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The Legitimacy Of The Attributed Genitive

Ph.D. student,
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Editor’s Note: Barry was a master’s student of mine at Dallas Seminary. His work in Advanced Greek Grammar led him to producing this paper (which was delivered at the SE regional Evangelical Theological Society meeting, held at Bryan College, March 8, 2003). Thanks, Barry, for your good work here!

Daniel B. Wallace


This paper seeks to lend support to the legitimacy of the attributed genitive.1 While the existence of the attributive genitive is well attested among the Greek grammars, the attributed genitive has received minimal attention,2 save Daniel B. Wallace’s Exegetical Syntax published in 1996.

The grammatical research for this paper focuses solely on the following seven epistles of Paul: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.3 If these seven Pauline epistles give any indication of the frequency of usage of this category of genitive, then this area of grammatical study should be further investigated. As with any hypothesis, several clear examples must be demonstrable if the hypothesis is to be given serious consideration. As I hope to demonstrate, such examples do exist in these seven letters. The working theory, then, is that if this category can be shown to be legitimate in these New Testament epistles, then it becomes quite possible that the attributed genitive exists in the remainder of the New Testament.

It should be noted that this research is fairly recent and has therefore not received much scrutiny. Greek grammar is a descriptive discipline, and what is put forward here today is a further description of the language, indeed, it is a description of a specific grammatical phenomenon that has largely gone without comment in the grammars. Given the exegetically significant, yet sometimes slippery nature of the genitive case, it is hoped that the working hypothesis presented here today will contribute to our common goal of grammatical precision, which in turn leads to exegetical precision. Finally, I am indebted to my former professor Dr. Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary for encouraging me to pursue this kind of research.

The Attributed Genitive4

Semantically speaking, this N-Ng construction is the opposite of the attributive genitive. With a common attributive genitive, the genitive attributes something to the head noun, while with an attributed genitive, the head noun attributes something to the genitive. Thus, the head noun has an adjectival function.5 Wallace notes, “If it is possible to convert the noun to which the genitive stands related into a mere adjective, then the genitive is a good candidate for this category.”6

As noted above, of the grammars that were consulted, none give much discussion regarding this specific category of usage, hence the need for this particular study of the genitive. However, though these grammars do not discuss this as a category per se, and often give conflicting illustrations of their point (see Robertson below), a small number have noted this particular type of construction. G. B. Winer, for example, in his discussion on adjectives, notes the adjectival function of this N-Ng construction. He writes, “This mode of expression [substantive governing a genitive] is not arbitrary, but is chosen for the purpose of giving more prominence to the main idea, which, if expressed by means of an adjective, would be thrown into the background.”7 Zerwick, too, describes such usage as “the use of a substantive for an emphatic adjective.”8 Thus, exegetically speaking, this particular usage of this genitive construct (later given the name “attributed genitive” by Wallace) is purposeful on the part of the author due to its force being stronger than a mere adjective. This is an important point, as it demonstrates a valid reason for the author’s purposeful selection of this particular idiom to express his idea, thereby lending credibility to its legitimacy and existence. Outside of these few examples, there has been little discussion of this use of the genitive in the N-Ng construction. Again, the purpose of this paper is this: to present sufficient data to support the legitimacy of this being a distinct category of genitive usage in the New Testament.9

Semantic Situation: Types of Nouns
Common to the N-Ng Construction

First, as noted above, if an attributed genitive is a possibility in a N-Ng construction, then the head noun must be able to be turned into an adjective. Obviously, then, not all nouns qualify. Certain abstract nouns are more likely to appear in this construction. Nouns such as ajgavph, aijwvnio", ajlhvqeia, aJmartiva, ajnakaivnwsi", ajpokavluyi", ajpokaradokiva, ajsqevneia, a[fqarto", bavqo", diavkrisi", dikaiosuvnh, dikaivwsi", douleiva, dovxa, duvnami", ejkloghv, eujlogiva, qevlhma, kainovth", katallaghv, makarismov", nevkrwsi", palaiovth", perisseiva, piovth", pivsti", plhvrwma, plou'to", pneu'ma, oijktirmov", uJpakohv, fovbo", and fuvsi" are examples of abstract nouns that are found in Paul that 1) can be converted into an adjective, and thus 2) are able to be converted in N-Ng constructions. Indeed, all of these examples are found in the N-Ng construction in the seven letters researched for this project, and several, as argued here, do in fact attribute their adjectival qualities to the trailing genitive. Conversely, there are nouns that do not qualify for this usage of the head noun. For instance, proper nouns by definition cannot attribute adjectival quality to anything since they cannot be turned into an adjective.10

