Tuesday, 27 October 2015

In THE beginning (5)

Awww, these arche posts are KILLING my stats. Sorry, I promise to leave it soon, I just don't want to leave it unfinished OK? I think this one and then one more and I should be done :)

We are in a series of posts which explore the way in which the word arche functions in the Bible, in order to show that it is absolutely no accident or surprise that John's prologue commences without the definite article "the", which we are later required to add back in English. All of this prepares the way for what I hope one day will be an exploration into the murky world or the anarthrous (article-free) "theos" in John 1:1c. But if I have learned one lesson from my stats, my blog will  most definitely not be the place to give blow-by-blow accounts for that! The image, by the way, is a pictorial reminder that the meanings of ruler and rule, which are also contained in arche in some contexts, can predictably affect the inclusion of the definite article differently to when arche refers to THE beginning.

So let us continue.

Now we have established the New Testament state of the feminine singular usage of arche, which includes both the nominative and dative Greek cases, let us now shift gear to arches. Arches is still feminine singular, but this time it is in the genitive case, indicating possession, or “of” or deriving from [the beginning]. This is by far the most common construction in the New Testament, which provides us with no less than 27 instances, John in particular loves it (...from [THE] beginning). 23 of these 27 are translated THE beginning even though there is no article. Authors concerned are Matthew (19:4, 19:8, 24:21), Mark (10:6, 13:9), Luke (Luke 1:2, Acts 26:4), John (John 6:64, 8:44, 15:27, 16:4; 1 John 1:1, 2:7, 2:13, 2:14, 2:24a, 2:24b, 3:8, 3:11; 2 John 1:5, 1:6), Pauline (2 Thessalonians 2:13), Petrine (2 Peter 3:4). The exceptions here obey the same idea as before: either meaning “rule” (Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 2:10) or a special case of Hebrews (5:12, 6:1), to which we will return.

There is one more singular case we have not yet tackled, and it's tricky: the accusative, archen. Here we have 9 examples: John 2:11, John 8:25, 1 Corinthians 15:24, Hebrews 2:3, Hebrews 3:14, Hebrews 7:3, Jude 1:6. In these nine examples we see that the accusative singular seems to affect the need for the article, because the noun “beginning” is actually predicating something else, rendering it in several examples “first”. E.g. John 2:11 in the NIV reads: “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs [i.e. the first sign] through which he revealed his glory”. 

This first of the nine instances should however be excluded from the study because of textual disagreement. I initially thought and blogged that it did not have the article. But as I looked at the Greek "apparatus", that is to say the strength of manuscript reliability for this verse, (that I could not easily account for), it hit me: there is a textual argument for the inclusion in John 2:11 of the article, which would maybe make more sense in the context of the accusative case. RP Byzantine Majority Text 2005, Textus Receptus, Greek Orthodox Church 1904 all witness a written definite article. 

Hebrews 2:3 is our first instance of relatively textually undisputed texts of the singular accusative. The Hebrews author, as I keep hinting, is exceptional in the way he articulates ARCHE. Here, however, he omits the article in order to say “first announced” (a few older or literal translations preferring “a commencement” etc. are most clearly off the mark and also constitute a very small minority). Notice how announced is not a noun, unlike the first sign in John 2:11.

Curiously, John 8:25 and Hebrews 3:14 are articular while providing a similar meaning. Why would Hebrews 2:3 differ from 3:14, and John 2:11 from 8:25 if in both cases they are identical words and case and by the same author? Good question, I don't know exactly. But they must not be grouped together in this way. John is thus far extraordinarily consistent in his anarthrous use of arche (nominative and dative) and arches (genitive). John always expresses “the beginning” without the article. So the first question is why would he in 8:25 exceptionally include the article when in the dozens of other occurrences it is always avoided? I am not sure. A truly thorough word study would need to look into that further.

Notwithstanding the final remarks reserved for the author of Hebrews, the final Hebrews occurrence of 7:3 seems to be anarthrous for it does truly (and rarely) refer to an indefinite beginning: Melchizedek had neither “a beginning” nor “an end” (nor “a father nor a mother”).

1 Corinthians does lack the article but is talking about “all rule”, and finally, Jude is anarthrous in a similar way to the John 2 and Hebrews 3 examples (predicate nouns, which appear to defer article usage to the predicated noun).

In summary: If we were working from the accusative alone, we would clearly be unable to make much progress! It does however contribute to the emerging picture on Hebrews and does open the tricky issue of predicate noun behaviour which will concern, one day, any study into John 1:1c.

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