[B-Greek] heis/mia/hen used as indefinite article?

Barry nebarry at verizon.net
Sun Jul 24 09:25:29 EDT 2005

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Carl W. Conrad" <cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu>
To: "Eddie Mishoe" <edmishoe at yahoo.com>
Cc: <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Sunday, July 24, 2005 8:14 AM
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] heis/mia/hen used as indefinite article?

> Although Eddie originally addressed this message to me and has
> apologized profusely (overmuch, methinks) for sending it to the list,
> I think it may be a useful matter for broader list-discussion.

Yeah, now he's got to apologize for sending it 4 times.  If for each apology, he 
apologizes 4 times...  :)

> I think what we learn more and more as we grow more intimately
> familiar with ancient Greek -- or with any second language -- is the
> extent to which our native language shapes our thought-patterns and
> at the same time the extent to which -- for that very reason -- we
> imagine that the structures of our native language are themselves
> somehow "natural" to human thinking.  I won't go further with that
> reflection, but I think it is true in any case.

A large percentage of learning any second language is learning that it really is 
a different language.  Occasionally, when teaching either Greek or Latin, I 
would have a student who would say something like "We don't do it that way in 
English at all..." To which I would reply "Aha, you're getting the point, that's 
one reason we call it a foreign language!"

> As for EN hUIWi in Heb 1:2, I think that an indefinite pronoun would
> be misleading there because it might suggest a plurality of sons of
> God, and although the notion of humanity as "sons" or "children" of
> God is not problematic, the author of Hebrews is very much concerned
> with the uniqueness of God's Son. What this suggests is that the
> English indefinite article may have functions that are quite distinct
> from what the Greek writer/speaker felt required in the situation.

Contextually true.  However, I think there is a fairly simple grammatical 
explanation: it is not at all uncommon to omit the definite article when the 
noun is used instrumentally with EN.  This is fairly common in the Pauline 
corpus, and though I haven't studied it much outside of Paul, it wouldn't 
surprise me if it's not common in other authors as well.  Can't check the 
grammars right now: they are all packed in storage awaiting our next move.

N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Adjunct Faculty, The Center for Urban Theological Studies
         Philadelphia, PA
Visiting Faculty, Reformed Theological Seminary
         Washington, D.C.

And me:

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