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

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Wed Nov 26 13:58:11 EST 2008

On Nov 26, 2008, at 10:46 AM, Piet Huttenga wrote:

> 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
> prepositions.
> 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:
> Compare:
> 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
> dative.
> 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:
> 4:17)
> 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  
> I hope I did not make mistakes in the transcription.
> For what it is worth.
> Piet Huttenga

Sorry, but I still believe all this huffing and puffing (well,  
expenditure of mental effort, at any rate) is aimed at getting what is  
perfectly intelligible and grammatical in the Greek into an English  
that doesn't use the same tools of construction. Dative of possession  
is a standard Greek construction; if you're willing to put the generic  
third-person pronominal reference of the Greek into a generic second- 
person pronominal reference in English, you get, "So if you know how  
to do right and you don't do it, you've got sin."

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

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