author of their salvation
should accomplish his mission through experience of suffering, thereby
bringing many sons into glory."

>At any rate, back to my question: to what extent does DIA+genitive
>distinguish a secondary agent from a primary agent? How is it to be
>understood in the verses discussed above, e.g. in Hebrews 2:10? Is it
>legitimate to translate DI' hON TA PANTA KAI DI' hOU TA PANTA  as "for whom
>and by whom"?

I think I've explained my stance on the question: I do NOT think the intent
is to distinguish a secondary agent from a primary agent, and while I think
"for whom" is a legitimate possible understanding of DI' hON in Heb 2:10, I
don't think it is NECESSARY to understand it that way: I'm more inclined to
think that in this instance the difference between DI' hON and DI' hOU is
the difference between MEANS and AGENT. That may seem like a trivial and
redundant notion, but it's a distinction which in the older case system is
signaled by use of the Instrumental for Means and the Genitive for Agent.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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