Because it has had a profound influence on my choice to translate many New Testament passages in a manner distinctly different from most other versions – notably more practical (active) and less theoretical – I have often been asked to write a posting detailing some of the grammatical implications of these two common prepositions and the cases of their objects.
I have frequently confessed to being a “language junkie”. I love the interplay of language and culture and the ways people have developed to express ideas and experiences that are important to them.
So if you “hate grammar”, you can skip this one – but in doing so, you will sacrifice a very significant key to understanding the New Testament text.
As noted in the Appendix to my Translation Notes (available as another free download from the home page), many prepositions in the Greek language have multiple meanings or implications which vary according to the case of their object (See “Basic uses of Cases” and “Prepositions”, or any comprehensive lexicon). But there are some, eis and en among them, which always require the same form for their object: the former is accompanied only by an accusative object, and the latter a dative.
If you want a technical exposition of the development of cases, the grammar by A.T. Robertson will take you all the way back to Sanskrit, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. For our purpose, it is sufficient to recognize that the dative case is basically static, and the accusative is active.
The dative case (with or without prepositions) may express location in time or place – historically it was treated as a separate case, called locative, but with the same forms – (the star – Mt.2:2 – was “in” the east, and the shepherds were “in” the field – Lk.2:8). It may describe prevailing circumstances, in which case it is called circumstantial (as in I Thes.5:18, “IN everything give thanks” – the more commonly quoted “FOR everything” would require eis and an accusative object!). The means or agency by which anything occurs, labeled instrumental (Phil.4:6, “in prayer”), and various states of feeling (Rom.12:12 expresses this as a dative with no preposition). A more detailed survey of these can be found in L/S.
En is usually rendered “in” or “within” if the object is singular, but would be more accurately represented by “among” when the object is plural. Please see #142 regarding the singular and plural forms of “you”, which are seldom adequately distinguished. THIS IS VITAL to proper understanding.
But even in simple narrative, there is a difference. For example, the scheming of the scribes (Mt.3:9, 9:3, Mk.2:28, Lk.3:8) was not individual, “within themselves”, but corporate “among themselves.” But the unjust steward in the parable (Lk.16:3) hatched his nefarious idea “in” himself. A similar discrepancy appears in the failure to realize that Jesus’ promise is to dwell among his people (the “you” is plural), not “inside of” individuals.
The accusative case, on the other hand, always accompanies eis, which is uniformly active. It appears with verbs of motion, or in constructions of purpose or cause (L/S). This realization should affect the translation of any concepts with which it is associated. Unfortunately, the doctrinal presuppositions of most (hired) “official” translators have constrained them to ignore the obvious fact that Jesus calls people, NOT to a static (dative) “belief in” him – a purely private assent to some sort of idea or narrative – but to active faithfulness [loyalty] toward (eis) him!
Jesus directed his disciples to baptize their new recruits INTO (eis) the Name [identity – see #24] of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt.28:19).
Paul reminded the Roman brethren (6:3) that baptism INTO (eis) Christ was also INTO his death, and ultimately, his resurrection.
Jesus himself consistently used eis, not en, in his conversation with Martha (Jn.11:25-26). Usually glibly (and incorrectly) quoted almost as if it were a charm by advocates of “doctrine” [“belief”] as a means of salvation – a concept totally absent from the New Testament – “he that believes in me”, a more accurate rendition would be “the one who is faithful [loyal] to [toward] me….”
(Please see study #1 for a proper understanding of pisteuo). “Faithfulness”, biblically, is NEVER a matter of intellectual assent, but rather of active loyalty. Forms of pisteuo almost exclusively are followed with a phrase introduced by eis. Likewise, the object is uniformly a person or a cause, never merely an idea or formula.
Eis is also frequently used in purpose constructions, where it may also be translated “for”, as in Mt.24:14, 26:13; Lk.2:34, 9:3; Jn.1:7; Ac.13:2, etc. An expression of purpose necessarily involves action, as does the idea of cause (Jn.12:27, Rom.1:5, 4:5, 8:28; Gal.3:6, 5:13, and many others).
This is not by any means to suggest that the use of eis or en implies that one is superior or inferior to the other: simply that they are different, and that the distinction is important.
In Col.1:13, Paul speaks of our having been transported into (eis) the Kingdom of the Son of God, but in Phil.3:9, expresses his desire to “be found in (en) him…”
In Rom.6:3, baptism is described as being into (eis) Christ Jesus, and its result is that we might henceforth “walk[live] in (en)” a completely new life.
“En Christo” – one of Paul’s apparent favorite phrases – (a quick count found it at least 89x) – describes the environment – the constant condition – in which faithful disciples live and function. It is the air we breathe, the universe we inhabit.
“Eis”, besides representing our initial entrance into that universe, describes the purpose to which and for which we are called and given life.
For any serious student of the New Testament, even if he does not have the immediate opportunity to explore the Greek language academically (and not all academic courses delve deeply into the implications of grammatical structure), an interlinear New Testament (make sure it uses the latest manuscript research!) , which will enable the identification of specific words, and an analytical Greek lexicon, which identifies the grammatical form of every word, would be a very worthwhile investment.
When encountering other prepositions, it is likewise important to be aware of the cases of their respective objects. Please refer to the chart in the Appendix, or to any comprehensive lexicon. For example, epi is translated “over, on top of, above” if its object is genitive, “by, beside, at, on” if it is dative, and “toward, against” if it is accusative.
Pros with the genitive indicates “from”, with the dative “near, beside”, and with accusative “toward.”
There IS a difference, and it needs to be reflected responsibly, if one is to translate or to understand accurately.
To the folks who requested this explanation, I hope it helps. Please feel free to ask for clarification or to add any insight I may have missed.
May we all find our way, in (en) the service of our King, into (eis) greater faithfulness!