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New Testament Greek
Course III
 
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  Lesson 5  Infinitives: Morphology, Syntax

In English grammar, a verb that has limits defined for person or number is said to be "finite" (from Latin finis, "limit"). An infinitive is a verb that is not finite. It is not limited for person or number.

So, for example, runs could not be used with a first person subject. It is limited in terms of person. We say, "he runs" but "I run." The infinitive form of the verb, the form having no reference to person or number, is to run. You could say its breadth of applicability is infinite, not limited to singular or plural, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person.

In Greek, all of the verbs we have studied so far can be described as finite. Even participles, which do not have person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), do have number.

My dictionary indicates that an infinitive has no tense, however Tennyson seemed to think otherwise when he wrote, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." In the words "to have loved," we have an example of a perfect tense infinitive. So much for my dictionary.

But English aside, we certainly see tense, as well as voice, in the Greek infinitive. 

 
  Morphology  
 

Because the infinitive has neither person nor number, the various forms of the infinitive can be succinctly presented for all tenses and voices. The infinitive forms of λύω are as follows:

present

future

aorist

perfect perfect aorist
active mid/pass active middle active middle active mid/pass passive
λύειν λύεσθαι λύσειν λύσεσθαι λῦσαι λύσασθαι λελυκέναι λελύσθαι λυθῆναι

A second aorist infinitive would be formed on the 2nd aorist stem with ειν appended. So for example, the 2nd aorist infinitive of λέγω is εἰπεῖν.

Note that there is neither an imperfect infinitive nor a pluperfect infinitive. The future infinitive and perfect infinitive occur rarely in the NT and in Hellenistic Greek generally.

In the grammar by Hadley and Allen, it is said that the ending -ειν results from a contraction of  -εν with a preceding ε ( 381).  Accordingly, contract verbs (those having stems ending in α, ε, or ο) will form present infinitives with endings -αν (= α + εν), -ειν (= ε + εν), or -ουν (= ο + εν). Thus we see present active infinitives ἀγαπᾶν, ποιεῖν, and πληροῦν.

A frequently occurring infinitive is εἶναι, the present active infinitive of the copulative εἰμί. Notice the different ending used in the present active by the mi verb.

 
  Syntax  
 

The infinitive is a verbal noun, simultaneously manifesting both nominal and verbal qualities.

As a noun, it can function as the subject or object of a finite verb just as can any other noun. It can also function as the object of a preposition, taking the appropriate case. Of course, the infinitive has no case form itself, but it may be articular, with the article serving to identify the case in which it is used. Its gender will be neuter. In English, we would often use a gerund to serve the same purpose, but we could use an infinitive. Compare the sentences,

To give is kind.

Giving is kind.

In the first sentence, the subject is "to give." In the second, the subject is "giving." The two sentences are identical in meaning, but one uses an infinitive and the other uses a gerund.

An infinitive retains verbal characteristics even while functioning as a noun. As a verb, it can have its own subject, after a manner of speaking, and object. The infinitive in the following sentence has an object:

To give help is kind.

Although "To give" is the subject of the sentence, as a verb it can take the direct object, "help."

What about a subject? We wouldn't say, "He to give help." But we might have the following:

I asked him to give help.

The pronoun "him" is the object of the main verb, "asked." But then it serves as the subject of the infinitive "to give" even though it is in the objective case. In fact, the subject of an infinitive will always be in the objective case in English. Similarly in Greek, the subject of the infinitive will be in the accusative case. We will come back to this point a bit later.

Let's consider some examples of the infinitive in Greek. We won't aim to exhaust all of the categories one might define in discussing uses of the Greek infinitive. Instead, we'll simply try to offer a broad outline of some of the frequent uses and illustrate sufficiently to get you started.

 

The Greek infinitive may be used...

(1) ...to complete the thought of a finite verb

When the speaker wishes to say something about an action that is contemplated, attempted, etc., rather than to say the action was actually accomplished, he may use a finite verb to indicate the attempt or contemplation along with an infinitive to indicate what he was attempting or contemplating. We could say the infinitive is used to complete the thought of a finite verb, e.g., "began to think" "attempted to walk" "desired to see."

EXAMPLE 1

Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς κηρύσσειν  Mt. 4:17a
From that time, Jesus began to preach

The infinitive κηρύσσειν completes the thought of the finite verb ἤρξατο.


EXAMPLE 2

καὶ ἤρξαντο διαλογίζεσθαι οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι λέγοντες, Τίς ἐστιν οὗτος ὃς λαλεῖ βλασφημίας; τίς δύναται ἁμαρτίας ἀφεῖναι εἰ μὴ μόνος ὁ θεός; Lu. 5:21
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to converse saying, Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who is able to forgive sins if not only God?

