John 6:62

Dear all,

Can I ask if there is any way to tell what an adverb modifies? It seems to me that it can modify one or more of: a complete clause, a verb clause, another adverb (including adjectival or prepositional or dative clause), and even a noun clause. If so, how do I differentiate between the various possibilities when the adverb can be used in more than one way? Or is my concept of adverbs inaccurate? For example I wanted to classify the following:

“prwteron” = “firstly / initially” (adv.) / “former” (adj.) “prwton” = “first” (adv.) / “first” (adj.) “prwtos” = “first / foremost” (adj.) / “first” (adv.)

So I considered these to have the following meanings:

[John 6:62] “ean oun qewrhte ton uion tou anqrwpou anabainonta opou hn to proteron” = “therefore { if { you behold { the son ( of man ) ( going up ( where { [he] was ( initially ) } ) ) } } ? }” (where “initially” modifies the verb “[he] was”)

[Heb 7:27] “… proteron uper twn idiwn amartiwn qusias anaferein epeita twn tou laou …” = “… to offer up { sacrifices } ( firstly ) ( for ( [their] ) ( own ) sins ) ( subsequently ) ( [for] the [sins] ( of the people ) ) …” (where “firstly” modifies the adverbial prepositional clause “for [their] own sins” and also “subsequently” similarly)

[Rom 1:16] “… dunamis gar qeou estin eis swthrian panti tw pisteuonti ioudaiw te prwton kai ellhni” = “… for { [it] is { power ( of God ) ( for salvation ) } ( to ( all ) the [ones] ( who believe ) ) ( both ( to Jew ) ( first ) and ( to Greek ) ) }” (where “first” modifies the adverbial dative clause “to Jew”)

But I do not quite understand the following:

[Rom 1:8] “prwton men eucaristw tw qew mou dia ihsou cristou uper pantwn umwn …” ?= “( first ) ( indeed ) I thank { ( my ) God } ( through Jesus Christ ) ( for you ( all ) ) …” (where “first” and “indeed” both modify the complete clause “I thank my God …”)

[1 Cor 15:46] “all ou prwton to pneumatikon alla to yucikon epeita to pneumatikon” ?= “but { [it] [is] not ( first ) { the spiritual } but { the soulish } } { [it] [is] ( subsequently ) { the spiritual } }” (where “first” modifies “[it] [is]”) ?= “but { { first } [is] not { the spiritual } but { the soulish } } ( subsequently ) [it] [is] { the spiritual }” (where “first” is an adjective)

[2 Pet 1:20] “touto prwton ginwskontes oti pasa profhteia grafhs idias epilusews ou ginetai” ?= “knowing { this } ( first ) { that { { ( every ) prophecy } does not come to be ( of ( [one’s] ) ( own ) explanation ) } }” (where “first” modifies “knowing”) ?= “knowing { ( first ) this } { that { { ( every ) prophecy } does not come to be ( of ( [one’s] ) ( own ) explanation ) } }” (where “first” modifies “this”)

And I cannot figure out what “prwtos” means when it is declined as an adjective but used as an adverb…

[John 1:41] “euriskei outos prwtos ton adelfon ton idion simwna …” ?= “{ this [one] ( first ) } finds { ( [his] ) ( own ) brother } { Simon } …” (it does not mean “this first [one]”, does it?) (but what then is the difference between “euriskei outos prwtos” and “prwton euriskei outos”?)

[Luke 2:2] “auth h apografh prwth egeneto hgemoneuontos ths surias kurhniou” ?= “{ this enrollment ( first ) } came to be ( when { { Cyrenius } governed { Syria } } )” (if it means “this first enrollment”, as ASV interprets it, why is John 1:41 interpreted differently?)

Is the difference between “prwton” as an adverb and “prwtos” declined as an adjective not semantic but purely grammatical?

Thanks a lot,

David Lim

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14 thoughts on “John 6:62

  1. Carl Conrad says:

    For three days (biblical accounting) this message has lain unanswered in my inbox. Perhaps my own tentative response will stir the dust a bit and evoke some alternative views on the question. General questions like this tend to simmer or fester or whatever a while before being taken off the burner or treated or whatever. It’s different with specific texts about which specific questions are raised: everybody knows what he/she thinks about the question — almost without thinking at all!

    The dead grammarians (myself included?) used to say (as I still do) that an adverb can and does modify an adjective, a noun, or another adverb — or any phrase or clause that functions adjectivally, nominally, or adverbially. One live grammarian I know likes to speak — and I think he’s right — of adverbs functioning as sentence modifiers.