Second, in addition to the fact that the genitive (Ng) usually stands related to an abstract head noun, attributed genitives are often found in genitive chains of two or more. This is a debatable point, but there are several examples listed below that might contribute to the relevance of genitive chains to the attributed genitive. For example, th'" dovxh" tou' qeou' could be read as “the glory that is God’s” (possessive genitive), or “the glorious God” (tou' qeou' being the attributed genitive). ThVn dovxan tou' ajfqavrtou qeou' is an example of a genitive chain. Here tou' ajfqavrtou could be attributing “incorruptibility” to God (“the glory of the incorruptible God”), thus qeou' could then be called the attributed genitive. In such cases context is the determining factor. Other debatable examples are listed below.

Third, the head noun (N) to which the genitive (Ng) stands in relation is almost always in the dative or accusative case, and is usually singular. The research indicates that dative and accusative abstract nouns are more likely to be found attributing their adjectival qualities than nominatives.11 This perhaps suggests the question of whether or not there is additional work that needs to be done in the area of a certain usage of the dative or accusative. Thus, stated succinctly, N-Ng constructions in which the head noun is a nominative are less prone to be candidates for the attributed genitive construction.12 At this point, the evidence for this assertion is relatively consistent, but not enough research has been done for this to be called a rule.

Fourth, by way of structure, this construction is usually found with the head noun immediately preceding or immediately following the genitive. If there is a word in between them it is usually the article.

Exegetical Significance

Finally, one must note the exegetical significance of the attributed genitive. This category of genitive is indeed exegetically significant, given that when it occurs, the exegetical “spotlight” shines on the trailing genitive, rather than on the head noun. Once an N-Ng construction meets the above criteria and context confirms that the genitive is indeed being attributed the adjectival quality of the head noun, then labeling the trailing genitive “attributed” brings greater precision to the exegetical discussion. Again, in such a construction, the “spotlight” shines on the genitive, rather than the head noun. Several clear examples that illustrate this point are listed below.

Search Method and Results

Using the current GRAMCORD database and search engine, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians were searched for the N-Ng construction. The search limits were: Noun (not genitive) + Noun (genitive) in any proximity within a context of three words.13 There are 551 verses that contain examples of this construction in these seven letters of Paul. This specific search avoids genitive chains of two or more, which should be considered separately. From these 551 verses there are 717 total N-Ng constructions, several of which are clear examples of the attributed genitive, and others that fall along a continuum from probable to possible examples.

Examples of the Attributed Genitive in the N-Ng Construction

Clear Examples14

Rom 4:6

kaqavper kaiV DauiVd levgei toVn makarismoVn tou' ajnqrwvpou w|/ oJ qeoV" logivzetai dikaiosuvnhn cwriV" e[rgwn:


“just as David also speaks of the blessed man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works”

Rom 4:19

kaiV thVn nevkrwsin th'" mhvtra" Savrra".


“and the dead womb of Sarah” or “deadness of Sarah’s womb” or “Sarah’s dead womb”


This is a clear example because the attributive case head noun clearly attributes “deadness” to the genitive.

Rom 5:17

pollw'/ ma'llon oiJ thVn perisseivan th'" cavrito"


“much more those who receive the abundant grace

Rom 6:4

ou{tw" kaiV hJmei'" ejn kainovthti zwh'" peripathvswmen.


“so we too might walk in new life.”


It is a new life that the believer is brought into as a result of being baptized into Christ Jesus. He or she now lives anew in light of Christ’s resurrection.15

Rom 6:19

jAnqrwvpinon levgw diaV thVn ajsqevneian th'" sarkoV" uJmw'n.


“I am speaking in human terms because of your weak flesh.”

