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Greek text of Heb. 1:2 according to Textus Receptus (Estienne, 1550):

ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων δι᾽ οὗ καὶ τοὺς αἰῶνας ἐποίησεν

What is the significance of the word υἱῷ being anarthrous?

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1 Answer 1

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Short Answer: It's Significance Leads to some Ambiguity in Focus

There are two pertinent syntactical factors here1

First, Daniel Wallace notes, nouns as objects of prepositions (ἐν here) are a case where regularly definiteness is inherent even though the article is lacking. Here is his statement, but then note what is in the midst of this about Heb 1:2...

There is no need for the article to be used to make the object of a preposition definite. However, this is not to say that all prepositional objects are definite. An anarthrous noun as object of a preposition is not necessarily definite. It is often qualitative (e.g., ὑιῷ in Heb 1:2, mentioned above), or even occasionally indefinite (cf. μετὰ γυναικὸς ἐλάλει—"he was speaking with a woman" [John 4:27]). Thus, when a noun is the object of a preposition, it does not require the article to be definite: if it has the article, it must be definite; if it lacks the article, it may be definite. The reason for the article, then, is usually for other purposes (such as anaphora or as a function marker).

So second, Wallace believes the anarthrous use here in Heb 1:2 is to express qualitative purposes. The note he refers to as "mentioned above" regarding Heb 1:2 is this:

Although this should probably be translated "a Son" (there is no decent way to express this compactly in English), the force is clearly qualitative (though, of course, on the continuum it would be closer to the indefinite than the definite category). The point is that God, in his final revelation, has spoken to us in one who has the characteristics of a son. His credentials are vastly different from the credentials of the prophets (or from the angels, as the following context indicates).

His note about "on the continuum" is in reference to an image in his book showing the three ways anarthrous nouns can function, with overlap of qualitative at each end of the spectrum to the other two:

enter image description here

Here is Wallace's statement about what qualitative is:

A qualitative noun places the stress on quality, nature, or essence. It does not merely indicate membership in a class of which there are other members (such as an indefinite noun), nor does it stress individual identity (such as a definite noun). It is akin to a generic noun in that it focuses on the kind. Further, like a generic, it emphasizes class traits. Yet, unlike generic nouns, a qualitative noun often has in view one individual rather than the class as a whole.

Wallace seems to not be following his own ideas here. Note the last statement again, "unlike generic nouns, a qualitative noun often has in view one individual rather than the class as a whole," and yet of the Heb 1:2 passage, he stated in the second quote above that "it would be closer to the indefinite than the definite category" (which is then emphasizing class, not individual!).

Further Analysis Leading More to Definiteness

The problem is that as a "class," the individual Christ is one of a kind. That means all the qualitative aspects merge and are expressed only in one individual, and thus point to someone very definite. After all, there is no other "son" δι᾽ οὗ καὶ τοὺς αἰῶνας ἐποίησεν ("through whom also He made the worlds," NKJV), as v.2 itself notes.

So at the very least, Wallace (in my opinion) should have hedged his qualitative argument toward the definite side of the continuum. But I myself would lean toward agreement with the many translations that insert "His" before "son" (KJV, ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, etc.), which are correctly making it into a very definite reference (i.e. that the qualitative is not in view as much as the specific individual). The whole context of Heb 1:1-2:8 is leading up to the naming of this son in 2:9, "Jesus," which is a very definite reference. And again, the qualities noted in those verses are only true of this One "son," so the definite identity is not distinguishable into a "class" of individual different from this "specific" individual.

So the conclusion then is that being anarthrous is not really very significant, because clearly there is only one definite individual being noted here.


1 Quotations taken from the discussion in Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999), 243-247.

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funny you answered in the way which i said would not be a bible based interpretation then you mixed it up and said your initial response was wrong?...i think your answer is a little mixed up in general –  user2134 May 7 '14 at 3:39
@caseyr547: You misread my answer. What I did is discussed the answer Daniel Wallace (a very respected Greek scholar) gave in his book; then I evaluated the text in light of the principles Wallace gives for Greek syntax, and came to a conclusion different (and somewhat opposite) from Wallace. So the first part is not "my initial response" at all, it is analyzing what someone else's response is. –  ScottS May 7 '14 at 9:22
again you present an answer then you reevaluate and come to a diffierent conclusion you should summerize at the begining your exact thoughts rather than saving it for the end. –  user2134 May 7 '14 at 21:13

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