The Grammatical Structure of Luke 14:29

Another quandary brought to you by Greek Tutorial. This week I was reading through Luke 14:25-30 with a couple of students, and verse 29 proved to be, shall we say, especially interesting. I’d like to examine the grammatical structure of the pericope to get a feel for what’s going on in Luke 14:29. Here’s 14:28-30:

[28] Τίς γὰρ ἐξ ὑμῶν θέλων πύργον οἰκοδομῆσαι οὐχὶ πρῶτον καθίσας ψηφίζει τὴν δαπάνην, εἰ ἔχει εἰς ἀπαρτισμόν; [29] ἴνα μήποτε θέντος αὐτοῦ θεμέλιον καὶ μὴ ἰσχύοντος ἐκτελέσαι πάντες οἰ θεωροῦντες ἄρξωνται αὐτῷ ἐμπαίζειν [30] λέγοντες ὅτι οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἤρζατο οἰκοδομεῖν καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσεν ἐκτελέσαι.

In verse 28, τὶς (nom masc sg) is matched by the participle θέλων (nom masc sg pres act ptc), and is modified by the genitive phrase ἐξ ὑμῶν to read, “For, who among you desiring”. The participle θέλων belongs to the infinitive οἰκοδομῆσαι which gives us the content of the desire, “to build.” The direct object of οἰκοδομῆσαι is the accusative masculine singular πύργον, “a tower.”

This phrase so far: “For anyone from among you desiring to build a tower”.

Next, οὐχὶ negates ψηφίζει, “does he not calculate,” which takes τὴν δαπάνην as its object, “does he not calculate the cost.”  ψηφίζει is modified by the attendant circumstance participle καθίσας, which describes the action that goes on as the person calculates the cost: “does he not, sitting down, calculate the cost”. The next clause, εἰ ἔχει εἰς ἀπαρτισμόν, appears to be a purpose clause (though this verse is missing an infinitive like “to see” or “to determine” to nicely shape this into a recognizable purpose clause), indicating why he calculates: “if he has [what is needed] for completion”.

This whole first verse is a question, noted by the interrogative form of τίς (which is anarthrous when it functions as an indefinite pronoun), and the Greek question mark ; at the end: “For who among you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down [and] calculate the cost [to determine] if he has [what is needed] for completion?” (Feel free to quibble with these conclusions; there is lots of room to move here in my understanding of the syntax!)

Moving on to verse 29. ἴνα starts this verse, which always introduces the subjunctive mood. The arrangement of this verse is a little odd, though, because the subjunctive verb, ἄρξωνται, is almost at the end of the verse. Immediately after ἴνα, the clause μήποτε θέντος αὐτοῦ θεμέλιον καὶ μὴ ἰσχύοντος ἐκτελέσαι is inserted before the ἴνα is completed. However, this arrangement may not be so strange, considering that ἴνα and μήποτε can function together as “a strengthened form of ἴνα μή” (Marshall [1978], “The Gospel of Luke,” 594). And according to BDAG, this ἴνα μήποτε combination is often used for denoting purpose, “(in order) that . . . not, often expressing apprehension” (BDAG, 648-2b).

With this in mind, verse 29 looks a little friendlier. (If I had thought to look at BDAG last night with those Greek students, I could have been a little more helpful!) After the ἴνα μήποτε construction we find a genitive absolute θέντος αὐτοῦ θεμέλιον, “he placed a foundation,” followed by the participle ἰσχύντος, negated by μή, “not being able,” and its complementary infinitive ἐκτελέσαι, which completes the thought, “not being able to complete [it]”.

So far in verse 29 we have: “In order that he does not place a foundation, and, not being able to complete it”.

The consequence of this ill-conceived plan is that “all who see it should begin to mock him.” πάντες is modified by the adjectival participle οἰ θεωροῦντες, “all who see,” and is the subject of  ἄρξωνται. ἄρξωνται takes ἐμπαίζειν as its complementary infinitive, “begin to mock.” αὐτῷ likely refers to the uncompleted tower, rather than the builder.

This verse all together states, “In order that he does not place a foundation, and, being unable to complete it, all who see it should begin to mock him”.

Verse 30 tells us the content of their mocking, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” (You can hear Nelson from The Simpsons in the background saying his customary, “Hah hah!”)

I was going to do a grammatical diagram of this as well, but I’ve run out of time! Tune in next time for that.

There are many details I didn’t focus on — again, time being the issue. There is just never enough time for exegesis!

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Filed under Greek Grammar, Two Year GNT

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