The Genitive Case

This document provides detailed information about the use of the Greek genitive case. However, it does not discuss the case endings or inflections of nouns, pronouns, articles, adjectives and participles. For information about the genitive case endings, see the document The Greek Article and Case Endings.

My own comments are added, but most of the following information came from Daniel B. Wallace's book, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. For a more complete explanation of how the cases are used, and other detailed information regarding Greek New Testament grammar, his book is highly recommended. I should also add that Wallace's examples or illustrations of grammatical usages in his book are normally brief, focusing on the grammatical syntax or its semantic implications. He does not usually provide much of the context, and very seldom includes any discussion of the theology of the text in which his examples are found. But I often do, throughout these lessons, as mentioned in the introduction to this course. So some examples in this document may have quite lengthy articles, or even essays with them.

General Considerations

The genitive case is used in such a variety of ways in Greek, Wallace says, "The genitive case is one of the most crucial elements of Greek syntax to master." It is commonly used just like the possessive form of the English noun (i.e., with the apostrophe, singular, "the saint's faith," or plural, "the saints' faith"). But, more particularly, most genitive functions are related to our English use of the preposition "of" (e.g., "the faith of the saints"). Then some functions indicate something more like the uses of prepositions like "from," "than," "within which," and so on.

Yet, even though Greek genitives are used in only a few different constructions, and can often be translated in a few simple ways, the meanings of those few constructions, and of those ways of being translated are far more varied and deep than any other case. And our purpose is to find the meaning, not just to produce an idiomatic translation. The wide variety of meanings and implications which can be conveyed through the Greek genitive is simply amazing.

Although we can identify with many of the wide variety of uses in the GNT, genitives do cause numerous disputes regarding their translation. Context and logic, with an eye given over to harmonizing each text with the consistent overall teachings of God's Word, are absolutely critical to the interpretations of many genitive forms in the GNT. Before you interpret a genitive, a good understanding of doctrine, of how the author was thinking, is often required. For biblical Greek, this requires much prayer to Thee Author over time, to be taught by His Holy Spirit.

There are 19,633 genitive forms in the GNT (7,681 nouns; 4,986 pronouns; 5,028 articles; 743 participles; and 1,195 adjectives), making up 25% of all declined words. Nominatives make up 31% of all declined forms, accusatives 29%, datives 15%, and vocatives less than 1%.

The Semantics of Genitives in the Exegesis of Scripture

Wallace quotes Moule as saying the genitive is "immensely versatile" and "hard-worked" as far as Greek cases go. The meaning or semantics of genitives can be difficult at times, due to their wide variety of possible functions. But a good understanding is important and rewarding for one seeking to correctly interpret the meaning of Scripture. Wallace states: "Learning the genitive uses well pays big dividends. It has a great deal of exegetical significance, far more so than any of the other cases, because it is capable of a wide variety of interpretations."

Really, it is difficult to stress enough, regarding the use of genitives in God's Word, how important it is to use logic, and to translate the words in context, in a way which conveys an understanding that is consistent with the teachings in all the rest of Scripture. The apostles were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote, and did not contradict each other. Nor did they contradict the teachings of the Old Testament. One passage never ever opposes another in principle. Neither will the meaning of any text be illogical and empty. In prayer, the Holy Spirit will quietly "nag" one's spirit about a wrong interpretation, or else persist in filling up one's inadequate view of even a right interpretation, until one begins to see it entirely correctly. He must be heard by the heart, then by the mind. If an interpretation does not fit right with the rest of Scripture, one must go through the texts more carefully, with prayer and inner discernment, to search for the real, plain, rational meaning which God intended to convey.

Context always plays a large part in the interpretation of syntax, but is far more critical to the interpretation of genitives than it is to the interpretation of any other case forms. Genitives have well over a hundred different and distinctly identifiable functions. (Of course, Wallace, and this document, will divide those functions into about thirty five main categories, but some of them could each be further divided into five or six subcategories.) In order to determine which category a genitive falls into, and thus its meaning, one must almost always make a judgment call based on an examination of the context, since the syntax of the construction with the genitive usually does not indicate much of anything. Yet, judging by context is often a subjective matter, requiring careful observation, logic, much background knowledge, and other factors. So interpreting by context can cause many disputes. In summary, the broad spectrum of possible interpretations for genitives, and the main reasons for numerous arguments concerning these various interpretations, are due to the following:

The Definition of the Genitive Case

To define a case is to give its "unaffected meaning" -- what any word in that case generally implies apart from its context, its specific lexical meaning, particular construction, and so on. It is an attempt to define the common characteristics of almost all words in that case. This is difficult to do for any case, but in particular for genitives. The genitive inflections on words are fairly easy to explain and recognize, but not the unaffected meaning of genitives in general.

Basically, there are two general roles which a genitive form can serve in Greek. One is the standard role as a true genitive, which "defines, describes, qualifies, restricts, limits" (Wallace). In grammars which assume an eight-case system, this is the only role they recognize, since they define the other major role as a different case, even though it uses the same genitive form (for a comparison of the eight-case and five-case systems, see How Greek Cases are Used). However, a genitive form can also serve in the role of an ablative, which implies the idea of separation, source or comparison, and its meaning is normally conveyed by our English preposition "from." Regarding both these roles, there are some common implications:

Now the role of a genitive form as a true genitive (where it implies "of") is familiar to most English speaking persons. But its ablative role is less well known. The ablative idea of "separation" can imply (1) existing in a static state of being separate "from" the genitive; (2) acting progressively with movement "away from" the genitive; (3) or focus on a result or cause coming "from" a genitive source or origin. By the koine period, the use of a genitive form in an ablative role was becoming increasingly rare, except with some nouns. It was mostly being replaced by the use of the prepositions with a genitive object: ἀπό ("from") + a genitive form; or ἐκ ("out of, from") + a genitive form. But ablative and genitive roles bear similar implications.

Whether in the role of a true genitive, or in an ablative role, (1) a genitive form indicates limitation according to kind or quality, and (2) a genitive form is usually adjectival in function, which implies movement from it. These two qualities basically define the genitive case.

Each of the blue main headings below will indicate a general "Grammatical Role" of the genitive case. Under each main heading, related subtopics and more specific functions of the semantic categories will be explained under green subtitles.

Grammatical Role 1:
Adjectival Genitives

This is the most fundamental role of a genitive, it describes. Whether as a true genitive or as an ablative, the genitive describes the head noun. Thus it qualifies or modifies the head noun, indicating limitations as to the scope of that noun's class of persons or things. In this way, the genitive functions much like an adjective. However, the genitive is more emphatic or stronger than an adjective, and a genitive also implies movement or action from it to the head noun.

For example, the noun "God" represents a real Person, a living Being who actively wills and performs actions. But the adjective "godly" (which can also serve as an adverb, by the way) is just a modifier which indicates characteristics related to God. So, to describe something with a genitive form of a noun, we might say: "God's kingdom," "the kingdom of God," or "the kingdom from God." In doing so, we indicate the activity and presence of God, as a real Person with will and power being exerted over the kingdom. He acts upon His kingdom. Depending on the characteristics of any genitive person or thing, there are usually strong implications of some kind of definite interactive relationship between the genitive noun and the head noun.

But to describe the same thing with an adjective, we might say it is a "godly kingdom." All this implies is a characteristic "relative to" other things in the class of the head noun. We might call it "godly" because there are other kingdoms which are extremely ungodly, and, thus, the kingdom is relatively "godly" by comparison. Or we might call it godly because it meets what we personally feel is a minimum standard by which it may be perceived as being godly. All adjectives bear similar implications of general characteristics or attributes relative to other persons or things in the class of the noun being modified. So an adjective provides a weaker description than a genitive noun, which has all the real and definite attributes of a person or thing.

Using a genitive noun is often far stronger and more emphatic than using an adjective because a noun is stronger and more emphatic than an adjective. This is mostly because a noun generally represents something real, whole or tangible. But an adjective merely represents a quality or quantity, which is only a part of the existence or essence of the noun it modifies.

Also, an adjective can only be modified by adverbs, or other "adverbial modifiers." And an adverb only modifies the feel, perception or sense of the adjective, that is, of the quality or quantity the adjective expresses. But a noun represents a real person or thing, with many different qualities and a set quantity. So a noun consists of many "adjectives" put together. Thus, a genitive noun is generally a more powerful modifier than an adjective. A genitive never loses its property of being a noun, or its "nominal force," as Wallace puts it. Therefore, it can be usually modified by adjectives or any other kind of "adnominal modifier," such as participles. There is an exception. Wallace points out that an attributive genitive, which functions more like an adjective, is not normally modified by adjectives and other adnominal modifiers. Yet, even "its connotation is decidedly more pronounced than a mere adjective would be" (Wallace).

a. Descriptive Genitives
Aporetic Genitives

Of course, almost all genitives are descriptive. But this is just a "catch-all" category, or a "last resort" category, something to use if the genitive does not fit into any other category listed below this one. If the genitive does not seem to fall under a more specific classification below, it is usually safe to simply call it a "descriptive genitive," since all genitives are basically that.

In fact, this is not really a category or function at all. There are so many possible distinct functional categories for the genitive, that Wallace defined only a few more than about thirty others, those which are most useful exegetically. Each of those may also include more than one subcategory, but that still left a good number unclassified. So he lumped all the remaining less distinct and less exegetically critical functions into this "category." As he said, he "had to stop somewhere," and it would not do much good to distinguish between another few dozen functional categories and their subtle differences in nuance. The main categories are covered, almost everything needed to exegete Scripture, to glean its real meaning. Then the more subtle nuances can be detected by prayerful thought and a careful examination of the context.

