Saturday, 24 October 2015

In THE beginning (4) [updated 11/1/16]

So now we turn away from identical occurrences to the other feminine singular arche constructions (we will not spend any more time on the LXX from now on).

First let us look at the other feminine singular examples that we excluded last time since they lacked the preposition “en”. As we do this, we will discover an additional meaning of the word. For whereas we always translate en arche by “in the beginning” in English, arche (and other cases) can sometimes mean “rule” or even “ruler”. Here then are the other New Testament examples of arche without “en”:

Matthew 24:8 and Mark 13:8 (nominative singular)
GRK: δὲ ταῦτα ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων 
NAS: these things are [the] beginning of birth pangs

Mark 1:1 (nominative singular)
GRK: ΑΡΧΗ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου
NAS: [The] beginning of the gospel of Jesus

EXCEPTION Luke 20:20 (dative singular)
GRK: αὐτὸν τῇ ἀρχῇ καὶ τῇ
NAS: that they [could] deliver Him to the rule and the authority

EXCEPTION? Colossians 1:18 (nominative singular)
GRK: ἐστιν [ἡ] ἀρχή πρωτότοκος ἐκ
NAS: the church; and He is the/[the] beginning, the firstborn

EXCEPTION Revelation 3:14 (nominative singular)
GRK: ἀληθινός  ἀρχὴ τῆς κτίσεως
NAS: Witness, the Beginning of the creation

EXCEPTION Revelation 21:6 & 22:13 (nominative singular)
GRK:   ἀρχὴ καὶ τὸ…
NAS: the beginning and the end.

My assurances of consistent dropping of the article are looking seriously doubtful on the face evidence of these passages. Of the 8 other feminine singular arche verses, only three seem to maintain the “rule” that the “the” is implied and not written: that’s less than half.

No it’s not. So far we have seen an actual total of 12 feminine singular occurrences: 7 of these imply the article silently. Of these 7, 4 state “en arche”. Still, you might say 7 out of 12 is still not that impressive evidence. Actually, it is meaningless. We have already established that exact matches are 100% consistent. It could well be argued that without the preposition “en”, that the definite article is simply optional. As a Greek writer of antiquity, you could throw it in or leave it out and no-one would mind or notice either way. My case would not be jeopardised.

But, despite that safety net, we can actually connect the articles to a specific function in at least three of the five “exceptions”. Furthermore, as we look at other configurations of arche, we will see that a very strong case will still emerge for anarthrous arche notwithstanding the exempting circumstances we will look at now.

Firstly, Luke 20:20, is consistently translated into English by “rule”, not “beginning”. In a later post we will do a study on the Greek words for “ruler”, whereupon we will see that this meaning is highly obedient to the more common rules: anarthrous = indefinite & articular = definite. So Luke 20:20 is constructed with the article because “the rule” behaves differently to “the beginning”.

Secondly, Colossians 1:18. Unfortunately this verse will not get us very far, as the manuscripts do not agree: some have the definite article, and some don't. Furthermore, the presence or absence is not strongly contended by textual critics who focus their energies elsewhere so it is difficult to say more than the immediate appearance is that both options are viable. For me it is also impossible to decide.

If the article is present, arche might well be functioning qualitatively or again as “the ruler”. See how in Greek it immediately precedes the word for “firstborn”. In English we separate the two with a comma (“…he is the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead”), but this qualitative use could allow for the article to be attached to "the firstborn" rather than "the beginning". However, an even more plausible explanation can be found, in my eyes, when we integrate how arche is generally used in in this epistle. Bearing in mind the shrinking numbers of New Testament scholars still attributing the epistle to genuine Pauline authorship, we should not take lightly that ALL the other declinations of arche in Colossians refer to rule, rulers, principalities, and so on. Colossians 1:18 would be the only exception. If this case were to be worked out more fully, then a translation could legitimately go more along the lines of he is the ruler and the firstborn from among the dead. In either case, the inclusion of the article could thus be explained. 

If the article is not present, then Colossians 1:18 would definitely read THE beginning and would be in line with the overall New Testament usage that we are observing.

The final explicable articular arche is Revelation 3:14. This time, a whole swathe of translations also make the connection with the idea of “the ruler” or “the head”: ERV, EXB, ICB, NCV, NIRV, NIV, WEB, YLT. The NIV gives: “the ruler of God’s creation”. Interestingly, The Message has chosen to echo Proverbs 8 language and go with the qualitative “first”, which is probably not quite right.

So in actual fact we are only really left with one phrase from the very end of the last book of the Bible, in Revelation 21:6 and 22:13: “the beginning and the end”, where both "beginning" and "end" are articular. I would not want to presumptuously assume that there is in fact nothing to be said about the articular use here. One possibility that will later emerge when we look at Hebrews is that within the writings of one author, a preferred expression might be adopted for particular purposes. On the assumption that it is at least possible, many would say distinctly possible, that the author of Revelation may not be the same human being as the author of John’s gospel, we might note that there are simply no occurrences of anarthrous arche in any declination, whether meaning beginning or rule/ruler. Another explanation might be an attempt at keeping the powerful statement balanced; could it not have appeared strange to emphasise the article of “the end” while omitting the article of “the beginning”?

To sum up: without the preposition, the singular arche does not follow the implied article rule when used to mean “rule” or qualitatively. Usage in Revelation is too limited to develop but opens the possibility to author preference.

This concludes my discussion on the singular noun construction for nominative and dative cases, but it should just be noted before closing the post that Greek case does not yet appear determinant. Of the anarthrous instances of arche with implied article, we see represented both dative and nominative cases, although nominative presents more articular instances (it is interesting to note that the nominative Mark 1:1, while lacking the “en” is being used to initiate Mark’s account in much the same way as “en arche” in the four New Testament examples and Genesis 1:1 & Jeremiah 26:1 in the LXX). We will continue to track this as we proceed now to the other two Greek cases for this word: genitive (very consistently dropping the article) and accusative (difficult to track).

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