Denny Burk on Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament

Denny Burk, Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament: On the Exegetical Benefit of Grammatical Precision, New Testament Monographs, 14. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2006. 179 pp. $55.00, cloth.

A. T. Robertson, perhaps the most learned Greek Grammarian ever to trod American soil, once roamed the hallowed halls of Southern Seminary. Though long dead, his book still speaks, and by the grace of God, his Baptist descendants still care about the language he loved. Denny Burk, who now teaches at The Criswell College, has given testimony to the verse inscribed on the dedication page of the volume under review here: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). This conviction drove Burk to write a doctoral dissertation at Southern Seminary on Articular Infinitives, and a revised version of that dissertation has appeared under the title, Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament

Having studied under Dan Wallace at Dallas Seminary, Burk completed this work under the careful supervision of Tom Schreiner. The book was subsequently published in a series edited by Stanley Porter, who oversaw the process of revision for publication. There is something of a debate in grammatical circles between the Wallace/Fanning and Porter/Carson camps, and Burk’s work benefits from input from both sides. Burk begins with a simple, elegant, even fun(!) introduction to modern linguistics. When he describes the history of research, Burk shows that the use of the article with infinitives has been overestimated when one considers its semantic value (the way it adds to the meaning of the word) and underestimated when one considers its structural meaning (the syntactic contribution the article makes to a phrase). His statement of methodology should be read by anyone who plans to argue a thesis. 

In chapter 2 Burk explains what his thesis means. He argues that the article is a function word, not a content word, and that it is used with the infinitive to mark the infinitive’s case and function, not to substantivize the infinitive or have semantic value as a “determiner.” That is, to use one of Burk’s illustrations, the article is part of the mortar that holds the bricks of the sentence together. When the article is used with the infinitive, its only significance is syntactic: it makes explicit a grammatical or structural relation, but it does not substantivize the infinitive or determine it as definite. Burk observes that the 324 articular infinitives in the New Testament fall into two broad categories: 200 of these are governed by a preposition, and 124 of them are not governed by a preposition. Chapter 3 deals with those that do not follow prepositions, and chapter 4 examines those that do. In chapter 3 the argument is that the article with the infinitive “marks” two grammatical features: the case of the infinitive and/or its particular syntactical function. With nominatives and accusatives, the article marks the infinitive’s case, designating it as either the subject or the object. With genitives and datives, the article marks the infinitive with meanings associated with these cases. Chapter 4 shows that “the article is grammatically obligatory when an infinitive serves as the object of the preposition” (77). Burk holds that the cases control the use of prepositions, and the articles used with infinitives mark the case of those prepositions. Having tested his thesis against every occurrence of the articular infinitive in the New Testament, in chapter 5, Burk tests his conclusions from the New Testament against the Greek of the Septuagint. Burk’s ability to explain all apparent exceptions to his thesis makes his work particularly compelling. 

The exegetical significance of this study is presented in chapter 7, where Burk first discusses the implications his work has for the study of Greek grammar, then demonstrates its benefit for the interpretation of the New Testament. Helpful visual aids are scattered throughout the volume, and the study concludes with an important set of Tables organizing the articular infinitives found in the New Testament and other Greek literature. 

Burk shows the crucial difference a right understanding of articular infinitives makes using five texts as examples: Mark 9:10, Acts 25:11, Romans 13:8, Philippians 2:6, and Hebrews 10:31. Among these examples, Philippians 2:6 bears the most theological weight, so the fruit of Burk’s study for understanding this text will be briefly considered here. N. T. Wright follows BDF in the opinion that the article with the infinitive in the final phrase of Philippians 2:6, “the being equal with God,” is an anaphoric article pointing back to the initial phrase of the verse, “the form of God.” On this understanding, “being equal with God” is equivalent to or synonymous with “the form of God.” But if, as Burk argues, the article is not anaphoric but appears as a grammatical necessity, marking the components of the double accusative construction, “equality with God” is not connected to “the form of God.” Rather, the articular infinitive designates “the being equal with God” as the object, whose complement is “a thing to be grasped” in the double accusative construction. Burk thus renders the sense of the verse as, “Although Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God as something he should go after also” (139). The payoff, then, of Burk’s careful grammatical investigation is that Philippians 2:6 affirms the ontological equality of Father and Son while maintaining the functional subordination of the Son, even in his pre-existent state (cf. 139–40 n. 46). 

This is a profoundly significant book born out of devotion to the Scriptures and sound theology. All future study of this issue will benefit from Burk’s work, and every Greek grammar written from this day forth will stand on the shoulders of this slim volume that makes a giant contribution. Perhaps more significant than the precision in understanding that this book gives to grammarians and scholars is the fruit it will bear in the preaching of the word. Thanks to the patient, careful study done by Denny Burk, anyone who wants to understand this feature of the Greek language need only take up his book and read.

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  1. 6 who being in thẻ form of thẻ Almĩghty, commanded his being equal to the Almĩghty not ªas bootyª,

    –he did not insist on his rights

    1. @Daniel

      Your translation is much better. I don’t know how Burk gets off with inserting “although” nor changing “robbery” (your “booty”) into “as something he should go after also”! What hubris!
      You are right, it changes the whole meaning of the verse. My take is:
      “who, being in the form [fig.: character} of God, considered (the) being the same with God not robbery.

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