Cases – Biblical Greek

by | Dec 4, 2020 | 04 Bible Study 101, Greek

The different functions words can perform in a sentence are called cases. English has 3 cases: subjective, objective and possessive. Biblical Greek has 5 cases.

In Greek, case — not word order — indicates the word’s function in a sentence. Word order is often employed for emphasis. Generally speaking, the word being emphasized moves to the front of the sentence.

Greek Cases

  • Nominative: The subject of the sentence is in the nominative case and will have a nominative case ending.
  • Accusative: The direct object of a verb will be in the accusative case and have the accusative case ending.
  • Genitive: The genitive case shows possession. The word in the Genitive usually follows the word it is modifying (e.g. love of God).
  • Dative: The indirect object is in the dative case. Dative is roughly equivalent to the ideas of “to”, “in” and “with.”

Example sentence: O Seth, Sarah gave Susie’s keys to Sam.

CaseFunctionIn the example
Accusativedirect objectkeys
Dativeindirect objectSam
VocativeaddressO, Seth

Nominative & Accusative

  • The only way to distinguish the subject from the direct object from the indirect object is by case — not word order.
  • As a general rule, if you try to maintain Greek word order as much as possible, it will help you avoid some mistakes.
  • There really is no “normal” word order in Greek, but technically normal word order is: conjunction – verb – subject – direct object.
  • Some words — like proper names — do not decline in Greek. There form does not change regardless of function in the sentence.
  • Since word order is variable in Greek, it is helpful to split the sentence into its different parts: subject and predicate.
  • Double Accusative: Some verbs require 2 objects to complete their meaning (e.g. John 14:26: ἐκεῖνος ὑμᾶς διδάξει πάντα; He will teach you all things).
  • Accusative of manner: The accusative can behave as an adverb, modifying the verb (e.g. Matt 10:8: δωρεὰν ἐλάβετε, δωρεὰν δότε; “Freely you received, freely give”).

Predicate Nominative

  • An equative verb is a verb that equates the subject and object, like “is”. For example: Peter is an apostle.
  • Equative verbs take predicate nominatives. In the sentence, “Peter is an apostle” both “Peter” and “apostle” would be in the nominative case.
  • In English, the subject comes first. But in Greek, the word order does not matter. Context makes clear which is the subject and which the predicate nominative.
  • John 1:1 καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος (and God was the Word). We know “the Word” is the subject because it has the article. We translate: “and the Word was God”, not “God was the Word”. “God” is in the emphatic position because it moved to the front (e.g. “What God was, the Word was”).

Finding the subject:

  1. If one word is a pronoun or proper name, it is probably the subject.
  2. The noun with the article is probably the subject.
  3. IF one word is a pronoun and the other is a proper name or noun with an article, the pronoun is probably the subject.

Uses of Genitive

  • The genitive is commonly used descriptively (e.g. armor of light).
  • Apposition: If a noun equals a head noun in some manner, the noun can be in the genitive (e.g. Acts 2:38: καὶ λήψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ῾Αγίου Πνεύματος; “and you will receive the Holy Spirit“).
  • Separation: Sometimes the word in the genitive indicates that it is separate from the head noun (e.g. Eph 2:12 being alienated from the commonwealth of Israel).
  • Subjective Genitive: Sometimes the word in the genitive functions as if it were the subject of the sentence (e.g. Romans 8:35: Who will separate us from Christ’s love?).
  • Objective Genitive: Sometimes the word in the genitive functions as the direct object of the verbal idea implied by the head noun (e.g. Matt 12:31: “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven).
  • Plenary: Sometimes the word in the genitive combines both the objective and subjective genitive (e.g. 2 Cor 5:14: for the love of Christ compels us).
  • Relationship: Genitive can use be used to indicate a familial relationship (e.g. Mary, mother of James).
  • Partitive: Sometimes the genitive is the larger unit of which the head noun is the smaller unit (e.g. some of the branches).

Uses of Dative

Dative is often broken into three categories:

Dative Proper (“to”)

  • Indirect Object: expressed with “to” (e.g. He gave authority to Christ).
  • Dative of interest: expressed with the idea of “for” (e.g. She will bear a son for you).
  • Dative of respect: expressed by “with respect to” (e.g. Consider yourself dead with respect to sin.)

Locative (“in”, “with”)

  • Sphere: indicates the sphere or realm in with something occurs (e.g. Blessed are the poor in heart).
  • Time: indicates when something occurs (e.g. He will be raised on the third day).
  • Association: expressed by the idea of “with” (e.g. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.)

Instrumental (“by”)

  • Manner: dative can express the manner in which something is done (e.g. He speaks boldly).
  • Means: dative can express the means by which or manner in which something is done (For it is by grace you have been saved).

The Definite Article

  • The definite article (“the”) is the only article in Greek. There is no indefinite article.
  • The article agrees with the noun it modifies in case, number and gender. Learning the forms of the article, can help you recognize the case of a noun.
  • As a general rule: if the article is present, translate it. If there is no article present, insert “a” if it makes more sense in English.
  • However, Greek uses the article in ways English does not (e.g. with proper names and abstract nouns like “truth”).
  • Greek nouns are definite in and of themselves and do not require an article to be translated with “the”.

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