The Greek word γάρ

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The Greek word γάρ

Post by DugArt1968 » Sat Jan 16, 2016 5:19 pm

I have been studying the Greek word γάρ. I came across this article: ... _Testament

I hope the link worked. Anyway, the writer states that γάρ is a explantory particle. I emailed him and this is the conversation that we have had so far:

My name is Douglas Collins. I have been studying Romans 12 and was interested in the meaning of the Greek word γαρ. I came across your paper titled "Notes on the function of γαρ, ουν, μεν, δε, και, and τε in the Greek New Testament". I found it interesting. I do have some questions that I hope you can take the time to answer.
Thayer's Greek Lexicon says this about γαρ: "a conjunction, which according to its composition, γέ and ἄρα (equivalent to ἀρ), is properly a particle of affirmation and conclusion..."
Strong's says that it is a primary particle.
The first time I read Thayer's, it was only a summary of γαρ and simply said that it was a conjunction, I thought, "Romans 12:2 begins with a conjunction, 12:3 begins with a conjunction, 12:4 begins with a conjunction, 12:5-8 continues the thought of verse 4 concerning the body. So, verses 4-8 are connected to verse 3, verse 3 is connected to 2, and verse 2 is connected to verse one, thereby, meaning that verses 2-8 are a direct result of verse 1(surrendering completely to God).
After reading your paper, which says, that γαρ "is simply an explanatory particle" and reading Thayer's more fully, I am a little confused. Is there a difference between a conjunction and a particle? If there is, wouldn't you still get the same conclusion as I have stated above? Or is the difference so great that you would have to different interpretations(viewpoints)? And if you would have two different viewpoints, what would they be?
Thank you for all your help. Appreciate it.

This was his response:

Hi, Douglass,
Both Thayer and Strong are very old resources. Thayer is from 1890. As you can read in Wikipedia, it has long been obsolete.
These books were written before the advances of modern linguistics. In linguistics, we distinguish between a conjunction and a particle. ... nction.htm ... rticle.htm

In traditional Greek grammar, some have considered γὰρ as a conjunction and translated it as "because", but this is an inadequate description.
Paul uses γὰρ a lot in building an argument. One argument expands on and supports a previous argument.
Let us have a look at Romans 2.
Verse 1 has the particle οὖν. It introduces a more practical application of the theory/doctrine he has been espousing so far. The more literal versions like KJV, NASB and NIV translate it as "therefore", but it would be better to do as the GNB "so then" or NLT (and so).
Verse 2 has καὶ which joins and coordinates words or clauses, here "offer your bodies as living sacrifices" and "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world". So, verses 1-2 give the general command.
Verse 3 has a γὰρ which introduces further explanations of what it means to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. The best English translation is usually "after all" or "you see". Try them. The English "for" only works in a few cases.
You see, I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
Verse 4 has a γὰρ which further clarifies what has been said in v. 3. Why should we not think too highly of ourselves? After all, each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function. The γὰρ in verse 4 does not go back to 1 or 2, but to verse 3. It is very rare for γὰρ to point to something beyond the preceding sentence. It usually picks up one or more words from that sentence and elaborates on it.
There are no more γὰρ's until v. 19.
So, verses 1-2 have a double command, a positive and a negative plus a promise of the result. 3-8 explains more about what it means to sacrifice oneself and not conform to the normal practices of this world. One of the ways to do this is to not think too highly of oneself (as many people of the world do) and this is because we are a body and serve one another each with our own gifts. The various gifts are then elaborated on.
I would not say that 2-8 are a direct result, and γὰρ does not introduce result. Greek has other ways to introduce a result.
Best wishes,
Iver Larsen

I replied by sending him two separate emails:

Thank you for your response. I have two books by William Mounce. One titled, "The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament"(which I will abbreviate as TALGNT for this discussion). The other book is titled, "The Morphology of Biblical Greek". I was told that Mounce is a highly respected teacher of Greek. Both books list γὰρ as a conjunction.
In Mounce's TALGNT, it states, "for; it is, however, frequently used with an ellipsis of the clause to which it has reference, and its force must then be variously expressed; is also sometimes epexegetic, or introductory of an intimated detail of circumstances, now, the, to wit."
Your thoughts on this?

My second email:


It's me again. Douglas Collins.

I also have A. T. Robertson's "A Greek Grammar of the New Testament in light of Historical Research".

