That Pugnacious Participle (Part 3)

Not only does the Greek participle have verbal features (as we have discussed in our previous two articles), it also functions as a noun or adjective (adjectivally) as well. Like all nouns and adjectives, the preposition can have number, gender, and case. At times, the Greek participle is used as a substantive in place of a noun and “can function in virtually any capacity that a noun can, such as subject, direct object, indirect object, apposition, etc.”/1 In that regard, the participle works independently of the other parts of speech. However, the participle may also be dependent as well, functioning as an adjective. In such cases it may either be attributive (descriptive) or work as a predicate. Let’s look at a few examples.
As an example of a substantive as an independent subject of a sentence, consider 1 John 4:8, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” AGAPWN is the present, active, participle here that acts as the subject of this sentence. It is modified by the definite article hO and the negating particle MH. The definite article clues us in that the participle is being used as a substantive. Here the substantive is “the-one who-loves not.” In smooth English we would translate this “he who does not love” or “the one who does not love.” The definite article and the participle, however, act as a single subject to the entire sentence.
Another good example is found in Matthew 7:8 “For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” We have three independent clauses joined together here by the conjunction KAI. In the first clause, the participle, AITWN (the asking one) is used as the subject; in the following two clauses, the participles ZHTWN (the seeking one) and KROUONTI (the knocking one) are the subjects. You will also note the presence of the definite article before each of them.
In regard to the usage of the participle as an object, we find an example in Acts 24:25. Here Paul is speaking to Felix and we are told that he speaks about “righteousness, and temperance, and judgment, and things to come….” “Righteousness,” “temperance,” and “judgment” are all nouns which act as objects of the preposition PERI. However, “things to come” is a present, active, participle which in this case also acts as an object of PERI. It is an example of a participle being used as an object of a preposition.
Let’s now turn and look at some dependent usages of the participle. The attributive participle functions more or less like an adjective and may take the definite article. They are usually translated as a relative clause. Matthew 4:16 has a good example of an attributive participle. “The people which sat in darkness saw great light….”/2 The people are “the ones-who-sat,” hO LAOS hO KAQHMENOS. The participle modifies “people” by telling us what kind of people, namely, the ones who sat in darkness. Galatians 3:23 holds another example for us. The last part of the verse says, “shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” What kind of faith were those under the Old Law shut up to? The faith which shall be. The participle MELLOUSAN tells us that it is “the-one future-being faith.”
Predicate participles in the New Testament are rare./3 One of their identifying marks is that they do not take the definite article. In English they may be translated as a predicate nominative. In Acts 19:37 we have, “…nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.” The participle BLASFHMOUNTOS is the object of the implied verb EINAI and thus one of the predicates of the sentence. It refers back to TOUS ANDRAS, which is the subject. Our final example comes from 1 Timothy 5:13: “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about….” These women Paul condemns learn to be “wandering.” This is the participle PERIERXOMENAI in an obvious predicate relationship to the “younger widows” of verse 11 through the verb MAQANOUSIN of verse 13.
Greek participles are quite complicated and deserve much attention from the learner. Daniel Wallace writes, “It is often said that mastery of the syntax of participles is master of Greek syntax.”/4 The beginning student ought to take special care in not reading too much into the participles and the advanced student ought to double-check his work when it comes to translating them. Regardless, the Greek participle provides a richness of meaning to the Greek language which it otherwise would not have. Nevertheless, “mastery of participles” comes not for the faint of heart.
1. D. Wallace, “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics” (Grand Rapids, 1996) p. 619.
2. The LXX uses the participle POREUOMENOS here in the same grammatical construction.
3. D. Wallace (supra. n.7) p.617.
4. Ibid. p.613.

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