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New Testament Greek
Course III
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  Lesson 2 Participles: εἰμί, Genitive Absolute, Periphrasis  
  Present participle of εἰμί  

The present active participle of εἰμί is easy enough to learn. In fact, you have already learned it. It is as follows:

Present Active Participle: εἰμί, "being"
  masculine feminine neuter
N/V ὤν οὖσα ὄν
G ὄντος οὔσης ὄντος
D ὄντι οὔσῃ ὄντι
A ὄντα οὖσαν ὄν
N/V ὄντες οὖσαι ὄντα
G ὄντων οὐσῶν ὄντων
D οὖσι(ν) οὔσαις οὖσι(ν)
A ὄντας οὔσας ὄντα

  Genitive Absolute  

When a participial phrase is syntactically independent of the rest of the sentence, it is said to be absolute. A frequently occurring sort of participial phrase is the "genitive absolute," so called because it is in the genitive case. In its purest form, the subject of the participle has no syntactical connection to the main clause. That is to say it is not identified with either the subject or the object, or any other substantive in the main clause.

While the woman was reading a book, the man left the store.

The subject of was reading is woman, but the woman has no part in the main clause, the man left the store. In Greek, the clause about the woman reading a book could be expressed by a participle in the genitive case. The subject of the participle, woman, would also be in the genitive case.


Consider the parable about the ten virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom to come so that they could enter the marriage feast. Five were wise, having brought extra oil with them for their lamps. But five were foolish; they hadn't brought any extra oil. The bridegroom tarried, and the women fell asleep. Then at midnight, when the bridegroom's arrival was announced, the five foolish virgins awoke to find they were running out of oil. They had to leave to buy oil. The text says:

ἀπερχομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἀγοράσαι ἦλθεν ὁ νυμφίος Mt. 25:10
And while they were going away to buy, the bridegroom came

First, let's get ἀγοράσαι out of the way. It is aorist infinitive of ἀγοράζω = buy. ἀγοράσαι is to buy.

Now to the matter at hand, the function of the genitive absolute relative to the main clause: The main clause is ἦλθεν ὁ νυμφίος. The subject of the participle ἀπερχομένων is the genitive αὐτῶν, which has in view the five foolish virgins, who have no part in the main clause.

As in this example, a genitive absolute usually functions adverbially, and especially temporally, telling you when one thing was happening in relation to something else. ἀπερχομένων is present and therefore it is understood that the bridegroom came while five foolish virgins were gone to buy oil.


ἀκούοντος δὲ παντὸς τοῦ λαοῦ εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ  Lk. 20:45
and as all the people were listening, he said to his disciples...

The genitive participle is ἀκούοντος. The subject of the participle is the phrase παντὸς τοῦ λαοῦ, rightly in genitive case. Notice the subject, παντὸς τοῦ λαοῦ, has no syntactical connection with the main clause. That is, the people are neither the subject of the main verb, nor the object of the main verb, nor any other part of the main clause.

Contrary to what we have said above, In Hellenistic Greek, a genitive participle was often used where the subject of the genitive participle was someone or something in the main clause.  An example is found in Luke 17:12:

καὶ εἰσερχομένου αὐτοῦ εἴς τινα κώμην
ἀπήντησαν αὐτῷ δέκα λεπροὶ ἄνδρες

The subject of εἰσερχομένου is αὐτοῦ. The participial clause is and as he was going into a certain village. The main clause ἀπήντησαν αὐτῷ δέκα λεπροὶ ἄνδρες, is ten leprous men met him. The subject of the participle is also the object of the main verb. That is, both αὐτοῦ and αὐτῷ refer to Jesus. Were this classical Greek, we would expect the participle to be dative so as to agree with αὐτῷ. But in the New Testament as in Hellenistic Greek generally, we frequently see departures from the classical standard. Turner described them as "falls from class. grace," and listed several examples (Syntax, p. 322). To be sure, there were examples of such non-absolute genitive participles even in classical Greek (Hadley and Allen, � 972d).


Periphrasis is exactly what it sounds like it is. Peri, the Greek preposition περί meaning around (with the accusative) and phrasis, φράσις , a phrase, are put together to refer to a round about way of phrasing something, or we might say, a sort of circumlocution. In fact, that is what the Greek compound περίφρασις meant. We especially use the term with reference to a construction using two words, usually a form of εἰμί and a participle, to express one verbal idea. We do this in English when we say something like, "I will be arriving in the morning."

The tense expressed by a periphrastic construction may be the equivalent of something that could be expressed more simply by a single word. Turner asked, "What possible distinction can there be between ἐβάπτιζεν and ἦν βαπτίζων in Jn 322.23...?" (Syntax, p. 87).On the other hand, there is no single verbal form that could express the meaning of the future perfect periphrastic expressions  ἔσται δεδεμένον and ἔσται λελυμένον (shall have been bound, shall have been loosed; Mt. 16:19).

With that in mind, understand that when we talk about a periphrastic tense, we are not necessarily referring to a distinct verbal idea, but rather to a particular periphrastic means of conveying an idea.

Present Periphrastic Tense

The present periphrastic tense is formed by a present tense form of εἰμί and a present participle. An example of present periphrasis is the phrase ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον = is translated. This phrase occurs a half dozen times in the NT, including the following instance at John 1:41:

εὑρήκαμεν τὸν Μεσσίαν ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Χριστός
We have found the Messiah, which is translated, 'Christ'

Imperfect Periphrastic Tense

The combination of an imperfect copulative and a present participle yields a meaning very similar to if not identical with the simple imperfect tense. Consider Mk. 1:22:

ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς.
For he was teaching them as having authority and not as the scribes.

The imperfect has linear Aktionsart in its own right, but Hewett suggests that periphrastics may "enhance the continuing nature of the activity" (p. 151). Perhaps that is true in some instances, but in our present example, is there a great difference between ἦν...διδάσκων in verse 22 and ἐδίδασκεν in verse 21?

Perfect Periphrastic Tense

This consists of a present tense form of εἰμί and a perfect participle, as in Jn. 6:45:

ἔστιν γεγραμμένον ἐν τοῖς προφήταις
It is having been written in the prophets
or more simply in English,
It is written in the prophets

Future Periphrastic Tense

This may be expressed by a future form of εἰμί and a present participle, as in Lu. 21:24:

Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἔσται πατουμένη ὑπὸ ἐθνῶν
Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles

Future Perfect Periphrastic Tense

We mentioned one of the few examples of this construction earlier. Actually, there are two occurrences in one verse at Mt. 16:19. A future form of εἰμί and a perfect participle combine to express the idea "will be having been..." i.e., in the future, something will already have been an accomplished fact.

καὶ ὃ ἐὰν δήσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς
and whatever you bind on the earth will be having been bound in heaven
or more simply in English,
and whatever you bind on the earth will have been bound in heaven

καὶ ὃ ἐὰν λύσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς
and whatever you loose on the earth will be having been loosed in heaven
or more simply in English,
and whatever you loose on the earth will have been loosed in heaven

There are other periphrastic constructions, but the foregoing introduction will suffice for now. Actually, you don't need to memorize these so much as understand them. And you will be able to understand other periphrastic constructions as you encounter them because they usually mean what you would expect them to mean simply by considering the component parts.

  Assignment for Lesson 2