The Greek infinitive appears 2,291 times in the pages of the NT, performing a broad range of semantic functions.[1] In his introductory Greek grammar William D. Mounce highlights five main ways in which the Greek infinitive may be used: (1) as a substantive, (2) as a complementary infinitive, (3) as an articular infinitive preceded by a preposition, (4) as indicating purpose, and (5) as expressing a result.[2] Few would dispute these five categories as basic to the structure and semantic function of the infinitive. The Greek infinitive appears in these basic categories at multiple points throughout the NT.

            However, while it may be helpful for first year students of biblical Greek to conceptualize the infinitive in terms of the categories suggested by Mounce, students pursuing an advanced understanding of the infinitive soon realize that its usage in the NT far exceeds these five basic functions. For example, in his advanced level grammar Daniel B. Wallace discusses the infinitive in terms of both its structural categories and semantic categories. In his section covering the semantic categories, Wallace highlights the adverbial, substantival, and independent uses of the infinitive, identifying thirteen semantic categories in all: purpose, result, time (including antecedent, contemporaneous, and subsequent), cause, means, complementary, subject, direct object, indirect discourse, appositional, epexegetical, imperatival, and absolute.[3]

            Many of these various usages of the infinitive may be found in two NT epistles of approximate length, the epistles of Philippians and James. The purpose of this essay is to examine the use of the infinitive in these two ancient letters in order to understand how two different NT authors addressing different audiences in different contexts employ the Greek infinitive within a comparatively equal amount of literary space. There are 104 verses and four chapters in Philippians, and 108 verses and five chapters in James. How does Paul’s use of the infinitive in Philippians compare with James’ use? In order to move toward an answer to this question I will survey of the use of the infinitive in both letters respectively. Both surveys are organized first according to the broad structural categories of the infinitive (anarthrous and articular). Within these broad structural categories each I will highlight the various semantic categories represented in each epistle.[4] Following the two surveys I will present a comparative summary of the use of the infinitive in each epistle, giving attention to four noteworthy points about how Paul and James employ the infinitive in their letters.

THE USE OF THE INFINITIVE IN PHILIPPIANS

            The infinitive occurs 39 times in the epistle to the Philippians. Of these 39 occurrences, 23 occur without the article and sixteen occur with the article. Although Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of the apostle’s shorter letters, his use of the infinitive in the span of its four chapters is quite diverse. Of the thirteen semantic categories for the infinitive in the NT identified by Wallace, ten occur in Philippians.

            The largest semantic category of anarthrous infinitives in Philippians is the indirect discourse infinitive. The explanation of this category given by James L. Boyer is helpful: “When an infinitive stands as the object of a verb of mental perception or communication and expresses the content or the substance of the thought or of the communication it is classified as being in indirect discourse.”[5] Paul uses the anarthrous infinitive this way in thirteen places in Philippians (1:17, 2:25, 3:4, 3:8, 3:13, 4:2, 4:11, and six times in 4:12).

The next largest category of anarthrous infinitives in Philippians is the complementary infinitive, used four times (1:12, 2:19, 2:23, 3:21). An example of this usage may be found in Phil 1:12 where Paul states that he wants the Philippians “to know” (γινώσκειν) that what has happened to him has really served to advance the gospel.[6] In addition to the complementary infinitive Paul uses the anarthrous infinitive of result three times in this epistle (1:13 and twice in 1:14). A clear example of this usage may be recognized in 1:13 where the apostle uses ὥστε with the infinitive γενέσθαι to indicate that his imprisonment has served to advance the gospel “so that it has become clear to the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” [7] Wallace notes that the use of ὥστε with the infinitive is “the most frequent structure for result infinitive” in the NT.[8]

Paul uses the anarthrous subject infinitive twice in Philippians (1:7, 3:1). A clear instance of this usage occurs in 3:1 where Paul indicates that “to write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Replacing the infinitive phrase with X shows clearly that γράφειν in 3:1 is a subject infinitive: “X is no hassle.”[9]

One more anarthrous infinitive occurs in 3:16 where Paul implores the Philippians, “Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (πλὴν εἰς ἐφθάσαμεν, τῳ αὐτῳ στοιχεῖν). The infinitive στοιχεῖν here is one of the very rare instances in the NT in which the infinitive functions like an imperative. Wallace identifies only two others, both of which appear in Rom 12:15. He suggests that the appearance in Phil 3:16 more resembles a hortatory subjunctive than an imperative, but he classifies it as an imperatival infinitive nonetheless and translates “let us walk.”[10]

