Handout #3: Conditional Statements in Ancient Greek and Latin

This handout introduces conditional statements as we use them in English, and then describes with technical detail how conditional statements work in Classical and Biblical Greek and in Latin, comparing and contrasting along the way. It is meant for reference, as it contains all information on conditional statements in every textbook listed in the bibliography. Sadly some of the formatting has been lost when I put it online, so please write to me at teacher.learnnewtestamentgreek@gmail.com if you would like a PDF of the complete handout, in a more readable format.

1. Conditional Statements in English

Here is an example of a conditional statement:

‘If he drinks too much then he will fall over.’

Conditional statements have two parts: the ‘protasis’ puts forward a circumstance, which might result in an ‘apodosis’ being given back in consequence.  Above the protasis is ‘If he drinks too much,’ and the apodosis is ‘then he will fall over.’  They can be written in either order, so we could say, ‘He will fall over if he drinks too much.’

There are six possible types of conditional statements:

Future Open (fulfilled/fulfillable, real)Future Closed (unfulfilled, unreal)
Present Open (fulfilled, real)Present Closed (unfulfilled, unreal)
Past Open (fulfilled, real)Past Closed (unfulfilled, unreal)

Grammarians variously refer to these statements as either ‘open/closed,’ ‘fulfilled/unfulfilled’ or ‘real/unreal,’ depending on which tense is being referred to and which grammarian is writing; we will refer to them all as ‘open’ or ‘closed’ here, until we get to Latin, which makes more sense as ‘real/unreal.’

An ‘open’ conditional statement has a protasis that yet may or may not be the case.  The example given above is a future open conditional, because we do not yet know how much I will drink.

A ‘closed’ conditional statement refers to one that we already know or strongly suspect not to be the case (it is closed off from possibility).  So, a present closed conditional might be said if onlookers watched someone standing up and drinking, and one of them said, ‘If he were drinking too much then he would be falling over.’  Both the protasis and apodosis refer to what is happening in the present, but the apodosis refers to what is closed off from possibility by the fact that they can see he is still standing.

Let’s have the same table as above again, but this time with examples:

If he drinks too much then he will fall overIf he did drink too much then he would indeed fall over; but he plans to drink in moderation.
If he is drinking too much then he is falling over.If he were drinking too much then he would be falling over.
If he drank too much then he was falling over.If he had drunk too much then he would have been falling over; but he was standing.

These are the six different types of conditional statements: open or closed statements, in each of the three tenses.  Each of these six examples contains a protasis and an apodosis, which together form either an open or closed statement.  It is not usually possible for a protasis to be open while an apodosis is closed, because ‘open’ and ‘closed’ describe the statement as a whole (but Latin does occasionally mix them).

However, it is easy to mix tenses, particularly between past and present.  So, one could have an open conditional statement in which the protasis is past and the apodosis is present: ‘If he drank too much [past] he must be falling over now [present].’  This is an open conditional statement, because it leaves open the possibility that he is drinking too much.  It has not been closed off from possibility, because we do not know how much he is drank.  However, it mixes past and present: the protasis is past, but the apodosis is present.  One could make the protasis past and the apodosis future: ‘If he drank too much then he will fall over.’  Or, with a bit of imagination, one could make the protasis present and the apodosis past: ‘If he is drinking too much, bad things must have happened last night.’  Was this an open or closed conditional?

In sum:

  1.  A conditional statement expresses cause and effect with a protasis (cause) and an apodosis (effect).
  2. The whole conditional statement, including both protasis and apodosis, is either open or closed (aside from some cases in Latin).  Open conditional statements tell us a cause and effect that are open to possibility, because we do not yet know whether this cause and effect have actually happened, are happening or will happen.  Closed conditional statements tell us something that we are sure did not happen, is not happening, or will not happen – and tell us what would have resulted if they had happened.
  3. Open and closed conditional statements can be either past, present or future, or have one tense in the protasis and another in the apodosis.