The infinitive διαλογίζεσθαι completes the thought of the finite verb ἤρξαντο. Similarly, the infinitive ἀφεῖναι completes the thought of the finite verb δύναται
 

EXAMPLE 3

Οὐδεὶς δύναται δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν· Mt. 6:24a
No one is able to serve two lords

The infinitive δουλεύειν completes the thought of the finite verb δύναται.
 

Infinitives are often used in this manner following the verbs ἄρχω, βούλομαι, δεῖ, δύναμαι, ἐπιθυμέω, and θέλω.

 

(2) ...to indicate the purpose of a finite verb

When one action is intended for the purpose of accomplishing another, a finite verb or participle may be used to express the first with an infinitive that is used to express the second.

EXAMPLE 1

καὶ ἀπολύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος κατ ἰδίαν προσεύξασθαι. Mt. 14:23a
And having dismissed the crowds, he went up into the mountain by himself to pray.

The infinitive προσεύξασθαι expresses the purpose of ἀνέβη. Jesus went up to pray.


EXAMPLE 2

κἀγὼ οὐκ ᾔδειν αὐτόν, ἀλλ ὁ πέμψας με βαπτίζειν ἐν ὕδατι ἐκεῖνός μοι εἶπεν, Ἐφ ὃν ἂν ἴδῃς τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον καὶ μένον ἐπ αὐτόν, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ.  Jn. 1:33
And I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize in water, that one said to me, Upon whomever you should see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.

The infinitive βαπτίζειν expresses the purpose of πέμψας. John was sent to baptize.

 

(3) ...to complete the thought of a noun

An infinitive can also be used to complete the thought of a noun. This can be described as an appositional infinitive, an infinitive standing in apposition to another noun which it explicates. It may also be called an epexegetical infinitive.

ὅσοι δὲ ἔλαβον αὐτόν, ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι  Jn.. 1:12a
And as many as received him, he gave to them authority to become children of God

 

(4) ...as the subject of a sentence

EXAMPLE 1

ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος. Phil. 1:21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
or we could as well translate,
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

The subject of the implied copulative is ζῆν (to live = "living") with Χριστός functioning as the predicate nominative. Similarly in the second clause, The subject of the implied copulative is ἀποθανεῖν (to die = "dying") with κέρδος functioning as the predicate nominative. Notice that in this example, both infinitives are articular.
 

EXAMPLE 2

Μακάριόν ἐστιν μᾶλλον διδόναιλαμβάνειν. Ac. 20:35b
Giving is more blessed than receiving.

In contrast to the previous example, notice that in this one the infinitives are anarthrous.
 

EXAMPLE 3

τὸ δὲ καθίσαι ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἢ ἐξ εὐωνύμων οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμὸν δοῦναι  Mk. 10:40
but to sit on my right or left is not mine to give

Here we have articular καθίσαι functioning as the subject of the copulative. δοῦναι is perhaps best described as being in apposition to ἐμν, both functioning as predicate nominatives.

 

(5) ...as an object of a verb

ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου, ζηλοῦτε τὸ προφητεύειν, καὶ τὸ λαλεῖν μὴ κωλύετε γλώσσαις·  1 Co. 14:39
So then, my brethren, be zealous for prophesying, and do not forbid speaking in tongues

προφητεύειν is the direct object of ζηλοῦτε and λαλεῖν is the direct object of κωλύετε.

 

(6) ...as an object of a preposition

Again, when functioning as the object of a preposition, the fundamental idea of the infinitive can be thought of as a gerund in English. Using the verb "run" as the object of a preposition for illustration, we could say "in running," or "before running." However, in translating, we will find it desirable not to be confined to the English gerund. In the following examples, the preposition and articular infinitive functioning as its object are all in blue.

εἰς τό + infinitive

εἰς with articular infinitive is often equivalent to "for the purpose of ___ing."

EXAMPLE 1

μὴ γὰρ οἰκίας οὐκ ἔχετε εἰς τὸ ἐσθίειν καὶ πίνειν; 1 Cor. 11:22
For do you not have houses for eating and drinking?

EXAMPLE 2

καὶ σημεῖον ἔλαβεν περιτομῆς, σφραγῖδα τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐν τῇ ἀκροβυστίᾳ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν πατέρα πάντων τῶν πιστευόντων Ro. 4:11a
and he received a sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith when in uncircumcision, unto his being the father of all those who believe.