Wallace says that this is the category to use if either the head noun or the genitive is: (1) "highly idiomatic," in that it is used to mean something which is peculiar to Christian usage in the GNT as an ecclesiastical term, or as a Greco-Roman cultural term that means something other than the normal lexical definition; or (2) "figurative," in that the term represents something symbolically or metaphorically; or (3) "informed by Semitic usage," in that its meaning is affected by the way the term was used by the Jewish culture and possibly in the Septuagint.

As an example, Wallace gave the phrase "son of disobedience," which uses the head noun υἱός with a genitive. Clearly this is not just attributive, as in "disobedient son," with added emphasis. After all, it isn't really talking about anyone's son. Actually, the word υἱός ("son") implies a general overall nature or dominant characteristic, even an essence of being -- which is "disobedient." This idea must be brought out in the translation, but it is not if we treat it as an attributive genitive. As Wallace says, "υἱός with a genitive is notoriously complex." So the genitive with υἱός may be simply called a "descriptive genitive," although it might even deserve its own category.

By the way, the term "aporetic genitive" is derived from the Greek word ἀπορέω, which means, "I am at a loss." It simply means that this is not a real category, but merely a term to call a genitive when you are "at a loss" to categorize it as anything else found in a grammar guide.

The descriptive genitive is, in a way, "common" in the GNT. But this category is not, because it is a "last resort" and "catch-all" category. Still, Wallace gave six examples. Here the head noun is highlighted in green, and the descriptive genitive is highlighted in bluish green.

b. Possessive Genitives

To an English-speaking student, this is likely the most familiar function of a genitive, since our English "possessive" case corresponds directly to the genitive case. However, the Greek genitive case is really more about "generating" than just possessing. Only in this category is the genitive a substantive indicating who or what owns, possesses or holds decision-making authority (in the way that an owner does) over the head noun. But Wallace warns that, "A genitive should not be labeled possessive unless this is the narrowest sense it can have."

So key words like "owned by," "possessed by," or "belonging to" should be able to be inserted before the translation of the genitive, and fit in well. Of course, these key words need not be used in the actual translation. Most often one should use a possessive form with an apostrophe ("God's people") or the preposition "of" ("the people of God"). But the key words should make sense if they were to be used, and get across the main idea implied by the genitive ("the people owned by God"). Otherwise, it is best to categorize a genitive as something else.

Also note, pronouns are the most frequently occurring possessive genitives. One can almost assume a genitive pronoun is possessive (although it is not always). This reveals the general nature of a possessive genitive. Usually, it is a noun representing a person or living being. Then the head noun refers to a thing, of the kind that can be possessed by that living being.

Some have suggested certain guidelines for categorizing genitives. But these are dangerous in that one tends to follow these artificial rules instead of actually interpreting the meaning in context. We must read the text in the same way as a first century reader who was a knowledgeable member of the apostolic church. For example, they suggest that one should decide for possession over source / origin whenever one is unsure. Or, when the head noun is a verbal noun (i.e., any noun expressing the performance of an action), then the category of subjective should be preferred over possessive. However, if one is unsure, it is best to pray, think, study the context carefully, and possibly look in a reputable commentary, before deciding upon which category the genitive fits into, and thus determine its meaning. Meaning can never be adequately determined by "priorities" based on statistics. Meaning is determined only by context and other factors correctly handled through revelation from the living Author.

It should also be mentioned that, even when a genitive may be clearly defined as a possessive, it still might be better to classify it (and thus interpret its meaning) as something else. In other words, while the aspect of possession might be a part of the meaning, other implications of meaning may need to be expressed more prominently. Wallace gave the following examples of genitives -- all of which indicate possession, but all of which indicate a greater emphasis on other meanings: "children of God" functions more as a genitive of relationship than possession; "apostle of Jesus Christ" (with its verbal head noun, "apostle," indicating a sending action) would be more of a subjective genitive, where Jesus is the "subject" performing the action of sending; and "flesh of men" is more of an "attributive" genitive, where a kind of flesh is being described.

So, although the possessive genitive is common, it is best to reserve it as a "second to last resort" in terms of selecting it as a category. If the most relevant meaning of the genitive construction fits into some other category, choose that other category. Wallace gave some examples of genitives which indicate possession as the primary or dominant meaning. The head noun is highlighted in green, and the possessive genitive is highlighted in bluish green.

c. Genitives of Relationship

This genitive "indicates a familial relationship, typically the progenitor of the person named by the head noun" (Wallace). In the GNT, the head noun usually refers to a child, and a parent is indicated by the genitive. But the opposite can also be true. Sometimes the head noun can refer to a parent of a child indicated by the genitive. So the genitive indicates (1) a family member in general, and (2) the exact relationship must be understood from context alone. Also, both the head noun and the genitive normally will be proper names.

This resembles a genitive of source or origin, and may almost be classified as such, although it is somewhat like a possessive genitive too. It really means "[a child] from [a parent]" or "[a parent] whose child from him or her is [a name]." So it is about descendants from a source, from a parent or ancestor. So even if head noun is not provided immediately in front of a genitive, the genitive usually refers to a parent / ancestor, from whom someone in context came. Or, at times, if no head noun is immediately in front of the genitive, it can refer to a descendant from a progenitor mentioned in context (e.g., Ἰακώβου καὶ Σαλώμη in Mark 16:1).

A genitive of relationship is rare. But where it is found, the meaning is usually obvious. So there is not normally a problem in identifying it. Wallace gave the following examples where the head noun is highlighted in green and the genitive of relationship is highlighted in bluish green.

d. Partitive Genitives

Again, a genitive can often indicate "from" a source, or an origin. And a partitive genitive indicates the "whole thing" or source from which the head noun is a part. So, after the head noun, you can often add key words like, "which is a part of," then the genitive. Of course, these key words must be adjusted for singular and plural forms, or for nouns representing people or things. For example, if the head noun is "poor" and the genitive is "saints," you can interpret it as "the poor of the saints" or "the poor who are among the saints."

Naturally, as Wallace explains, "This is a phenomenological use of the genitive that requires the head noun to have a lexical nuance indicating portion." That is, the phrase with the genitive must have a head noun which can and does indicate something or someone which can be a part of the whole expressed by the genitive. So the head noun can be a class or subcategory within the genitive, like the "poor" among the whole general category of "saints." Or the head noun can be a number (e.g., "one," "some") or a fraction (e.g., "half," "tenth"). And it can be a piece or part of a whole entity (e.g., "branch" of a vine, "first fruit" of an entire harvest), or any part of a whole.

Wallace also related this kind of genitive to one kind of possessive genitive above, the "possessive genitive with anatomy," as in "the ear of his" or "his ear." Remember, it is generally considered that a body part is truly "owned" or "possessed" by the genitive person or sentient being. So it is more than just a "part" of a "whole." But when the head noun is a "part of" a genitive "whole thing" or "power" (organization, authority, etc.), is it called a partitive genitive, since the head noun is not really "owned" or "possessed" by the genitive.

In addition to this, Wallace adds that, "the partitive genitive is semantically the opposite of the genitive of apposition." A genitive of apposition can sometimes be an example of a general category indicated by the head noun, as in "the city of Tyre." In the class of all things called "cities," is one called Tyre. The genitive is something within the general class or category of the head noun. So the partitive genitive means almost the opposite of a partitive genitive. This illustrates how a genitive must be understood in context. Although the structure of most genitive phrases are the same (N + Ng), their meanings can be very different or opposite.

Quite often a genitive following one of the following head nouns will be a partitive genitive: (1) a form of the indefinite pronoun τις ("a certain one of [genitive]," Mark 14:47; Luke 9:8; James 1:18); (2) a form of the adjective ἕκαστος used substantively ("each of [genitive]," Heb. 11:21; Rev. 21:21); or (3) a form of the number εἷς ("one of [genitive]," Mat. 5:19; Mark 5:22; Luke 5:3,12,17). Also, at times, the head noun might not even be found with the partitive genitive, but context will indicate what it is. Also, Wallace says that the preposition ἐκ + genitive may have a "partitive force to it" (e.g., Mat. 27:48; John 11:49; 16:17).

Even though partitive genitives were being replaced in koine Greek by a construction with a noun + ἐκ + genitive, they are still quite common in the GNT, and easily identified. Wallace gave the following examples where the head noun is highlighted in green and the partitive genitive is highlighted in bluish green.

e. Attributive Genitives

More than genitives in any other category, attributive genitives function like regular adjectives, and usually can be easily converted into adjectives or adjectival participles. An attributive genitive indicates an attribute or "innate" quality of its head noun, but often more emphatically than an adjective. Wallace says "it is similar to a simple adjective in its semantic force, though more emphatic," and, "with more sharpness and distinctness." If you can readily convert the genitive into an adjective, so it means almost the same thing, it is likely an attributive genitive.

Still, it is often best to translate an attributive genitive into a prepositional phrase beginning with "of." One reason for this is that, when the head noun is said to be "of" a certain attribute or quality denoted by the genitive, it implies something similar to a partitive genitive -- that the head noun can be classified as a member or part of the genitive's category, as one of a group of related things. So the genitive becomes a more emphatic attribute or quality. Wallace gave the phrase "body of sin" as an example. Converting it to an adjective, "sinful body," does not carry the same force as "body of sin." The adjective implies that the body may be somewhat "sinful," but "sin" may be merely one of its many attributes, some of which might be more pronounced than sinfulness. But "body of sin" implies the body exists in the category of all things having sin as their most significant identifying feature, as thee predominantly outstanding characteristic.