Finally, let’s see the same table again, but this time with fuller grammatical definitions:

FutureIf the protasis is to be true then the apodosis will follow.  If X happens then Y will happen.  X->Y (both future)A protasis that we strongly expect will not happen would have led to an apodosis.   X would lead to Y but neither are expected to happen.  X->Y (both future)
PresentIf the protasis is true then the apodosis follows.  If X is happening then Y is happening.  X->Y (both present)A protasis that is not true would be leading to an apodosis.  If X were happening then Y would be happening.  X->Y (both present)
PastIf the protasis was true then the apodosis followed.  If X happened then Y happened.  X->Y (both past)If a protasis had been true then an apodosis would have followed.  If X had happened then Y would have happened. X->Y (both past)

Types of conditional statement (open or closed) may not normally be mixed.  However, tenses may.  One could thus say that writing conditional statements is a pick’n’mix in which one must either keep left or keep right (except in Latin where it is possible to mix open and closed, though still quite rare).

Latin and Greek have different rules about how to write conditional statements, but for both languages there are set ways one writes the protasis and apodosis depending upon the tense of the clause and whether it is in an open or closed conditional statement.  Also, the above is a good starting point for Greek, but things change a bit with Latin.  Let us being with Classical Greek.

2.  Classical Greek conditional statements operate according to the following formulas:

Futureεἄν + subjunctiveFuture indicativeεἰ + optativeOptative + ἄν
Presentεἰ + present indicativePresent indicativeεἰ + imperfect indicativeImperfect indicative + ἄν
Pastεἰ + past indicativePast indicativeεἰ + aorist indicativeAorist indicative + ἄν
  • Sometimes the future open conditional is also written with εἰ + future indicative for the protasis, like with present and past open conditionals.  This is particularly the case if the unavoidable nature of the apodosis is being stressed, like in threats or warnings.  Similarly, since the Latin future open conditional is only written with the indicative, it is only used for this sense of a stressed threat or warning.
  • Greek open conditionals carry no implication regarding whether the apodosis is fulfilled or not, but merely indicate that it is open to possibility.  In Greek, certainty is on the side of closed conditionals, which are certainly unfulfilled (so future conditionals are usually open, because the future is uncertain).  This is different from Latin, where certainty is on the side of open conditionals (they describe definite consequences of possible actions), so future conditionals tend to be closed, where the implication is that they exist merely in theory.  In sum: Greek open conditionals are possibly open, but closed conditionals are certainly closed.  Latin open/real conditionals express certain results if that protasis occurs, but closed/unreal conditionals express things that likely would have been the case.
  • In Greek conditionals μή is used for negative protases and οὐ for negative apodoses (compare Latin nisi and non).
  • εἄν + subjunctive can also be used for an indefinite present, ‘if ever you should…,’ which is a common occurrence in Koine/New Testament Greek.
  • Greek past closed conditionals could use the imperfect rather than aorist to express a repeated or specifically continual action.
  • Since there is no aorist indicative of εἰμί, the imperfect must be used in all past-tense conditionals.
  • Greek protases can be replaced by participle phrases or genitive absolutes, which would still be negatived by μή.
  • Since it is only the presence of ἄν in the apodosis that marks the conditional as closed, one cannot begin to translate the protasis before reading the apodosis.
  • The apodosis can be an imperative: ‘If this happens, then do that!’
  • Though the above are by far the most common types of conditional statement, there are a few more possible ones.  See p. 562 of The Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2019) for a table summarising pp. 550-561, which describes all of these in full.  However, the above table includes all that is taught in Reading Greek: Grammar and Exercises (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007) (summarised on p. 460) and John Taylor, Greek Beyond GCSE (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), pp. 22-29, compared with Latin on p. 332.

