The Definite Article in Greek

Brother Lipscomb: I see an article in the Baptist, Volume XI, No. 11, page 327, headed “The,” in which it is said that Rom. 3:1 should read “the circumcision.” On Romans 3:4 it says that “our translators have inserted ‘the’ before ‘law,’ making the passage refer to some particular law, moral or ceremonial, when it is not in the original text.” Further on it says: “It is by works of law, any law — moral, ceremonial, or ecclesiastical — and, therefore, not by baptism, as the law of pardon.” Now, I want to know if this champion, who fears none and debates with all (except Brethren Brents and Swee­ney), is correct in his rendering, or does he not make void the truth of the gospel by trying to establish a human-made plan of salvation?

The writer in the Baptist is not the first to discover a wonderful “mare’s-nest” in the use of the Greek article with the term law. Several of our learned brethren about Lexington, Kentucky some years ago advanced the same idea in reference to its use. They only made a different application of it. It is likely the editor of the Baptist borrowed the mistake from them, as he has but little originality of thought. There is nothing in it. Mr. Griffin presented the same idea in a discussion we held with him. The use of the article in Greek is a very indefinite matter, and is oftener used or not used for the sake of euphony than on any other grounds. Take, for instance, this sentence. The article is attached in Greek to the word circumcision, but it does not necessarily mean the Jews. The article is attached to the word God in the next verse. Does this mean some particular god among many gods? The term God is frequently used in the same sense without the article attached. In verse 5 the word God is twice used. It refers to the same great Jehovah in both instances. In the first instance it has no article; in the second the article is attached. It is simply a matter of sound. Following some words, the term God would be harsh and difficult of calling. Then the article is used to give a soft and flowing style, easily pronounced. This use or non-use of the article is common in the New Testament with reference to the term God, the term law, and various other terms.

Our brother evidently misquotes his reference to the use of the article with law; but we give an example to show that the article is used or absented even when the Mosaic law is referred to: “The law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the law?” (Gal. 3:17-­19.) Now, there is a distinct reference to the law of Moses given four hundred and thirty years after the promise made to Abraham; but there is no article connected with it, either in verses 17 or 18. In verse 19 the article is connected with it. In verse 21 it is used again with the article first, afterwards in the same verse without the article. No sane man can doubt that all these refer to one and the same law. It shows conclusively that the article is used for other purposes than distinguishing between a specific law and law in general. The article did not occupy precisely the same office in Greek that it does in English. The pronominal adjective fills this office.

 David Lipscomb


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