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Uses of the Genitive Case
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How to Decide Why a Noun is Genitive

If you want to keep it simple, and all you need is a possible translation for a genitive noun in Greek, just insert the word of before the noun.  But if you want to dig deeper for a more precise explanation of the way a genitive is being used, here are the steps to take.

Step One:  If there is a preposition in front of the genitive noun, look up the meaning of the preposition.  The word is genitive because that particular preposition demands a genitive after it.  You don't need to look for a more complicated explanation.

Step Two:  If there is no preposition before the word, consider one of the following possible uses:

  • Possession - "something which belongs to ____"

          The first noun is the property of the genitive noun.

          Example:  Matthew 26:51 -- "the slave which belongs to the high priest."

  • Relationship - "someone who was the son of ____"
This involves the names of two people, one of which is genitive, as in "James, of Alphaeus."  It shows family relationship, usually father/son, but can occasionally refer to a brother or other close relative.  You have to add the words "son of."
Example:  Mark 2:14 - "Levi, son of Alphaeus."
  • Adverbial -- Some genitive nouns give information about the action of the verb rather than another noun, so they are called adverbial genitives.
1.  Time - "[verb] which happened at [time in genitive]"
It tells what time an act occurred; it emphasizes this time as opposed to some other time.  It is not trying to locate a certain point of time (that would be dative) or giving the duration of an action (that would be accusative).
Example:  John 3:2 - "This one came to him at night."

2.  Place - "[verb] which happened at [place in genitive]"
It shows that an action took place in a particular place rather than some other place.
Example:  Luke 16:24 - "that he might dip the tip of his finger in water (rather than somewhere else)."
3.  Reference - "[adjective] with reference to the subject of ____"
It is used to show what subject the idea of an adjective can cover.
Example: Hebrews 3:12 - "a heart evil with reference to unbelief"
  •  Verbal genitives - When a genitive is linked with a noun that describes some kind of action, like "preaching, blasphemy, revelation," there are two special possibilities of usage:
1.  Subjective genitive - "[verbal noun] which was done by ____"
If you turned the verbal noun into an actual verb, then a subjective genitive tells what the subject of that verb would be.  For example, in "the preaching of men," it would imply that the men preached.
Example: Acts 1:22 - "the baptism of [done by] John."
2.  Objective genitive - "[verbal noun] of which the object was ____"
The genitive noun tells you the direct object of the action described by the verbal noun.
Example:  John 3:10 - "the teacher of Israel" [the one who teaches Israel]
Example:  Matthew 12:31 - "the blasphemy of the Spirit [the act of blaspheming the Spirit].
  •  Apposition - "____ which is ____"
The genitive noun is simply another name for the noun to which it is linked.
Example:  "the city of Chicago" [the city which is Chicago]
Example:  John 2:21 - "the temple which is his body."
  • Partitive - "[fraction] of [the whole]"
When a noun gives a fraction or portion of something, it is often followed by a genitive that tells you the whole from which the fraction comes.
Example:  "part of an apple"
Example: Mark 6:23 - "half of my kingdom"
  • Genitive Absolute - This is a complicated usage, which deserves a separate section of its own.
  • Direct Object - There are certain verbs that always take a genitive noun rather than an accusative as their direct object.

The following uses are sometimes called ablative uses:

  • Separation -  "____ away from ____"
The first noun is described as separated from or moved away from the genitive noun.
Example:  "I took the doll away from the child."
Example:  Ephesians 2:12 - "alienated from the commonwealth of Israel."
  • Source - "____ which has ___ as its source."
The genitive noun is the source of the other noun; in some way it is responsible for its existence.
Example:  Romans 4:13 - "through the righteousness from faith.:
Example: 2 Corinthians 4:7 - "that the excellency of the power may be from God."
  • Comparison - "[comparative adjective] than ____"
Genitive is sometimes used after comparative adjectives or adverbs like "better, smaller, hairier" to tell what they are compared to.
Example:  John 13:16 - "a servant is not greater than his lord."

Step Three - If your passage doesn't really fit any of these uses, it is what grammarians call a "genitive of description."  This is a generic category which merely means that the genitive describes the other noun in one way or another.
Example:  "a basket of grapes" - "the arm of flesh"
Example:  Mark 1:4 - "baptism of repentance."

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