New Testament Greek Syntax

The Genitive Case

The genitive primarily functions adjectivally to limit (restrict, see Louw Linguistic Theory) a substantive by describing, defining or qualifying / modifying it. The genitive also sometimes functions to express the idea of separation, point of departure, source, origin (ie. the ablative use).

In the NT the adjectival use of the genitive is dominant since it is common to Hebrew construction.

1. Adjectival Genitive

A substantive genitive functioning as an emphatic adjective limiting a connecting substantive by describing, defining or qualifying it.

This is the primary, if not essential, function of the genitive in NT Greek

i] Describing

Here the genitive serves to describe and thus limit the substantive

The classification Descriptive is sometimes offered expressing characterized by, but is probably an example of over-classification


a) Attributive (Quality, Hebrew)

Functioning as an attributive adjective reflecting the Semitic use of the genitive

Supplying a specific attribute, or innate quality, present in the substantive it seeks to limit

The UNJUST steward

oJ oikonomoV thV adikiaV


b) Attributed

A reversal of the usual attributive function of the genitive - possibly not so rare

The lead noun, rather than the genitive noun, functions as the attributive adjective

Often used for emphasis

we should walk in newness OF LIFE

we should walk in new LIFE

hJmeiV en kainothti zwhV peripathswmen

Objective genitives are sometimes better treated as an attributed genitive

oJ emplokh tricwn

the braiding OF HAIR - objective genitive

braided HAIR - attributed genitive


c) Idiomatic (aporetic)

This classification of the descriptive genitive covers the many idiomatic uses of the adjectival genitive. The more easily defined are listed below.

etoimasate thn oJdon kuriou

prepare the way OF LORD

prepare the way FOR THE LORD TO TRAVEL


Movement Toward

Describing where the substantive is heading - destination, direction, purpose

Translate: supply (often) "destined for"

we were children OF WRATH (destined for wrath)

hmeqa tekna fusei orghV



Describing subordination of the genitive to the substantive

Translate: replace "of" with "over"

the ruler OF [over] DEMONS

tw/ arconti twn damioniwn



Describing the material out of which the substantive is made

Translate: "made out of / consisting of"

a herd OF SWINE (consisting of swine)

agelh coirwn



Describing the content of the substantive

Translate: "full of / containing"

to diktuon twn icquwn

The net of (full of) fish



Identifying a location

apo Kana thV GalilaiaV




Defining the name or title of something, or someplace

Translate: "which is called / known as / in the region of"

to Zarepath OF SIDON

in Zerepath which is in the region of SIDON

eiV Sarepata thV SidwniaV



oJdouV zwhV

paths OF LIFE



Producer / Product

to leloV thV pistewV

the end OF FAITH




With a word of time the genitive tends to explain what occurred at that time

you did not know the time OF VISITATION

you did not know the time when God VISITED you

ouk egnwV ton kairon thV episkophV

ii] Defining

Here the genitive serves to limit the substantive by defining, or explaining it - a genitive of definition.

Epexegetic / Appositional

The distinction between these two classifications is somewhat blurred and so either epexegetic, or appositional, is often used to classify a genitive of definition.

With this genitive the connecting substantive is limited by defining it (appositional) or making it more specific (epexegetic).

Translation: = "namely, that is, which is, consisting of, ..."


The sign namely / that is / which is CIRCUMCISION

shmeion peritomhV

he is the head of the body OF THE CHURCH

he is the head of the body which is / consists of THE CHURCH

autoV estin hJ kefalh tou swmatoV, thV ekklhsiaV

iii] Qualifying / Modifying

Here the genitive serves to qualify / modify and thus limit the substantive

a) Possessive

Identifying possession of

a dependent status or

a derivative characteristic

  all things are YOURS

  panta uJmwn estin


b) Relational

Describing some marital, genital or social relationship with the substantive

The person doing the relating must be supplied

Simon (son) OF JOHN

Simwn Iwannou


c) Partitive / Wholative

Identifying the whole of which the substantive is a part of, or all of

Often found after verbs "to taste / touch / partake" as only part of the object is acted on by the verb

ek + gen. produces a similar partitive translation

Often following tiV, ekastoV

the poor OF THE SAINTS

the poor forming a particular part of the saints

touV ptwcouV twn aJgiwn


d) Connective

Two words in a vague general genitive relationship

Best translated with a hyphen


ex ergwn nomou

2. Ablative Genitive**

Indicating separation, either static or movement from, or comparison with

Koine Greek was in the process of replacing this use by the addition of a preposition + gen.

i] Separation

Identifying separation of the genitive substantive from a verb or noun

Translate: supply "out of, away from, from"

Koine replacement: apo, ek, pro + gen.

he has ceased FROM [doing] SIN

pepautai aJmartiaV

ii] Comparison

Identifying comparison, by drawing a comparison with something else

Usually after a comparative adjective

Translate: supply "than"

you are of more value THAN MANY SPARROWS

pollwn strouqiwn diaferete

iii] Source (Origin / Author, Agent)

Identifying the source from which the noun originates

Translate: supply "out of, derived from, dependent on"

Koine replacement: apo, ek, kata, para + gen.

you are a letter FROM CHRIST

este epistolh Cristou

The righteousness OF FAITH (that springs from faith?)

dikaiosunh pistewV

3. Verbal Genitive

It is widely held that the genitive substantive may sometimes function as the subject or object of a noun of action (a verbal noun).