EXAMPLE 3

ὃς παρ ἐλπίδα ἐπ ἐλπίδι ἐπίστευσεν εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι αὐτὸν πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν Ro. 4:18a
who from hope against hope believed unto his becoming a father of many nations

EXAMPLE 4

Οἴδατε ὅτι μετὰ δύο ἡμέρας τὸ πάσχα γίνεται, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς τὸ σταυρωθῆναι. Mt. 26:2
You know that after two days the Passover comes, and the son of man is delivered to be crucified.

ἐν τῷ + infinitive

ἐν with articular infinitive is often an adverbial prepositional phrase indicating circumstance. In English, we can imagine that the phrase, "in the act of ____ing" could be translated  "while ____ing." Consider the following examples:

EXAMPLE 5

καὶ τελειωσάντων τὰς ἡμέρας, ἐν τῷ ὑποστρέφειν αὐτοὺς ὑπέμεινεν Ἰησοῦς ὁ παῖς ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ, καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ.  Lk. 2:43
And after the days were finished, when they were returning, Jesus the child remained in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know

EXAMPLE 6

ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ἐγένετο νεφέλη καὶ ἐπεσκίαζεν αὐτούς· ἐφοβήθησαν δὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην. Lk. 9:34
And as he was saying these things a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they feared as they entered into the cloud.

EXAMPLE 7

Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ λέγειν αὐτὸν ταῦτα ἐπάρασά τις φωνὴν γυνὴ ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Μακαρία ἡ κοιλία ἡ βαστάσασά σε καὶ μαστοὶ οὓς ἐθήλασας. Lk. 11:27
And it happened as he was saying these things a certain woman out of the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him, Blessed is the womb that has born you and the breasts which you sucked.

ἐν τῷ λέγειν, "in the saying," expresses the circumstance in which the woman lifted up her voice.

EXAMPLE 8

Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ ἐγγίζειν αὐτὸν εἰς Ἰεριχὼ τυφλός τις ἐκάθητο παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ἐπαιτῶν. Lk. 18:35
and it happened as he was approaching Jericho a certain blind man sat along the way begging

πρὸ τοῦ + infinitive

This construction can function as a temporal adverbial phrase.

EXAMPLE 9

οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὧν χρείαν ἔχετε πρὸ τοῦ ὑμᾶς αἰτῆσαι αὐτόν.  Mt. 6:8b
for your Father knows of what things you have need before you ask him

διὰ τ + infinitive

EXAMPLE 10

Ἀνέβη δὲ καὶ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐκ πόλεως Ναζαρὲθ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν εἰς πόλιν Δαυὶδ ἥτις καλεῖται Βηθλέεμ, διὰ τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐξ οἴκου καὶ πατριᾶς Δαυίδ  Lk. 2:4
And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth unto Judea unto the city of David which is called Bethlehem, on account of his being out of the house and family of David.

or we could translate,

...because he was of the house and family of David

 

The Subject of the Infinitive

Some would not be willing to speak of the infinitive as having a subject (e.g., Robertson, p. 1082f). But as Hewett notes (p. 178), we have already accepted the notion of a subject in an oblique case in genitive absolute constructions. As noted above, the subject of the infinitive will be in the accusative case. We have the same thing in English:

I paid him to paint my house.

"him" is the subject of "to paint"

I want her to buy that dress.

"her" is the subject of "to buy"

Let's look again at some of the passages we have already discussed. Consider the word με in the following:

κἀγὼ οὐκ ᾔδειν αὐτόν, ἀλλ ὁ πέμψας με βαπτίζειν ἐν ὕδατι ἐκεῖνός μοι εἶπεν, Ἐφ ὃν ἂν ἴδῃς τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον καὶ μένον ἐπ αὐτόν, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ.  Jn.. 1:33
And I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize in water, that one said to me, upon him whomever you should see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.

ὁ πέμψας με is "the one who sent me." με is the object of πέμψας and therefore is appropriately in the accusative case. However, it is the subject of the infinitive βαπτίζειν.

Watch for the the accusative subject in each of the following:

 

ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ἐγένετο νεφέλη καὶ ἐπεσκίαζεν αὐτούς· ἐφοβήθησαν δὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην. Lk. 9:34
And as he was saying these things a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they feared as they entered into the cloud.

 

Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ ἐγγίζειν αὐτὸν εἰς Ἰεριχὼ τυφλός τις ἐκάθητο παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ἐπαιτῶν. Lk. 18:35
And it happened as he was approaching Jericho a certain blind man sat along the way begging

 

οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὧν χρείαν ἔχετε πρὸ τοῦ ὑμᾶς αἰτῆσαι αὐτόν.  Mt. 6:8b
For your Father knows of what things you have need before you ask him

 

 
  Assignment for Lesson 5