[B-Greek] Matthew 28:17: hOI DE EDISTASAN

Iver Larsen iver at larsen.dk
Thu Apr 13 12:56:17 EDT 2006

> {Albert:] First of all, in many of these 25 cases I don't see any marked shift in subject - certainly no more marked 
> then is found elsewhere with other conjunctions or particles - though of course, if you look hard enough and want to 
> find such a shift, you always can. However, there is a huge difference between a shift of subject, and a shift in 
> pronomial reference. Not one of the 25 cases I gave in which the word hOI functions as a pronoun, involve a shift in 
> the group to which the pronoun refers. This only leaves 1 unconvincing example (26:67) and the example under dispute. 
> So saying that hOI followed by a verb does not have to mean "some" is an understatement. At best, you should say that 
> "in Matthew, hOI followed by a verb might on rare occasions mean "some"". But I remain entirely unconvinced.

Iver: If you took the time to look in detail at how hO DE and hOI DE function in Greek, you would see how this 
construction indicates a shift in subject.

>> [IL] It looks like you are being mislead by the English, somewhat ambiguous, "they". Try to look at all instances of 
>> the nominative hO DE (singular) and hOI DE (plural). It is not significant whether there is a following masculine 
>> noun or not, since the noun only makes explicit what otherwise is implicit.
> No, I think you are mistaken here. There is a fundamental difference whether or not the word hOI is followed by a 
> masculine plural nominative noun. If it is, then it functions as *the definite article*. If it is not, then it 
> functions as a *pronoun*. These are quite distinct functions. In the translations you claim are correct of 28:17, it 
> is assumed that the noun which the pronoun references changes because of the DE. But in all other 26 examples bar 
> possibly one (26:67), it does not. Hence my scepticism.

Iver: You cannot argue from how the definite article and pronoun function in English. Yes, they are quite distinct in 
English, but not so in Greek. What we are dealing with here is what is normally called "participant reference" in 
discourse linguistics. It would take too long to explain all about how to do a participant reference analysis, but let 
me take a fairly random example from Mat 8:28-32. I won't copy the whole paragraph, so please look it up in your Greek 

In v. 28a the first participant mentioned is Jesus, who is referenced by a pronoun, because he is the main and global 
participant. In 28b two "demonized" are introduced by way of a participle functioning as a noun. In 28c a different 
participant is introduced by TINES. So, in this verse, we have three different groups of participants, referenced by 
either a pronoun, a participle/noun and another pronoun (TINES). The third group was only mentioned in passing in the 
setting, so they no longer appear on stage.
In v. 29a the demonized are referred to by a third person plural suffix on the verb. There is a general rule about 
specificity that says that if a verb affix is sufficiently clear as a reference, then that is used. If a verbal affix 
would be ambiguous, then a (personal or demonstrative) pronoun is used. If a pronoun would be ambiguous, then you go 
higher up the hierarchy and use a noun, often a title or description of the participant. If that is not sufficiently 
clear, one can go all the way to the top and use a proper noun/name like Jesus (if the participant has been named). 
But, since the two groups on the stage are Jesus and the demonized, the plural suffix is enough to indicate which group 
is being referred to.
v. 30 moves off the storyline into a background comment or "internal setting". This is indicated partly by the DE which 
shifts from storyline to background, partly by the verb "to be" (HN). The pigs are introduced by a noun phrase.
v. 31 starts hOI DE DAIMONES PAREKALOUN - DE does not mean "but", but shifts subject/participant from the pigs back to 
the demonized, or rather to the demons within the demonized people. The main purpose of the noun DAIMONES is to 
introduce this new group of participants.
v. 32a starts KAI EIPEN AUTOIS - It could have said hO DE EIPEN. The third person singular verb is enough to indicate 
Jesus as the participant. The KAI probably indicates a close connection in the sense that Jesus grants them their 
request. (So, you can have a subject shift, even when KAI is used.)
v. 32b then shifts back to the demons from Jesus by use of hOI DE.
v. 32c then shifts again to another participant: the pigs. A singular pronoun (he) would not work, because it might 
refer to Jesus. A plural pronoun would not work, because it might refer to the demons or the demonized. So, a noun 
phrase is used.
v. 32d has no shift in participants and there is no DE. The third person verb in KAI APEQANON refers to the same subject 
as in 33c.

Well, I am not sure this will convince you, but it is an interesting exercise to do a participant analysis in order to 
see how participants are introduced and kept track of during a story. The Greek DE functions - among other tasks - to 
indicate a change in participant reference, but English has no equivalent. English can still use singular and plural 
pronouns, but one would often have to go higher up the hierarchy in English and use nominals, names or other means like 
"some" in order not to obscure participant reference. In our training of Bible translators, we often use the KJV of Mark 
9:14-29 to show how disastrous it can be if every Greek pronoun is translated by the corresponding English pronoun.
An inadequate understanding of how hO DE and hOI DE function in Greek can also lead to wrong assumptions and misleading 
translations as you have clearly demonstrated.

Iver Larsen
SIL Translation Consultant.

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