This kind of genitive might sometimes be difficult to classify, however. For instance, regarding the above example ("body of sin," Rom. 6:6), in context it could also mean, "in order that the body producing sin might be destroyed" (which would be a genitive of product). Or it may be interpreted as "the body full of sin" (a genitive of content). Then a genitive of material is also "technically a subset of the attributive genitive" (Wallace), which would be translated as "the body made out of sin." But this last interpretation is not really suitable in this context, so it is clearly better to interpret as an attributive genitive (or a genitive of content or product).

Wallace also points out that a head noun relates to the genitive with either an active force or a passive force, as determined by context. An interpretation with a passive force might be "the body made out of sin." Here the head noun receives the action of being made from the building material called "sin." To convert this into an adjective with a passive force (if you felt context implied that meaning), it may be translated something like "a sin-caused defective body." To interpret with an active force, it might be "the body producing sin," where the head noun performs the action of producing the sin. Converted to an adjective with an active force, it could be "a sinful body." Or a clearer active force may be expressed by a participle: "a sinning body."

The use of attributive genitives were very common in the GNT, much more common than their use in classical Greek (mostly due to a more heavy use in the Septuagint, and by Semitic people who spoke Greek as a second language). Wallace gave the following examples where the head noun is highlighted in green and the attributive genitive is highlighted in bluish green.

f. Attributed Genitives

The attributed genitive is opposite to the attributive genitive in meaning (semantically opposite), where the head noun functions like an adjective modifying the genitive. In some grammars -- since a genitive usually modifies the head noun in some way, but here the head noun modifies the genitive -- this may be called a "reverse genitive." You can usually determine whether it is an attributed genitive if you can convert the the head noun into an adjective modifying the genitive, while retaining the same general meaning of the phrase in context. Wallace gave the example where "newness of life" can be converted into "new life" without changing the meaning much (other than perhaps making it a little less emphatic).

Yet, other than reversing the roles of the head noun and genitive, the semantics are much the same as an attributive genitive. That is, the attributed genitive generally connotes a more emphatic meaning when the preposition "of" is used (e.g., "newness of life" is more emphatic than "new life"). Also, the active or passive force of the modifying head noun must be interpreted according to context, and that meaning should be made clear in the translation. For more information, see the explanation in the "attributive genitives" category immediately above.

Attributed genitives are not very common in the GNT, but the interpretations of some genitives as attributed genitives can severely affect the meaning of the text. So this is a category to be careful with. Wallace gave the following examples, where the first three examples are clearly attributed genitives. However, the last three examples are "exegetically significant" passages and the interpretation is difficult. In all these examples, the head noun is highlighted in green and the attributed genitive is highlighted in bluish green.

g. Genitives of Material

In this category, the genitive indicates what the head noun is "made out of" or is "consisting of." Wallace points out that this is "a subset of the attributive genitive, but it involves other nuances as well." Those other nuances include basically two things: (1) The genitive is a physical or material property; and (2) Because the genitive is physical or material, so also is the head noun, since it is made out of the genitive. Thus both are in the same "lexio-syntactic category." A lexio-syntactic category is a category of a word with a specific kind of meaning required to form the construction of a phrase. In this instance, both the head noun and the modifying genitive must be substantives which refer to physical or material things.

Genitives of material are rare in the GNT for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the GNT did not talk much about what physical things were made of. Then, when it did, a construction with the preposition ἐκ + a genitive was most often used. Still, Wallace gave two examples. In these examples, the head noun is highlighted in green and the genitive of material is highlighted in bluish green.

h. Genitives of Content

While the genitive of material indicates what the head noun is "made of" or "consists of," the genitive of content indicates what the head noun contains. For example, τὸ σκεῦος τοῦ πηλοῦ uses a genitive of material to indicate the material it is made out of, and means, "a vessel made of clay." Then τὸ σκεῦος τοῦ ὕδατος uses a genitive of content to indicate what it contains, and means, "a vessel full of water," "containing water," or simply, "of water."

However, most genitives modify a head noun. But the genitive of content is used more extensively, with various kinds of words. It can indicate contents of a:

(1) Head Noun: The translation may use key words like "of," "full of," or "containing," although context and the meanings of the words must be considered in the translation. The genitive is called a nominal genitive of content, since it modifies (describes the contents of) a substantive (i.e., "nominal" means "formed from or pertaining to a noun").

(2) Adjective: The adjective may be used substantively (i.e., as a noun), so the translation may use the same kinds of key words as a noun. The genitive is also called a nominal genitive of content, since it usually modifies a substantival adjective. The adjectives will often be a form of βάθος ("depth [of how many fathoms?]"), μέστος ("full [of what quantity or quality?]"), πλήρης ("full [of what?], filled [with what?]"), πλήρωμα ("a fullness, full number, full measure, full content [of what?]"), or πλοῦτος ("riches [of what?]").

(3) Or Verb: The translation may use the key word "with," but also may need to be translated in other ways, depending on the context and meanings of words involved. The genitive is called a verbal genitive of content, since it modifies a verb. The verb which the genitive modifies will often be a form of γέμω ("fill, cover [with what?]"), πίμπλημι ("fill [with what?]"), and πληρόω ("fulfill, fill up, make full [with what?]").

In Greek, the indication of contents almost always used a genitive form, not a dative form. Even though it would seem that a dative should be used, since we often translate a Greek dative form by using the key word "with," the dative was almost never used to indicate contents in Greek. So, if contents are indicated with a genitive, it is often best to use the key word "with." But if a dative substantive is used (or the preposition ἐν + dative), it may be used to indicate how, when, where, or why -- and thus would require key words like "by," "in," or "because of."

Like the genitive of material, the genitive of content is a "lexio-syntactic category." That is, this grammatical construction requires the kind of head noun, adjective, or verb which refers to a quantity of something. Then the genitive of content, which modifies that word, must indicate a substance or an item which can be contained in it. The substance or item can be tangible or intangible, literal or figurative. However, if a genitive is following the kind of word which refers to a quantity, and the genitive is the kind of word which refers to a substance or item that can be contained in or fill the word it modifies, then the genitive is likely a genitive of content.

Semantically (i.e., regarding the implied meaning), the genitive of content frequently carries more weight, or draws more of the focus, than the word it modifies. This is especially true when the genitive of content modifies a noun or substantive. "It is the important word rather than the head noun" (Wallace). After all, we are usually more interested in what is inside a container or package than we are in the outer container or package itself. Especially in the GNT, because the genitive of content carries an implied emphasis or focus on the inner contents, "typically this construction is used in figurative language as a rhetorical device" (Wallace). For example, we find σκεύη ὀργῆς ("vessels of wrath") in Romans 9:22. Here a human being is likened to a "vessel," and "wrath" is portrayed as a substance in it. So it is figurative language to illustrate a concept. This particular instance also implies either a purpose or an action: "vessels made to contain God's wrath," or, "vessels made for God to pour His wrath into them," or, "vessels which God will fill with His wrath," or, "vessels continously receiving God's wrath in them."

Examples of Genitives of Content

Genitives of content are "fairly common" in the GNT. Wallace gave the following examples in the two categories mentioned above: four "nominal genitives of content" and four "verbal genitives of content." For these examples, the head noun, adjective or verb which is modified by the genitive is highlighted in green, and the genitive of content is highlighted in bluish green.

  1. Nominal Genitives of Content

    Another two examples of nominal genitives of content may be found in Rom. 11:33 and II Cor. 8:2.

  2. Verbal Genitives of Content

    Wallace also gave Luke 6:11; Acts 3:10; 5:17; 13:45; and 19:29 as examples of verbal genitives of content.

i. Genitives in Simple Apposition

There are two categories of genitives used in apposition. One is the "genitive in simple apposition," and the other is the "genitive of apposition." In syntax and semantics, a genitive in simple apposition is like any other substantive used in apposition. That is, any substantive used in apposition to another substantive has the following characteristics:

So a genitive in simple apposition follows immediately after another genitive substantive in order to clarify, describe or explain it, just like a nominative in apposition to another nominative, or just like an accusative in apposition to another accusative, and so on.

But a "genitive of apposition" is a little different in syntax and semantics. It may be somewhat similar. However, a "genitive of apposition" follows behind a substantive which can be in any case (nominative, accusative, genitive or dative), and it also clarifies its head noun by providing an example of it. Detailed differences between the two are explained in the next category.

A genitive in simple apposition is not very common. But Wallace gave the following examples where the first genitive substantive is highlighted in green and the genitive used in apposition to it is highlighted in bluish green.

j. Genitives of Apposition
(Epexegetical Genitives, Genitives of Definition)

The genitive of apposition (sometimes called the "epexegetical genitive" or the "genitive of definition") provides a specific example within the larger class or category indicated by the substantive (head noun) it modifies. So it also defines and clarifies its head noun, but only by providing an example of it. And its head noun may be in any case (nominative, accusative, genitive or dative). Wallace provided the following examples:

So, compared to a genitive used in simple apposition to another genitive, a genitive of apposition is similar in construction and function, but with a few differences in syntax (i.e., its head noun can be in any case), as well as differences in semantics (i.e., this genitive defines by giving a specific example in the head noun's class). The similarities and differences are as follows:

As you can see, the main things to remember are (1) a genitive of apposition provides an example of the head noun, and (2) it can follow a head noun in any case. Also, the genitive of apposition differs in meaning from the genitive in simple apposition. "There is a significant semantic difference between a genitive of apposition and a genitive in simple apposition" (Wallace). In actual translation, the word "of" will usually suffice before the genitive of apposition, and it is not difficult to see when the construction is a genitive of apposition.

