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Paul uses the word νόμος 14 times in Galatians 3:

verse Greek
v2 ἐξ ἔργων νόμου
v5 ἐξ ἔργων νόμου
v10 (twice) ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ... τοῦ νόμου
v11 ἐν νόμῳ
v12 δὲ νόμος
v13 τοῦ νόμου
v17 μετὰ τετρακόσια καὶ τριάκοντα ἔτη γεγονὼς νόμος
v18 ἐκ νόμου
v19 ὁ νόμος
v21 (twice) οὖν νόμος ... νόμος
v23 ὑπὸ νόμον
v24 ὁ νόμος

The article is present universally except:

  1. The second use in v21, commonly translated "a law"
  2. Whenever a preposition is present

Does the absence of an article (aside from v21) imply that Paul is intentionally being less definite (ie perhaps conveying some more general sense of 'law' than 'The Law of Moses') or is there some rule in Koine about dropping the article when there is a preposition?

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    Romans 3:21 "but now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested". Paul did not place the definite article with "nomas" (law). This means he is not speaking specifically of "the Old Testament Law", but rather "apart from the law method, the righteousness of God has now been manifested". All through this context, Paul uses the definite article to speak of "the" old testament law itself, and the lack of the article to speak of the "law method" of attempting to be righteous. Anarthrous nouns.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 24, 2022 at 17:22
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    '... less definite ...' : The article in Greek does not equate to the 'definite article' in English. There are conceptual differences. The anaphoric article is the article denoting previous reference. The first mention of the substantive is usually anarthrous. See Greek Article.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 24, 2022 at 17:27
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    The article in Greek vs English has a different function and has different grammatical rules. The answer to this question has little to do with "a law" vs "the law". There is an entire chapter in "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics" concerning the Greek article.
    – Dottard
    Dec 24, 2022 at 20:16
  • Not such rule in Greek exists - the presence of absence of the article is controlled by a series of other ules
    – Dottard
    Dec 26, 2022 at 21:42
  • How an article makes a prepositional phrase into a noun . . . . by Bill Mounce.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 27, 2022 at 7:38

2 Answers 2

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This question has been interesting to research and has given me more insight into Galatians chapter 3, so I thank the OP for presenting it.


On page 231 of his book 'Beyond the Basics' (in the middle of no less than eighty-five pages of discussion on this very subject) Daniel B Wallace presents a flow chart which plots how to discover, in any particular context, how the Greek article is being used, under six headings : Simple Identification, Generic, Deictic, Monadic, Abstract, Par Excellence, Well-Known and Anaphoric.

I thoroughly recommend a study of the subject as the article is a very important factor in the translation of Greek into (particularly) English, since English (unlike both Hebrew and Greek) insists on having both a 'definite article' and an 'indefinite article' the latter causing all sorts of problems, conceptually.

I would point out just two simple issues, firstly, that the article names a concept by using a 'label' (which we call a 'noun') and in Greek often introduces that concept anarthrously (without an article) thereafter locating that concept (as the one previously identified) by using the article anaphorically. This makes abundant sense when we realise that the article is a development of the demonstrative pronoun ('this''that''these'those' etc).

And I would point out, secondly, that the article may be present in locating (not 'defining') either the whole body of Christ 'the church' or may locate a representative portion of the whole, 'the church', referring, say, to the church in Corinth.

Definitions are either taken for granted (by using a well known noun) or by discussion within the context of the text.

Locate - not define . . . . the whole or a representative part.


It seems to me that Paul uses the word 'law' without article in three places, first, making it clear that law as such (all law, any law, absolute law) is

    1. Not worked by the Spirit already received (verse 2)
    1. Not worked by He who supplies that Spirit (verse 5)
    1. Puts all who work under it - under a curse (verse 10)

Paul, having introduced the universal concept of law anaphorically then locates that law - by directing the reader to 'the book of that law'. And he advises, anyone who wishes to proceed with working that, that they must attend to 'all things which have been written in that book' . . . . to do them.

For the book of the law is the book that (and that only) fully expresses the obligations incumbent on any person wishing to justify themselves by legal means. No other inferior representation of law will adequately express the absolute requirements of law as such.


Paul then returns to law (no article, anarthrous) as such, law in its essence, law absolutely as a concept, and states, categorically and absolutely, that in law (or by law) it is manifestly apparent that nobody is justified with God for . . .