This construction now has its critics such that weight should be given to an adjectival / limiting use of the genitive.

Some important interpretations rest on this classification, particularly when the classification is objective, eg.:

dia pistewV Ihsou Cristou, Gal.2:16

Objective genitive = a person is justified not by works of the law but through faith IN JESUS CHRIST

Adjectival genitive = a person is justified not by works of the law but by the faithfulness OF JESUS CHRIST

Examples of verbal nouns: orgh, agaph, dehsiV....

i] Subjective genitive (Active genitive)

Where the genitive substantive produces the action implied by the verbal noun

Often this genitive can be classified as adjectival, possessive.

ton plaion anqrwpon sun taiV praxesin autou

you have put off the old self with ITS practices / the practices OF IT

Possessive: you have put off the old self with the practices THAT CHARACTERIZED IT

Subjective: you have put off the old self with the practices THAT EXPRESSED IT

ii] Objective genitive

Where the genitive substantive receives the action implied by the verbal noun

Usually expressed by about / for / concerning / toward placed before the genitive

the report OF HIM


hJ akoh autou

Consider attributed or source/origin instead

because of the fear OF THE JEWS (stemming from the activities of the Jews)

dia ton fobon twn Ioudaiwn


* Sometimes both ideas are present = Plenary or Full Genitive.

Moulton argues that the interpretation of these genitives is more a matter of exegesis than grammar, the final arbiter being the context

the love OF CHRIST constrains us

hJ gar agaph Cristou suecei hJmaV

Subjective: Christ produces the action of the verbal noun "love"

the love which Christ feels for us, cf. Gal.2:20

Objective: Christ receives the action of the verbal noun "love"

the love which we feel for Christ

An adjectival genitive, possessive / relational, may better explain the verse

The love which belongs to / characterizes the person of Christ constrains us

4. Adverbial Genitive

A genitive substantive that functions in the same way as an adverb, as such it modifies a verb rather than a substantive

i] Time

Expressing the kind of time within which an action takes place, or one kind of time as opposed to another.

Translate: supply "during, at, within"

Ablative form, therefore being replaced by dia, epi, acri, eJwV + gen.

I fast twice DURING THE WEEK

nhsteuw diV tou sabbatou

ii] Measure (Quantity, Value or Price)

Expressing how much or how far. Rare

Translate: supply "for"

you were bought FOR A PRICE

hgorasqhte timhV

iii] Space (Place)

Expressing the kind of place, one place as opposed to another place, rather than just locative (dative). Rare

Translate: supply "in, at, through"

Redundant, being replaced by dia, epi, kata + numerous adverbial prepositions

He was about to pass THROUGH THAT WAY

ekeinhV hmellen diercesqai

iv] Means (Instrumental)

Expressing the means by which an action is accomplished. Rare

Translate: supply "by, by means of"

death BY [means of] A CROSS

qanatou de staurou

v] Agency

Identifying the person (agent) by whom the action is accomplished. Rare

Translate: supply "by"

they shall all be taught BY GOD

esontai panteV didaktoi qeou

vi] Reference (Respect)

Defining the frame of reference of an adjective or substantive

Translate: supply "with reference to, with respect to, about, concerning"

Prepositions replacing this form: peri, uJper

The dative of reference is a more common form


kardia ponhra apistiaV

vii] Association

Identifying with whom the noun associates

Translate: supply "with"

Preposition replacing this form: meta

The Instrumental Dative is a more common form, esp. sun + dat.

you are fellow-citizens WITH THE SAINTS

este sumpolitai twn aJgiwn

viii] Result

cf. BDF 166.

5. A genitive after certain verbs and adjectives

Genitives that don't properly fit the above categories, known as "genitives after certain words"

i] A genitive direct object after certain verbs

Verbs that take a genitive direct object instead of an accusative:

a) Partitive, separation; where the object is viewed in part, or separate from: touch, share, seize, hold, take from, taste, eat ("partake") ...

he touched his TONGUE

hJyato thV glwsshV autou

b) Full, or filling, full of

c) Perception, sensation: hearing, smelling

For example, the verb akouw will often take a genitive of direct object.

  hearing THE VOICE but seeing no one

  akounteV men thV fwnhV mhdena de qewrounteV

d) A verb of want - emotion, volition: desire, bear with, reach, attain, obtain

he desires A NOBLE WORK

kalou ergou epiqumei

e) Ruling, excelling, suppressing, accusing

the kings of the Gentiles lord it OVER THEM

oiJ basileiV twn eqnwn kurieuousin autwn

f) Remember, forget

ii] A genitive complement after certain adjectives, nouns and adverbs

Adjectives, sometimes nouns and adverbs, take a genitive:

a) Fullness or want, worthiness or unworthiness, participation


plyrhV caritoV kai alhqeiaV

b) Comparison

you will see greater things THAN THESE

meizw toutwn oyh/

6. Genitive Absolute

Genitive noun or pronoun + anarthrous gen. part. standing by themselves at the beginning of a sentence

Usually translated as a temporal clause but sometimes other adverbial clauses will suit

Dative and accusative forms. Rare


touta de autwn lalountwn

** Included under the 5 Case system where the case is defined by form rather than function, as in the 8 Case system

*A less than common usage*

A Syntax of New Testament Greek

Exegetical notes on the Greek New Testament

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