Both a genitive of apposition and a genitive in simple apposition are instances of words used in apposition to other words. This can be tested by adding key words like "which / who is," "that is," or "namely" between the genitive and the word it follows, in order to express the same meaning. So a phrase with a genitive in simple apposition, like "God, our Father," could be translated with the key words as "God, who is our Father," and express the same meaning. Or a phrase with a genitive of apposition, like "the city of Samaria," could be translated with the key words as "the city which is Samaria," and express the same meaning. So both are grammatically classified as instances of "apposition." Yet one must realize the differences between the two kinds of apposition, because translation as one or the other will affect the meaning.

As we saw above, with any word used in simple apposition, term "A" referring to "X" exactly equals term "B" referring to "X." So, if the two terms can be reversed, without changing the meaning, then it is a genitive in simple apposition (e.g., "God, our Father" = "our Father, God"). But a genitive of apposition is not exactly equal to its head noun. A category is not equal to an example in it. This is clear if the head noun is not a genitive (e.g., "He came to the city  of Samaria" does not equal "He came of Samaria  to the city"). And it can even be true if both terms are genitives (e.g., "the people of the city  of Samaria" is not equal to "the people of Samaria  of the city" -- although it could be translated as being in simple apposition too, "the people of the city, Samaria" and "the people of Samaria, the city"). In this case, whether it is translated as a genitive of apposition or a genitive in simple apposition, does not affect the meaning much. However, in some instances, it certainly can affect the meaning, with important doctrinal implications. So, before you interpret a text as one containing a genitive of apposition, ensure the genitive is actually an example in a category indicated by its head noun.

There are also two kinds of genitives of apposition. Some are "nominal," like "Samaria," where the referent is a physical person or thing. Others are "verbal nouns," which describe an action. Verbal nouns might carry deeper implications. For example, in the sentence, "Blessed are the ones reading and hearing the words of this prophecy," the action noun "prophecy" refers to "the act of prophesying." So it can infer a meaning derived by using the genitive action noun as a verb, such as: "John prophesied these words to bless the ones who read and hear them." Of course, one does not translate it this way. But you can see how the meaning is inferred, which may support related doctrines, such as teachings about how prophecy edifies and blesses.

A genitive of apposition is fairly common. These examples were provided by Wallace, where the head noun is highlighted in green and the genitive of apposition is in bluish green.

k. Genitives of Destination
(Genitives of Direction or Purpose)

Wallace defines the genitive of destination as a genitive which indicates one or more of the following:

At times, a genitive of destination conveys a definite expression of intention. But it simply suggests a "tendency" or even "mere direction" in other instances. So, depending on context, it sometimes may be better to replace the key word "of" with another key word implying more about what the text is connoting. Other key words suggested by Wallace, which may be useful, are: "for the purpose of," "destined for," "towards," or "into."

A genitive of destination is "somewhat rare." Wallace called his first two examples below "clear examples." However, he labeled the other four "debatable examples." For each, the head noun is highlighted in green and the genitive of destination is highlighted in bluish green.

l. Predicate Genitives

A predicate genitive is a genitive substantive in simple apposition to another genitive substantive, but joined by a genitive participle form of a linking verb, to make an expression stronger or more emphatic. Actually, this construction is "an emphatic kind of simple apposition" (Wallace). But since a linking verb is involved, one substantive asserts something about the other. Normal rules apply in determining which substantive is the subject and which is the predicate nominative. That is, the priority for the subject is: (1) pronoun; (2) articular substantive or proper name; and (3) the first substantive, if both are equal.

Of course, the linking verb used in this construction often will be a genitive participle form of εἰμί, that is, either ὄντος (genitive singular) or ὄντων (genitive plural). But it may be another kind of linking verb too, such as a genitive participle form of γίνομαι, ὑπάρχω or καλέω. The genitive participle can be used with the two genitive substantives to create an adjectival phrase (modifying some other substantive), or a genitive absolute construction (i.e., a phrase which is grammatically independent from the sentence, and simply provides additional information).

Predicate genitives are "relatively uncommon." But Wallace provided the four examples below. In each example, both the genitive substantives will be highlighted in bluish green and the genitive participle form of the linking verb will be highlighted in green.

m. Genitives of Subordination

Here the key word "over" often can be used instead of "of" in front of the genitive, because a genitive of subordination indicates a person, people, land, territory or thing which is subordinate under the rule or authority of its head noun. Of course, this is another "lexico-semantic" category, in that the head noun (which can also be a participle or other substantive) must be in the class of words indicating rulers or authorities. Two head nouns, which Wallace says are common, are forms of βασιλεύς ("king") and ἄρχων ("ruler"). Of course, Θεός is also a ruler. Then the genitive must be something which is under the ruler or authority. The genitive of subordination can be a type of objective genitive, when the head noun suggests an action of ruling, but it cannot otherwise. So this is treated here as a separate category.

Although Wallace does not say how often the genitive of subordination is found in the GNT, it is likely "somewhat rare." His first three examples below were called "clear examples," but he labeled the last three as "disputed examples." In each, the head noun is highlighted in green and the genitive of subordination is highlighted in bluish green.

n. Genitives of Production
(Genitive of Producer)

Here, the genitive is used to indicate that which produces the head noun, and normally can be interpreted with the key words "produced by" (e.g., ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ Θεοῦ = "the peace of God" = "the peace produced by God"). It is something like a genitive of source (and sometimes classified as such), because the genitive is a source of the head noun. But there is "a more active role on the part of the genitive [of production]" (Wallace), since it involves the production of the head noun (i.e., it means "peace produced by God," not just "peace from God").

The genitive of production is also like a subjective genitive. But the head noun, with a subjective genitive, is always a verbal noun that implies an action (so it can function like a verb). Then its genitive indicates the subject that performs its action (e.g., ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ Θεοῦ = "the love of God" = "God loves [us]"). In fact, the subjective genitive can often be translated just like a genitive of production (i.e., "the love of God" = "the love produced by God [for us]"). So a genitive of production is often classified as a subjective genitive in most Greek grammars.

Likewise, since a subjective genitive directly performs an action, it is not quite like a genitive of source either. With a genitive of source, the head noun is a "product" or "thing" that is received in an unspecified way from the genitive (i.e., "the love from God" is not as specific as "the love with which God actively loves us"). So, in this, it also resembles a genitive of production.

However, although a genitive of production functions as a subject, like a subjective genitive, the genitive of production does not directly perform any action which may or may not be implied by the head noun, but always performs the action of the verb "produce." Then, with a genitive of production, the head noun always functions as the direct object which receives the action of the implied verb "produce" (i.e., "the peace produced by God" = "the God-produced peace" = "God who produces peace [for us]"). Also, the head noun, with a genitive of production, is either not a verbal noun (i.e., not a noun indicating an action), or else is a verbal noun that is always better translated as a direct object ("[head noun] produced by [genitive of production]"). Unlike a subjective genitive, a genitive of production cannot be translated "by converting the genitive into the subject and converting the [head] noun ... into a verbal form" (Wallace).

In addition to this, the example of the subjective genitive above, in a different context, may be used as an objective genitive as well, where the genitive functions as the direct object of the head noun's action (i.e., in some instances, ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ Θεοῦ, "the love of God," can also mean, "our love for God" = "[we] love God"). Neither the gentive of production nor the subjective genitive are like the objective genitive, because the objective genitive (not the head noun) functions as the direct object, and the objective genitive is never the subject.

Wallace says the genitive of production is "not common" in the GNT. But he did find four examples, all of which he called "possible" illustrations. For each example, the head noun is highlighted in green and the genitive of production is highlighted in bluish green.

o. Genitives of Product

This is the opposite of the genitive of production. Here the head noun produces what is indicated by the genitive, and the genitive often can be interpreted with the key words "which / who produces" in front of it (e.g., ὁ Θεὸς τῆς ἐλπίδος = "the God of hope" = "the God who produces hope [in us]"). In the GNT, since the central message is about what God does, Wallace says, "frequently Θεός will be the head noun and the genitive an abstract term."

Just as a genitive of production was similar to a subjective genitive, the genitive of product is similar to an objective genitive. That is, the genitive of product functions almost like a direct object which receives the action of a verb. However, an objective genitive always has a verbal head noun, one that implies an action upon the genitive. But the genitive of product always has a head noun that functions as a noun, as the subject of a clause formed with the genitive, where the head noun performs the action of "producing" the genitive.

Like the genitive of production, Wallace says the genitive of product is also "not common." Of the four examples he provided, he called the first two "clear examples" and the other two "possible examples." For each example, the head noun is highlighted in green and the genitive of product is highlighted in bluish green.

Grammatical Role 2:
Ablatival Genitives

A genitive form is called an ablative when it suggests separation or source. Sometimes an indication of source implies separation "out of" the source, but not always. Most often an ablative genitive can be translated by the key word "from." This does not connote anything either negative or positive, but simply indicates separation in a neutral manner, where only context can suggest anything either negative or positive. This separation can be static, a state of being somehow removed from the head noun (or verb or adjective) it modifies. Or the separation can be progressive, a process of being taken away, or a movement away from the head noun. During the koine period, ablatival genitives were being replaced by prepositional phrases, especially ἐκ + a genitive, or ἀπό + a genitive. So they are not extremely common.