3.  New Testament Greek conditional statements operate according to the following formulas:

Futureεἄν + subjunctiveFuture indicativeNo complete examples – some partial.
Presentεἰ + present indicativePresent indicativeεἰ + imperfect indicativeImperfect indicative + ἄν
Pastεἰ + past indicativePast indicativeεἰ + aorist indicativeAorist indicative + ἄν
  • This table is mostly unchanged from Classical Greek, except that there are very few examples of closed future conditionals (see below).
  • There are some partial future closed conditionals in the New Testament.  They either mix optative and subjunctive, omit the protasis, omit the apodosis or contain a verbless apodosis.
  • As in Classical Greek, the protasis can be a participle clause or genitive absolute, but this can also be the case even if the participle is substantival, such as in the Beatitudes.
  • Not just the apodosis but also the protasis can be an imperative, such as in John 2:19.
  • Though usually used with a future apodosis, the future open conditional is actually used to express any condition that is of uncertain but still likely fulfilment, as opposed to the closed future for uncertain but unlikely fulfilment (as stated above, such statements did exist already in Classical Greek).  In New Testament Greek the apodosis can be in any tense for these conditionals.  With the subjunctive in Koine taking over from the optative in Classical, the future open conditional had to take over for any condition that expresses something hypothetical and unlikely to occur, or hypothetical and will not occur.  It is also used for general principles, often with a present apodosis.  See John 11:9 for an example, and Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), pp. 696-699 for more information.

4.  Latin conditional statements operate according to the following formulas:

FutureSi + future indicativeFuture indicativeSi + present subjunctivePresent subjunctive
PresentSi + present indicativePresent indicativeSi + imperfect subjunctiveImperfect subjunctive
PastSi + past indicativePast indicativeSi + pluperfect subjunctivePluperfect subjunctive
  • In Latin it makes more sense to speak of ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ conditionals.  ‘Real’ conditionals use the indicative and refer to things that are the case or that are strongly expected to be the case.  ‘Unreal’ conditionals speak of things that exist only theoretically/subjunctively.  For past and present unreal/closed conditionals this works out to mean the same thing as in Greek: the apodosis is unreal because it is closed off from possibility, being only theoretical.
  • However, in Latin, future conditionals are normally subjunctive/unreal unless expressing a particular confidence or vividness in the future.  Closed conditionals in Greek are conditionals that we are sure have been closed off from possibility; since we are sure of it, it is more difficult to have this type of conditional in the future tense.  However, unreal conditionals in Latin are conditionals that only exist in theory but not in reality; since we are unsure of them it is easier to have this type of conditional in the future tense.  Putting this again even more precisely: the right columns in Greek expresses conditionals that we are sure are not the case, but the right columns in Latin expresses things that we are theorising would be the case.  This difference between certain that not and uncertain if yes is why future conditionals are more naturally open (on the left) in Greek but more naturally unreal (on the right) in Latin.  In both languages this causes the other, rarer, form to take special meaning: the rarer Greek future closed is used to express a conditional that could take place but we confidently expect it not to.  The rarer Latin future real is used if the unavoidable nature of the apodosis is being stressed, like in threats or warnings.  One could also describe this as being more ‘vivid.’  In both instances the rarer form is the one where we express the type of conditional which in that language expresses most certainty with the inherently uncertain future.
  • One effect of this is that the Latin unreal future conditional equates in meaning to the Greek open future conditional, since they are both the default way of doing straightforward conditionals in the future, in which ever form is less certain in that language.  But since Greek places ‘openness’ (the unknown) on the left of the table, that is how it expresses future conditionals, and since Latin places ‘theoreticality’ (the unknown) on the right of the table, that is how it expresses future conditionals.
  • A negative protasis is instead introduced by nisi.  If the apodosis is negative it uses non.
  • Also note that Latin can in fact sometimes mix real and unreal conditionals, using the indicative in one clause and the subjunctive in the other.  More commonly, and like Greek, it can mix tenses.

5.  Bibliography

De Bakker, Mathieu, Luuk Huitink, Evert van Emde Boas and Albert Rijksbaron, The Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2019)

Balfour, Glenn M., A Step-by-Step Introduction to New Testament Greek (Mattersey: Mattersey Hall, 2005)

Cullen, Henry and John Taylor, Latin to GCSE 2 (London: Bloomsbury, 2016)

Jones, Peter and Keith Sidwell, Reading Greek: Grammar and Exercises (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007)

Taylor, John, Greek Beyond GCSE (London: Bloomsbury, 2017)

Wallace, Daniel B., Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996)

Wheelock, Frederic M., Richard A. LaFleur (ed.), Wheelock’s Latin: 6th Edition Revised (New York: HarperCollins, 2005)