Here is a link to what he had to say concerning γὰρ on page 1190: ... ammar.pdf
Let me know what you think, please.

He only responded to my second email:

Good morning,

We have a time difference, since I live in Denmark.

Yes, Robertson is a great resource and I have it on my computer. He knew Greek very well, but his lexicon was published 102 years ago, before the advent of modern linguistics. The role of particles in various languages began to be studied seriously about 50 years ago.
Robertson says: The grammarians are not agreed as to what parts of speech should be called “particles.” (p. 1142)
This was in 1914. Robertson himself has a very broad definition of particles: "In a broad way it may be stated that there are four classes of words (verbs, nouns, pronouns, particles) in the sentence. From this point of view the word particle covers all the adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections."
Modern linguistics use the word in a more restricted way to refer to certain words which are neither adverbs, preposition or conjunctions. Traditional linguistics stopped at the sentence level. Modern linguistics, in particular the science of discourse linguistics, look at the higher levels in the sense that sentences make up paragraphs which again make up episodes or whole texts/discourses. In this model of linguistics, particles do not function within the sentence, but they have a pragmatic function and shows the relationship betweens sentences. I cannot give you a course in linguistics here, but at least some key words like pragmatics and discourse linguistics in case you want to study this further.
However, whether γάρ is called a particle or a conjunction is not crucial. It is more important to study its function. Here, Robertson is not far off.
He says: "it does not always give a reason. It may be merely explanatory." That is correct, its basic function is explanatory. It introduces further background or support to what has just been said. Do you have access to dictionaries like BDAG? Or do you mainly look at the free (and therefore old) resources on the Internet? What Robertson says about the particle is surprisingly accurate in view of the time he wrote.
The much more recent book by Steven Runge: "Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament" is informed by modern linguistics and discourse studies.
I can copy a few sections from this book:
2 Connecting Propositions
This chapter provides a very basic overview of the different sorts of relations that can be communicated by the most commonly used NT Greek connectives. The term “connective” is used here in place of the more specific “conjunction” because languages commonly use forms other than conjunctions to perform the task of connecting clause elements. Adverbs often serve as connectives, both in Greek and in English. Understanding the discourse function of these words is foundational for properly understanding the devices that follow.1 Greek has a much more diverse set of connectives than we have in English, resulting in some significant mismatches between the languages. In English, most of our clauses are joined without using an explicit connector—that is, asyndeton.
In contrast, Greek has a much more sophisticated system, which Robertson describes:
The Greeks, especially in the literary style, felt the propriety of indicating the inner relation of the various independent sentences that composed a paragraph. This was not merely an artistic device, but a logical expression of coherence of thought. Particles like καί, δέ, ἀλλά, γάρ, οὖν, δή, etc., were very common in this connection. Demonstrative pronouns, adverbs, and even relative pronouns were also used for this purpose.
Greek connectives play a functional role in discourse by indicating how the writer intended one clause to relate to another, based on the connective used.
Although the diversity of connectives provides valuable exegetical information about the writer’s intentions, it often has caused a good deal of confusion regarding exactly how each one differs from the other. Conjunctions traditionally have been defined based upon their translation, mapping them to an English counterpart.
Runge, S. E. (2010). Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (pp. 17–18). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2.7 Γάρ

The diverse usage of γάρ has resulted in a wide variety of claims being made about it. Both Wallace and Young contend that it functions as both a coordinating and subordinating conjunction.51 BDAG describes it as expressing cause, clarification, or inference. Robertson advocates that it is best viewed as explanatory in nature, before making an appeal for other senses.
Robertson’s “explanatory” assertion has largely been confirmed as the core constraint of γάρ in modern linguistic treatments. Heckert concludes that it introduces material that strengthens or confirms a previous proposition. Levinsohn states,

Background material introduced by γάρ provides explanations or expositions of the previous assertion (see Winer 1882:566–67, Robertson 1919:1190, Harbeck 1970:12). The presence of γάρ constrains the material that it introduces to be interpreted as strengthening some aspect of the previous assertion, rather than as distinctive information.