Rom 8:19

hJ gaVr ajpokaradokiva th'" ktivsew" thVn ajpokavluyin tw'n uiJw'n tou' qeou' ajpekdevcetai.


“For the eagerly longing creation awaits expectantly for the revelation of the sons of God.”


This example is perhaps less clear than others, but I wish to argue that ajpokaradokiva must modify th'" ktivsew" if the sentence is to make sense. It is the creation that awaits expectantly, not the “eager longing.” Thus I argue that the NASB has mistranslated the verse: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” If “of the creation” describes “anxious longing,” then the thrust of the sentence is this: “For the anxious longing awaits …” This makes little sense. The KJV does the same. However, the ASV, followed by the RSV, NRSV, and the recent ESV, along with the NIV and TNIV put the emphasis on the creation – it is the creation that does the eager waiting. I argue that it would be better to translate this verse with ajpokaradokiva attributing its qualities to th'" ktivsew". This seems to add further emphasis to Paul’s personification of nature in this section of chapter 8. See Moo, Cranfield, and Murray16 who affirm that ajpokaradokiva modifies th'" ktivsew"; indeed any other option makes little sense, since it is clear that Paul personifies the creation here and maintains that it anxiously waits for the revealing of the sons of God. Semantically the verb must go with the genitive (Ng) if sense is to be made of Paul’s statement.

NB: It should be noted that what is at issue in this example is the fact that while the N-Ng construction has been exegeted properly by commentators, it has been either left unlabeled or mislabeled grammatically. Thus the impetus for this paper is greater grammatical (and therefore exegetical) precision.

Rom 15:29

ejn plhrwvmati eujlogiva" Cristou' ejleuvsomai.


“I will come in the full blessing of Christ.”


Though there are two genitives in this example (eujlogiva" and Cristou''), the dative plhrwvmati should be seen as attributing “fullness” to the first genitive eujlogiva".17

1 Cor 1:17

ajllaV eujaggelivzesqai, oujk ejn sofiva/ lovgou


“but to preach the gospel, not in wise words


Clearly the emphasis is on the wise or clever words that Paul preached; thus the dative abstract head noun attributes its adjectival qualities to the genitive. The emphasis is on the words that Paul did preach (the gospel) and not the clever words he did not preach. See also the NET Bible’s, “not with clever speech,” which translates this verse with the attributed genitive.18

1 Cor 2:1

hlqon ouj kaq= uJperochVn lovgou h] sofiva"


“I did not come with superior eloquence or (superior?)19 wisdom”


See discussion of 1:17.

2 Cor 4:7

i{na hJ uJperbolhV th'" dunavmew" h/ tou' qeou' kaiV mhV ejx hJmw'n:


“in order that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.”


The context is clear that it is the power (and not merely the surpassing or outstanding quality) that is from God, and not from any human agent. The power here is of a different kind; it is from God and is such that it is more than enough to accomplish the work it is sent out for.

2 Cor 8:2

hJ perisseiva th'" cara'" aujtw'n


“their abundant joy


See the discussion on 2 Cor. 4:13. Cf. Gal. 2:5.20

2 Cor. 11:17

(lalw')… ejn tauvth/ th'/ uJpostavsei th'" kauchvsew"


“(I am speaking) … in this confident boasting.”


Confidence cannot be “derived from” or “produced by” boasting, thus ruling out genitive of source and production. Perhaps a genitive of means could fit, but attributed seems best here.21

Eph 1:7

jEn w|/ e[comen thVn ajpoluvtrwsin diaV tou' ai{mato" aujtou', kataV toV plou'to" th'" cavrito" aujtou'


“We have redemption through his blood … according to his abundant grace.”


It seems that Paul’s emphasis is primarily on grace and secondarily on the fullness of it. Rendering the construction this way puts the spotlight on grace in which we have been granted redemption.

Eph 1:19

kaiV tiv toV uJperbavllon mevgeqo" th'" dunavmew" aujtou' eij" hJma'" touV" pisteuvonta" kataV thVn ejnevrgeian tou' kravtou" th'" ijscuvo" aujtou'.


