[B-Greek] Special use of the dative James 4:17
iver_larsen at sil.org
Sun Nov 23 12:56:39 EST 2008
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carl Conrad" <cwconrad2 at mac.com>
To: "Tom Moore" <tom at katabiblon.com>
Cc: <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: 23. november 2008 14:45
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Special use of the dative James 4:17
> On Nov 23, 2008, at 12:11 AM, Tom Moore wrote:
>> Εἰδότι οὖν καλὸν ποιεῖν καὶ μὴ
>> ποιοῦντι, ἁμαρτία αὐτῷ ἐστιν. [James
>> EIDOTI OUN KALON POIEIN KAI MH POIOUNTI, hAMARTIA AUTWi ESTIN
>> 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  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,
> hWS EMOIGE DOKEI, would be, TO KALON EIDENAI KAI MH POIEIN hAMARTIA
> 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
There is a fairly similar construction in 1 Jhn 3:5:
KAI hAMARTIA EN AUTWi OUK ESTIN
And sin is not in him or: he has no sin or: he is not a sinner.
Otherwise John often uses ECW as in:
Jhn 9:41 OUK AN EICETE hAMARTIAN
Jhn 15:22,24 hAMARTIAN OUC EICOSAN
Jhn 19:11 hO PARADOUS ME SOI MEIZONA hAMARTIAN ECEI
If we look at the semantics, it seems less of a problem. In several languages one would express "A
has B" as "B is to A". The grammar is different, but the semantics is similar. In both cases B has
the role of semantic Patient while A has the role of Beneficiary (owner). A beneficiary is normally
expressed by a dative or a prepositional phrase, but with a few verbs like "have, possess, own" it
Many English speakers are probably conditioned by the literal versions they are used to, e.g.
KJV: Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.
ESV: So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
RSV: Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
NASB: Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
All of these are misleading translations, precisely because they are too literal to be faithful and
accurate. I am not saying that those who made these translations did not know Greek well, but they
were held hostage to the tradition of literal renderings.
Most of the newer English versions are better, e.g.
REB: anyone who knows the right thing to do and does not do it is a sinner.
NET: whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin.
NIV: Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
NRSV: Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
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