Blog #3: Psalm 22/23 in the Septuagint

Recently I had two of my longest-standing students over for the evening, to do some translation together. Having completed all of Balfour’s textbook several years ago, and spent twenty-four weeks going through his notes on Mark in Greek, we’ve met as a reading group ever since, working on much of the rest of Mark, as well as Philippians, parts of the Didache, Epictetus, and occasionally some Classical texts. This week we forayed into new territory and translated Psalm 23 from the Septuagint, the Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (where Psalm 23 is actually Psalm 22). Since it was translated around the early second century BCE, this threw up an exciting opportunity to read some Koine Greek from a period much closer to Classical – much closer to when Alexander the Great declared that the world shall speak Attic Greek, and inaugurated the slow shift from Attic to Koine. A few noteworthy observations arose, so I thought I’d record them here. The first is a bit long and grammatical, so if you’re still just learning nouns feel free to skip the next paragraph.  Also, if you’d like to have a look at Psalm 22 in the Septuagint, you can find it here, with the parsing available if your browser window is stretched wide enough.  More details on the textbooks to which I refer in this post can be found in the ‘Resources’ section of this website.

Firstly, the most bizarre thing to come out of this is what happens with ‘aspect’ in the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew here (if indeed the Hebrew on which it was based was the same as the Masoretic Text received today). ‘Aspect’ refers to whether a verb is complete or ongoing. Ancient Greek uses the aorist ‘tense’ to denote completed action, and ‘tense’ is here in inverted commas because of the ongoing debate about the extent to which the aorist should even be called a tense at all, with some (notably Stanley Porter in his book Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood) arguing that even in the indicative mood, the aorist is about simple (completed) as opposed to continuous (ongoing) aspect, not about when the verb takes place. In essence, Porter is arguing that Greek is even more ‘aspectual’ (concerned with whether actions are complete or ongoing) than we had imagined, and less temporally concerned. This is interesting to note here because Ancient Hebrew is a much more aspectual language even than Ancient Greek, with only two ‘tenses,’ both of which are not tenses, but rather aspects (see Balfour’s Hebrew textbook, pp. 224-227 and 254-258). The perfect denotes a verb regarded by the speaker as complete (whether complete in the past, present or future), and the imperfect denotes a verb regarded by the speaker as ongoing (whether ongoing in the past, present or future). In order then to mark tense, Hebrew has some other tricks it sometimes uses to note when a verb (perfect or imperfect) took place in the past. What makes this interesting with respect to Psalm 22/23 in the Septuagint? Well, in the Hebrew it’s written in the imperfect (the ongoing/continuous aspect, as opposed to the complete/simple), but in the Greek it’s mostly written in the aorist. Taken on its own, without giving thought to the Hebrew, it’s actually a nice example of the where the aorist is probably entirely about aspect and not at all about tense: the author does sometimes use present or future verbs, but then mostly writes in the aorist, likely because he’s talking poetically about simple ways in which God relates to him, not talking historically about things God did. This would all make perfect sense if the Hebrew had been written in the perfect. But, as far as we know, it wasn’t (unless the Septuagint was translated from an older and now lost Hebrew text that used the perfect). The Hebrew was written in the imperfect, specifically noting God’s continuous way of relating to David, but the Septuagint translators used the aorist, specifically noting the ‘complete-in-nature’ actions through which God relates to David. My guess is that this happened because the aorist was the standard aspect in which Ancient Greek speakers thought and spoke, so it was translated that way even though the Hebrew is specifically in the continuous aspect. Whatever the reason, it does at least seem fair to say here that Psalm 22/23 is an example of the aorist indicative having nothing to do with time.

Secondly, when one of my students encountered the word βακτηρία, ‘rod,’ she of course wondered how this word came to be the English word ‘bacteria.’   The answer? βακτηρία, like the neuter βακτήριον, is actually a diminutive of βάκτρον, a staff. So it’s a little staff. Apparently bacteria (presumably from the plural of βακτήριον, not from the feminine) look like little staves. Isn’t that just lovely?

Thirdly, in the Septuagint verse six begins ‘Your mercy will follow me all the days of my life.’ If you have this psalm memorised, you might have just noticed a word missing. In this case, I strongly suspect that the older Hebrew from which it was translated just didn’t have a word for ‘goodness’ alongside mercy here.

