Handout #1: A More Complete List of The Meanings of the Cases

This handout is intended for more advanced students, preferably after completion of the textbook.  Even this list of the possible uses of the cases is not exhaustive, but I have done my best to include every use of a case that is found somewhat frequently. Many of the uses below appear frequently enough in the New Testament to make it worthwhile knowing them, but much more frequently in Classical (or at least non-biblical) texts. I’ve also included a few verses one could translate to practice looking at texts where multiple possible translations of the cases could be defended. ‘The textbook’ referred to here is Glenn M. Balfour, A Step-by-Step Introduction to New Testament Greek, from which I teach my New Testament Greek classes.

 

  • Nominative (2 uses)
    • Subject. ‘The boy throws the ball.’
    • The Complement. ‘The word was God.’ When a noun is the ‘object’ (complement) of a verb of being or becoming (more precisely, an intransitive verb of incomplete predication), it is put in the nominative case, and, if it should have a definite article, its definite article is removed and it is placed immediately before the verb. See pages 45-47 of the textbook for more.
  • Vocative (1 use)
    • ‘Oi, boy! Throw the ball!’ Or, ‘O Lord, thou art merciful.’ In Classical Greek the vocative is always used with ὦ preceding it (and in the New Testament only sometimes), which could be translated as ‘O’ in English (as above); but since it is normal in English to get someone’s attention using just there name, it is usually best to leave ὦ un-translated.
  • Accusative (7 uses)
    • Direct Object. ‘The boy throws the ball.’ The direct object of the verb.
    • Double Accusative: sometimes the accusative case can be used for both the direct object and remoter object, which happens with some specific verbs (‘I ask the boy for the ball,’), and the remoter object will often seem like it could just as well be the dative. This is because the verb itself requires two objects (in this example, the person asked, and the object for which that person asks).
    • The Accusative used Predicatively: The accusative can be used to predicate another noun, to tell you more about it. This usually looks a bit like a double accusative, but one noun is giving you information about the other. I have seen this a lot more in Classical Greek texts, but it does happen occasionally in the New Testament. Gal. 2:18 or Acts 13:5. ‘They also had John – an assistant.’
    • Accusative of Content: Sometimes the accusative can be used to tell you the content of a verb – particularly when that content is already implied within the verb. 1 Pet. 3:14, ‘do not be afraid with fear of them.’ Often in English we use ‘with’ for the accusative of content.
    • Accusative of Respect: denoting that in respect of which some statement is made. Hebrews 2:17, ‘a faithful high priest in respect of things pertaining to God.’ We learned this as saying that the infinitive takes an accusative subject, but this is actually what is happening. So for an infinitive it takes an accusative subject because the subject of an infinitive is only that with respect to which the infinitive verb happens: ‘It is lawful for us to eat.’ In this sentence, ‘us’ (accusative in English as well!) is not the subject of the verb, because there is no verb actually happening. Rather, it is just the noun with respect to which this infinitive, infinite, verb is discussed.
    • The Accusative in Apposition: The accusative can be used to put a phrase in apposition to a complete sentence. For example, ‘a thing impossible for the law [to do],’ in Rom. 8:3.
    • Accusative as Extension of Time: ‘for an hour.’ See page 123 of the textbook.
  • Genitive (11 uses)
    • ‘Of’ – Genitive of Definition: This is the most typical use of the genitive, and is just used to tell you something about another noun, almost like an adjective. So, if I said ‘the love of God,’ I am describing the type of love to which I refer: not the love that happens between humans, but the type of love that is God’s. This is not the possessive genitive, which describes love that is God’s possession, but rather the genitive of definition tells you the type (Latin: genus) of love.
    • ‘Of’ – Possessive Genitive: Though technically less common, understanding most genitives this way will usually get you close to the mark, even though the previous one is the default. But you can think of God’s love as being the love that belongs to God, and that’s usually close to the same thing. The possessive genitive really only applies to when something is actually being possessed, such as ‘the boy’s
    • ‘Of’ – Subjective Genitive: One could also understand ‘the love of God’ as God’s act of loving, the love that is a verb with God as its subject. This is not too dissimilar to the genitive of definition, but sometimes is helpful to understand, in order to distinguish from the next item on our list.
    • ‘Of’- Objective Genitive: Just as easily, ‘the love of God’ could be love that is for God, with God as its object – as in ‘for the love of money!’ So while these first three types of genitive can be quite similar, this one is the opposite. All of them can be understood simply as ‘of,’ once we realise that this English word can do a lot as well!
    • Genitive of Time, Place, Quantity or Price: the genitive can also do all of these things. We covered the genitive of time in the textbook (page 123): ‘during the day.’ Then, the genitive of place: very rarely (and mostly in Luke-Acts), it can be used for a place, like in Acts 19:4, ‘he was about to go through by that way [ἐκείνης].’ Of quantity: tells you how much something happened for. 1 Cor. 6:20, ‘you were bought for a price.’ This is similar to another genitive, the genitive of price, in which the actual price of something is put in the genitive.
    • Genitive of Separation: the genitive as it has taken over from the ablative (which does still exist in the NT but very rarely). When one thing is separated from ano Can be used together with verbs for hindering from, hiding from, keeping from, etc. Eph. 2:12: ‘being estranged from the citizenship of Israel.’ Martin Luther’s now mostly abandoned reading of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ (Rom. 1:17 and elsewhere) was as a genitive of separation (or ‘ablative genitive’).
    • Genitive of Comparison: the thing being compared with goes in the genitive. 1 Cor. 14:18, I speak with tongues ‘more than you all.’ Pages 248-249.
    • Genitive Absolute: The case used for a ‘separate clause’ in Greek. A separate clause is a clause in which a participle is used to describe a verb in the main sentence, but the subject of that participle does not appear in the main sentence. So, for example, ‘after the demon was cast out the poor man spoke.’ The entire clause, including the participle, is put in the genitive case. So in Greek a separate clause is a genitive absolute.
    • Exercise: Rom. 3:21-22a.
  • Dative (4 uses)
    • Indirect object: To or for. Page 35 in the textbook. This is the most common use of the dative case.
    • Locative: When an object is located in or on another object. Can be either metaphorical or physical: Rom. 14:1 refers to one who is ‘weak in faith.’ Page 122 in the textbook.
    • Instrumental: By or with, specifically when referring to the instrument of an action (a thing, not a person). Rom. 8:13, ‘by the spirit.’ Page 122 in the textbook.
    • Temporal: at a specific point in time. Page 123 in the textbook.
    • Others: there are many more uses of the dative that occur very infrequently, and some of these explain why we have so many verbs that take a dative ‘object.’ Often it’s very slippery and you just have to try to translate with to/for, and if not then with the other three main possibilities, and if not then just rely on context to work it out.
    • With: The dative case is used following the preposition σύν, ‘with,’ but sometimes is used in this way on its own, without the preposition. Another way that the dative could be translated as ‘with’ is when it is used instrumentally, as noted as above: to be hit ‘with a hammer.’
    • Exercises: Rom. 8:28 and Gal. 5:5.

 


This list was compiled from Glenn M. Balfour, A Step-by-Step Introduction to New Testament Greek (Mattersey: Mattersey Hall Publications, 2005) and C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek (London: Cambridge University Press, 1959).

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