    I might add TO PRWTON, perhaps even TA PRWTA to that list.

    But then, I would quickly go on (before somebody beats me to it (you know who you are!):

    (1) whether any of the forms you have listed functions adverbially can be answered only when it appears within a context. They don’t function at all adverbially or adjectivally in isolation from a context.

    (2) I personally would not consider how to English any particular word or expression until I have understood it in its Greek context; that’s why I tend to think that glossaries are of little real help.

    I’d be more inclined to say that TO PROTERON as an adverbial phrase modifies the whole adverbial clause hOPOU HN, but you could perhaps as well say it modifies simply HN. Of course hOPOU HN TO PROTERON is a relative adverbial clause modifying an implicit EKEI.


    Yes. But again, it seems to me you’re putting the cart before the horse, talking about what the English translated word modifies. I’d prefer to talk wholly in terms of the Greek.

    I’d understand PRWTON here as governing everything from verse 8 through verse 12. Verse 13 with its DE answers the PRWTON MEN of verse 8. And here I’d say that PRWTON governs the whole sequence. It could be Englished, “First of all … ” or “In the first place … ” or “(1) … ”

    There’s a problem here of ellipsis. I’d say that OU PRWTON probably modifies an understood GINETAI or EGENETO, and that EPEITA works the same way.

    I must say, this whole business of word-for-word translation is disturbing. As your initial question seems to indicate, you do readily understand that words do not signify by themselves but only in a context. First understand the Greek words as a sequential unit; if you want to translate, wait until after you clearly understand what the Greek says. Translation, I submit, is NOT a method of coming to understand what the Greek says.

    Here again, I really think that adding these English glosses only obfuscates the problem under consideration.

    I’d think that PRWTON governs TOUTO (words like this and MONON that restrict the preceding word often are used postpositively), but it could perhaps as well or better be said that MONON governs the whole participial phrase, TOUTO GINWSKONTES.

    No, it doesn’t mean “this first one.” It means “he finds, before doing anything else” This is an idiomatic way that ordinal adjectives work in Greek — one must get used to it; they agree with the subject but function like adverbs. For example, hOUTOS ESCATOS HLQEN = “He got there last” or “He was the last one to arrive.” When you’ve read enough Greek, you won’t ask questions like this; you will see this sort of thing over and over.

    This PRWTH has commonly been understood as an adverbial usage construed with EGENETO, “This registration first took place when Qurinius was governing Syria … ” That would be another instance of the adverbial usage of an ordinal adjective.

    HOWEVER, this particular verse was the subect of a now celebrated blog entry by list-member Stephen Carlson, an eminent lawyer who is now teaching beginning Greek at Duke. Stephen has understood this verse in a different way and probably should, when he can find the time, either give the URL of his blog entry from two or three years back or briefly outline his understanding of this text. It is a very problematic text, and the URL of his blog entry would probably be very helpful. I don’t have it ready to hand.

    One last thing (is that an adverb?): I would seriously urge you to drop the whole procedure of interposing English glosses between the Greek text under consideration and your effort to analyze the construction. The construction should be analyzed in the Greek text first; Englishing it can only make sense after the Greek text has come to make good sense to you.

    Carl W. Conrad Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

  2. "=)" says:

    Dear all,

    Yes I certainly agree that it is impossible to understand the Greek text through its English translation, but I am of the opinion that it is possible to understand the grammatical construction apart from the actual meaning by grouping the clauses, so I didn’t mean to say that it was the English words that modify each other, but rather that the grammatical function was equivalent. So I could do it entirely in Greek but since English is my first language I do think in English, although I understand the English words to be simply placeholders for the Greek…

    Anyway, can I confirm some of the examples?

    [John 6:62] “… anabainonta opou hn to proteron” I understand it to mean that “pou hn to proteron” = “[he] was previously somewhere” (did I use “pou” correctly?) and therefore “ton uion tou anqrwpou” is described as “anabainonta X” where X is “opou hn to proteron”

    [1 Cor 15:46] “all ou prwton to pneumatikon alla to yucikon epeita to pneumatikon” Am I right to say that you understand it to imply “ou estin/ginetai prwton to pneumatikon” and “epeita estin/ginetai to pneumatikon”? I also think so, based on the parallel, but how would one know that it does not mean “to pneumatikon ou estin to prwton”?

