In John 19:23, John writes εκ των ανωθεν (translated 'from the top' by KJV) in relation to Jesus' garment for which soldiers gambled.

των is genitive, since that is what the preposition εκ requires. But, remarkably, των is plural.

How should ανωθεν be translated in this place if it is plural ?

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    This seems to be referencing the weaving process. – Perry Webb Feb 24 '18 at 15:51
  • That is definitely an intriguing thought. I hope it can be expanded into a full answer. – Nigel J Feb 24 '18 at 15:51
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    ανωθεν is an adverb, so it has no gender, number, or case. Doesn't answer your question, though. – user33515 Feb 24 '18 at 17:11
  • @PerryWebb I agree, would be interested to know if your intuition accords with mine as I outlined below. – Susan Feb 24 '18 at 18:51

As mentioned in a comment, ἄνωθεν is an adverb, not a substantive (i.e. noun or adjective). Because we are not dealing with an article-substantive in a modifying relationship, we need not conjecture that ἄνωθεν is itself somehow plural, to agree with the number of the article. This is good since adverbs (as also mentioned) have no number, either semantically or syntactically.

Instead, the article is being as a substantiver. That is, the article has made the phrase τῶν ἄνωθεν into something that can be conceptualized as a "thing" (or "things" in this case). This structure is very common in Greek (though not in English). On this I will quote Dan Wallace, whose work on the article in NT Greek is well respected (bold mine):

The article can turn almost any part of speech into a noun: adverbs, adjectives, prepositional phrases, particles, infinitives, participles, and even finite verbs. As well, the article can turn a phrase into a nominal entity. This incredible flexibility is part of the genius of the Greek article.*

In the case of substavantized adverbial phrases, we often find that in English a noun is required to render an intelligible translation, even the most literal. So in John 8:23:

ὑμεῖς ἐκ τῶν κάτω ἐστέ, ἑγὼ ἐκ τῶν ἄνω εἰμί
You are from the [places] below; I am from the [places] above

This example also uses a plural article, similar to the OP's question. The number simply indicates that the implicit noun idea is plural. This is grammatically different from saying that the adverb itself has number, but the meaning is essentially that of a plural noun whose meaning can be derived from the adverb.

Another example, from Col 3:2:

τὰ ἄνω φρονεῖτε, μὴ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς
Think of the [things] above, not the [things] on the earth

Here translations use the more generic noun "things" rather than "places" because further identification is not provided by the context. Similarly we can give a literal translation of John 19:23:

ἐκ τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑφαντὸς δι᾿ ὅλου
from the [things] above, woven through all

A weaver would be better suited that I to further identify "things" in this context, but presumably something like "threads". The warp threads which are held vertically on the loom and extend "through all" the fabric only if there is no seam ("ἄραφος") strike me as the most likely candidate.

*Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 231. The examples are also courtesy of Wallace's discussion in the following pages.

  • Excellent. Thank you. Up-voted. – Nigel J Feb 24 '18 at 20:03
  • I am not suggesting it as a printable translation but would I be not too far out to have in my own mind the word 'abovely' for ανωθεν, with the understanding that it could be plural or singular, depending on context ? – Nigel J Feb 24 '18 at 20:12
  • “Other nations,” continues the historian, “make cloth by pushing the woof upwards, the Egyptians, on the contrary, press it down;” and this is confirmed by the paintings* which represent the process of manufacturing cloth; but at Thebes,† a man who is engaged in making a piece of cloth, with a coloured border or selvage, appears to push the woof upwards, the cloth being fixed above him to the upper part of the frame. Wilkinson, J. G. (1890). A popular account of the ancient Egyptians (Vol. 2, pp. 85–86). London: John Murray. – Perry Webb Feb 25 '18 at 0:35
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    @NigelJ Glad that was helpful. I'm not sure I follow what you're doing with "abovely". Both ανω and ανωθεν are adverbs from the preposition ανα, so I suppose the not-really-English way to use English words + suffixes to gloss that would be "uply" (ανω) or "from uply" (ανωθεν). But this doesn't really get us very far.... – Susan Feb 25 '18 at 3:32

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