    1. The just shall live by faith (verse 10)
    1. That law (article, anaphoric) is not of faith (verse 12)
    1. The one who works these things shall live by them (verse 12)
    1. Christ has ransomed us from the curse of that law (article, anaphoric) having become curse for us (verse 13)

There are eight more references to law, five being anarthrous and three being anaphoric and I leave them to be discovered according to the above principles and according to Daniel B Wallace's explanations on pp55-206 of 'Beyond the Basics'.

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  • So the lack of article whenever a preposition is present is coincidental? Also am I missing hte article in v11 or are you using a different Greek text? "ὅτι δὲ ἐν νόμῳ οὐδεὶς δικαιοῦται παρὰ τῷ θεῷ δῆλον, ὅτι ὁ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται·". "ὅτι" is pretty much always translated something like 'evidently' - but it seems you are calling it an article-like use of 'that', do I read you correctly? Dec 27, 2022 at 11:58
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    @JackDouglas I have edited for clarity. I was referring to v12. Prepositions almost always command verb cases; I have commented on the article affecting preposition clauses. I am not aware that prepositions affect the use of the article within a prepositional clause.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 27, 2022 at 12:13
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  1. There is no rule about article and prepositions. To know that you can simply search for a preposition and an article to see various references.
  2. The phrase without article by no means mean less definite. The article is not required for monadic nouns like 'the Sun, the Law'.

You can find scholars saying that it is fine to translate it as "the law" when it appears without article (anarthrous). Though the article makes the noun more definite, you don't need to keep repeating the article to remind it is definite, when the topic or context is certain that you are referring to a specific law, and when you are already & naturally using various instances of it with the article (the law). The Greek doesn't have a definite and indefinite article (however there's an indefinite pronoun any). Rodney Decker writes in Reading Koine Greek:

There is no such thing as a definite article in Greek—only an article that may or may not express definiteness. Likewise, the lack of an article is not necessarily an expression of indefiniteness but may express a qualitative meaning or some other nuance.

(Gal 3:21b) εἰ γὰρ ἐδόθη νόμος ὁ δυνάμενος ζῳοποιῆσαι

Your question seems to be asking the same doubt I had on the verse Gal 3:21b translation if A law, (I will post a detailed answer to that question in future). I had to learn Greek to verify the doubts and concluded that I was right; the translations are gravely wrong. Thorough background knowledge is necessary to translate a text, in this case, the Romans could interpret the verse as Paul saying that the law could never give life (this is a recurring and common doubt that many face, based on translation issue). However, a Jew would find such a statement blasphemous, as Paul himself condemned every offensive hypothetical charge against the law in his letters.

The case reveals why you should never let foreigners translate a text or scripture of which they have zero knowledge. The Romans had no problem accepting a deceptive, lying god, playing and fooling his chosen nation for centuries and punishing them for a useless fake law. The reformation rebellion further refined the same old theology of the Romans, where Luther was not apologetic in his view about following a lawless god. He barely tried to balance and rationalize his doctrine with the holy nature of God & his laws. Just like the Islamic god, he is so merciful that he abandons justice, rather, here the concept of law and justice turns out to be an illusion, there was never justice with God to begin with.

There are a few reason which exposes the error in the translation. The most important indication is that the participle (being able) with article clearly has the conditional force. The conditional statement is not asking whether a law was given, but whether the law that was given is able to give life. To accept that the question is about 'given' means that either Paul forgot the Moses law, or that the law was always dead and incapable. Both of the possibilities are absurd considering Paul being a righteous Pharisee and lover of the law and God. Some commentators realize the sense of the conditional statement, yet they translate the law as indefinite, following the traditional translations. As if a veil of blindness remains on their faces. Bengel's Gnomen comments:

The conditional force does not fall upon was given, for the law was certainly given, but upon was able (could have).—ὁ δυνάμενος, that was able) The article shows that the emphasis is on δύναμαι.

The second evidence is the absence of indefinite pronoun τις (any/some). An indefinite pronoun was necessary if Paul was really asking if any law was given. The proper translation of that verse is:
If the law that was given is able to give life.

The traditional disastrous error was a result of not only lack of knowledge of Greek but the Jewish theology that considers God honest, consistent, faithful and perfect. You don't need to know Greek to find issue with that translation, and you can also reject such translation issues without knowing Greek, based on your spiritual conviction, immediate context and for the overall theological harmony of the scripture or religion.

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