Friday, June 02, 2017

Genitive of Subordination?: Question I Posed to B-Greek

Greetings B-Greekers,

Text for Revelation 1:5: καὶ ἀπὸ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστός ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν καὶ ὁ ἄρχων τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς τῷ ἀγαπῶντι ἡμᾶς καὶ λύσαντι ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν ἐν τῷ αἵματι αὐτοῦ [KAI APO IHSOU XRISTOU hO MARTUS hO PISTOS hO PRWTOTOKOS TWN NEKRWN KAI hO ARXWN TWN BASILEWN THS GHS TWi AGAPWNTI hHMAS KAI LUSANTI hHMAS EK TWN hAMARTIWN hHMWN EN TWi hAIMATI AUTOU].

My question regards how the genitive hO PRWTOTOKOS TWN NEKRWN in this verse might be understood. Is it partitive or a genitive of subordination? Whether this grammatical construction is the former or the latter, another question that has occupied my thinking here lately is whether the so-called "genitive of subordination" is an example of a category that exemplifies the famed unnecessarily multiplied entities which Occam's Law militates against. I ask because of what Daniel B. Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pp. 103-104) writes about the genitive of subordination in his work.

Wallace writes that the genitive of subordination "is a subset of the objective genitive, but not always." Hence, "For this reason, most likely, such a category is not to be found in standard grammars."

I have looked in other grammars to see what they might say about the genitive of subordination. I did not find a mention of this category in Robertson, nor in William D. Chamberlain's An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament. I also do not think that the category appears in Brooks and Winbery's Syntax of New Testament Greek, or in Biblical Greek by M. Zerwick or BDF. Cf. Richard A. Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach.

I guess an additional question is, when did grammarians begin to call certain genitive constructs "genitives of subordination"?

Best regards,
Edgar Foster

Dr. Carl Conrad replied:

For my part, I think I would understand the genitive TWN NEKRWN in
this context as partitive: of those who have died, the first to come
to birth again is Jesus Christ.

As for the "genitive of subordination," it appears to be the
brainchild of Professor Wallace, perhaps "the firstborn of many
aporetic case-usages." On a more serious note: From the pages you cite
it would appear that he is concerned with the usage of the genitive to
indicate those governed by or commanded by one in a position of
authority, an ARCWN. My guess is that this is really an instance of a
genitive of comparison -- which is really a genitive of separation
(ablatival) used especially with comparative adjectives such as
KREITTWN; although ARCWN is a substantive participle, the verb ARCW
really means "have priority over" or "be in front." It is certainly
the case that verbs of command take a genitive object, and I suspect
that the category of "genitive of subordination" was created, like
some of those Aristotelian terms for virtues and vices of which he
says, "We know what the behavior is and can describe it even though we
have no word for it." I think that Professor Wallace has created a
name for a genitive usage with an expression of governance or command
that has always been there but has hitherto been nameless.

BUT: I really do NOT think the phrase PRWTOTOKOS TWN NEKRWN has a
sense of governance or command over the dead. That sounds more like
Milton's Satan: "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

Carl W. Conrad

He then gave a follow-up response:

Just to follow up on what I wrote last night about this, Smyth has an
account of genitive usage with adjectives (;
to be found among them is the following:
The genitive is used with many adjectives corresponding in derivation
or meaning to verbs taking the genitive.

The adjective often borrows the construction with the genitive from
that of the corresponding verb; but when the verb takes another case
(especially the accusative), or when there is no verb corresponding to
the adjective, the adjective may govern the genitive to express
possession, connection more or less close, or by analogy. Many of the
genitives in question may be classed as objective as well as partitive
or ablatival. Rigid distinction between the undermentioned classes
must not be insisted on.
Ruling (1370).—““ταύτης κύριος τῆς χώρας
[TAUTHS THS CWRAS]” master of this country” D. 3.16,
““ἀκρατὴς ὀργῆς [AKRATHS ORGHS]” unrestrained in
passion” T. 3.84. So with ἐγκρατής [EGKRATHS] master of,
αὐτοκράτωρ complete master of, ἀκράτωρ [AKRATWR]
intemperate in.

I still don't think that πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν
belongs properly in this (sub)category.

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

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