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Is the gospel “about” Jesus or proclaimed “by” Jesus? (Mark 1:1)

There is a distinction between two uses of the genitive case that is especially important. When Mark introduces his gospel by writing “gospel of Jesus Christ” (εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), does he mean that Jesus proclaims the gospel or that Jesus is the content of the gospel?

This is the distinction between a subjective and objective genitive. If a word is a subjective genitive (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), it is the subject of the action implied by the word it is modifying (εὐαγγελίου) and therefore produces the action. It is the gospel that Jesus proclaims.

If a word is an objective genitive, it is the object of the action implied by the word it is modifying and therefore receives the action. The gospel proclaims Jesus.

I tend to use the keywords “produces” and “receives” to help me make this distinction. Does Jesus produce the proclamation the gospel? In other words, Jesus proclaims the gospel (subjective). Or, does Jesus receive the proclamation of the gospel? In other words, the gospel is about him (objective).

I know it might sound a little strange to think of a noun as having action, but these nouns are called “verbal nouns.” The simple way to decide if a noun is a verbal noun or not is if it has a cognate verb. In this case, the noun εὐαγγέλιον has a cognitive verb εὐαγγελίζω, which is generally listed as a deponent verb εὐαγγελίζομαι. So εὐαγγέλιον is a verbal noun.

Sometimes it is not an “either/or” situation but a “both/and.” Cranfield comments, “We take it therefore that the basic idea in εὐαγγέλιον here is that of the announcement of good news by Jesus ( Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ subjective genitive). But Jesus was not only the herald of good tidings; he was also himself the content of the good tidings he announced, as every section of Mark is eloquent to proclaim.... Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ is best explained as a subjective genitive; but an objective genitive is in fact implicit here.” In this case, we classify the genitive as a “plenary” genitive.

You can see me work through this verse in today’s Greek Verse of the Day.


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