Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

So, here’s another one of those posts. Bear with me, even though I mention the word “Greek”, this is more like Greek-extra-lite. With a “to the side”. Seriously.

There’s this thing in Greek. It’s called the genitive absolute, and mark my words, it’s absolutely fabulous. I’ve been trying to point this out to students, but, I fear, many of them just … don’t see the point. It’s all too grammary for them. So, maybe this will help – even for the unitiated. It’s a very short story in Matthew (9:32-34), here’s the first part in the updated NIV version:

32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

Now, I won’t go on about blah blah you’ve got to read the Greek to understand it. I’ll just imply that and continue. Notice how there is no mention of the action of driving out the demon, at least what concerns the story-line: the mute man comes, the ex-mute man speaks. One can see this in the English (“and when the demon was driven out”), but it’s even more clear in the Greek: enter the aforementioned champion grammar-thingy of the day, our genitive absolute.

To explain the important work of the GA in lay-man’s terms: it takes two sentences, scrunches them together; the most important sentence pops out on top. Thus, and mostly so in narrative, the GA kind of pushes one sentence to the side, while the main sentence is placed in the spotlight. This is exactly what happens at the start of verse 33. Not only the act of exorcism, but also the demon itself has been assigned a second place in the grammar. In Matthew’s story, the poor thing had no chance! There’s no battle, no reprimand, no … nothing. Just a storyteller who tells us: let’s leave this to the side for now, it would’ve happened anyway. (In plain Afrikaans: Gaan sit in die hoekie, demoon, die grootmense wil bietjie gesels.)

I feel obligated to point out that one shouldn’t go overboard with genitive absolutes (or grammar, for that matter), sometimes it’s just – grammar. For instance, verse 32 also starts with a GA, but in this case, it simply sets the scene for what is to follow. (The people left, they’re not in the picture anymore, a new stage is being set.)

Also, the story continues – verse 34 is still part of the story.

34 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

But since I just wanted to highlight something in the story, and not explain the story itself, I’ll leave you to it. (But here’s a tip: Matt 12:24 and following might help.)



Verse 33 starts like this in Greek: καὶ ἐκβληθέντος τοῦ δαιμονίου ἐλάλησεν ὁ κωφός.


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