            The largest semantic category of articular infinitives in Philippians is the subject infinitive, occurring four times (twice in 1:21, 1:22, 1:24).[11] Wallace cites both articular infinitives in 1:21 (τὸ ζῆν and τὸ ἀποθανεῖν) as subject infinitives and uses this verse as an example in the “key to identification” section of his discussion of the subject infinitive. However, he also suggests that these infinitives could be translated as gerunds: “living is Christ and dying is gain.”[12]

Although the direct object infinitive apart from instances in indirect discourse is rare in the NT, the articular direct object infinitive appears four times in Philippians (2:6, 2:13 [2x], 4:10).[13] Wallace recognizes τὸ εἶναι in the Christ hymn of 2:6, where Paul indicates that Christ Jesus, “did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited,” as an example of a direct object infinitive in an object-compliment construction. In this case the infinitive is the object and ἁρπαγμόν is the compliment. Wallace also categorizes both infinitives in 2:13 as direct object infinitives as Paul assures the Philippians that the one producing both “the willing” (τὸ θέλειν) and “the doing” (τὸἐνεργεῖν) in them is God.[14]

Paul uses the articular infinitive of purpose three times in Philippians (1:10, 1:23, 3:10). In 1:10 the appearance of the governing preposition είς with the articular infinitive τὸ δοκιμάζειν clearly indicates purpose as Paul prays that the love of the Philippians may aboundso that they “might approve what is excellent, and be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”[15] Young identifies τοῦ γνῶναι in 3:10 is an infinitive of purpose as Paul aims “to know” Christ and the power of his resurrection and the partnership of his sufferings.[16]

In Phil 1:29 Paul teaches the Philippians that it has been granted to them “not only to believe (τὸ πιστεύειν) on Christ, but also to suffer (τὸ πάχειν) for him.” Both articular infinitives in this verse function appositionally to a substantival prepositional phrase serving as the subject of the sentence (τὸ ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ). In other words, Paul is indicating that what has been granted to the Philippians is, namely, believing on Christ and suffering for Christ. Wallace explains Paul’s grammar:

The article with ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ turns this expression into a substantive functioning as the subject of ἐχαρίσθη. Thus, ‘the-[following]-on-behalf-of-Christ has been granted to you.’ This then is picked up by two articular infinitives, πιστεύειν and πάχειν (the prepositional phrases each time are wedged between the article and inf. for clarity). Thus, the articular infinitives are in apposition to a substantival prepositional phrase functioning as subject.[17]

Finally, three more articular infinitives appear in Philippians, each representing a different semantic category. First, Peter T. O’Brien rightly views Paul’s use of the genitive articular infinitive τοῦ δύνασθαι as indicating result as Paul assures the Philippians that the Lord Jesus Christ “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, according to the power that results in him being enable to subject all things to himself.”[18] Second, Paul employs the articular infinitive in a causal sense in 1:7 when he shares that it is right for him to feel positive toward the Philippians “because I have (διὰ τὸ ἔχειν) you in my heart.”[19] Finally, in 1:23 Paul appears to be using the articular infinitive τὸ ἀναλῦσαι with the governing preposition εἰς and the accusative τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν epexegetically as he explains that the desire he has “is to depart and to be with Christ.”[20]

THE USE OF THE INFINITIVE IN JAMES

            The infinitive occurs 26 times in James. Of these 26 occurrences, nineteen occur without the article and seven occur with the article. Of the thirteen semantic categories for the infinitive in the NT identified by Wallace, nine occur in James.[21]

The largest semantic category of anarthrous infinitives in James is the complementary infinitive. James uses the infinitive this way in ten instances (2:12, 2:14, 2:20, 3:8, 3:12[2x], 4:2, 4:4, 4:12[2x]). The infinitive in each of these instances complements one of “the most common verbs that take an infinitive” mentioned by Wallace (ἄρχομαι, βούλομαι, δύναμαι, ἐπιτρέπω, ζητέω, θέλω, μέλλω, and ὀφείλω).[22] Of these common “helper” verbs, James uses the infinitive to complement δύναμαι seven times (2:14, 3:8, 3:12[2x], 4:2, 4:12[2x]). Additionally, James uses the infinitive to compliment μέλλω (2:12), θέλω (2:20), βούλομαι (4:4).

