What is in an in? – part two

In part one of my little study of the Greek ἐν and its large array of possible meanings, I focused on the noun in the prepositional phrase as well as the verb in the sentence. I suggested that when the verb is “to call” and when the noun is a kind of abstract concept (without the definite article) like “peace, holiness, grace” then it is better to translate ἐν with “to” in English. We are called to grace, to peace, to holiness. Another preposition that can be used with “call” is ἐπὶ. We saw it in 1 Thess 4:7: οὐ γὰρ ἐκάλεσεν ἡμᾶς ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ ἀκαθαρσίᾳ You see, he did not call us to (live in) uncleanness. We find the same ἐπὶ in Gal 5:13: Ὑμεῖς γὰρ ἐπ᾽ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἐκλήθητε After all, YOU have been called to (live in) freedom. Some translations do not add any verb like NET, RSV: For you were called to freedom. Others add “be” and change the noun to an adjective as NIV, TEV: As for you, my friends, you were called to be free. Others again add “live” as the NLT: For you have been called to live in freedom. The same idea is expressed with a dative rather than a preposition in Gal 5:1 τῇ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἡμᾶς Χριστὸς ἠλευθέρωσεν It was to (live in) freedom that Christ set us free.

In part two I want to look at the concept of “reveal” together with ἐν. The two Greek verbs I am looking at are ἀποκαλύπτω and φανερόω. They are tri-valent verbs of perception. By this I mean that a full expression would have three participants or arguments, for instance: A revealed P to E. They can be analysed as a causative of ”to see”. A caused E to see P. A is the semantic Agent or Cause, P is the semantic Patient (what is seen), while E is the semantic Experiencer or Recipient. In Greek, an Agent is typically, but not always, expressed by a nominative, a Patient by an accusative and a Recipient by a dative. However, a participant that would usually be expressed with a dative in older Greek is often expressed with a preposition in Koine Greek. For these verbs we find both a dative and a prepositional phrase in the NT. Let me give some examples, first with the dative for the recipient of the revelation:

Mat 11:25 ἔκρυψας ταῦτα ἀπὸ σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν καὶ ἀπεκάλυψας αὐτὰ νηπίοις You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and you have revealed them to “children”.

Mat 16:17: σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέν σοι flesh and blood did not reveal (it) to you.

John 7:4 φανέρωσον σεαυτὸν τῷ κόσμῳ Show yourself to the world.

1 Cor 2:10 ἡμῖν δὲ ἀπεκάλυψεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος But God has revealed (it) to us through the Spirit.

The dative use is the most common, even in the NT, but there are a few cases where prepositions are used to express the recipient of the revelation. I have found εἰς in two places:

Rom 8:18 πρὸς τὴν μέλλουσαν δόξαν ἀποκαλυφθῆναι εἰς ἡμᾶς  (compared) to the coming glory to be revealed to us.

2 Cor 11:6 ἀλλ᾽ ἐν παντὶ φανερώσαντες ἐν πᾶσιν εἰς ὑμᾶς But in every way having shown this to you in everything (we did).

There are also a few places where ἐν seems to be used to indicate the recipient of the revelation:

Rom 1:19 τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς  What can be known about God is clear (has been shown) to them. (The use of the adjective rather than verb may be the reason for the preposition.)

Gal 1:16 ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί He revealed his Son to me

1 John 4:9 ἐν τούτῳ ἐφανερώθη ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν In this has the love of God been revealed to us.

Since the dative is by far the most common way to indicate the recipient, the instances with ἐν are disputed, and some people prefer to understand ἐν in a different way. For 1 John 4:9 It is possible that the use of ἐν indicates more than just a recipient. One may argue that the love of God is not only revealed to us, but also among us and is to be seen in us, in what we do. For Gal 1:16 I would say that the context points to Paul’s experience on the Damascus road, and this suggests that Paul is thinking of God revealing Jesus to him. Louw and Nida list a number of other places apart from Gal 1:16 (but with other verbs) where ἐν is used to indicate the experiencer.

2 thoughts on “What is in an in? – part two

  1. Bob MacDonald says:

    Thanks for the clear exposition, Iver. I don’t translate Greek, but this is very clearly expressed even for such as me. I do read the LXX for the psalms and comments thereon though I have very limited scope in my experience. You demonstrate the difficulty of selection of prepositions. I probably don’t argue with any of these choices which ever way they go. What I would hope, and it is a difficult hope, is that the tenderness of God might be more evident in NT translations. It is certainly evident to me in the translating of Hebrew poetry. Sometimes I wonder if the OT God is not more gentle than the NT God. (Just to be different.) You don’t, of course, need to understand me.

  2. Iver Larsen says:

    Let me come back to 1 John 4:9 because there is an alternative way of understanding the grammar that I did not mention. The text is:

    ἐν τούτῳ ἐφανερώθη ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν

    It is quite possible that the preposition ἐν ἡμῖν (to/for us) goes with ἀγάπη (love). When I checked this morning how the noun love is connected with prepositions, I realized that while Paul would use εἰς, John is using ἐν. This may well be caused by Semitic influence in John’s writing.

    There are other examples, for instance:
    Jn 13:35 ἐὰν ἀγάπην ἔχητε ἐν ἀλλήλοις if you have love for each other.

    Because of the placement of the words in 1 John 4:9, it is likely that the preposition should go with “love” and that is how the meaning-based translations have taken it. RSV, NET and NIV make no sense to me at 1 John 4:9, but they are not what I call meaning-based translations. The old KJV is easier to understand in this verse.

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