“and (you might know) what is his surpassing, great power to us who believe”


What Paul seems to clearly desire here is that the Ephesians might know 1) the hope that is

Eph 2:7

i{na ejndeivxhtai ejn toi'" aijw'sin toi'" ejpercomevnoi" toV uJperbavllon plou'to" th'" cavrito" aujtou'


“in order that in the coming ages He might show his immeasureable, abundant grace”

Eph 3:16

i{na dw'/ uJmi'n kataV toV plou'to" th'" dovxh" aujtou' dunavmei krataiwqh'nai


“that He might grant you according, to his abundant/rich glory”

Eph 4:17

mhkevti uJma'" peripatei'n, kaqwV" kaiV taV e[qnh peripatei' ejn mataiovthti tou' nooV" aujtw'n,


“that you no longer walk just as the Gentiles also walk by/in their futile mind”

Eph 4:18

ejskotwmevnoi th'/ dianoiva/ o[nte", ajphllotriwmevnoi th'" zwh'" tou' qeou' diaV thVn a[gnoian thVn ousan ejn aujtoi'", diaV thVn pwvrwsin th'" kardiva" aujtw'n


“being darkened in their understanding … because of their hard heart”


Paul seems to be placing his emphasis on the mind and heart, namely that the “spotlight” in 4:17 and 18 is the futile mind and the hard heart of the unbeliever.

Eph 6:5

OiJ dou'loi, uJpakouvete toi'" kataV savrka kurivoi" metaV fovbou kaiV trovmou ejn aJplovthti th'" kardiva" uJmw'n wJ" tw'/ Cristw'/,


“Slaves, be obedient … with your sincere heart, as to Christ”


See also Colo 3:22 below.

Phil 1:22

eij deV toV zh'n ejn sarkiv, tou'tov moi karpoV" e[rgou,


“If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.”


This is a clear example with attestation in more than one major translation (NET, RSV, NIV, NRSV, NASB). See also Fee, 143.22

Col 2:13

kaiV uJma'" nekrouV" o[nta" (ejn) toi'" paraptwvmasin kaiV th'/ ajkrobustiva/ th'" sarkoV" uJmw'n, sunezwopoivhsen uJma'" suVn aujtw'/,


“When you were dead in your trespasses and uncircumcised flesh, He made you alive together with Him”

Col 3:22

OiJ dou'loi, uJpakouvete kataV pavnta toi'" kataV savrka kurivoi", mhV ejn ojfqalmodouliva/ wJ" ajnqrwpavreskoi, ajll= ejn aJplovthti kardiva"


“Slaves, be subject to those who are your masters according to the flesh, not with external service … but with a sincere heart”

Other Possible Examples

Some of the following examples are “very likely,” while others might be categorized simply as being “likely/possible.” There is room for debate on many of the following verses, but those listed do meet the required criteria for an attributed genitive, namely, the noun to which the genitive stands in relation is 1) abstract, and 2) can be turned into an adjective.

Rom 1:23

kaiV h[llaxan thVn dovxan tou' ajfqavrtou qeou' ejn oJmoiwvmati


“… and they exchanged the glorious incorruptible God for an image”


This example merits a place here due to the accusative thVn dovxan. While the genitive adjective tou' ajfqavrtou is clearly modifying qeou', the addition of the attributed genitive would make the description of qeou' that much more emphatic, which suits the context well. This “piling up” of modifiers makes the exchange here that much more heinous. Additionally, as we have seen, dovxa is a prime example of an abstract noun that can attribute its adjectival quality to the genitive to which it is connected. The “glorious incorruptible God” makes good sense here, as it stands opposed to “an image in the form of corruptible man.” If qeov" is being modified both by the genitive adjective as well as the accusative, then Paul seems to be making a more emphatic point than “the glory of the incorruptible God,” rather, it is “the glorious incorruptible God.”

Rom 1:24

DioV parevdwken aujtouV" oJ qeoV" ejn tai'" ejpiqumivai" tw'n kardiw'n aujtw'n eij" ajkaqarsivan.