There are only three kinds of ablatives classified by Wallace in his grammar. Two emphasize "the state resulting from the separation" (Wallace). One of these two is most often a progressive ablative, suggesting movement away from the genitive towards a result, and is called a "genitive of separation." The other is a static ablative, implying a state of being unlike something else (thus in a separate class), and is called a "genitive of comparison." The third kind emphasizes "the cause of separation" (Wallace), or at least the cause of it existing as a separately identifiable entity, if the head noun and genitive remain united or joined, but as two separately identifiable entities. This is called a "genitive of source" or "genitive of origin." It can be static, or it can be progressive too, if it implies movement out of or away from the head noun.

As far as I can see, both the genitive of production and the genitive of product may also be ablatival genitives, since they clearly indicate a type of separation from the head noun. This is especially true of the genitive of production (N produced by Ng), which is very much like a genitive of source (N from / out of Ng). Also, a genitive of product (N who / which produces Ng) is just the opposite of a genitive of source, where the head noun indicates that from which the genitive is separated by being produced (N is now away from Ng). Both genitives of production and genitives of product are called adjectival genitives, but adjectival genitives primarily describe a quality or attribute of a head noun. So I am not sure why they are classified as such.

a. Genitives of Separation

As the name suggests, the genitive of separation is that from which the word it modifies is separated. And the word it modifies may be a verb or noun. The genitive indicates the place or point from which the modified word begins to depart. Thus, the word it modifies is "from," "away from" or "out of" the genitive. Also, since this often suggests a movement "away from" the genitive, even if the word which the genitive modifies is a noun, the verb (or verbal, such as a participle or infinitive) in the phrase or clause with that N-Ng construction will need to be used in order to interpret or understand the genitive.

For example, look at the clause, ἐκτινάξατε τὸν κονιορτὸν τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν ("shake off the dust from your feet"). Here the genitive τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν ("of your feet") modifies the noun τὸν κονιορτὸν ("dust"). But the clause indicates a movement of that dust from the feet, caused by the action of shaking the feet, as expressed by the verb ἐκτινάξατε ("shake off"). So the genitive ("feet") receives an action of being shaken. Also, the noun which the genitive modifies ("dust") is the direct object and receives the action of being shaken off. So the genitive ("feet") indicates the starting point or place from which the word it modifies ("dust") begins to move away.

The genitive of separation is generally easy for an English-speaking person to recognize and interpret, since we often use a similar construction: "shake the dust off of your feet" = "shake off the dust from your feet." However, the use of more explicit prepositional phrases became the norm in koine Greek -- while the use of a genitive alone, without a preposition in front of it, became quite rare. Of course, as mentioned above, ablatival genitives, including genitives of separation, were replaced by prepositional phrases beginning with ἀπό ("from") or sometimes ἐκ ("out of"). Thus, one might tend to see the example above written as ἐκτινάξατε τὸν κονιορτὸν ἀπὸ τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν ("shake off the dust from your feet") in koine Greek. But, in classical Greek, a simple genitive, without a preposition in front of it, was used far more frequently.

Naturally, since a genitive of separation indicates movement "away from," "out of" or just "from" the word it modifies, it will most often directly modify a verb (or verbal), and always one which "connotes motion away from, distance or separation" (Wallace). Most of the examples below are genitives modifying verbs. But, if a genitive of separation modifies a noun (as in the example above), then that head noun will be with a verb or verbal that implies movement from the genitive. Therefore, this type of genitive is another lexico-syntactic category, in that the verb (or verbal) it modifies (or the verb with its head noun) must have a lexical meaning of a specific type, one expressing either physical or metaphorical movement from or out of the genitive.

According to Wallace, the genitive of separation is "rare" in the GNT. However, he provided the five examples listed below. In each example, the word which the genitive modifies will be highlighted in green and the genitive of separation will be highlighted in bluish green.

b. Genitives of Source
Genitives of Origin

A genitive of source (sometimes called a genitive of origin) is a genitive which indicates the source or origin of its head noun. Therefore, if key words like "from," "out of," "derived from," "dependent on" or "sourced in" can be placed in front of the genitive, it is likely a genitive of source. As with all ablatives, koine Greek also tended to replace the genitive of source with more explicit prepositional phrases, particularly ἐκ + a genitive. So genitive substantives indicating source or origin are normally rare in the GNT. But the genitive form of one noun is an exception, Θεοῦ, which is quite commonly used as a genitive of source, since one of the major attributes of God is that He is the source and origin of all that exists. He is also the first cause of all that happens, and all that exists or occurs is fully dependent upon His will alone.

Wallace says that "source is an emphatic idea: emphasis and explicitness go hand in hand." This is why the more explicit prepositional phrases are most often used to indicate source or origin. Yet, although indicating source and origin with Θεοῦ is a matter of reminding or informing, thus explicit, it is not indicating emphasis in any way. So this principle does not always hold true.

But, because Wallace believes that emphasis and explicitness are closely related, he concludes "it is not advisable" to seek the classification of a genitive as being most likely a genitive of source. Then he says, "In some ways, the possessive, subjective, and source genitives are similar," and, "if they all make good sense, subjective should be given priority" (i.e., call it a subjective genitive only if the head noun is a verbal noun). If the head noun is not a verbal noun, one should consider classifying it as a possessive genitive before calling it a genitive of source. Then he comments: "The distinction between [genitives of] source and [genitives of] separation, however, is more difficult to call ... separation stresses result while source stresses cause."

In the very end though, context remains the single most important factor in determining the interpretation and meaning of anything in the GNT -- including whether or not a genitive substantive, especially Θεοῦ, is a genitive of source. And, by context, I mean both the immediate local context, and the global context of the whole Bible. We must admit to the unified and harmonious perspective of all the authors of the Bible, regarding their theological teachings and how we interpret the words they use. All the authors of all the books of the Bible were moved to write what they wrote by the same mind of the same Holy Spirit -- although each had to also physically write down these teachings after God had given these teachings to the spirit, according to his own personal linguistic ability of his own brain of flesh. Consequently, there may be physical differences in each man's outward style and vocabulary, but the principles taught by each man's words will always be entirely harmonious with those of every other man's writings in the Bible. For their spirits were all taught exactly the same truths from the same Teacher. The outward expressions may differ, but the meanings are always consistent.

Thus, we commonly see expressions like "Son of God," which uses a genitive of source. This is not a subjective genitive, nor a possessive genitive. And it cannot be a genitive of separation either, because the Son only bears a separate identity from God the Father -- but He is One with the Father. Actually, the genitive is saying the "Son" originates from God, came from God, is out of God, although still remains in God, and does not exist outside of God. The same can be said for "Spirit of God." This genitive is not possessive, and is not a genitive of separation either, since there is no real separation occurring. Rather, it is a genitive of source. Now for some expressions, like "the kingdom of God," the genitive bears a dual meaning, as both a possessive and a source. Many other expressions -- the "truth of God," "peace of God," "righteousness of God," "love of God," and so on -- are both genitives of source and production. God is the source, origin and producer of all these head nouns, and all are derived from God, and all utterly depend on God to begin to exist and to continue to exist. Thus, genitives of source may be quite rare in the GNT, but one genitive, Θεοῦ, is quite commonly used as a genitive of source.

As discussed above, in the opinion of Wallace, genitives of source are "rare" in the GNT. That is debatable. Still, he provided the four examples below. In each example, the word which the genitive modifies will be highlighted in green and the genitive of source will be highlighted in bluish green.

c. Genitives of Comparison

As its name suggests, a genitive of comparison is used to indicate comparison, and is almost always with an adjective in the comparative degree. So it is most often found with an adjective meaning something like "greater than," "less than," "better than," "worse than," "higher than," "lower than," and so on. And it is usually translated after the key word "than," as in, "higher than the heavens." The following points may also be noted:

Genitives of comparison are "relatively common" and Wallace provided the following seven examples. In each example, the comparative adjective with the genitive will be highlighted in green and the genitive of comparison will be highlighted in bluish green.

Grammatical Role 3:
Verbal Genitives
(Genitives With Verbal Nouns)

A verbal genitive is always found with a head noun or substantive which can be described as being "verbal." Here the term "verbal" means the head noun or substantive suggests an action of a verb (it does not refer to participles and infinitives). That is, the head noun or substantive will be a cognate of a verb, and imply the action of that verb cognate, like the noun πίστις ("faith") is a cognate of the verb πιστεύω ("believe"), and implies the action of believing. In a construction with its verbal head noun, the verbal genitive indicates either the subject performing the action, or the direct object receiving the action of the verb.

For example, ἡ παρουσία τοῦ Υἱοῦ means "the coming of the Son," and is equivalent to "[when] the Son comes," where the genitive ("Son") functions as the subject performing the action of the verbal head noun ("coming"). Then εἰς ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης Αὐτοῦ means "for a demonstration of His righteousness," and is equivalent to "[when He] demonstrated His righteousness," where the genitive ("righteousness") functions as the direct object of the action suggested by the verbal head noun ("demonstration"). Sometimes the verbal genitive can even indicate both the subject and direct object at the same time. That is, "the love of God," in some instances, may mean both "[when] God loves us" and "[when] we love God."

