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Greeting! I was having a discussion bout John 17:5 and someone pointed out that εἶναι is articular because of the accusative article closest to that word. Someone else then defined the following article that has the genitive to present a new clause, i.e., the one starting with the accusative article.

I guess that would make "the glory I had" follow "being with you" separated with "before the world" rather than "before the world was" since the verb "was is the articular infinitive, and not just a past tense verb.

I therefore would translate this part of the verse as "the glory I had, being with you, before the world"

My question is really a request for guidance in regards to the grammar of this part of the verse, concerning which grammar I am a novice.

Many thanks

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The articular infinitive is fun, isn’t it? This may be the most common construction in the Koine Greek that is has no real English equivalent. I’m a little confused about the way the sentence was parsed by your friends in the first paragraph, but I’ll explain it as I understand it and perhaps that will be helpful.

The verse:

καὶ νῦν δόξασόν με σύ, πάτερ, παρὰ σεαυτῷ τῇ δόξῃ ᾗ εἶχον πρὸ τοῦ τὸν κόσμον εἶναι παρὰ σοί.

The part in bold contains three elements:

  1. a preposition (πρὸ = before);
  2. a genitive articular infinitive (genitive article = τοῦ; infinitive = εἶναι = “to be”); and
  3. an accusative articular noun (accusative article = τὸν; accusative noun = κόσμον = “world”).

This is a form of temporal adverbial clause. The construction prep. + gen. art. inf. (1. + 2.) is usually translated “before + finite verb”. The accusative noun nearby (3. – here, confusingly for the English speaker, introjected between the article and the infinitive it modifies), can function as the subject or object of the verbal idea. The copula εἶναι doesn’t take an accusative object, so "τὸν κόσμον” is the semantic subject of the idea contained in the infinitive. The basic translation of the bolded part, then, is:

before the world was

The sounds a bit odd in English without a predicate, so it’s often re-stated:

before the world existed

The final prepositional phrase hanging onto the end of the sentence παρὰ σοί (“with you”) is also modifying the finite verb (“I had”). So we have:

the glory that I had with you before the world existed

The translation you offer:

the glory I had, being with you, before the world

isn’t substantially different in meaning as far as I can see. However, the “to be” verb is really part of the adverbial clause with the subject, “the world”. It is misplaced in this translation.

Please note that word order is almost irrelevant in this analysis. I think that may have been what threw you off. The syntax is determined by a very well-defined collection of elements (1. + 2. + 3. above). We re-arrange the words in English however we need to in order to convey the idea.


A discussion of this construction can probably be found in any introductory or reference grammar. Two examples:
1. Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1996), p. 590ff.
2. Smyth, Herbert Weir. Greek Grammar for Colleges. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918), §2032.

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  • Thank you Susan, yes, it IS fun :) May I ask? 1- Why would the point be to put an art inf there if it is to be taken just as a finite? Why not put an finite verb in the 1st place? 2- You say "that the action of the inf phrase occurs after the action of the controlling verb. Is it because the sentence includes "before" or for another reason (grammatical?) 3- What do you make of the gen article & how it affects the sentence? (I understand that it makes εἶναι articular, but I don't see the point of making it so and therefore its presence). 4- Cannot εἶναι take the gerund? Thank you so much! Jun 28 '15 at 19:51
  • @BibleTranslangual And welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics, by the way! 1) One might equally ask why we can’t express that in English using a non-finite verb. ;-) It is, after all, a "nominal" concept, the object of the preposition. The English infinitive just isn't as versatile. We tend use a finite verb, a separate lexeme, or a gerund: "before the existence of the world" or "before the being of the world” would convey the same idea. 2) Yes, just the semantics of πρὸ = before. I think that's me echoing Wallace (ref. 1) making things more complicated than they need to be. Removed that part.
    – Susan
    Jun 28 '15 at 22:25
  • (cont.) 3) The article "substavantizes" the infinitive + marks its case. "The point" is just that this is how the language works. An temporal adverbial idea with πρὸ is expressed using a genitive articular infinitive. There's no anarthrous (= no article) option. 4) Gerund is an English(/Latin) thing, but participle it can be ("take" - that too, but here there's no other verb), neut. gen. s. ὄντος. When "nominalized" it becomes concrete - "the one/thing being" rather than conceptual "the being [of the world]" - just not what this says. If you want to talk more, please stop by Biblical Hermeneutics Chat.
    – Susan
    Jun 28 '15 at 22:51
  • Thank you so much Susan, you've helped more than you think and I really appreciate. I guess I have much to assess in regards to my Greek :). You've been great! Thank you again. Jun 29 '15 at 17:39

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