In other words, the information introduced does not advance the discourse but adds background information that strengthens or supports what precedes. Black also correlates the use of γάρ with background information, noting a tendency for it to be used with forms of εἰμί and imperfect-tense forms. She states, “Γάρ is used to direct the audience to strengthen a preceding proposition, confirming it as part of the mental representation they construct of the discourse.”
In terms of the constraints assigned to the other connectives discussed thus far, γάρ like καί, οὖν, and διὰ τοῦτο, signals close continuity with what precedes. However, it differs from the latter two in that it does not mark development. It differs from καί by adding the semantic constraint of strengthening/support. It does not advance the mainline of the discourse but rather introduces offline material that strengthens or supports what precedes. Γάρ can introduce a single clause that strengthens, or it may introduce an entire paragraph. Of the 1,041 instances in the Greek NT, only 10 percent of them are found in narrative proper, compared to usage in reported speeches and the Epistles. The books of Romans and Hebrews have the greatest concentration of usage, followed closely by 1–2 Corinthians and Galatians.
Where it occurs in narrative proper, the proposition introduced by γάρ fleshes out some aspect of what precedes. It may be in the form of background information; it may introduce the reason or rationale for some preceding action or state. For instance, six of the thirty-three narrative occurrences in Mark introduce verbs of speaking, describing what people were saying in response to or to precipitate the preceding action. Twelve more narrative instances introduce “being” verbs, while eleven others introduce states of being or perception (e.g., knowing, fearing, understanding, seeing). The remaining narrative instances introduce states of affair (e.g., Mark 3:10: πολλοὺς γὰρ ἐθεράπευσεν, “for he had healed many”).
The first illustration comes from Matt 10, where Jesus warns his disciples about a day when they will be arrested and handed over to the authorities for following him.

Example 23:: Matthew 10:19–20

19 ὅταν δὲ παραδῶσιν ὑμᾶς, μὴ μεριμνήσητε πῶς ἢ τί λαλήσητε· δοθήσεται.
19 DM But whenever they hand you over, do not be anxious how to speak or what you should say,
γὰρ ὑμῖν ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ τί λαλήσητε
for what you should say will be given to you at that hour.
20 οὐ γὰρ ὑμεῖς ἐστε οἱ λαλοῦντες ἀλλὰ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τὸ λαλοῦν ἐν ὑμῖν.
20 For you are not the ones who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father who is speaking through you.

In light of the circumstances Jesus describes, it seems counterintuitive not to be anxious. Verse 19b provides support for his assertion by stating that what they need to say will be given to them, they will not be left on their own. This statement is in turn supported by v. 20, stating that it is not just a matter of being given the words, but of who is speaking the words. In this case, the Spirit of their Father will be the one speaking.
The information introduced by γάρ is important to the discourse, but it does not advance the main description of how they are to respond when arrested. Instead, it introduces propositions that strengthen and support what precedes. The main flow of the discourse is resumed in v. 21, introduced by δέ because it is a new point rather than the resumption of one that was interrupted.
Galatians 5 opens with the statement that it was for freedom that Christ has set us free, not to be reenslaved to a keeping of the law. In v. 12, Paul expresses his wish that those who had distracted the Galatians with the need for circumcision would mutilate themselves. This verse is followed by what is considered to be a new section, introduced in v. 13 with γάρ.

Example 24:: Galatians 5:13–14

13 Ὑμεῖς γὰρ ἐπʼ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἐκλήθητε, ἀδελφοί· μόνον μὴ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν εἰς ἀφορμὴν τῇ σαρκί, ἀλλὰ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης δουλεύετε ἀλλήλοις.
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
14 ὁ γὰρ πᾶς νόμος ἐν ἑνὶ λόγῳ πεπλήρωται, ἐν τῷ· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.
14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The paragraph introduced in v. 13 strengthens the preceding section of vv. 1–12 rather than advancing the argument with a new point. Rather than using their freedom as a license for the fight among themselves and with Paul, they were to be using it as an opportunity to serve. Verse 14 in turn strengthens the assertion of v. 13, adding support to the significance of serving one another through love. This section reiterates what the freedom they received was intended to bring about. Verses 13–15 provide supporting material that is important but does not advance the argument. The next major step is introduced in v. 16 by δέ.

Γάρ introduces explanatory material that strengthens or supports what precedes. This may consist of a single clause, or it may be a longer digression. Although the strengthening material is important to the discourse, it does not advance the argument or story. Instead, it supports what precedes by providing background or detail that is needed to understand what follows. Plots or arguments that are resumed after the supporting material are typically introduced using οὖν, whereas new lines of argument are signaled by δέ.