    [2 Pet 1:20] “touto prwton ginwskontes …” So it means first “touto ginwskontes” before anything else? Rather than “ginwskontes prwton touto … epeita ekeino …”?

    As for the adjectives, are “euriskei outos prwtos” and “prwton euriskei outos” equivalent then?


    David Lim

  3. Carl Conrad says:

    But in not a few cases the Greek construction has no English equivalent. Greek’s distinctive structures can be reproduced in English — that’s what woodenly literal translations ordinarily achieve. Participles, for instance, are workhorses in Greek narrative and exposition. The bane of ancient Greek pedagogy is the endeavor to read Greek while thinking in English or another language that’s not structured like Greek. The objective in learning ancient Greek must be understanding the structures in which the Greek mind thinks.

    Yes. hOPOU HN TO PROTERON is adverbial with the ptc. ANABAINONTA

    Well, for one thing, TO PNEUMATIKON OUK ESTIN TO PRWTON is an un-greek sentence, in terms of word-order; it’s possible but its natural meaning would be either “the spiritual is not the first thing” or “the first thing is not the spiritual” — that is to say, TO PRWTON in this instance would ordinarily appear a substantive, not an adverb.

    The EPEITA indicates “next in sequence.”

    Well, yes — except that Greek idiom prefers the former. That is to say, it tends to use the adjectival form of an ordinal in the nominative rather than an ordinal adverb with a verb of action.

  4. "=)" says:

    Dear all,

    something like that in order to say “the spiritual is not the first thing”. For example if he wanted to say “the spiritual is not first but second” could he say “all ou prwton to pneumatikon alla deuteron”, or does he have to say “all to pneumatikon ou prwton alla deuteron”?

    completely identical?

    Thanks a lot,

    David Lim

  5. Sarah Madden says:

    Carl — When you wrote the following, didn’t you intend to say “verb” instead of “noun” in reference to the categories an adverb can modify? Here’s what you wrote::

    The dead grammarians (myself included?) used to say (as I still do) that an adverb can and does modify an adjective, a *noun*, or another adverb — or any phrase or clause that functions adjectivally, nominally, or adverbially. One live grammarian I know likes to speak — and I think he’s right — of adverbs functioning as sentence modifiers.

  6. Carl Conrad says:


    They might be identical in meaning, but the Greek author would ordinarily write hEURISKEI hOUTOS PRWTOS, not PRWTON hEURISKEI hOUTOS. That is to say, the latter is not what a Greek would ordinarily say, although he might conceivably write PRWTON MEN hEURISKEI hOUTOS … EPEITA DE (ALLO TI PRATTEI).

    Carl W. Conrad Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

  7. Sarah Madden says:

    Hi, Carl — You’re quite welcome.

    I sent my note offlist to you just in case I myself misunderstood what you had written. And, BTW, if you are indeed a “dead” grammarian, you certainly have ME fooled! Have a great day — I always love to read your posts but usually I’m just lurking.

  8. Carl Conrad says:

    But the Majority Text has PRWTOS. Tischendorf has it too.

    This is another instance where I would protest against supposing that the GNT is an adequate database for Koine usage in a matter of this sort. As a guess, I would expect to find the adjective with a verb of action when it refers to temporal sequence in more literary Greek, and that the adverbial form PRWTOS might be more common in colloquial usage.

    BDF #243:


    243. In classical Greek a predicate adjective appears in certain expressions added to the predicate which correspond to an adverb or prepositional phrase in English. This idiom is rare in the NT, most of the instances being in Lk. The adjective μόνος and the adverb μόνον, which have already grown close in classical, are occasionally confused.—Mayser II 2, 173f., 174f.

    Adj. of time: δευτεραῖοι ἤλθομεν ‘on the second day’ A 2


    Carl W. Conrad Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

  9. "=)" says:

    Dear Iver and all,

    I did the same as you, but I could not find conclusive evidence of the difference, at least in the new testament. Although my initial thought on seeing that “prwtos” was declined as an adjective was that it should “modify” the noun as you stated, I could not find an occurrence in the new testament where it was unlikely to act as an adverb “modifying” the verb. So do you have any particular examples? And if “prwtos” does modify “outos”, is it possible that it could mean that Andrew was the first to find his own brother (implying either that John later found his or that others like Philip would also find their own brother) or that Andrew was the first to find someone else in general (implying that others later would also bring people to Jesus)? On the assumption that the other of the two is the author of the gospel and that Philip is the brother or at least close to Nathanael, I would favour the former as the implied meaning. Or have I misunderstood?

    Regards, David Lim


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