[B-Greek] Special use of the dative James 4:17

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Sun Nov 23 06:45:52 EST 2008

On Nov 23, 2008, at 12:11 AM, Tom Moore wrote:

> Εἰδότι οὖν καλὸν ποιεῖν καὶ μὴ  
> ποιοῦντι, ἁμαρτία αὐτῷ ἐστιν. [James  
> 4:17]
> Regarding the "dreaded expletive it," why isn't Webb correct that  
> hAMARIA is a predicate nominative, and the subject of ESTIN the  
> implied action of not doing what one knows is right (MH KALON POIEIN)?
> (Isn't this what Smyth [933] would call a "quasi-impersonal" verb?)

No, it isn't. Smyth §933 is referring to auxiliaries taking the  
infinitive where we can understand the infinitive as the subject of  
the "quasi-impersonal" verb, e.g. DOKEI, PREPEI, EXESTI, PREPEI,  
PROSHKEI, FAINETAI, CRH. In our text (James 4:17) the only way that we  
could understand hAMARTIA as a predicate nominative would be to supply  
as an "implicit" subject of ESTIN, MH POIEIN KALON EIDOTA POIEIN (the  
participle would, I think, need to be accusative).  People seem to  
want to offer a "literal" translation, "It is a sin for him to know  
the good and/but not to do it." But the corresponding Greek for that,  
AUTWi ESTIN, in which case TO KALON EIDENAI KAI MH POIEIN would be the  

I think, however, that those who wish to offer such a "literal"  
translation are thinking about this sentence as if it were formulated  
in an English construction. The so-called "dreaded expletive 'it'" is  
not an "unspeakable" word to be bleeped out; "expletive" is the  
grammatical term in English for a place-holder functioning as an  
imaginary subject, as in "It's me" (which I learned as "It is I" more  
than half a century ago). What throws English-speaking readers about  
the Greek sentence in James 4:17 is the fact that the entire  
construction is cast in the dative case with a single indicative  
primary verb ESTIN.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

>> -------Original Message-------
>> From: Mark Cain <mark at markcain.com>
>> Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Special use of the dative James 4:17
>> Sent: Nov 20 '08 21:07
> [snip]
>> The warning in the text is explicitly directed to Group #3 which is  
>> what
>> Webb Mealy posits but which is challenged by Carl Conrad.  Couldn't  
>> we use
>> the simple dative as indirect object and the existential of EIMI to  
>> get the
>> stilted translation "A sin exists to him" or perhaps better "It is  
>> a sin to
>> him." ?? (Sorry, Carl, for the dreaded "it")
>> Mark Cain
>> Sarasota, FL USA
> [snip]
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
>>> [mailto:b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Carl Conrad
>>> Sent: Friday, November 21, 2008 2:04 AM
>>> To: Webb Mealy
>>> Cc: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
>>> Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Special use of the dative James 4:17
>>> On Nov 20, 2008, at 11:03 AM, Webb Mealy wrote:
>>>> I'd call it a dative of respect or relation, and English it as  
>>>> "it's
>>>> sin for
>>>> him", making hAMARTIA a predicate nom. It's sin in his regard, or
>>>> it's sin
>>>> in relation to him. James's assumption is that the thing not done  
>>>> is
>>>> not sin
>>>> in relation to the person who *does not* know the good thing that
>>>> should be
>>>> done and fails to do it. In relation to that person the "not doing"
>>>> is not
>>>> sin.
>>> If hAMARTIA is a predicate noun, then what (on earth) is the subject
>>> of ESTIN? It cannot be KALON POIEIN because that is complementary to
>>> EIDOTI? The "It" in your English version is an expletive that  
>>> doesn't
>>> represent anything in the Greek.
>>> Carl W. Conrad
>>> Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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