Wallace believes the verbal genitive actually could be another category listed under "adjectival genitives," since it indicates a quality or attribute of the head noun, even like a possessive ("the Son's coming," "his righteousness's demonstration," "God's love"). But he says, "there are some advantages to placing these uses under a separate [category] ... This is partially due to the fact that the objective and the subjective genitives are both crucial and confusing, but also due to the fact that included here is a category not normally listed in New Testament grammars ... The verbal genitive construction, then, is a sentence [embedded within another sentence]."

There are three types of verbal genitives: (1) the subjective genitive, which functions as the subject of the verbal; (2) the objective genitive, which functions as the direct object; and (3) the plenary genitive, which serves as both. When categorizing and interpreting a verbal genitive, always remember the following two points (which were also delineated by Wallace):

  1. All categories of verbal genitives are lexico-syntactic categories, where the genitive must modify a verbal substantive. The verbal noun must be a cognate of a verb and suggest some kind of action. So a head noun can be something like "love," "hope," "testimony," "obedience," and so on -- suggesting actions of "loving," "hoping," "testifying," "obeying," and so on. If the genitive does not modify a verbal substantive, then it cannot be a verbal genitive. However, Wallace also points out that one must determine whether or not a noun is a verbal noun from a "Greek rather than English" perspective. In other words, a Greek word like βασιλεῦς ("king, ruler") is a cognate of the Greek verb βασιλεύω ("rule, rule as king"), and thus could take a subjective genitive. Yet we would not normally think the noun "king" would be a verbal noun from an English viewpoint.

  2. Next, Wallace points out that a subjective genitive can modify a head noun with a verb cognate that is either transitive or intransitive. Because a subjective genitive functions as the subject, it does not matter whether or not the verb's action requires a direct object. For example, "the coming of the Son" equals "[when] the Son comes," where the head noun is a cognate of a verb that is intransitive here ("comes"), and does not require a direct object. But context may also require us to interpret another head noun as a transitive. For example, "the love of Christ" equals "[when] Christ loves [us]," where the verbal head noun suggests a transitive verb ("loves"), and also requires a direct object ("us," implied by context).

    Yet an objective genitive must always modify a head noun with a verb cognate that is transitive, since it functions as a direct object. For example, "demonstration of His righteousness" equals "[when He] demonstrated His righteousness," where the head noun is transitive ("demonstrated"), requiring a direct object. Of course a plenary genitive needs to be translated both ways. So a plenary genitive also must always modify a head noun with a transitive verb cognate. For example, "the love of God" equals "[when] God loves [us]" and / or "[when we] love God," where the head noun is transitive in both interpretations. This means more verbal genitive constructions will be subjective genitives, rather than objective or plenary genitives -- since the head noun of a subjective genitive can have either a transitive or intransitive verb cognate, but the head noun of an objective or plenary genitive must always have a transitive verb cognate.

a. Subjective Genitives

If a head noun or substantive is a cognate of a verb, and it suggests the action of its verb cognate, it is called a "verbal noun." If a genitive modifies such a verbal head noun or substantive, where the genitive represents a person or thing which performs the indicated action of the verb cognate, then the genitive is likely a subjective genitive. A subjective genitive performs the action of the verbal noun or substantive it modifies.

Subjective genitives are "common" in the GNT. In the examples below, the head noun will be highlighted in green and the subjective genitive will be highlighted in bluish green. Wallace provided the following five clear examples below. However, after these first five, you will find another five examples, all involved in a debate concerning the interpretation of πίστις Χριστοῦ constructions. That is, the dispute is between those who interpret πίστις Χριστοῦ as a subjective genitive like "the faithfulness of Christ" ("[when] Christ acts faithfully"), and those who interpret it as an objective genitive like "faith in Christ" ("[when we] believe or trust Christ").

b. Objective Genitives

If a head noun or substantive is a cognate of a verb, and it suggests the action of its verb cognate, it is called a "verbal noun." If a genitive modifies such a verbal head noun or substantive, where the genitive represents a person or thing which receives the indicated action of the verb cognate, as the direct object of the verb's action, then the genitive is likely an objective genitive. An objective genitive receives the action of the verbal noun or substantive it modifies, like a direct object of the verb's action.

To identify an objective genitive more readily, Wallace suggests substituting the key word "of" with a word indicating the way in which the genitive receives the action of the verb. So he suggests key words like "for," "about," "concerning," "toward," and "against." In the example above, "a demonstration of His righteousness," a key word like "proving" might be suggested in context, thus the phrase would become, "a demonstration proving His righteousness." Yet it is usually easier to just interpret the verbal head noun as a verb, then determine whether the genitive fits better as a direct object or subject of that verb. For example, when we translate our example as "[He] demonstrated His righteousness," it makes more sense and fits much better in the context (of Rom. 3:25) than it would by translating it as "His righteousness demonstrated [Him]." Thus, this must be an objective genitive construction, not a subjective genitive.

As mentioned under the main heading of "Verbal Genitives," the objective genitive is another lexico-syntactic category. That is, the genitive's head noun or substantive must be a cognate of a verb. Thus, its head noun must suggest a verbal idea, some kind of action of a verb. In other words, its head noun must be a "verbal noun." Also, the action implied by the head noun must be the action of a transitive verb. So its action must act upon something. The action must have some kind of direct object to receive its action, where that direct object is the genitive following it. If the head noun's action is intransitive, it cannot have an objective genitive.

Although objectives genitives are "common" in the GNT, they are not quite as common as subjective genitives. But, to determine if a genitive with a verbal noun is a subjective or objective genitive, one must not use statistics. Rather, one must determine this by the type of verb cognate associated with the head noun, context, and logic. In the examples below, the head noun will be highlighted in green and the objective genitive will be highlighted in bluish green.

c. Plenary Genitives

A plenary genitive is a verbal genitive which provides an equally fitting interpretation as both a subjective and objective genitive (for explanations of subjective and objective genitives, see the previous two headings). Sometimes we can intentionally or unintentionally write or say something with a dual meaning, where both meanings are equally valid. The writings of the GNT are no exception. It seems the apostles did leave some passages written in a way which could be interpreted as both subjective and objective genitives, likely intentionally.

When asked, "Did he do it or did you?" -- to be humorous, and to indicate that we both did it -- we might answer "yes," even though it is not a "yes or no" question. The action implied by a plenary genitive is similar in that both do it. Of course, in the GNT, the plenary genitive is not meant to be humorous. But it is a literary device used to make one think a little harder.

Also, classifying a verbal genitive as a plenary genitive is not just an excuse to avoid having to make a decision, to get away with not carefully examining the context, thinking and praying. Actually, one should only decide that a verbal genitive is a plenary genitive after an even more careful consideration of the text, after it becomes apparent that neither the subjective nor objective interpretation can be eliminated, and both meanings must be equally intended.

So an interpretation as a plenary genitive is not a first choice, but it is a valid option if it clearly is the intended meaning of the text. If you see what looks like a construction with a verbal genitive, try interpreting it as a subjective genitive, then an objective genitive. "If both ideas seem to fit in a given passage, and do not contradict but rather complement one another, then there is a good possibility that the genitive in question is a plenary (or full) genitive" (Wallace).

Although plenary genitives are not very common in the GNT, they are likely more common than most like to admit. We all want to find out what a given text means precisely. Yet we must realize that the apostles, even by the moving of the Holy Spirit, and like many Jewish rabbis, could and would imply double meanings by their words at times. Wallace gave the three examples below, which may be disputed, but which might be plenary genitives. Here the head noun will be highlighted in green and the plenary genitive will be highlighted in bluish green.

Grammatical Role 4:
Adverbial Genitives

This kind of genitive modifies a verb, adjective or adverb, thus serves in the role of an adverb. Although it may sometimes modify a noun, it describes an implied adjective or an implied verb's action upon that noun, so it functions in an adverbial role. Because it sometimes implies an action, a participle may need to be substituted for the key word "of" in the translation of an adverbial genitive. Otherwise, an adverbial genitive may function much like an adverbial prepositional phrase, and might possibly be best translated into a prepositional phrase.

So one category of averbial genitives would be genitives of price, value or quantity. And an example of this may be literally translated as "you agreed of a denarius." Here the genitive modifies a verb and it means, "you agreed [to work] for a denarius," where the genitive is translated into a prepositional phrase ("for a denarius"). Then, with a noun, you might see something like, "bread of two hundred denarii," which is equivalent to "bread worth two hundred denarii" or "bread valued at two hundred denarii,"where it implies a verbal like "worth" (i.e., a word implying an infinitive "to become") or "valued at" (a past participle and preposition). A genitive of time is another type of adverbial genitive, which often suggests the present participle "during." For example, "he came of night" means "he came during the night." Other categories of adverbial genitives include genitives of place / space (often interpreted with prepositions like "in," "at" or "through"), genitives of means ("by"), genitives of agency ("by"), genitives of reference ("with reference to"), and genitives of association ("with," "in association with").

a. Genitives of Price, Value or Quantity

The genitive of value or quantity expresses how much, regarding a price, value or quanitity. This particular genitive noun usually follows a verb expressing an action of buying, selling or quantifying (e.g., ἀγοράζω, "buy, purchase, acquire"; πιπράσκω, "sell, export, offer for sale"; and πωλέω, "sell, barter, exchange, engage in a business transaction"). Yet it may sometimes be used with a noun, where a verbal is implied ("valued at / for," "worth," "for the amount of").

