7

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5 ESV)

According to this verse in the Greek is covetousness the specific reference to idolatry or would the other things like sexual immorality etc. also mentioned, be construed as idolatry as well ?

5

As far as the grammar goes, the phrase "which is idolatry" is linked only to covetousness. Of particular note is that πλεονεξίαν (covetousness) is introduced with a definite article, which Melick (NAC citing BDF, 258, 1), for instance, notes, "is found in situations where modifying clauses further define the noun." It is often noted that this echoes the thought of Mt 6:24 that one "cannot serve both God and money."

That said, most commentators recognize that Paul isn't intending merely to highlight a single member in a list, but rather to identify a root. For instance, David Pao (ZECNT) writes:

Although grammatically the phrase “which is idolatry” modifies only “covetousness,” “covetousness” reflects the motive behind all the preceding vices. Paul instructs believers to avoid the various sexual vices because they are manifestations of covetousness, a general and comprehensive vice that points to the refusal to submit to the lordship of Christ. Paul is not randomly imposing a new list of selected regulations; rather, he is calling the believers to reject their idolatrous past and to worship the one Lord of all.

Pao, D. W. (2012). Colossians and Philemon (pp. 220–221). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

It's worth pointing out that the list begins with sexual immorality (πορνεία) which has a long connection with idolatry in the Bible. As well, covetousness contains the idea not just of monetary greed, but sexual greed as well as seen in the tenth commandment's prohibition not just to covet one's neighbor's house, but neither to covet one's neighbor's wife.

Similarly, impurity has a tight connection with idolatry and sexual immorality in the Hebrew Bible. In Ezekiel's visions, as one example, the idol worship of his day defiles (makes impure) the land, the temple, and the people. In Ezekiel's vernacular, everything has been defiled by spiritual fornication. The connection of this triad and its connection to covetousness is again apparent in the parallel passages in Ephesians 5:5 (ESV):

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

So to conclude, certainly the grammar connects the word "idolatry" with only the word "covetousness". But in the mind of a first century Jewish writer like Paul, sexual immorality and impurity would have been also tightly connected with idolatry as its expressions and consequences and as part of the pagan "way of life" which the Colossians were perhaps struggling to leave behind.

3

The Idea in Brief

Unlike modern English, in Koine Greek the general relative pronoun (ὅστις, ἥτις, ὅ τι) may be attracted in case and number not to its antecedent, but to its predicate nominative. That is, in the passage of Col 3:5, the relative pronoun ἥτις ("which") is feminine singular not because πλεονεξία ("greed") is feminine singular, but because the predicate nominative εἰδωλολατρία ("idolatry") is feminine singular. The reference of "idolatry" therefore captures all the sins mentioned in Col 3:5.

Discussion

The same grammatical structure appears in the following verses, where the relative pronoun is attracted not to its antecedent, but to its predicate nominative.

1 Cor 3:17 (GrNT)
17 εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει, φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός: ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς.

  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, 
  and that is what you are. (NASB)

The relative pronoun is οἵτινές, which is masculine plural. However, the antecedent of this relative pronoun is ναὸς, which is masculine singular. Here the relative pronoun is attracted not to its antecedent, but instead to its predicate nominative ὑμεῖς, which is masculine plural.

Eph 3:13 (GrNT)
13 διὸ αἰτοῦμαι μὴ ἐγκακεῖν ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσίν μου ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, ἥτις ἐστὶν δόξα ὑμῶν.

   Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are 
   your glory. (NASB)

The relative pronoun is ἥτις, which is feminine singular. However, the antecedent of this relative pronoun is θλίψεσίν, which is feminine plural. Here the relative pronoun is attracted not to its antecedent, but instead to its predicate nominative δόξα, which is feminine singular.

1 Tim 3:15 (GrNT)
15 ἐὰν δὲ βραδύνω, ἵνα εἰδῇς πῶς δεῖ ἐν οἴκῳ θεοῦ ἀναστρέφεσθαι, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἐκκλησία θεοῦ ζῶντος, στῦλος καὶ ἑδραίωμα τῆς ἀληθείας.

   but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself 
   in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support 
   of the truth.

The relative pronoun is ἥτις, which is feminine singular. However, the antecedent of this relative pronoun is οἶκος, which is masculine singular. Here the relative pronoun is attracted not to its antecedent, but instead to its predicate nominative ἐκκλησία, which is feminine singular.

Conclusion

In summary, in Koine Greek the case and number of the general relative pronoun may reflect the case and number of the predicate nominative instead of its antecedent, which would be the case in modern English. So the accurate translation of this verse would be as follows, which captures all the sins mentioned in the verse:

Col 3:5
5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amount to idolatry.

4
  • I think maybe it would work to say "predicate nominative" instead of "predicate adjective"? (But case is usually determined by the RP's function in the clause, so it seems like this is really about number and gender.)
    – Susan
    Aug 2 '14 at 12:22
  • @Susan - did a little digging myself on this. I take it Joseph is thinking of (implied) predicates: in 1 Cor 3:17 it's "holy" (not "temple", but an adj); in Eph 3:13 it's doxa, and 1 Tim 3:15 ekklesia (predicates, but substantives i.e. "nouns", not adjectives). Robertson's A Grammar of the Greek New Testament... has some discussion of this, as will most grammars, I suppose.
    – Dɑvïd
    Aug 2 '14 at 13:20
  • @David - Thank you for the comment. You (and Susan) are right, it is not the predicate adjective but the predicate nominative. I went ahead and made the changes.
    – Joseph
    Aug 2 '14 at 14:46
  • @Susan - You are right. Thank you for the comment and suggested correction. I changed my wording to reflect "predicate nominative."
    – Joseph
    Aug 2 '14 at 14:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.