Long Strings of Genitives in the Greek NT

The last two Sunday mornings at church I’ve seen some lengthy strings of genitives. Last week was 1 Timothy 6:14, and this week was James 2:1. I remembered seeing some even longer ones in the past, so I thought I’d do a quick search and see what I would come up with.

This was pretty easy to do with the OpenText.org Syntactically Analyzed Greek New Testament. I simply called for a genitive word and asked for it to be repeated x number of times. I refined the number to give me hits I was looking for. (Download the query if you want, and put it in your My Documents\Libronix DLS\SyntaxQueries folder.)

The award for longest string of genitives goes without contest to Luke, who in Luke 3:23–38 strings together a massive 153 genitives.

23 Καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Ἰησοῦς ἀρχόμενος ὡσεὶ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα, ὢν υἱός, ὡς ἐνομίζετο, Ἰωσὴφ τοῦ Ἠλὶ 24 τοῦ Μαθθὰτ τοῦ Λευὶ τοῦ Μελχὶ τοῦ Ἰανναὶ τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ 25 τοῦ Ματταθίου τοῦ Ἀμὼς τοῦ Ναοὺμ τοῦ Ἑσλὶ τοῦ Ναγγαὶ 26 τοῦ Μάαθ τοῦ Ματταθίου τοῦ Σεμεῒν τοῦ Ἰωσὴχ τοῦ Ἰωδὰ 27 τοῦ Ἰωανὰν τοῦ Ῥησὰ τοῦ Ζοροβαβὲλ τοῦ Σαλαθιὴλ τοῦ Νηρὶ 28 τοῦ Μελχὶ τοῦ Ἀδδὶ τοῦ Κωσὰμ τοῦ Ἐλμαδὰμ τοῦ Ἢρ 29 τοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ Ἐλιέζερ τοῦ Ἰωρὶμ τοῦ Μαθθὰτ τοῦ Λευὶ 30 τοῦ Συμεὼν τοῦ Ἰούδα τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ τοῦ Ἰωνὰμ τοῦ Ἐλιακὶμ 31 τοῦ Μελεὰ τοῦ Μεννὰ τοῦ Ματταθὰ τοῦ Ναθὰμ τοῦ Δαυὶδ 32 τοῦ Ἰεσσαὶ τοῦ Ἰωβὴδ τοῦ Βόος τοῦ Σαλὰ τοῦ Ναασσὼν 33 τοῦ Ἀμιναδὰβ τοῦ Ἀδμὶν τοῦ Ἀρνὶ τοῦ Ἑσρὼμ τοῦ Φάρες τοῦ Ἰούδα 34 τοῦ Ἰακὼβ τοῦ Ἰσαὰκ τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ τοῦ Θάρα τοῦ Ναχὼρ 35 τοῦ Σεροὺχ τοῦ Ῥαγαὺ τοῦ Φάλεκ τοῦ Ἔβερ τοῦ Σαλὰ 36 τοῦ Καϊνὰμ τοῦ Ἀρφαξὰδ τοῦ Σὴμ τοῦ Νῶε τοῦ Λάμεχ 37 τοῦ Μαθουσαλὰ τοῦ Ἑνὼχ τοῦ Ἰάρετ τοῦ Μαλελεὴλ τοῦ Καϊνὰμ 38 τοῦ Ἐνὼς τοῦ Σὴθ τοῦ Ἀδὰμ τοῦ θεοῦ.

Second place goes to John for his two 10-word genitive strings:

Revelation 8:13

Καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἤκουσα ἑνὸς ἀετοῦ πετομένου ἐν μεσουρανήματι λέγοντος φωνῇ μεγάλῃ· οὐαὶ οὐαὶ οὐαὶ τοὺς κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐκ τῶν λοιπῶν φωνῶν τῆς σάλπιγγος τῶν τριῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν μελλόντων σαλπίζειν.

Revelation 19:15

καὶ ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ ἐκπορεύεται ῥομφαία ὀξεῖα, ἵνα ἐν αὐτῇ πατάξῃ τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ αὐτὸς ποιμανεῖ αὐτοὺς ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ, καὶ αὐτὸς πατεῖ τὴν ληνὸν τοῦ οἴνου τοῦ θυμοῦ τῆς ὀργῆς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ παντοκράτορος

Third place is a three-way tie between Luke, Paul, and John with these nine-word genitive strings.

