Some Syntactic Features of Relative Constructions in the Greek New Testament

  • Herman C du Toit Research Fellow, Department of New Testament, University of the Free State
Keywords: Relative sentence, relative construction, syntax, Hellenistic Greek, New Testament


In the Greek New Testament, relative sentences that are introduced by relative pronouns alone, apart from the adverbial uses, are the most frequent subordinate sentence type. The research reported on in this paper aimed to investigate and describe a number of syntactic features of relative constructions in the Greek New Testament, taking account, among others, of some typological parameters that have been developed in the general linguistics literature for these constructions.The results indicate that relative constructions in the Greek New Testament have a variety of features, all of which have counterparts in some modern (or other ancient) languages, despite the differences. The relative sentence in the Greek New Testament is mostly postnominal, and the relative pronoun-type is used in those cases for encoding the role of the coreferential element in the relative sentence. Phrases expressing a variety of syntactic functions in a sentence (e.g. subject, direct object, etc.) are accessible to relativisation, that is, they can be represented by relative pronouns. Nominal elements serve mostly as antecedents of relative sentences, although sentences appear in that function as well.A variety of syntactic types of relative sentences can be distinguished, including the prenominal participial, postnominal finite/participial, circumnominal, free relative, adverbial, prejoined, postjoined, sentential and conjoined types. These can be linked in a systematic way to the four functions of relative sentences in the New Testament, i.e. identifying, appositive, adverbial and continuative.Relative sentences also play a role in communicative strategies. Prejoined relative sentences, for example, are most suitable for exposition and theme-building, especially in the correlative diptych construction.