“Therefore God gave them over in their lustful hearts to impurity”

Rom 1:25

oi{tine" methvllaxan thVn ajlhvqeian tou' qeou' ejn tw'/ yeuvdei


“For they exchanged the true God for a lie”


Wallace notes this example and suggests, “It is likely that ‘the truth of God’ = ‘the true God’.”23

Rom 2:4

h] tou' plouvtou th'" crhstovthto" aujtou' kaiV th'" ajnoch'" kaiV th'" makroqumiva" katafronei'"


“Or do you think lightly of his rich/abundant kindness and forbearance and patience?”


This example is very likely and attributed genitive due to the fact that in this one verse Paul describes the characteristic of God’s kindness in two ways, grammatically speaking. In the example here tou' plouvtou modifies (attributes “kindness” to) the genitive th'" crhstovthto" aujtou'. Yet in the second part of the verse Paul describes the kindness of God using the simple adjective. Thus it would appear that the use of the attributed genitive in the first half of the verse is both purposeful and intentional, and is consistent with the “emphatic adjectival” function of the N-Ng construction.

Rom 5:18

ou{tw" kaiV di= eJnoV" dikaiwvmato" eij" pavnta" ajnqrwvpou" eij" dikaivwsin zwh'".


“even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.”


The idea here would be “justified/justifying/acquitted life.” An attributive genitive would not work here for zwh'" (“lively acquittal”), nor would a subjective genitive, or objective genitive (dikaivwsi" as a verbal noun does not imply a transitive verb).

Rom 7:6

w{ste douleuvein hJma'" ejn kainovthti pneuvmato" kaiV ouj palaiovthti gravmmato".


“so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not oldness of the letter.”


This is an important example due to the parallel constructions. Here the two datives attribute the specific qualities of “newness” and “oldness” to the Spirit and the letter. While it might be easy to see the first group as possibly meaning “spiritual newness,” this cannot be due to the parallel adjoining construction. The second construction cannot mean “letteral oldness”! The main idea, exegetically speaking, is to serve in the Spirit and not the letter of the law. Thus, the two datives attribute qualities to the two genitives. Additionally, this example clearly displays the emphatic use of the substantives as adjectives. If all that Paul had wanted to do was to modify “Spirit” and “letter,” then he could have easily written “…the new Spirit…old letter.” But by using the substantives as “emphatic adjectives” there is more sharpness and distinction expressed.24 Cranfield25 here notes that perhaps these genitives should be seen as either appositional (“in newness, that is, in the Spirit”) or genitives of origin (the newness is a gift of the Spirit, as the oldness was the result of dependence on the mere letter). Moo argues for either epexegetic, source, or subjective.26

Rom 11:5

lei'mma kat= ejkloghVn cavrito"


“a remnant according to [God’s] electing grace


This is debatable, whether it is to be understood as an attributive (“gracious election”) attributed genitive (as translated here), or source (election from/out of/motivated by grace). Theologically, all are viable, but since the attributive or source genitives are more attested, either of those might be given preference here.

Rom 11:8

e[dwken aujtoi'" oJ qeoV" pneu'ma katanuvxew"


“God gave them a spiritual stupor


If this were taken to be an attributive genitive, it would read “a stupored spirit.” If apposition, then “a spirit which is stupor;” if genitive of production, then “a spirit which produces stupor;” if source, then “a spirit derived from stupor.” Subjective, objective, or plenary are not possible since the head noun does not have a verbal idea. Of the choices, only two make sense of the passage, a genitive of production or attributed genitive. These two possibilities are to be preferred over the “catch all” category of a descriptive genitive, since either of these two options defines the genitive more narrowly (which is preferable if possible) than the generic descriptive genitive, since all adjectival genitives are descriptive in some sense.27 Paul quotes here from Deut. 29:3 MT (and possibly Isa. 29:10), which reads, “God has not given you a heart to know” (tu^d~l* bl^ <k#l* hw`hy+ /t^n`-aOw+) thus perhaps lending weight to the probability of this being an attributed genitive.

Rom 15:18

eij" uJpakohVn ejqnw'n lovgw/ kaiV e[rgw


“resulting in obedient Gentiles in word and deed.”


This also could be rendered “resulting in the Gentiles’ obeying,” and thus a subjective genitive.