Luke 3:1 (a total of 26 genitives in the verse)

Ἐν ἔτει δὲ πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ τῆς ἡγεμονίας Τιβερίου Καίσαρος, ἡγεμονεύοντος Ποντίου Πιλάτου τῆς Ἰουδαίας, καὶ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Γαλιλαίας Ἡρῴδου, Φιλίππου δὲ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Ἰτουραίας καὶ Τραχωνίτιδος χώρας, καὶ Λυσανίου τῆς Ἀβιληνῆς τετρααρχοῦντος,

1 Thessalonians 1:3 (a total of 22 genitives in the verse)

μνημονεύοντες ὑμῶν τοῦ ἔργου τῆς πίστεως καὶ τοῦ κόπου τῆς ἀγάπης καὶ τῆς ὑπομονῆς τῆς ἐλπίδος τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς ἡμῶν,

Revelation 14:10

καὶ αὐτὸς πίεται ἐκ τοῦ οἴνου τοῦ θυμοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ κεκερασμένου ἀκράτου ἐν τῷ ποτηρίῳ τῆς ὀργῆς αὐτοῦ καὶ βασανισθήσεται ἐν πυρὶ καὶ θείῳ ἐνώπιον ἀγγέλων ἁγίων καὶ ἐνώπιον τοῦ ἀρνίου.

There are seven eight-word genitive strings: Acts 12:12, 1 Cor 1:9; Col 2:12; 2 Tim 1:10; Rev 3:12; 9:13; 16:14; and another 22 seven-word genitive strings: Mat 1:1; Acts 4:30; 12:11; 15:26; Rom 1:4; 1 Cor 1:10; 2:6; Eph 2:2; Phil 3:8; 1 Thess 5:9–10; 2 Thes 2:1; 1 Tim 6:14; Heb 11:9; Jas 2:1; 2 Pet 3:2; Jude 17; Rev 12:17; 14:8; 16:19; 18:3; 21:9; 22:19.

That’s as far as I’m going to go, since the numbers are starting to increase rapidly. :)

It’s noteworthy that Revelation wins for the highest number of large genitive strings with 12. Oddly enough, though, John’s Gospel and letters don’t have a single genitive string with seven or more consecutive genitives. (If we take the number down to six, two turn up: John 5:25 and 2 John 3.)

Some of these strings pose some real challenges to unpack, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

Surely someone has already analyzed patterns in long genitive strings like these. Anyone know of any significant work on the subject?

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4 Responses to Long Strings of Genitives in the Greek NT

  1. Mike Aubrey February 2, 2009 at 9:27 pm #

    That’s interesting—Robertson’s grammar talks about Paul tending toward “concatenations of genitives” (I don’t have the book available at the moment, so I wouldn’t have expected Luke & John to beat him).

    • Phil Gons February 2, 2009 at 10:00 pm #

      Hi, Mike,

      I found what you were referring to: “Concatenation of Genitives. Two or more genitives may be used together. This is, of course, common in the earlier Greek. Paul in particular is fond of piling up genitives” (A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 503. There’s also a section (§168) by the same title in BDF where this statement appears: “Generally one genitive is dependent on another, whereby an author, particularly Paul, occasionally produces a quite cumbersome accumulation of genitives” (93).

      If we add up all of Paul’s, we get 12 as well. But it seems more significant to me to have that many in Revelation, since it is smaller than the entire Pauline corpus. Luke has 6.

  2. Rod Decker February 3, 2009 at 9:21 am #

    ATR may be talking about genitives that are related to each other or modifying the same word. Your first massive example is simply a string of unrelated genitives. (I didn’t take time to analyze the other exs, but that’s where I’d begin.)

    • Phil Gons February 3, 2009 at 7:02 pm #

      You’re right, Rod, that we need to distinguish between genitives that are simply situated next to each other and genitives that stand in a tighter relationship, though I don’t know that I’d call Luke 3:23–38 “a string of unrelated genitives,” especially since each one of those genitives is most certainly related both to the proceeding and following genitives—both grammatically and relationally! :)

      Paul’s strings aren’t always tightly related or modifying the same word either, and many of John’s are (though not all). I didn’t count, so I’m not sure who wins. It would be interesting to establish criteria for what counts as a long string of genitives and see if Paul is really more prone to this than John.