Often, the genitive of price, value or quantity can be translated with the key word "for" in front of it, but sometimes may require a participle or infinitive to explain the action involved ("sold for," "to sell for," "purchased for," "to buy for," "to work for a wage of"). The genitive may be a noun referring to a type of money, and also could be modified by a genitive adjective indicating a number (e.g., δηναρίου, [one] denarius, a day's wage for a labourer, a silver coin; διακοσίων δηναρίων, 200 denarii). Yet it might just simply indicate the kind of material or instrument used to complete a transaction for the exchange of goods or services, without indicating a number (e.g., a genitive form of τιμή, "price, value"; χρυσός, "gold"; ἀγρύριον, "silver").

Genitives of price, value or quantity are "relatively rare" in the GNT, but Wallace gave four examples. Here the verb or head noun which the genitive modifies will be highlighted in green and the genitive of price, value or quantity will be highlighted in bluish green.

b. Genitives of Time

The genitive of time indicates the kind of time period during or in which an event occurs, and thus suggests or may be translated with key words such as "during," "at" or "within." For instance, a person may "fast twice of a week," meaning "twice during a week," where the kind of time is a "week." Or if a person is "working of night and of day," then he works some hours during the night and some hours during the day. But it does not mean he is working all the night hours and all the daylight hours. In Greek, as Wallace carefully points out, the different oblique cases, when used in reference to time, suggest different meanings:

A little more in depth treatment of how the "bare" oblique cases (without prepositions) are used with reference to time can be found in the intermediate grammar article on accusatives, under the heading "Time References in Oblique Cases." It should also be mentioned that genitives referring to time, when found behind a preposition like ἐκ or ἀπό, bear a different meaning. With ἐκ + a genitive (indicating a time), the phrase expresses a source or origin of time, from which something originated, like a state, condition or event beginning or originating "from childhood" or "out of the time of childhood." Then the preposition ἀπό + a genitive (indicating a time), refers to a starting point from which an event began, such as "from that day" to another time.

Genitives of time are "not very common" in the GNT, but Wallace once more gave four examples. Here the head noun, verb or other word which the genitive modifies will be highlighted in green and the genitive of time will be highlighted in bluish green.

c. Genitives of Place or Space

The genitive of place or space "indicates the place within which the action of a verb occurs." Keep in mind, this is a category of adverbial genitive, so it usually modifies a verb, or a verbal noun. And the action of the verb is "of" the place or space indicated by the genitive. Therefore, the action takes place inside the area of the place, or inside the volume of the space. So Wallace suggests key words like "where," "within which," "in," "at" or occasionally "through" can be used in the translation of the genitive, instead of the key word "of."

Another point of semantics mentioned by Wallace is that the genitive of place or space normally describes the kind or quality of the place or space, not a specific location (like the dative would). It is much like the genitive of time, which also indicates a kind of time. Now this "kind" or "quality" may point to a specific place or space, but in a general manner, only in order to provide an indication of the type of place or space. In the examples below, Jesus was about to come through "of that," referring to the road Zacchaeus overlooked. So it means, "He was about to come through that way" (here the key word "of" is simply dropped off). An example of "space" can be where one was to dip "of water," which means "dip within water" or simply "in water."

A genitive of place or space is "somewhat rare," but Wallace provided the following three examples. For each, the verb or word modified is highlighted in green and the genitive of place or space is highlighted in bluish green.

d. Genitives of Means

A genitive of means expresses how an action is performed, that is, "the means or instrumentality" by which the action is performed. Therefore, it usually modifies a verbal noun, verbal adjective or verb -- a word which indicates an action of some sort. And it can most often be translated with the key word "by" in front of it. Since the genitive indicates a means or instrument by which the action is performed, that genitive will not represent a person, but rather a "thing." For example, "righteousness of faith" means "righteousness by means of faith" or "righteousness performed by acting through the belief that God's Holy Spirit is teaching one's spirit in the heart, trusting in God and in His Word that He teaches, all with full confidence that one is safe from condemnation because Jesus paid the whole penalty for one's sins."

As Wallace points out, in koine Greek, a means or instrument performing an action was more often indicated with the use of the more explicit preposition ἐκ + a genitive. So using a bare genitive for this purpose was quite rare. Also, a bare dative case is more normally used to indicate a straight "means" ("by means of [something]"). Thus, the genitive of means may sometimes indicate a little more, like "by the means of and also partly by the cause of."

For the reasons stated above, Wallace says that a genitive of means is "quite rare." Still, Wallace gave the following examples. In each example, the word modified by the genitive is highlighted in green and the genitive of means is highlighted in bluish green.

e. Genitives of Agency

A genitive of agency is a genitive substantive indicating the person who performs the action of the verbal word it modifies, that is, the genitive is a "personal agent" by whom something is done. Usually, the genitive of agency represents the ultimate agent, the one who directly initiates and causes the action. However, in koine Greek, an ultimate agent is usually expressed by the more explicit prepositional phrase ὑπό + a genitive. Then a genitive of agency might rarely represent an intermediate agent, one who performs the action on behalf of the ultimate agent. But an intermediate agent is most often indicated by διά + a genitive.

Also, a genitive of agency almost always modifies a substantival verbal adjective. So that adjective will suggest an action, will be used as a noun, and will often end in -τός, τή, τόν (or some other case form of an ending beginning with tau: -τον, -του, -τῳ, τοι, τους, των, τοις, etc. -- an adjective's ending of -τος indicates an ability or force, thus implies an action). Of course, since the genitive performs the action of the verbal adjective, it will normally imply an action in a passive sense, as in the action of the adjective "taught" in "they will be all taught by God." If, in context, the adjective implies an action in an active sense, then the genitive will not likely be a genitive of agency, as in, "they will all teach of/about God," not, "they will all teach by God."

Therefore, if you find a genitive with a substantival verbal adjective implying a passive sense, that genitive is likely a genitive of agency. Wallace pointed out three common constructions to look for, which are: ἀγαπητός + genitive ("is/are loved by [genitive]"); διδακτός + genitive ("is/are taught by [genitive]"); and ἐκλεκτός + genitive ("is/are chosen by [genitive]").

In koine Greek, because "personal agency" is mostly indicated through the use of prepositional phrases, Wallace says the genitive of agency is "fairly rare." However, he gave the following examples. In each example, the word modified by the genitive is highlighted in green and the genitive of agency is highlighted in bluish green.

f. Genitive Absolutes

This is a grammatically independent phrase which provides additional information, and is most often found at the beginning of a clause. The construction centers around an anarthrous genitive participle, and may also have a genitive noun or pronoun, along with other words in the phrase. More information can be found in the lessons about participles.

g. Genitives of Reference

The genitive of reference normally indicates a reference as to what the word it modifies is of, from, apart from or originating from. It is a reference which gives additional information. Since it most often is used to modify an adjective, it is classified as an adverbial genitive, but with some ablatival qualities. A genitive of reference can also modify a noun or another substantive, although it may bear some adverbial force even then, because it may provide information which defines or explains the source of an action, what it is from.

Every case form can be used as a reference to provide additional information, where each bears a different implication. A pendent nominative or an accusative of reference are grammatically independent elements, where a nominative may be more emphatic, drawing more focus. But a genitive of reference is not grammatically independent, since it functions in an adverbial role, by modifying a word which is a grammatical part of the sentence. A dative of reference is the most common case form used for a reference, and is not grammatically independent either. But a dative of reference usually implies an idea of accrual, movement to or towards something, or an increase for or in something. Then the genitive of reference suggests the opposite, where there is an ablatival quality to it, a movement from something, being apart from or subtracted from something, being from a source. So the dative of reference and the genitive of reference are most closely related, yet with almost opposite implications.

Now the key words "with reference to" or "with respect to" or "regarding" may be substituted for the genitive key word "of," simply in order to be able to help one identify the genitive as a genitive of reference. However, the key word "of," and sometimes "from," may be more suitable for the translation, since the words "with reference to" often do not really convey any sense of the genitive, and usually leave the translation without meaning, since it is too ambiguous an expression. Then again, one might add a whole phrase to give the sense of the genitive's connotations. For example, "an evil heart of unbelief" sounds better and captures the meaning better than "an evil heart with reference to unbelief." It is also captures the meaning better than using the genitive as a straight adverb modifying the adjective "evil," as in "an unbelieving evil heart." Better yet, one could translate it as "a heart with evil which originates from unbelief."

Wallace said the genitive of reference is "not common." Then he gave two examples which modify an adjective, as well as two which modify a noun, where he indicated that the last example was debatable. In each example, the word modified by the genitive is highlighted in green and the genitive of reference is highlighted in bluish green.

h. Genitives of Association

A genitive of association expresses who is part of and together with whatever the head noun or word being modified indicates. The genitive will usually modify a noun or adjective beginning with the prefix συν, or else a word which conveys the idea of togetherness. And the genitive of association seems to suggest "part of" the same group, limiting the scope to a more narrow and closely associated group. The genitive is not just "with," but "one with" or "part of the same people with." Wallace suggests using the key words "with" or "in association with," but these may not be strong enough indicators of the togetherness implied here.

