Mark 3:1 has:

Καὶ εἰσῆλθεν πάλιν εἰς συναγωγήν, καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπος ἐξηραμμένην ἔχων τὴν χεῖρα.

In English word order, the final part seems like it would be "a man his hand had had withering." Shouldn't there be a relative pronoun here such as ὅς? What would ὅς be used for, if not in this kind of construction?

2 Answers 2


Greek loves its participles, and often uses participles where English would use relative clauses. This sometimes leads to multiple participles in a single phrase, as here:

καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπος ἐξηραμμένην ἔχων τὴν χεῖρα.
and there was a man having [better English, "who had"] a withered hand.

It wouldn't be wrong to use ὁς with a finite verb instead, but in Greek, if there's a choice between using a participle and a relative pronoun, the participle usually wins out.

The relative pronouns, then, are generally used in cases where a participle can't be used, or where it would be unwieldy. Relative pronouns can take any role with respect to the verb; with participles, the modified noun is always the subject. And the syntax in a relative clause can get as convoluted as you like, since it's a whole clause of its own; participles have to fit inside an existing clause, so they can get awkward if you try to attach too much detail to them.


Whether a relative pronoun is ‘needed’ depends, in part, on how the participles ἔχων and ἐξηραμμένην are functioning.

ἐξηραμμένην (withered) is functioning as a verbal adjective, modifying τὴν χεῖρα (the hand). In English, we can say “the hand was withered”, "the hand that was withered", or simply “the withered hand”. So, the first thing we can observe is how this use of a past participle as an adjective is typical in English too; “a withered hand” sounds natural to the English ear and even though it could be made into a relative clause, we can translate it without the relative pronoun and still make perfect sense.

But how is ἔχων functioning? I think there might be several options but the most obvious is as another verbal adjective, this time modifying ἄνθρωπος (a man), giving us a rough and awkward translation of “a man having”, which we want to translate “a man who had”. Translating Greek participles as though they are relative clauses is accepted methodology (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 617-618). However, it’s important to note “as though” – Greek isn’t English in code! I’ll speak more about this below.

In the meantime, there are other (albeit faint) possibilities for how ἔχων is functioning that would make the question of needing a relative pronoun moot.

For example, it could be a periphrastic, ἔχων going with the ἦν, to give us, literally, “[he] was having”. In English, we would automatically render the imperfect of ‘to have’ as “[he] had”. This would give us “and a man there had a withered hand”.

Alternatively, ἔχων is frequently used to simply mean ‘with’ (Morwood, The Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek, 138). I know my reference is to a grammar of classical Greek and the sentence here is koine, but I think we can see how this would work here: “and there was a man there with a withered hand”. See also, for comparison, Luke 4:33; but see too 1 Tim. 1:19 where ‘with’ works just as well as ‘having’ (i.e. “having faith and a good conscience” cf “with faith and a good conscience”).

Which is to say, we can translate this into English without using a relative pronoun and still remain true to the Greek (and within acceptable grammatical bounds!)

Shouldn't there be a relative pronoun here such as ὅς? What would ὅς be used for, if not in this kind of construction?

In many ways, this question only arises because we are trying to translate into English. As we saw above, English can quite happily use a past participle much like they do in Greek, as an adjective and without the need for a relative pronoun (the withered hand).

But often we can’t use a participle like that and have to construct a relative clause to make it sound right. That is to say, we construct the relative clause which acts as the adjective modifying our substantive, rather than using a participle. Thus, in English we have to say, “I see the cat that is sitting on the mat”. But in Greek, we can quite easily (and economically) say, “I see the sitting-on-the-mat cat”, where ‘sitting-on-the-mat’ is a participle doing all the work of the English relative clause.

And so here in Mark 3:1, because we don’t use the participial forms of ‘to have’ as adjectives, like we can ‘to wither’, we’re forced to find some circumlocution, typically a relative clause (although I have posited other options for ἔχων above). But that doesn’t mean a Greek had to! So, to answer your question, no, there shouldn’t be a relative pronoun here; all that Mark wanted to say about this man is conveyed in the participles and would have been understood by his readers. Translating it into English, however, might require one.

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