The next largest category of anarthrous infinitives is the infinitive in indirect discourse, used three times (1:26, 2:14, 4:17). A clear example of this usage occurs in 1:26 where James teaches, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Here the verb of perception δοκεῖ signals that εἶναι is an infinitive in indirect disourse.[23]

James uses the anarthrous appositional infinitive twice in 1:27. Writing about “pure and undefiled religion”, James states that religion that is pure and undefiled “is this, namely, to visit (ἐπισκέπτεσθαι) orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep (τηρεῖν) oneself from the world.” Inserting either the word “namely” or a colon before the infinitive in translation is a key to identification of the appositional infinitive, and Wallace uses Jas 1:27 to illustrate this.[24]

The remaining four anarthrous infinitives in James are the subject infinitive, (3:10), epexegetical infinitive (1:21, 3:2), and the absolute infinitive (1:1). In 3:10 James employs the subject infinitive when he writes, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. It is not necessary, my brothers, for things thus to be (γίνεσθαι with the impersonal verb χρή “it is necessary”).[25] An example of the anarthrous epexegetical infinitive in James occurs in 1:21 where James implores his audience to “receive with meekness the implanted word, the one being able to save (τόν δυνάμενον σῶσαι) your souls.”[26]

In Jas 1:1 the opening greeting appears in the infinitive: χαίρειν “I greet you” or “greetings!” Here James uses the infinitive absolute, a type of infinitive that is quite rare in the NT. Wallace provides the following description of this rare type of infinitive:

Like the genitive absolute, the infinitive can function independently of the rest of the sentence. It thus bears no syntactical relation to anything else in the sentence. One word, χαίρειν, is especially uses as an infinitive absolute. The idea can be expressed as “I greet you” (thus, the equivalent of an indicative), or “Greetings!” (thus, the equivalent of an interjection).[27]

With that we “greet” the seven occurrences of the articular infinitive in James, which represent four semantic categories. Three times James employs the articular infinitive of purpose (1:18, 3:3, 5:17). A clear example of this type of usage occurs when James teaches his audience, “if we put pits into the mouths of horses for the purpose of persuading (εἰς τὸ πείθεσθαι) them to us, we guide their whole bodies as well” (Jas 3:3). The preposition είς governing the articular infinitive τὸ πείθεσθαι provides a helpful structural clue for recognizing James’ intent to indicate purpose in this verse.[28]

Twice in 1:19 James uses the articular epexegetical infinitive when he writes “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear (τὸ ἀκοῦσαι), slow to speak (τὸ λαλῆσαι), slow to anger.” The preposition είς governs both infinitives here as well. Like the infinitive of purpose, είς τὸ with the infinitive is also a clear structural clue for identifying infinitives functioning epexegetically.[29]

James employs the articular causal infinitive one time in his epistle. In 4:2 the writer famously instructs his audience concerning prayer: “You do not have because you do not ask” (οὐκ ἔχετε διὰ τὸ μὴ αἰτεῖσθαι ὑμᾶς). The governing preposition διὰ with the article τὸwith the infinitive here is representative of the most commonly used structure for the causal infinitive in the NT.[30]

One more appearance of the articular infinitive in James occurs in 4:15. In this verse James offers a corrective to those who would map out their life plans too far in advance without considering the will of the Lord. Rather than becoming overly focused on “tomorrow” James suggests an alternative posture: “Instead you all ought to say (ἀντὶ τοῦ λέγειν ὑμᾶς), ‘if the Lord wills it we will live and do this or that.’” The use of the infinitive here with the preposition ἀντὶ represents one of those miscellaneous prepositional uses of the infinitive. According to Boyer, infinitives governed by this preposition may be understood as expressing “substitution.”[31]

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

            The tables below present a comparative breakdown of the use of use of the infinitive in Philippians and James. Table 1 displays the use of the infinitive in these letters according to the broad structural categories of “anarthrous” and “articular” infinitives. Table 2 displays the use of the infinitive in Philippians and James according to the semantic categories provided by Wallace.[32]

Table 1: The Use of the Infinitive in Philippians and James

According to Structural Categories

Infinitive Type

Philippians

James

Anarthrous

23

19

Articular

16

7

Total

39

26

 

            This table shows that the infinitive appears thirteen more total times in Philippians than it does in James, and that both basic structural types of infinitives appear more frequently in Philippians than in James. Both writers are comparatively close in their use the anarthrous infinitive—just four more times for Paul than for James. However the use of the articular infinitive occurs over twice as much in Philippians as it does in James.