1 Cor 12:4

Diairevsei" deV carismavtwn eijsivn


“Now there are different (various) gifts


I suggest that to translate this as an attributed genitive is a better translation than “differing of gifts” or “varieties of gifts.” Paul’s point is that there are not just gifts, but that there are a number of different gifts that have been given by the Spirit to the Church.28 “Different kinds of gifts” = “different gifts.” The emphasis is on diversity in the Church; one Spirit who gives different gifts, different ministries, and different effects. See also 12:5-6 below.

1 Cor 12:5

kaiV diairevsei" diakoniw'n eijsin kaiV oJ aujtoV" kuvrio".


“And there are different ministries, but the same Lord.”


See discussion on 12:4 above.

1 Cor 12:6

kaiV diairevsei" ejnerghmavtwn eijsivn


“And there are different results


See discussion on 12:4 above.

1 Cor 12:10

eJtevrw/ gevnh glwssw'n29


“to another different tongues


This example, along with 1 Cor 14:10 (below) is less certain than 1 Cor 12:4, 5, 6 where diairevsei" is used. See BDAG on the term gevno". Since its meaning is less certain than diaivresi", I have chosen to put it in this section of the paper, as it is perhaps less clear. However, it must be understood that it meets all criteria for the attributed genitive, and if gevno" is agreed to carry the idea of “different” here, then this example, along with the next example could be moved to the “clear examples” section of the paper. However, with the choice of gevno" rather than diaivresi" here, this is far from certain, thus it will be left in the category of “possible examples.”

1 Cor 14:10

tosau'ta eij tuvcoi gevnh fwnw'n eijsin ejn kovsmw/


“There are doubtless many different languages in the world”


See discussion above for 1 Cor 12:10

2 Cor 3:18

thVn dovxan kurivou katoptrizovmenoi


“beholding the glorious Lord


The argument here is the question, “What is it that we behold that changes us into the likeness of God?” Is it the glory of the Lord or is it the Lord himself? If one takes the former view then the genitive would be one of source (“the glory which comes from the Lord”), or perhaps epexegetical (“the glory which is the Lord”). If one takes the latter, then it would be an attributed genitive, “beholding the glorious Lord.” The latter is preferred here. The view adopted here argues that the attributed genitive is more grammatically precise, which in turn yields greater exegetical precision. Thus, “We behold the glorious Lord.” However, this rests on how one defines the term katoptrivzw, a NT hapax legomenon. If it means “reflecting” then the attributed genitive perhaps becomes less of an option, though still not ruled out.

2 Cor 4:6

proV" fwtismoVn th'" gnwvsew" th'" dovxh" tou' qeou'


“to [give] the illuminating knowledge of the glory of God”

2 Cor 4:13

[Econte" deV toV aujtoV pneu'ma th'" pivstew"


“But having the same spiritual faith


This may be merely a descriptive genitive, but if a narrower category fits (and in this case it does) then that is preferable. If this were a possessive genitive, then it would read “the same spirit belonging to/possessed by faith;” if attributive genitive then “faithful spirit” which is surely is not Paul intention; if epexegetical, then “the same spirit, which is faith;” if genitive of production, then “the same spirit produced by faith” (which can be ruled out since faith does not produce spirits – or Spirit, in the technical sense of production involved here); or if genitive of product, then “the same spirit which produces faith.” Subjective and objective genitives are ruled out. Of the examples listed here, this perhaps might be a genitive of product (“the same spirit which produces faith”) if one argues against it being an attributed genitive. The attributed genitive is a good choice here, especially given the context of the second part of the verse, “‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore also we speak.” A spiritual faith believes. Paul’s emphasis in this verse seems to be in their common faith, their spiritual faith.

Gal 2:14

ajll= o{te eidon o{ti oujk ojrqopodou'sin proV" thVn ajlhvqeian tou' eujaggelivou,


“But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the true gospel


The emphasis Paul makes is that the Jews, along with Barnabas and Cephas are not straightforward about the gospel itself, since their behavior (here not eating with Gentiles) is in direct contrast to the gospel itself. To be sure, this could also be either an epexegetical/appositional or possessive genitive.

