Luke 2:2 in the King James Version says,

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

However, the original Greek text says,

αὕτη ἡ ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου

Which is, being translated word for word,

This the taxing (or enrollment) first (or before) was made Cyrenius governor of Syria's.

The text of the King James Version interprets the text inordinately, I believe, by adding the word "when" before "Cyrenius" and "was" before "governor of Syria". Cyrenius' name is also in the genitive, not the nominative case.

Could the text perhaps be translated, "This taxng was made before Cyrenius, governor of Syria's"? I doubt this because πρώτη (which usually means first and not before) comes before ἐγένετο; however, this is the only translation that seems to make any sense.

Thank you.

  • In Latin his name is in the ablative case(of time); 'when' is therefore accurate in this context. In Greek, the same genitive is used in Luke 3:1. – user21676 Aug 2 '18 at 19:30
  • @user21676 Thank you for this informaton. I see what you mean about Luke 3:1. However, how can the addition of the extra "was" be ezplained? – CMK Aug 3 '18 at 2:03

A more slavishly literal translation might be "this first taxing happened of the governing of Syria of Cyrenius." The translation "when Cyrenius was governor of Syria" is just better English with the same meaning. This is called absolute construction (in this case genitive absolute); you can look there for more examples.

The KJV translation is usually consistent in this translation for this kind of sentence. Looking through the chapter, I found these participles which the KJV translates in the same way: ἰδόντες and when they had seen (v. 17), καὶ τελειωσάντων and when they had fulfilled (v. 43), καὶ μὴ εὑρόντες and when they found him not (v. 45), καὶ ἰδόντες and when they saw (v. 48).

πρώτη here seems to mean "first," not "before" as you suggest, because it agrees with the gender of αὕτη ἡ ἀπογραφὴ, so it seems to be an adjective modifying ἀπογραφὴ.

  • The examples from vvs. 17, 45, 48 are not genitive absolute. – fdb Aug 3 '18 at 22:25
  • Could πρώτη be modifying Συρίας, the next noun in the sentence? (also feminine singular). In other words, before...Syria of Quirinius or, more colloquially in English, "before Quirinius was running Syria". – Hold To The Rod Mar 12 at 5:52
  • @HoldToTheRod No, because πρώτη is nominative and Συρίας is genitive – b a Mar 12 at 12:11
  • Yeah that's what I'm trying to make sense of. πρώτης would be expected for genitive, right, but in Acts 16:12 it's πρώτη, and it's listed as genitive here biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/16.htm and here laparola.net/greco/… ; compound that with this comment on the grammar by NT Wright answering-islam.org/BibleCom/lk2-2.html and I'm wondering if both interpretations are legit possibilities – Hold To The Rod Mar 13 at 2:52
  • @HoldToTheRod 1) It's a mistake in tagging. In πρώτη τῆς μερίδος Μακεδονίας πόλις, the word πρώτη agrees with πόλις. There is a variant text in Acts with πρώτης which would be genitive, but if the text is πρώτη it's nominative. 2) Wright's comment is protos came sometimes to be used to mean 'before', when followed (as this is) by the genitive case" i.e. the first noun after πρώτη is genitive. He isn't saying that πρώτη itself is genitive – b a Mar 13 at 17:11

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