What is the meaning of the genitive absolute in Hebrews 4:3?

Hebrews 4:3 in Greek:

εἰσερχόμεθα γὰρ εἰς τὴν κατάπαυσιν οἱ πιστεύσαντες, καθὼς εἴρηκεν, Ὡς ὤμοσα ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ μου, εἰ εἰσελεύσονται εἰς τὴν κατάπαυσίν μου. καίτοι τῶν ἔργων ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου γενηθέντων·

This is how some translate it:

For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

The genitive absolute is "καίτοι τῶν ἔργων ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου γενηθέντων".

It starts with "καίτοι". Does it have the meaning of 'although', 'and yet', 'nevertheless', 'and indeed' or 'and further'? (see http://studybible.info/strongs/G2543) Which of them is fitting?

And what does "γενηθέντων" say? Does it say that the works were finished in the past or is it a gnomic aorist? Wikipedia says the following about the gnomic aorist: "A gnomic aorist [...] expresses the tendency for certain events to occur under given circumstances and is used to express general maxims." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnomic_aspect) If "γενηθέντων" says that the works are finished repeatedly under certain circumstances since the foundation of the world, it deals with the Sabbath.

And what is the clause on which the genitive absolute depends? Is it "εἰ εἰσελεύσονται εἰς τὴν κατάπαυσίν μου"? Or does it depend on more?

According to Hebrews 4:2-3 the quotation of psalm 95 "εἰ εἰσελεύσονται εἰς τὴν κατάπαυσίν μου" says that all who believe the gospel enter into the rest. Does the genitive absolute say that this quotation also refers to the works which are finished every seventh day since the foundation of the world? So is God’s rest the rest of the gospel and the Sabbath rest?

To sum up, what is the genitive absolute about and what does it say?

• Keep in mind that things like 'gnomic' aorist are are translational categories, they do not correspond to the original language - they just help us express it in English. More to follow if I have time to answer. – Dan Feb 20 '14 at 14:37

This answer is largely adapted from Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 1993. For more see pages 237ff.

The main point of this verse is to apply Psalm 95:7-11 and set the stage for the soon-to-be-quoted Genesis 2:2 in the next verse. It is helpful to consider the context:

Let us fear therefore, lest perhaps anyone of you should seem to have come short of a promise of entering into his rest. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, even as they also did, but the word they heard didn’t profit them, because it wasn’t mixed with faith by those who heard. For we who have believed do enter into that rest, even as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, they will not enter into my rest”; although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has said this somewhere about the seventh day, “God rested on the seventh day from all his works”; and in this place again, “They will not enter into my rest.” (WEB, from http://ebible.org/web/HEB04.htm)

There are several problems in interpreting this verse, not least of which is figuring out which clause γὰρ links to. But for the sake of brevity, I will only elaborate on the role of the participial/genitive absolute phrase in the context.

The placement of punctation following "καίτοι τῶν ἔργων ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου γενηθέντων" is debated. The text you quoted places a full stop after this phrase. Others place it at the end of the quotation. As you correctly observed, the meaning of "καίτοι" will affect the placement of the stop(s).

A minority perspective is to take "καίτοι" as "namely", but this has weak support given the context of other occurrences. Most likely "καίτοι" sets up the phrase as concessive ("in spite of," "although") which is the pattern that many translators follow. This also appears to be the most common way it is used elsewhere (BDAG, 2000, page 496 has great information on other uses of "καίτοι" in section delta). The clause also refers to God's works ("τῶν ἔργων"). The verses (3-5) could be viewed as a back-and-forth of statements and confirmations of those statements:

There is still a place of rest available to us
Psalm 95:11 affirms its existence.
However, God's place of rest existed from the time of creation.
This is corroborated by Genesis 2:2.
This is the same place of rest
that Psalm 95:11 was talking about.


But there's a problem with this perspective: the γάρ in verse 4 which clashes with this concessive sense of the genitive absolute phrase in verse 3. There is some (weak) textual evidence for the omission of γάρ in verse 4, so that could explain it. But if it is not excluded, it must be determined whether "καίτοι" has a positive or negative connotation if a full stop is placed at the end of verse 3.

• Positive: God excluded them from the place of rest, but it was always there and available for someone.
• Negative: God excluded them from the place of rest, although it had been there since creation.

Ellingworth thinks "the positive sense is preferable" because Psalm 95:11 "is now being interpreted as a promise rather than as a warning."

There is a lot going on in this verse and I recommend Ellingworth, pages 237ff for much more depth than I've provided. This answer is a cursory summary of his commentary with some of my own interjections.