Gal 5:1

kaiV ejpiqumivan sarkoV" ouj mhV televshte


“and do not satisfy the lustful flesh


This could also be “do not satisfy the desires which come from the flesh,” which would be the genitive of source. Subjective genitive is also possible in this example.

Phil 3:21

o}" metaschmativsei toV sw'ma th'" tapeinwvsew" hJmw'n suvmmorfon tw'/ swvmati th'" dovxh" aujtou'


“who will transform our lowly body into conformity with His glorious body

Col 1:27

oi|" hjqevlhsen oJ qeoV" gnwrivsai tiv toV plou'to" th'" dovxh" tou' musthrivou touvtou ejn toi'" e[qnesin, o{ ejstin CristoV" ejn uJmi'n, hJ ejlpiV" th'" dovxh":


“to whom God willed to make known what is this full glorious mystery to the Gentiles …”


Admittedly, seeing tou' musthrivou as an example of the attributed genitive makes it somewhat cumbersome to translate. Also, there are two genitives here, and such uses of the genitive can be more difficult to identify when there are more than one. However, it seems only logical to assert that what is being made known (and thus what is in the “spotlight”) is the mystery, and thus the two preceding nouns should be seen as attributing their adjectival qualities to tou' musthrivou touvtou.

Col 2:9

o{ti ejn aujtw'/ katoikei' pa'n toV plhvrwma th'" qeovthto" swmatikw'",


“that in whom all of the full deity dwells in bodily form”


Here, as in other examples, it appears that the emphasis is on the deity that dwells in bodily form, and that toV plhvrwma is here to modify th'" qeovthto", thus the tell-tale semantically “flip-flopped” relationship indicative of the attributed genitive. To render it as an attributed genitive puts the emphasis where is should be: on “deity.” Many translations render this as “the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form” in which case the genitive is merely a modifier. I suggest that it should be the reverse: Deity dwells in bodily form, namely the fullness of deity.

The Question of Genitive Chains

Whether or not genitive chains (concatentive genitives) should be included in this discussion is a matter of debate. One could see, for example (functionally speaking), both an attributive and attributed genitive in the same chain:

Rom 8:3

oJ qeoV" toVn eJautou' uiJoVn pevmya" ejn oJmoiwvmati sarkoV" aJmartiva"


“[God] sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh

Here, aJmartiva" could merely be a descriptive genitive. But to be more specific, in function the second genitive is modifying the first, and conversely the first is being modified by the second. Most grammarians understand the second genitive as always (or “normally”) modifying the one preceding it.30 This is certainly true of the example given above. Thus, if it is possible to understand the genitive chains in such a strictly functional manner, then perhaps such genitive chains would not be out of place in the present discussion.

Further Issues for Future Research

The research for this paper has focused on only seven letters of the Pauline corpus. Thus, what about the rest of the Pauline corpus and the remainder of the New Testament? Is this a feature of Koine Greek that has largely gone unnoticed, or is it mostly a Pauline phenomenon? What of narrative and apocalyptic literature? To be sure there is much work that remains to be done. It has been the thesis of this paper to demonstrate the legitimacy of this category in seven letters of Paul with the assumption that if it is found in these epistles, then it is probable that this category of usage would be found in other New Testament books as well.

1 The term “attributed genitive” is not common among the grammars. The lone exception is Dr. Daniel B. Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 89-91. Only a few address this use of the genitive, and there is little discussion on the matter, especially the semantic situation in which this particular use of the genitive is found. The term “attributed genitive” fits well due to its kinship with the attributive genitive and the semantically “flip-flopped” relationship to the head noun.

2 While no grammar (other than Wallace) that was consulted listed the attributed genitive as a specific category, examples of it were lumped together either under the “attributive genitive,” “qualitative use of genitive,” “genitive of description,” or under the discussion of adjectives (due to the attributed genitive's adjectival force). See bibliography for grammars that were searched.

3 The search results come from my own search of these seven epistles, using the current GRAMCORD database for the grammatical searches (The GRAMCORD Greek New Testament Morphological Database & Research System. The GRAMCORD Institute, 1999; available at Research method is outlined below.

4 Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 89-91.