Table 2: The Use of the Infinitive in Philippians and James

According to Semantic Categories

Infinitive Type

Philippians

James

Purpose

3

3

Result

4

Time

Cause

1

1

Means

Complementary

4

10

Subject

6

1

Direct Object

4

Indirect Discourse

13

3

Appositional

2

2

Epexegetical

1

4

Imperatival

1

Absolute

1

“Miscellaneous Use”

1

(“substitution” in 4:15)

Total

39

26

 

            Table 2 shows a number of noteworthy points of comparison between the use of the infinitive in Philippians and James. I will briefly note four points here. First, both writers each use one category much more frequently than the other categories. For Paul in Philippians, the indirect discourse infinitive is by far the semantic category that occurs most frequently, appearing thirteen times. This doubles the amount of the second most frequently used category, the subject infinitive, which occurs six times. For James the complementary infinitive represents over 40 percent of his uses, accounting for ten of his 26 total uses of the infinitive. As in Philippians, this also doubles the amount of the second most frequently used category, the epexegetical infinitive, which occurs four times.

            Second, the category employed most frequently by each writer is used considerably less by the other writer. James uses the indirect discourse infinitive just three times, compared to Paul’s thirteen uses in Philippians. Likewise, in Philippians Paul uses the complementary infinitive just four times, compared to the ten uses by James.

            Third, neither writer makes use of the infinitive of time or means in these letters, and both use the causal infinitive once once respectively in these epistles. According to Wallace, the infinitive of time is “relatively common” in the NT[33] so the absence of it in either of these documents may be worth noting. However, Wallace notes that instances of the infinitive of means are “rare” in the NT, and the causal infinitive is fairly common in Luke-Acts, though “rare” elsewhere. The absence and sparse usage of these infinitive semantic types in James and Philippians represents this broader use (or lack thereof) in the NT.

            Finally, while both writers each use one semantic type of infinitive with comparatively more frequency than any of the other semantic types, Table 2 demonstrates that both writers are wholly capable of using the infinitive in a variety of ways. Appearances of the infinitive representing ten of the fourteen semantic categories listed in the table may be found in Philippians, and nine of the fourteen may be found in James. Additionally, both epistles contain instances of the two independent uses of the infinitive dubbed by Wallace as “quite rare,” the imperatival infinitive in Phil 3:16 and the absolute infinitive in Jas 1:1.

CONCLUSION

            In this brief study I have set out to compare the usages of the infinitive in Philippians and James according to their structural and semantic categories. After surveying every instance of the infinitive in both epistles, this study has shown that the infinitive appears more in Philippians than in James, even though both letters are comparatively equal in length, that both writers each use one semantic category much more than any of the others, that the semantic category employed most frequently by each writer is used considerably less by the other writer, that neither writer makes use of the infinitive of time or means in these letters and both use the causal infinitive just once respectively, and that both writers are wholly capable of using the infinitive in a variety of ways.

            Future work may build on this information in an effort to understand why Paul and James use the infinitive in the ways they do in these epistles. Such a study would likely result in increased understanding concerning exegetical matters related to both letters, as well as perhaps a more nuanced understanding of the function of the infinitive in biblical Greek. For those who read Philippians and James as Christian Scripture, moving toward such increased understandings of these texts and the language in which they were written is of infinitevalue.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boyer, James L. “The Classification of Infinitives: A Statistical Study” Grace Theological Journal 6:3-27, 1985.

Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. 3d ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

O’Brien, Peter T. The Epistle to the Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Robertson, A. T. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. Nashville: Broadman, 1934.

Sumney, Jerry L. Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007.

Votaw, C.W. The Use of the Infinitive in Biblical Greek. Chicago: by the Author, 1896.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Young, Richard A. Intermediate New Testament Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994.

 

[1] This count is according to James L. Boyer, who used Gramcord/acCordance software based on UBS3 to count 1,977 anarthrous infinitives and 315 articular infinitives in the NT. See James L. Boyer, “The Classification of Infinitives: A Statistical Study” GTJ 6:3-27, (1985), 3.

