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

Piet Huttenga piet_huttenga at sil.org
Wed Nov 26 10:46:41 EST 2008

After more thinking about this verse, I come to a different conclusion.

The original contribution by Mark Cain had the following interesting remark:

"hAMARTIA AUTWi ESTIN" uses not a true dative in the sense of the 
indirect object, but a dative of advantage - disadvantage."

The immediate question arises then what “a true dative in the sense of 
the indirect object” is. I see no problem with the use of the dative 
here. I think that one would not expect any other case here. The problem 
may be in comparing a dative with an indirect object and then conclude 
that an indirect object should be in some sense an “object” of a verb. 
But the dative is to my mind in the first place a case used for somebody 
or something which is on the receiving end and also with certain 

I do not know if it is necessary to invent all sorts of new datives of 
…. They may be more dependent on the meaning of the noun than on the 
construction. “Dative of advantage – disadvantage” does not seem to be 
appropriate to me here, but I must admit that I did not go through the 
literature to see if anyone has used this term before.

In my former mails I reacted also to the following question he asked: 
“Is there a general grammatical rule for the use of EIMI + dative?”

Therefore I came up with the dativus possessoris which has the 
construction EIMI + dative.

I admit that the name “possessoris” maybe too restrictive, but the name 
has been given and normally a name does not cover all the example which 
fall under the category. Some examples may be better qualified as 
dativus receptoris (dative of the receiver).

After more thinking I do not think that this may not be completely the 
right category for the construction in James 4:17.

I wonder if hAMARTIA should not be considered as a sort of Predicate 
Noun referring back to part of the participle construction before.

Then the dative seems to be perfectly natural:


It is sin to me. (the fact that "me" (I) is also the Agent, is due to 
the fact that "sin" is an event noun)
It is good to me.

“To me” in English is expressed by languages with have a dative by the 

In my language, Dutch, we do have a dative construction in older 
expressions and in the pronounse (which have the same form as the 
accusative, O I have to go to our neighbours. Compare German: Es ist mir 
Wurst. "It does not make any difference to me.” (For people who do not 
know any German: Wurst is sausage. The Germans make very good sausages 
and also many different kinds of sausages, so the background of this 
idiom is not clear to me.). My wife would agree with this statement (all 
would she use more refined language). When I discussed this issue with 
her, she asked me the rethorical question whether our discussion would 
make any difference with regard to the exegesis. I think that you agree 
that my answer should be, “no”.

My conclusion is that then the dative is completely natural here, but to 
me the interesting point is the relationship between hAMARTIA and what 
comes before:


hAMARTIA seems to be almost a Predicate Noun in relation to the whole 
EIDOTI ….. POIOUNTI and then especially to MH POIOUNTI.

To the one then who knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin to him.

The question is what is sin to him? The answer is embedded in the 
participium construction: MH POIOUNTI. This may be perfectly acceptable 
in Greek, but it is strange to me. The subject in the main sentence 
could be considered as the predicate noun referring to one of the 
conjuncts of a coordinated subordinate relative clause. In my language 
such a construction would not be possible. It gives the impression of a 
too much condensed construction. (My hesitation can also be the result 
of my education. If I remember right one of the Dutch writers complained 
that he had gone to school, meaning that at school he learned to obey 
grammatical rules in such a way that they restricted him in his freedom 
of expression. And I think he has a point here).

Compare the literal:
To the one who knows to do good and does not do it, sin to him is.

I don’t think that it is possible to say this in English. Acceptable to 
me would be (at least in Dutch):

If you know that you could do good, but you don’t do it, then you have 
committed a sin.

To use “sin” as a sort of predicate noun referring back seems to be to 
difficult to express:

Maybe in English this would be possible:

If you do not do good when you could do it, then that is sin.

But it does not seem to be possible to use the same construction as in 
Greek. So my question would be whether this is acceptable in Greek and 
more examples could be found.

In conclusion for me the dative is not so much the problem here, the 
interesting part of this verse is the relation between EIDOTI OUN KALON 

I hope I did not make mistakes in the transcription.

For what it is worth.

Piet Huttenga

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