Passive Instrument: A Clarification

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Fri Aug 17 05:42:16 EDT 2001


> Let me clarify my last post. In Colossians 1:16, how is the phrase "en
> autw" being grammatically used? En + Dative is not the normal Greek
> passive agency, which is usually accomplished by dative of instrument or
> agency. But "en autw" would then have no recourse but to be locative.
> However, the locative in this passage makes no sense. What would that be
> saying? That all of creation geographically exists inside Christ's
> physical body? Thus, am I justified in understanding this, by process of
> elimination, as simply a peculiar, but not unwarranted, perphrastic dative
> of passive agency? Thanks, Matthew R. Miller

Just a couple of comments:

1. Agency or agent is a semantic term and passive is a syntactical term.
When a passive is used the semantic agent is suppressed. In some languages,
e.g. English and Greek, the agent can be resurrected at a secondary level.
The normal way of doing that in Greek is by the use of hUPO as in:
Luke 8:29 HLAUNETO hUPO TOU DAIMONIOU EIS TAS ERHMOUS
"he was driven BY the demon into the wilderness"

Blass/Debrunner 191 lists one instance in the NT of the dative being used to
express agency (Luke 23:15), but this seems to be exceptional. I am not
aware of EN+dative being used to express an agent and could not find
examples of this in BDAG under EN. But it is not uncommon in an interlinear
Greek to translate EN+dative into English "by ...".

2. EN in Greek has a wide range of uses beyond the basic locative sense.
BDAG lists four major categories of meaning: place, time, cause/instrument
and various other uses. Each of these have several subcategories and some
have further subcategories.
They list Col. 1:16 under I.5. and I quote: "to indicate a very close
connection: ...Col. 1:16 is prob. to be understood as local, not
instrumental, since it would otherwise be identical w. DI' AUTOU in the same
verse."
This is their evaluation, but it is also possible to put it under sense
III.1.b "with the help of" or I.3 "to denote the presence of a person:
before, in the presence of".

There are times where EN is used where we might have expected a hUPO, e.g.

Luke 4:1 HGETO EN TWi PNEUMATI EN THi ERHMWi
"He was led in the Spirit in the wilderness"

Here the Spirit is not the agent in the same way that the demon was the
agent above. It seems to be either that he was in the presence of the Spirit
or in close relationship with the Spirit. Maybe even directed by the Spirit.
I suppose that could be called an extended locative sense.

There are other similar examples that are instructive to look at, e.g.

1 Cor 6:2 KAI EI EN hUMIN KRINETAI hO KOSMOS
"and if the world is judged with your help"

2 Cor 3:14 hOTI EN CRISTWi KATARGEITAI "because in/through Christ it is set
aside"

I am learning from these exercises, and I hope others learn something, too.
Thanks for asking the question.

Iver Larsen







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