Runge, S. E. (2010). Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (pp. 51–54). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Best wishes,

He did not respond to my first email so I asked him again:

Thank you for your reply. Appreciate that. I don't know Greek very well (or grammar in general for that matter), so, I find this conversation very interesting.
You said that γάρ doesn't act like the English word "for", so, can you provide me an English sentence where the word does NOT EXPLAIN something. If I said, "I am going to the store for a loaf of bread", the word "for" is used to explain why I'm going to the store. I'm having seeing trouble where it would not be used in that context in English.
What about William Mounce's books that I mentioned that do say that γάρ is a conjunction?
You say, "However, whether γάρ is called a particle or a conjunction is not crucial. It is more important to study its function." Doesn't a conjunction and particle function differently?
Do I have access to dictionaries like BDAG? No, but, I am planning on getting one.
Again, Thank you for all your help. I hope that I am not taking up too much of your time.

He responded:

Mounce is of the old school, so he uses the traditional term conjunction, even though modern linguistics has abandoned that.
Your example is using the English "for" to indicate purpose. Here it is not a conjunction, but a preposition or a "function word". The Englosh "for" can grammatically be either a preposition or a conjunction.

Webster explains the English preposition "for" as:
Full Definition of for
a —used as a function word to indicate purpose <a grant for studying medicine>
b —used as a function word to indicate an intended goal <left for home> <acted for the best>
c —used as a function word to indicate the object or recipient of a perception, desire, or activity <now for a good rest> <run for your life> <an eye for a bargain>
a : as being or constituting <taken for a fool> <eggs for breakfast>
b —used as a function word to indicate an actual or implied enumeration or selection <forone thing, the price is too high>
: because of <can't sleep for the heat>
—used as a function word to indicate suitability or fitness <it is not for you to choose><ready for action>
a : in place of <go to the store for me>
b (1) : on behalf of : representing <speaks for the court> (2) : in favor of <all for the plan>
: in spite of —usually used with all <for all his large size, he moves gracefully>
: with respect to : concerning <a stickler for detail> <heavy for its size>
a —used as a function word to indicate equivalence in exchange <$10 for a hat>, equality in number or quantity <point for point>, or correspondence or correlation <for every one that works, you'll find five that don't>
b —used as a function word to indicate number of attempts <0 for 4>
—used as a function word to indicate duration of time or extent of space <gone for two days>
: in honor of : after <named for her grandmother>
As a translator, I am not looking at trying to match a particular Greek word with the same English word all the time, because that is not how languages work. There are thousand of sentences in the English literal translations where "for" does not correspond to the Greek GAR, and there are thousands of instances of GAR in the Greek NT that don't correspond to the English "for".
So, if you are interested to learn more about translation, you may study the meaning-based versions like Good News Bible, New Living Translation or God's Word.
Best wishes,

Now that you have read this, I would like to know what your thoughts are one the subject. Thanks.

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Re: The Greek word γάρ

Post by jeidsath » Sat Jan 16, 2016 6:39 pm

I think that the idea that you can study up on γαρ before learning the language is silly. Learn to read a bit first, and then attack this sort of thing. If you want to learn the Greek language, and want to be able to read your Greek bible like you do your English bible translation, there are plenty of resources on this board for getting started.

That said, "the science of modern linguistics" is not a phrase that impresses me very much. The only way to learn Greek is to read a bunch of it, and there are fewer first class people doing that today than in the past. Our knowledge has decreased in many areas, not expanded.
Joel Eidsath --

μὴ δ’ οὕτως ἀγαθός περ ἐὼν θεοείκελ’ Ἀχιλλεῦ
κλέπτε νόῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐ παρελεύσεαι οὐδέ με πείσεις.

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Re: The Greek word γάρ

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Sat Jan 16, 2016 10:44 pm

I assume your talking with Iver Larsen. He is eminently qualified on this subject. His work on GAR, DE ... is cited frequently in the literature.
Last edited by C. S. Bartholomew on Sat Jan 16, 2016 11:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Greek word γάρ

Post by Markos » Sat Jan 16, 2016 11:42 pm

My own experience was that the older resources (e.g. Smyth) were more helpful than modern linguistics because they are better written, less jargon filled, more concise, and easier to understand.

But your mileage, Doug, may vary.

Joel recently drew the distinction between groking Greek and analyzing it. If you enjoy the latter, Iver is your man.

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