We are all familiar with the phrase “at the name of Jesus”. It is a phrase from a very popular passage in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi.
Philippians 2:9-11 says:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα, ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός.
Most people, when asked; “what is the name that is above every name?”, will likely to respond “Jesus”. Probably because verse 10 says “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” That is not at all impossible. We can construe the genitive “of Jesus” as an epexegetical genitive “which is Jesus”, but it can also be taken as genitive of possession “belonging to Jesus”. So which of the two Paul meant? The former makes “Jesus” as the name above every name, while the latter can be something else, which in this context, the title “Lord”.
We have this conundrum because we asked a question about how a particular noun’s case functions. But we couldn’t have asked the question if we don’t know what nouns are, let alone their cases.
Now my aim is not to answer the question which is which for you. My goal is to convince you of the importance of learning some basic Greek grammar by comparing it with English. I’ll tackle some few points on the greek nouns but not all of its complexities.
Take note that this article is not an exhaustive study on Biblical Greek, but more of a teaser to induce curiosity and desire to study the biblical languages.
(1) In Greek the nouns indicate a person, place, thing, or idea, just as they do in English.¹
(2) Greek nouns, like in English, have cases.
(3) Pronouns must refer to a noun with the same number.
(1) In English most nouns do not have gender. That is, most nouns that do not refer to living beings are neither masculine nor feminine. This is not the case in Greek. Every noun is either masculine, feminine, or neuter. This does not indicate anything about the meaning of the noun.² The importance of knowing this comes into play when we’re dealing with pronouns. The basic rule for the Greek pronoun is that it agrees with its antecedent in gender and number, but its case is determined by the pronoun’s function in its own clause.¹ Neuter pronouns may point to whole concepts rather than just a single word.
(2) A second difference has to do with a noun’s function in the sentence. In English we are able to determine the subject generally because it occurs before the verb.³
The boy hit the ball. (“Boy” is the subject because it occurs before the verb.)
The ball was hit by the boy. (“Ball” is the subject because it occurs before the verb.)
In Greek, by contrast, we are able to tell how a noun functions in the sentence not by word order but by their case endings.
(3) Greek nouns can be one of five cases(or eight cases); nominative(subject or predicate nominative), accusative(typically the direct object of a transitive verb), dative(works like an indirect object), genitive( like a possessor noun) and vocative(direct address), but in English there are only three; subjective, objective, and possessive case. Cases in English can be seen easily with inflected words like pronouns(ex. who for subject, whom for object) and nouns with apostrophe + ‘s'(ex. Boy’s for possessive), but in greek, even proper names can be inflected(Ιησούς – Nominative, Ιησού – Genitive/Dative, Ιησούν – Accusative).
In the following example, notice that word order differs but the meaning is the same.
Θεὸς ἀγαπᾷ τὸν κόσμον.
ἀγαπᾷ τὸν κόσμον Θεός.
τὸν κόσμον Θεὸς ἀγαπᾷ.
ἀγαπᾷ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον.
We know that Θεός God is always the subject because of the nominative case ending and κόσμον world is always the object because of the accusative case ending.
(4) The noun cases in Greek have more nuances than in English. An accusative noun may function like an adverb and sometimes as the subject of an infinitive verb, or a noun in the dative case may act as the direct object. Our passage in Philippians, the genitive Ιησού may act like an epexegetical genitive(which is Jesus) or it can be a genitive of possession(belonging to Jesus).
So what is the name that is above every name? That’s for you to answer based on the context. Thanks for reading and God bless!
¹ ² ³ English Grammar to Ace New Testament Greek, ¹ Basics of New Testament Syntax