Fourthly, in verse two, ‘on still waters’ is ἐπὶ ὕδατος ἀναπαύσεως.  According to Balfour’s textbook (p. 123), ἐπὶ followed by the genitive in New Testament Greek is a temporal genitive – it refers to an event happening during the time of the noun (or type of time of the noun) in the genitive case.  And indeed, this is the use of ἐπὶ + gen. I have most often seen in my reading of the New Testament.  Combined with one of the other two possible cases (accusative or dative), ἐπὶ has a sense of ‘on,’ being ‘extension on or onto’ with the accusative, or ‘location on’ with the dative.  However, in Shelmerdine’s Attic Greek textbook, we learn on p. 96 that ἐπὶ plus the genitive means ‘on.’  It would appear that the commonest meaning of ἐπὶ + gen. in the New Testament, as a temporal genitive (though it is occasionally used as ‘on’ in the New Testament, such as in Rev. 11:6), became standard after the translation of the Psalms into Greek.  This is a nice example of the Koine Greek of the Septuagint (or at least of the Psalms) being grammatically closer to Attic than to New Testament Greek.

Lastly, I just wouldn’t be doing the text justice if I didn’t point this out: although most translations of the Hebrew render it quite neutrally as ‘my cup is abundantly full,’ or something similar, the Greek here (καὶ τὸ ποτήριον σου μεθύσκον ὡς κράτιστον), as well as the Latin used in the Vulgate (et calix meus inebrians quam praeclarus est), makes it very clear that this cup isn’t just running over. It’s running over specifically to the point of the psalmist being absolutely trollied. As the Douay Rheims translation of the Vulgate puts it, ‘And my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it!’  (Though why the chalice went from being God’s to David’s somewhere between the Greek and Latin I have no idea.)

Handout #2: Rules and Memory Aids for Greek Pronouns

This handout is a list of everything to remember from lessons 11-14 of the New Testament Greek textbook (Balfour, A Step-by-Step Introduction to New Testament Greek).  Some of what follows might not make sense without having been through these lessons in the book.  This is intended as a revision tool, and to help when doing one’s exercises.  Also, because it is based on Balfour’s textbook, it does not make use of accents.

  1. ε → ο       a → i              ἐκεινος = ‘that’       οὑτος = ‘this’
  2. The demonstrative adjectives are always used with the definite article.
  3. The attributive and predicative positions are flipped for the demonstrative adjectives and ὁλος (‘whole’).
  4. If αὐτος does not use a definite article, then it is probably the third-person singular personal pronoun, ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘it’ (depending on its gender and the noun it replaces).

4.1. It can be used when the subject of the verb was inferred within the verb itself, and sometimes this is for emphases. For example, in αὐτος λεγει, it might be used for emphasis.

  1. If αὐτος uses the definite article in the Predicative position, then it is the Emphasising Pronoun, ‘himself’, ‘herself’, or ‘itself’.

5.1. In this use, the third person pronoun is also used as first and second person pronouns. So ἐγω αὐτος λεγω must mean ‘I myself say’, because it mixes first and third person pronouns.

  1. If αὐτος uses the definite article in the Attributive position, then it is the Identical Adjective, ‘same’. So, ὁ αὐτος κυριος is ‘The same Lord’.
  2. The third person reflexive pronoun, ἑαυτον, covers first and second person in the plural. So ἀκουετε ἑαυτοις; means ‘Do you hear yourselves?’ (not ‘Do you hear themselves?’)

7.1. The first and second person singular reflexive pronouns simply take the prefix of the first and second person personal pronouns (ἐμ and σ) to become ἐμαυτον and σεαυτον.

  1. The Greek possessive pronoun (ἐμου/μου/σου/αὐτου, etc.) can be translated as a possessive pronoun or adjective in English (my, mine, of me, your, yours, his, of him, etc.), but it is never used for emphasis. The possessive adjective is always used for emphasis (imagine if in English we always put ‘my’ in italics).

8.1. If the possessive adjective is in the attributive position, translate it as a possessive adjective in English (‘her_______’). If it is not in the attributive position, translate it as a possessive pronoun in English (‘hers’).

