A Brief Tutorial to Understanding the Greek Genitive Case*

Since I am now moving deeper into the nuances of the Genitive case, I thought that I would review some information which has been helpful for me in my study with the hope that you up-and-coming greek-o-philes in the blogosphere will benefit from this post.  Enjoy!

The Genitive case more generally can be classified as the “descriptive case.” As we will see, there is actually a “genitive of description,” but typically this title is only assigned to a usage of the genitive when the other classifications do not fit. This is due to the fact that in some way or another all the classifications of the genitive are “descriptive” in nature. In first year Greek students typically learn that a genitive is to be translated with “of” preceeding it. But in second year Greek (or perhaps earlier for some) the student will quickly learn that there are many other ways to translate the genitive. Indeed, there are plenty of uses which I will not be highlighting in this post!

An entire class of descriptions, the class of genitives modifying subtantives, can be clearly understood using “x of y” constructions (or at least the following breakdown was helpful for my understanding). Below I will write out some information to aid you in understanding this class as well as the class of genitives linked with a verb.

Modifying Substantives [function as adjectives] (“x of y” constructions, with x and y both noun or noun equivalents)

1. Subjective–“x is produced by y” –

“The love of a mother for her children is great.” or “…so also will be the coming of the Son of Man.”(Mt 24:27)

2. Objective–“x is directed toward y” –

“The love of chocolate can be unhealthy.” or “Have faith in God.” (Mk 11:22)

3. Descriptive–(quality, attribute, adjectival)–“x is characterised by y”

Behold, now is the day of Salvation. (Lk 22:1)

4. Possession and relationship–“x belongs to y”

“…the slave of the high priest” (Mt 26:51)

5. Partitive–“x is part of y”

“But another of the apostles I did not know.” (Gal 1:19)

6. Appositional (also known as epexegetical)–“x, which is y”

“…the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah” (2 Pet 2:6)

7. Source or Origin (also called ablative)–“x stems from y”

“the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom 1:5

8. Material or Contents–“x is made of y,” or “x contains y” (rare)

“a patch of cloth” (Mk 2:21)* or “a cup of water” (Mk 9:41)*

Linked with a Verb

9. Adverbial (answering “how?” “when?” “where?” “why?” or “how far/how long?

  • directly modify verbs (e.g. time or measure)
  • modify adjectives or adverbs

i. comparison–substitute “than” for “of”

ii. reference–substitute “with reference to” for “of”

10. As Direct Object of certain verbs-this is self-explanatory as first-year Greek students know that any case can function as a direct object.

11. Genitive Absolute–David Alan Black defines this as “a clause containing a genitive participle with a substantive that agrees with the participles…the genitive substantive should be translated as the subject of a dependent clause and the participle as its verb” (pp. 49-50 in ISGTM).

*Admittedly, I have no training in Classical Greek.  Thus, the information here has been gleaned solely from my own journey into Koine Greek. Most of the here information comes directly from the handout Supplemental Class Notes and Examples used by Dr. William Klein & Dr. Craig Blomberg at Denver Seminary.

*the genitive of material or contents examples were borrowed from David Alan Black’s It’s Still Greek To Me.


8 Responses to A Brief Tutorial to Understanding the Greek Genitive Case*

  1. mahendra says:

    what will be explanation in terms of x and y for

    proud of father

    result of discussion

  2. DOc says:

    proud of father should be objective genitive

    result of discussion may be genitive of source?

  3. millercpwsnet says:

    In John 1:6 there is a genitive linked with a verb:
    apestalmenos theou
    which is usually translated “sent of God” or “sent from God.”
    What is the explanation in terms of x and y?
    Can it be rightly translated:
    “God sent him.” or “He was sent by God.”?
    or.does it have the deeper meaning of:
    “He was literally with God, and God sent Him out from His presence.”?

  4. Geneitve of Place: According to Hadley and Allen, The genitive of place is “the place to which, or within which, an action belongs.” (p. 243) Acts 9:15 is an example of this where ethnov (should be translated as nations not gentiles) are the places to which Paul was to carry Jesus’ Name. Sorry if this upsets some scholars.
    Richard Willoughby, Bradford, NH, rwillloughby@mcttelecom.com

  5. Bertha says:

    I rarely comment, however i did some searching and wound up here A Brief Tutorial to
    Understanding the Greek Genitive Case* | SUMMA
    PHILOSOPHIAE. And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you
    usually do not mind. Is it simply me or does it
    look like some of the responses come across like they are
    left by brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are posting at additional social sites, I’d like to follow everything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of the complete urls of your public pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  6. William Opel says:

    1 Corinthians 11:24 has Jesus say, “touto mou estin to soma”.
    Mark 14:22, Matthew 26:26 & Luke 22:19 have, “touto estin to soma mou.” Does the placement of he genetive “mou” affect the translation? Could it be “mine (this of me) is the body” rather than
    “this is my body”? It would make all the difference in the world to theologians if the Greek meant apposition rather than identity.
    William Opel, Eastham, MA, w.opel@comcast.net

  7. Jim Tarter says:

    Thanks for your help. As I was looking at John 15:13 and seeing the adjective “greater” followed by a genitive, I felt right about the greater than, but you provided the first digital statement that I found supporting my thought.

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