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Prepositions can be such a pain - Rom 8:9 (Monday with Mounce 140)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceI don’t know about you, but prepositions can be such a pain. It is strange to think that something that is so often ambiguous could have been created for clarity.

I remember writing about this several months ago. In the course of the Greek language, there was so much ambiguity to the case system that prepositions were created to bring clarity. But through the centuries, it appears that many (not all) of the prepositions picked up some of the same ambiguity as the cases they were meant to clarify. Just think of ἐν and the dative.

ἐπί has got to be the strangest of all. A simple glance over the article on επί in BDAG shows a breadth of meaning that one wonders if it means anything at all.

A.M. Hunter’s first doctoral dissertation was on Greek prepositions. That is how important and confusing they can be. And I am excited to see Murray Harris' upcoming book, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament (October, 2012, from Zondervan).

My musings come from reading Rom 8:9. “You, however, are not in the flesh (ἐν σαρκί) but in the Spirit (ἐν πνεύματι), if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (ESV). Notice the lack of the article in the Greek, which only adds to the confusion. A simple “in flesh” and “in spirit” isn’t English (I can’t find any translations that don’t include “the”), and could mistakenly lead someone to see “spirit” as the human spirit.

Hence the NIV’s attempt to clarify the confusing preposition and dative. “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.”

And of course the NLT. “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.” The New Jerusalem Bible is especially interesting. “You, however, live not by your natural inclinations, but by the Spirit, since the Spirit of God has made a home in you.”

The only way to live in the realm of the Holy Spirit is to have the Holy Spirit live within you. To not live in the Spirit’s realm is to not belong to Christ.

MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIVLearn more and visit Bill's other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at

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