  1. The relative pronoun takes the number and gender of its antecedent, but the case that is dictated by its context within the relative clause.

9.1. Sometimes NT authors do this incorrectly, and it takes the number, gender, and case of its antecedent.

  1. Note that the relative pronoun usually has a grave accent, and the definite article does not. Also, observe its rough breathing in order to distinguish the masculine and neuter singular genitives from the negativing particle, οὐ, and to distinguish the feminine singular accusative relative pronoun ἣν from the third person singular past tense for ‘to be’, ἠν.

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).

Blog #2: Some Very Fascinating Things I’ve Learned

My website informs me that it has existed for about six months now.  While I haven’t really stopped teaching Greek in the last decade, over the past six months I’ve given a more concerted effort to finding new students, and expanding my teaching range as well.  I now have one student learning Attic (Classical) Greek with me, another student who is only ten years old, and have started doing advanced-level tutorials with a group who have already been through six semesters with me.  Thanks to my many wonderful students, I am also learning a lot of new things.  For my second blog on this website, here’s a smattering of new things I’ve learned.  Some of them might be interesting, and all of them run the risk of only really being interesting to me.

  1.  The Greek definite article (‘the’) is a fascinating little word (or, in Greek, twenty-four words!).  It accomplishes much more than its English counterpart, being additionally used preceding proper nouns (names), abstract nouns (concepts), and in difficult pieces of grammar like the rule of the complement (pp. 45-47 of Balfour) and the attributive and predicative positions (first introduced on p. 75).  In my experience, every Greek textbook has a different way of describing the definite article, and teaches a different range of its functions.  I’ve even sat in a New Testament Greek class (at a university in Ontario, Canada, sometime around 2010), where instead of being taught as the definite article, it was taught as a ‘structuring word’!  Outrageous, I know, but one can see why –  since the word does so much more than merely describe whether a noun is definite or indefinite.  Anyway, a particular aspect of the definite article that is not taught specifically in Balfour’s textbook leapt up at me while teaching Classical Greek.  In Balfour, we are taught that with words like ἴδιος (adj., ‘one’s own’), one must substitute the definite article article with the relevant possessive adjective, so that ὁ ἴδιος λόγος becomes, for example, ‘his own word’ (p. 83).  As will shortly become relevant, it is then never explained why, in exercise 18.a.1, from Phil 1:7, διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς is translated as ‘because you continually have me in your hearts’ (italics added).  The two pronouns are the subject and object of ἔχειν (being infinitive, it has an accusative subject, or ‘accusative of respect’).  On top of them, where did this possessive adjective ‘your’ come from?  The answer to this question is the reason there is actually nothing special about the word ἴδιος.  If you know French, consider the phrase j’ai mal à la tête.  It is not generally translated into English as ‘I have pain in the head,’ but ‘I have pain in my head,’ or, ‘My head hurts’ (or, more closely to the French, ‘I have a headache’).  Something somewhat similar happens with je me brosse les dents, ‘I’m brushing my teeth.’  In these examples, the definite article serves the purpose of making an object more definite, and sometimes in English we do this with a possessive adjective (‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc) instead.  The very same thing happens in going from Greek to English: a definite article, making a noun more ‘definite,’ is often best translated into English as a possessive.  While Balfour does not teach this (and that’s fine – every textbook teaches some things definitively and leaves you to feel your way around other things), in teaching Classical Greek from C. W. Shelmerdine’s Introduction to Greek: Second Edition, I encountered on p. 21 a list of uses of the definite article in Ancient Greek that are different from in English (much like the list on pp. 44-45 of Balfour).  And there it was: ‘…In place of a possessive adjective, when the context makes it clear who the possessor is.  ἄγει τὴν στρατιάν.  He leads his army.’  And, additionally, with nouns denoting a class or type in general; with abstract nouns, especially when the subject of the sentence; and with proper nouns, especially after the first time the person or place is mentioned (italics added here to highlight that which is not stated in Balfour – and is potentially not so much the case in New Testament times).  So this special aspect to how ἴδιος is used, and this unexplained issue in translating Phil 1:7, is actually just part of how one should translate the definite article.  Sometimes, due to the way English works, definite articles in other languages should be translated as possessive adjectives in English.