5 Wallace notes that the head noun functions, in sense, as an attributive adjective (Exegetical Syntax, 89).

6 Ibid.

7 G. B. Winer, A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek, Regarded as a Sure Basis for New Testament Exegesis, 3rd edition, revised, translated and augmented by W. F. Moulton (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1882), 296. Robertson notes the usage of the adjectival nature of the attributive genitive when he writes, “. . . the descriptive attributive genitive expresses quality like an adjective indeed, but with more sharpness and distinctness [emphasis mine].” But here, Robertson does not seem to note the difference between kainovthti zwh'" (Rom 6:4, one of our examples for the attributed genitive) where the dative clearly attributes its adjectival quality of 'newness' to the genitive 'life') and Rom 6:6 toV sw'ma th'" aJmartiva", in which the genitive attributes its adjectival quality to the head noun in the nominative case (a clear attributive genitive). See A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), 496. Robertson places these two examples side by side when perhaps there should be another category of usage, which is the thesis of this paper.

8 Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples, trans. Joseph Smith (Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1963), 15 n.6.

9 And thus unlike Winer, Robertson, and Zerwick discussed above who may have recognized this phenomenon in a few locations, but did not create a separate category for this genitive, and even perhaps blurred different uses of the genitive, as clearly seen in Robertson. Please let me be clear that while these few grammarians did not take this issue far enough in my judgment, all other grammars consulted did not address it at all.

10 Note: If the trailing genitive is a proper name or a title, then it usually (but not always) is an unlikely candidate for the attributed genitive.

In the case of the title qeov", consider Rom 1:25, where thVn ajlhvqeian tou' qeou' is quite possibly to be rendered, “the true God.” See Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 90. [However, Wallace would dispute that either of these is a true proper name, in light of the fact that they can be put in the plural.]

It is important to note that what is not being discussed here is the issue of cognates. Many words can have an adjectival form distinct from their noun form; that is not the test here. The question raised here is whether or not that noun can have an abstract quality that can be used adjectivally, and thus carry a greater adjectival force.

11 Examples of datives and accusatives attributing their qualities are given in the research results on the following pages.

12 This is perhaps due to the fact that the nominative is usually the subject, and thus more emphasis is naturally placed on the subject (intrinsic to the nominative case).

13 Let the reader understand that this research is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, it is sufficient to argue for the legitimacy of this category of genitive.

14 Though the following examples are labeled “clear,” this does not rule out the possibility of debate for certain examples. In addition, some might find that examples in the next section belong here.

Finally, where necessary I have included a discussion or a footnote referring the reader to a few of the best and most recent commentaries on the verse(s) under examination.

15 Cf. Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, ed. Gordon Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 367.

16 Moo, Romans, 513; C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975), 411; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, NICNT, ed. N. B. Stonehouse (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959).

17 If it is possible to see the first genitive attributing something to the second in this example, then this would read, “the fullness of the blessed Christ.”

18 Cf. C. K. Barret, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, BNTC, ed. Henry Chadwick. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1968) 49.

19 I am curious as to the possibility of this being an example where a head noun attributes its adjectival qualities to two trailing genitives: ouj kaq= uJperochVn lovgou h] sofiva", which would translate “not with superior speech or (superior) wisdom.”

20 Richard Longenecker, Galatians, WBC, vol. 41, eds. Hubbard and Barker (Waco: Word, 1990), 53.

21 The NET Bible translates it as an attributed genitive, “boastful confidence.” See for translation plus grammatical notes on this and other verses.

22 Gordon Fee, Philippians, NICNT, ed. G. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 143; cf. Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 90).

23 Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 90.

24 See Winer, Wallace, Robertson, and Zerwick, noted above.

25 Cranfield, Romans, 1:339.

26 Moo, Romans, 421.

27 Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 79.

28 Cf. Barrett, 281-284; Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, ed. F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 583-589, esp. 586 fn. 13.

29 See BDAG on these two term in this verse, pp. 195 and 1072.

30 See Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 87; BDF, 93, states ( 168), “Generally one genitive is dependent on another, whereby and author, particularly Paul, occasionally produces a quite cumbersome accumulation of genitives; to facilitate clarity in such cases, the governing genitive must always precede the dependent genitive.”

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