The preposition σύν always takes a dative object, and indicates "together with, accompaniment, fellowship." So, in secular Greek, most often when nouns beginning with the prefix συν are found with a personal noun or pronoun, they seem to be found with a dative noun or pronoun. But if a word prefixed with συν is with a genitive personal noun or pronoun, the genitive indicates a closer association. That genitive may be almost like a partitive genitive, suggesting that the genitive is the whole, and the word prefixed with συν is a part of it. So can be translated as "which is together with and a part of [the genitive]." Or the opposite can be true, where the genitive indicates that it is a part of the whole represented by the word prefixed by συν. So it means, "together with [the genitive] and of which [the genitive] is a part or belongs."

For example, in secular Greek literature, it appears that a word like συνεργός ("co-worker, helper"), if it is found with a personal noun or pronoun, might most often be found with a dative form, such as ὁ συνεργὸς ἡμῖν ("a worker together with us, a helper to us"). But in the GNT, one almost always finds συνεργός with a genitive personal noun or pronoun. In Rom. 16:3, we see τοὺς συνεργούς μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, which means something like, "the fellow workers together with me [and with whom I am one] in Christ Jesus." Then, in verse 9, it says, τὸν συνεργὸν ἡμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ, which is more like a partitive genitive, and means something like, "the fellow worker together with us [and who is one of us] in Christ." In verse 21, both terms are singular: ὁ συνεργός μου, meaning, "my co-worker [with whom I am closely associated]."

Wallace says, "This usage has particular exegetical weight in the Pauline letters, for it typically makes explicit some ramification of the ἐν Χριστῷ formula (since believers are said to be in Christ, because of their organic connection to Him, they now associate with Him in many and profound ways).... not just their legal or forensic connection: cf. especially Rom. 5, where both the forensic and organic connections are made." That is, we do not only gain a static legal freedom from the penalty of sin through the sacrifice of Christ, but also actively participate in living life with Jesus, a life which grows and thrives in terms of our relationship with God and each other, bearing ever more of the fruit of righteous love in Christ Jesus and through Him.

The genitive of association is "somewhat common," and Wallace provided quite a few examples. However, he placed most of the examples under the subheading "Clear Examples," and the rest under the subheading "Disputed Examples." So I did the same below. For each example, the head noun or word modified by the genitive is highlighted in green and the genitive of association is highlighted in bluish green.

  1. Clear Examples
  2. Wallace also provides the following references as places where examples of genitives of association can be found: Mat. 18:29,31,33; Acts 19:29; Rom. 16:3 and Phlm. 24.

  3. Disputed Examples

Grammatical Role 5:
Genitives After Certain Words

This is simply a general category for genitives which do not fit into any of the above classifications, but are used after certain kinds of verbs, adjectives, adverbs and nouns.

a. Genitives After Certain Verbs

Certain kinds of verbs normally take a genitive direct object, while others can take either a genitive or accusative direct object. Whenever a verb takes a genitive object, that genitive object will imply something of genitive in one of the categories above (either implications of ablatival, partitive, possessive, etc.). A genitive direct object is used with these kinds of verbs because these verbs may need the implications of a genitive to complete the idea of the verb's action.

Wallace classified all the kinds of verbs which can use a genitive direct object into four main types, and these four types are listed in the bullets below this paragraph. He also says that the BDF grammar (A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, by Blass and Debrunner, and translated by Funk) divides these verbs into ten types. Now one of BDF's ten types are verbs meaning "to fill, to be full of." This type will not be discussed here, since it is discussed above, with "Genitives of Content." But I separated each of BDF's nine remaining types into subcategories under Wallace's four main types, as you can see below:

With the types of verbs listed above, I have suggested what the implications of the genitives will be, where the actual use of a genitive direct object may imply something completely different. So one must study the context to find out what any particular genitive actually implies. But, since the default case for a direct object is accusative, there usually will be some kind of semantic implication involved when a genitive direct object is used with a verb. The meaning of the sentence will be affected, because the genitive direct object receives the action of the verb in a way which also bears some kind of genitive implication. This will be most true when a particular verb normally takes an accusative direct object, but uncharacteristically takes a genitive direct object in a certain sentence. In such an instance, since the author deliberately chose to use a genitive direct object, rather than an accusative, the meaning of the sentence may be significantly altered -- and a translation might need to reflect the genitive's implications.

Genitives after certain verbs would be somewhat common. Some verbs almost always have a genitive direct object, while others seldom have one. Wallace provided only a couple examples in each of the four main categories, "because this is such a broad category, and because the liberal use of a good lexicon easily reveals this usage." In each example text below, the verb will be highlighted in green and the genitive direct object will be highlighted in bluish green.

  1. Genitives After Verbs of Sensation

  2. Genitives After Verbs of Emotion or Volition

  3. Genitives After Verbs of Sharing or Partaking In

  4. Genitives After Verbs of Ruling

b. Genitives After Certain Adjectives or Adverbs

Genitives after certain adjectives or adverbs are very much like genitives after certain verbs. These kinds of adjectives or adverbs usually indicate an action, like a verb. In fact, these adjectives and adverbs are often cognates derived from the kinds of verbs which take a genitive direct object. So they may also indicate either a sensation, emotion, sharing or ruling. Then the following genitive can be possessive, objective, partitive, ablatival and so on. Thus, (just like each genitive after a certain kind of verb) each genitive after a certain kind of adjective or adverb can also be classified under one of the other categories of genitives listed above.

Wallace's example of the kind of adjective and adverb which may be followed by a genitive, were the adjective ἄξιος (with gender forms of ἄξιος, ἀξία, ἄξιον, meaning "worthy, deserving, fit, suitable; corresponding, comparable") and its adverb cognate ἀξίως ("worthily, in a manner worthy of, suitably"). As you can see, it indicates an action of evaluating or comparing, like a verb of value. So the genitive following it may have a partitive connotation, "worthy of [the genitive]" = "worthy of part of the whole of whatever is described by the genitive."

An adjective like κοινός ("common") + a genitive may indicate possession: "common to [the group described by the genitive]" = "the people described by the genitive all own it together." Likewise, the adjective ἴδιος ("one's own") probably would have a possessive genitive with it, as in ἴδιος αὐτῶν ("of their own"). A comparative form of an adjective may have an ablatival connotation of "separation," like the adjective μείζονος ("greater") in τοῦ ἱεροῦ μεῖζόν would mean "greater than the temple" = "greater in a way that sets it apart from the temple." Adverbs of "place, time and quantity" might take a genitive with them. For example, an adverb of place like ἐγγύς ("near") might sometimes take an ablatival genitive, as in ἐγγὺς τοῦ πλοίου, meaning "near the boat" = "near and not far from the boat." But a genitive with any particular adjective or adverb will not always be of one kind. It will not always be partitive or possessive or ablatival. In each instance, a genitive's implications must be determined by context alone.

Genitives after certain adjectives or adverbs would be somewhat common. Again, Wallace recommends looking up any particular adjective or adverb in a good lexicon to determine its usage with a genitive. And he gave the following examples, where the adjective or adverb is highlighted in green and the genitive is highlighted in bluish green.

c. Genitives After Certain Nouns

This construction does not have one, but two genitives following after a noun. These two genitives are normally joined by the conjunction καί, or possibly by something like τε καί ("both and"). The two genitives most often follow a noun which represents a person, action or state that may sometimes be related to an interaction between two parties in some way. So the two genitives usually are translated with the English word "between" in front of them. These genitives are either objective or possibly possessive in implication, since the two genitives either receive an action implied by the noun, or else might possess the head noun in some way.

For example, the noun διαστολή means "a difference, a distinction." So one might naturally expect that a writer may sometimes indicate two things that there is a distinction or difference between. Thus we see this noun followed by two genitives in Rom. 10:12, but with a negative expressing "no distinction, no difference": οὐ γὰρ ἐστιν διαστολὴ Ἰουδαίου τε καὶ {Ελληνος ("There is no distinction [or no difference] between both Jew and Greek"). The same goes for the noun μεσίτης ("one who mediates between two parties to remove a disagreement or reach a common goal, mediator, arbitrator," BDAG3). Sometimes a writer might be expected indicate the two parties that the mediator mediates between, as in I Tim. 2:5, where two genitives follow this noun: εἷς καὶ Μεσίτης Θεοῦ καὶ ἀνθρώπων ("also one Mediator between God and men").

Wallace said that genitives after certain nouns are "quite rare." Still, he indicated the two examples given above, then also provided the following two examples, where the noun is highlighted in green and the pair of genitives joined by καί are highlighted in bluish green.

d. Genitives After Certain Prepositions

In koine Greek, as previously mentioned, many functions of a bare genitive were being replaced by more explicit prepositional phrases with genitive objects. Yet this does not mean that the implications of bare genitives always will be exactly the same as those of prepositional phrases. Actually, if a prepositional phrase is used, its implications almost always will be different than a bare genitive used in the same place. Often the prepositional phrase will be more explicit, but sometimes can bear other connotations or nuances of meaning too.

It should be realized that koine Greek intentionally expressed different ideas in different ways, yet did not cast out the old ways of interpreting classical Greek syntax. Koine Greek could use any and all the more subtle syntax of classical Greek, if it desired, and with the same implications. Yet the foreign speakers of koine more frequently chose to express their ideas more sharply and clearly, such as through a more extensive use of prepositional phrases.

Therefore, one cannot force the interpretation of a bare genitive onto the interpretation of a prepositional phrase with a genitive object, or vice versa. The interpretation of each will bear different implications. Over time, prepositional phrases also further developed other and more specific connotations as well. So this must be considered at times too.

Generally speaking, a genitive with a preposition suggests some movement from the genitive object of the preposition towar