  2. Much more simply, something else fascinating came out of teaching Classical Greek.  Apparently the word θεραπεύω meant ‘I honour/worship’ in Attic Greek.  In the New Testament, it’s almost always best translated as ‘I heal.’  I’m sure some cleric somewhere has preached an entire sermon reading into this fact far more than it deserves.  As I often try to bring out in my lessons, etymology is usually a less useful tool than preachers (or, for that matter, the 20th c. German theologians behind the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) tend to think it is.  ‘Understanding’ something has little to do with being on one’s feet beneath it, and ‘repentance’ isn’t necessarily a chiefly cognitive transformation just because you’ve used your nous in translating it.  Be careful with reading too much into etymology, and do the hard work involved in reading into the grammar instead!
  3. My third little tidbit here comes from teaching my more advanced students.  Having gone the whole way through Balfour’s textbook, and through twenty-four weeks of Balfour’s Mark in Greek notes, and functioned for a year as a reading group slowly working their way through Mark, they’re far more advanced than they think they are (Ancient Greek does always take years to feel like you know it, even when you’re managing to handle quite advanced grammatical constructions).  In Balfour’s textbook, and most other Greek textbooks, you begin with a handful of quite simple definitions of the cases (nominative: subject; accusative: object; genitive: ‘of;’ dative: ‘to/for’), and eventually (Lesson 15 in Balfour) you discover that the cases actually have several more meanings.  In an advanced tutorial, I posited that there are four different ‘levels’ to understanding the cases: you start out with quite simple definitions; and then eventually learn that there are a handful of different ways each one is often used; then there’s a third stage when you realise there are about a dozen different common uses for three of the cases (accusative, genitive, dative); and then a fourth expert-level stage when one might actually memorise the much larger number of very obscure uses of the cases, which occur so infrequently that they possibly aren’t even worth memorising.  Balfour’s textbook leaves you somewhere just beyond the second stage, and I was attempting to bring my advanced students into the third stage, outlining more uses of each case, including ten different uses of the genitive.  I’ll post this handout shortly.  The case I wanted to make here (har har har), is that reading about these wider uses of the cases actually helped me to make more sense of some Classical Greek texts.  I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the past few years translating sections of Classical texts like Sophocles’ Antigone, Plato, Aristotle or the Koinê texts of the philosopher Epictetus.  Quite often in these texts I found myself struggling to make sense of their uses of the accusative case in particular.  For example, in Antigone (line 922), we read τί χρή με τὴν δύστηνον ἐς θεοὺς ἔτι βλέπειν;  Leaving out the accusative phrase in the middle, this translates ‘What need [is there] for me to look yet to the gods?’  This is fine as a sentence on its own, so what is τὴν δύστηνον, ‘the unhappy/miserable [one]’ (accusative) doing there?  Working just from knowledge of Balfour’s textbook, my only choice was to read this an extension of the accusative of respect of με, which sort of worked: ‘I, the miserable.’  But after using C.F.D. Moule’s An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek (which is written from a wealth of knowledge of Classical Greek surpassing that held by most NT Greek scholars), to craft the tutorial on wider uses of the cases, two of them in particular helped uses of the accusative such as above, from non-biblical texts, to make much more sense.  Here we have not just the accusative of respect (which it turns out is used more widely than just with infinitive clauses), but also the accusative used predicatively (as in Gal 2:18, ‘I constitute myself a transgressor‘) and the accusative of content (as in 1 Pet 3:14, ‘Do not be afraid with fear‘).  These additional uses of the accusative suddenly make sense of this line from Antigone, and many other ones like it in non-biblical texts: ‘What need is there for me to look yet to the gods in my misery?’  Or, if it’s an accusative used predicatively, ‘…to look yet to the gods as a miserable person?’

These observations have all turned out to be wordier than I intended, so I’ll leave it there for now.  I’ll go and post the handout I made for additional uses of the cases, in case you’re interested (I’m sorry, that’s the last ‘case’ pun I promise).  And then I’ll need to pack in the Greek blogging for the night.  Heavy caseload at work tomorrow.  (Sorry.)