What exactly is the difference between saying something 'to' someone ("λέγει πρὸς αὐτόν"), and simply saying something to someone ("λέγει αὐτῷ").

I read in John 2:3-4 that:

  • Mary "λέγει πρὸς αὐτόν" (Jesus) (v. 3)
  • Jesus "λέγει αὐτῇ" (Mary) (v. 4) (see v. 10 for the masculine equivalent, not that it matters—"λέγει αὐτῷ")

St. John seems to be the only one to use this language (well, relatively speaking: I found one 'hit' in Acts 21:37): 3:4; 4:15; 4:49; 6:5; 7:50, in my analysis, suggest that πρὸς is simply an intensifier, adding an undertone of concern to what they say. Almost like an exclamation mark or question mark or two (depending on the context), is to be added to what they say.

How accurate is this analysis?

  • I'm not sure I would add the phrase undertone of concern to what they said. That implies there was concern over what they said. I think it is more of an emphasis on who is speaking to whom. In some contexts there could be the idea of surprise (I used shock before) that the person was speaking to the other but not concern over what they said. Those come from the broader context and not the preposition. In John 6:5 it may also be a way to highlight that what was spoken was directed only at Philip. In 7:50 it is to emphasize that it is Nicodemus speaking to the chief priests and Pharisees. – Ken Banks Jan 12 '18 at 19:15
  • Hi, thanks for the response. When I said, a note of concern, I meant that they expressed concern (or ven doubt) themselves, not that what they said was of concern to the person necessarily. Still, however, something more 'solid' or 'definitive' as an answer is wanting, in my opinion. – Sola Gratia Jan 12 '18 at 20:19
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    I would guess that it is the difference between "say to" and "tell" in English, which are almost synonymous. "Say" and "tell" are both λέγω in Greek. I thought maybe "say" and "tell" had different origins in English, but they are both Germanic. Subconsciously we seem to have a need for the two different terms. I don't have an answer. Just some thoughts. Really interesting question. – user33515 Jan 12 '18 at 21:04
  • I highly doubt that there's any meaningful difference, since both Greek forms seem to have a perfect equivalent in Romanian, namely X a zis catre Y, and X i-a zis lui Y. – Lucian Jan 16 '18 at 2:55
  • The Romanian catre and the Greek pros both mean to(wards), as in the English speaking to someone, and telling someone. – Lucian Jan 16 '18 at 3:03

As you probably know, λέγει αὐτῷ is an example of λέγειν being used with the dative case.

Whereas in English we signify the dative case through the word "to" (e.g. "I said to him"), in Koine Greek it is almost always signified solely through the case endings of the noun following the verb. λέγει αὐτῷ is an example of this.

The verb λέγειν is a bit unusual, however, in that - similar to English - πρὸς ("to") with the accusative case (e.g. πρὸς αὐτόν) is used interchangeably with the dative case to express "speaking to" someone. An explanation of this can be found in Blass et al., A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1961), section §187(4).

Based on this, I would maintain that there is no substantial difference between the two uses.

  • This most concisely summarizes the nuance between the two. Thanks for the answer! – Sola Gratia Jan 26 '18 at 14:06

To begin with, lets discuss what they have in common. Both phrases serve as way to introduce what was spoken. In the context of John's gospel they are often part of the editorial comments that accompany the narrative. In some cases they are significant to the entire context. For example, in John 6:14 John adds an editorial comment that precedes the imperfect version of λέγω. The comment gives us the purpose of the feeding of the 5000 -- to establish that Jesus was the prophet of Deut. 18. It is also why he had them put into groups of 50 and 100, just as Moses had done in the wilderness.

What is distinctive? There is some likelihood that it is may just be a matter of the author's style. The fact that John primarily uses the phrase λέγει αὐτῷ would indicate to me that when he uses the additional preposition that there is something additional that John wanted to convey. By adding the preposition πρὸς the author can do two things at once. The author can introduce what was said, and second the author can emphasize who is being spoken to in the context. Two other well known examples are the encounter with Nicodemus in John 3 and The other is John 4 with the woman at the well. In both cases there is some surprise that person is speaking to Jesus and John wanted to emphasize that it was Jesus who they were talking to in that context. Even the example you gave of John 2, the wedding at Cana, there is the question Jesus asks Mary after her statement. In this context there is at least some shock that Mary is speaking to Jesus and John wants to emphasize that Mary was speaking to Jesus.

  • Thanks for your answer. I've edited the question somewhat; what do you think of my analysis: is it accurate? – Sola Gratia Jan 12 '18 at 18:42

It is commonly quoted that pros is a 'strengthened form of pro' but I cannot find the source of that quotation. It may be Strong.

This link here states

The root meaning of the preposition pros is “face to face.”

and the rest of the link is interesting.

It seems to me that "λέγει πρὸς αὐτόν" is more specific than "λέγει αὐτῷ". In the contexts in which it occurs, it perhaps emphasises that the words were directed exclusively to one person, rather than to any other hearers.

It would require extensive study to prove any more than this, I think, but I do wonder if there is more to the use of the wording. Perhaps it is a matter of communication between the Lord and his own ones in an intimate way. But without collating all the references extensively, that remains only a supposition.

  • I share your sentiments myself (however, I think Acts 21:37 excludes the latter part of your answer as an understanding of the preposition). However, there is still wanting some substantial linguistic treatment of the distinction in meaning. As yet all we have is—not to be offensive, rude and so forth—conjecture. Thank you for your answer! – Sola Gratia Jan 13 '18 at 17:33
  • @SolaGratia I agree. I am glad you noticed it and it is well worth pursuing some more. – Nigel J Jan 13 '18 at 17:42
  • Hmm... I think that they are two ways to say the same. One uses the dative case and the other the accusative case. – Paul Vargas Jan 18 '18 at 6:29
  • @PaulVargas Then what of the additional preposition ? – Nigel J Jan 18 '18 at 6:52
  • Certain prepositions take the accusative after them. See Wallace 205. -- By the way, that is a very common structure (verb + πρὸς + pron): ... John.1.29 John.1.47 John.3.2 John.3.4 John.3.26 John.4.15 John.4.30 John.4.40 John.4.47 John.4.49 John.6.5 John.6.17 John.7.50 John.8.33 John.10.41 John.11.15 John.11.29 John.19.3 John.19.39 ... – Paul Vargas Jan 18 '18 at 18:50

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