[2] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (3d ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 302-05.

[3] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 590-608.

[4] Wallace notes that most NT Greek grammars that break down their treatment of the infinitive by structural categories have two broad groupings, anarthrous and articular. Wallace himself treats both structural and semantic categories, beginning first with the semantic categories and concluding with a discussion of the structural categories. My approach here attempts to survey both sets of categories simultaneously for each epistle, but in the “Comparative Analysis” section I will present statistical summaries for each set of categories separately. For Wallace’s discussion of “Structure vs. Semantics” see Greek Grammar, 589.

[5] Boyer, “Infinitives”, 7.

[6] The use of γινώσκειν in 1:12 is classified as a complementary infinitive by Wallace, Greek Grammar, 599.

[7] This construction in Phil 1:13 is cited as an example of an infinitive of result by A. T.  Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), 1091.

[8] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 593. See also Boyer, “Infinitives,” 11; C.W. Votaw, The Use of the Infinitive in Biblical Greek(Chicago: by the Author, 1896), 14.

[9] This is shown by Wallace, Greek Grammar, 601.

[10] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 608. See also Richard A. Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 175.

[11] In Phil 1:24 τὸ ἐπιμένειν is treated as a subject infinitive by Jerry L. Sumney Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007), 31.

[12] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 600-601. See also Young, Intermediate Greek, 173.

[13] Boyer lists only Phil 4:10 and 2 Cor 8:11 as places in the NT where the direct object infinitive occurs. Wallace adds John 5:26, Phil 2:6, and possibly Phil 2:13. See Boyer, “Infinitives”, 9; Wallace, Greek Grammar, 601-602.

[14] For his full discussion of the complicated syntax of Phil 2:13 see Wallace, Greek Grammar, 602-603. See also Young,Intermediate Greek, 174 in support of understanding the infinitives in this verse as direct object infinitives.

[15] See Sumney, Philippians, 15; Wallace, Greek Grammar, 591.

[16] Young, Intermediate Grammar, 169.

[17] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 607.

[18] Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 466.

[19] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 597.

[20] The epexegetical infinitive clarifies, explains, or qualifies a noun or adjective. Wallace notes that the noun or adjective is normally a word indicating ability, authority, desire (as here in Phil 1:23), freedom, hope, need, obligation, or readiness (Wallace,Greek Grammar, 607).

[21] James also employs the infinitive of “substitution”, a category not specifically included in Wallace’s treatment but included in Boyer’s. See below.

[22] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 598. Boyer identifies 72 verbs that take a complementary infinitive in the NT (“Infinitives,” 6).

[23] Wallace classifies this as an indirect discourse infinitive in Greek Grammar, 605.

[24] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 606.

[25] The subject infinitive category especially includes instances where the infinitive occurs with impersonal verbs such asδεῖ, ἔξεστιν, δοκεῖ, etc. according to Wallace, Greek Grammar, 600.

[26] Wallace notes that the epexegetical infinitive normally clarifies, explains, or qualifies nouns or adjectives indicating ability, authority, desire, freedom, hope, need, obligation, or readiness (Greek Grammar, 606). In this case σῶσαι explains τόνδυνάμενον, a substantive participle modifying τὸν ἔμφυτον λόγον.

[27] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 609. Wallace uses Jas 1:1 to illustrate the infinitive absolute, referencing also Acts 15:23, 23:26, and Heb 7:9 as other examples, although he notes that Heb 7:9 “is classical, following a different semantic situation than that which is found in Jas 1:1.”

[28] This use of the infinitive in Jas 3:3 is cited as a purpose infinitive by Wallace, Greek Grammar, 592.

[29] The infinitives in Jas 1:19 are used as examples of the epexegetical infinitive by Wallace, Greek Grammar, 607.

[30] So Wallace, Greek Grammar, 597. Wallace includes Jas 4:2 in his representative list of citations for the causal infinitive.

[31] Boyer, “Infinitives,” 13. Wallace concludes his treatment of the infinitive by noting that there are other prepositions in the NT used with the infinitive that go beyond the “normal” prepositions he highlights in his text (Greek Grammar, 611).

[32] With the addition of the category of “miscellaneous use”, so as to account for the “infinitive of substitution” in 4:15.

[33] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 594.