Normal Sentence Order
I remember the first tie I heard someone say that there was a “normal” word order in Greek. I was shocked since I had not observed any patterns, but they are there.
The normal word order is conjunction, verb, subject, object, and modifiers.
The conjunction is there to give a specific link to the context of the preceding verse. I had heard that the use of και at the beginning of a sentence was a Semitism and I dismissed it at that point. And while the consecutive certainly had an influence on the initial και in, for example, the Gospel of John, it was proper Greek to use an initial conjunction to make an explicit link to the content.
What Greek does is move words out of their “normal” order to emphasize them. Normally the movement is toward the beginning of the sentence, and the very beginning carries the greatest emphasis. The problem is that the emphasis is usually very slightly nuanced and you have to be careful about placing too much exegetical weight on the word order.
The sermon this morning was on John 15. Verse 1 reads, “I am the vine the true and the father of mine the farmer is.” You can hear the slight comparison on Jesus and the Father as a contrast to each other, and the slight emphasis due to their placement at the beginning of both clauses.
It is kind of like the use of explicit personal pronouns in the nominative. They are totally unnecessary because of the personal endings, but their presence indicates a slight emphasis.
What I am doing now in my reading is trying to pay closer attention to word order. I want to pick up the nuance. Jesus, and only Jesus, is the true vine. God the Father, on the other hand, is the farmer that prunes back fruit so we the branches can bear more.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on theCommittee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.
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