[B-Greek] Third-person commands
creider at uwo.ca
Fri Nov 11 13:25:38 EST 2005
Don’s questions raise many subsidiary questions, only some of which can
be given definite answers. I apologize in advance for the scattered
nature of the following thoughts, which are more disorganized than they
should be. For the sake of simplicity I will refer primarily to the 1
Cor 7:15 verse concerning Don asks, “is it possible that Paul’s intent
is to order the congregation not to stand in the unbeliever’s way…?’
The Greek term for imperative mood is hH PROSTAKTH EGKLISIS, literally,
‘the imperative mood’ (from LSJ, citing Dionysius Thrax, fl. 100 B.C.).
PROSTAKTOS, H, OV is clearly related to PROSTAGMA ‘order, command’. As
far as I know, the term has nothing to do with ‘arouse’, however
appropriate that may be for a possibly central meaning of the term.
The –TW formative which gives the 3ps imperative its distinctive shape
goes back to Proto-Indo-European and apparently had a future imperative
sense and was used in all persons. It appears in Sanskrit and in Latin
explicitly in what is termed the future imperative (a rarely used set of
forms which appeared mostly in legal documents). From this I conclude
that the imperative mood as it appears in the second person and in the
third person is formally the same mood. It is therefore not a good idea
to call the second person _form_ an imperative and the third person
_form_ a jussive. (This is not say that the two forms don’t have
separate and different meanings – see below.)
It is perfectly possible for a third person imperative to be a command.
The meaning would be something like, “I say to him/her/them to do X”, or
“I say to him/her/them, ‘do X’”.
In third person forms it is important to distinguish the intended actor
of the imperative verb from the addressee. Thus in 1 Cor 7:15, Paul is
addressing the congregation, but in formal terms, the one who is
intended as the actor of the imperative verb (CWRIZESQW) is the
unbelieving one (hO APISTOS).
In Classical Greek, the imperative could express a command, an
exhortation, an entreaty, a request, etc. It shared some of these uses
with the optative mood (Smyth, p.406, para. 1820: The optative may
express a command or exhortation with a force nearly akin to the
imperative). In NT Greek, these uses of the optative disappeared,
leaving only the imperative (BDF, p.194, para. 364).
With the above as a prelude, we can begin to pose some questions which
may lead us to an answer to Don’s question.
First, are the meanings of the imperative best analyzed as involving
homonymy (unrelated senses, as in e.g. the instrumental and the
benefactive uses of the dative case) or polysemy (related senses)? I
think the answer to this question is clearly the latter.
Second, if the latter, is there a default or prototypical meaning? That
is, if command, exhortation, request, etc. are the senses of the mood,
is there a prototypical sense? I can’t answer this question, although I
will note that many psycholinguists would answer the question in the
Third, if it is to be answered in the affirmative, then there is a
subsidiary question of hat the default or prototypical meaning is, e.g.
command. I think that ‘command’ is reasonable for the default sense, if
there is a default sense, although there are other possibilities.
Fourth, still assuming the existence of prototypical meanings, is it
possible that the second person imperative has a different default sense
than the third person imperative? That is, is the third person
imperative jussive in sense, but the second person imperative not? I
don’t know for sure, but I think that this is unlikely. We must not be
misled by English translations here as English lacks third person
The point of the preceding is not to deny the existence of a range of
possible meanings for imperative forms in Greek, but rather to suggest
that a possible starting point for the analysis of a particular usage is
the prototypical meaning and that it should be assumed unless contextual
factor suggest otherwise.
Let us now turn to the context of 1 Cor 7:15:
7:8 is explicitly addressed to the unmarried and widows (LEGW DE TOIS
AGAMOIS KAI TAIS CHRAIS)
7:9 has a third plural imperative with these individuals as intended
7:10 addresses the married (TOIS DE GEGAMHKOSIV PARAGGELLW)
7:11 has two third singular imperatives with the wife as intended actor
7:12 is addressed to ‘the rest’ (TOIS DE LOIPOIS LEGW) and it is not
entirely clear who these are. However, the subsequent examples suggest
that these are the other categories of cases, the mixed cases. The first
is a believer with an unbelieving wife, and this person is given a third
singular imperative (MH AFIETW AUTHN).
7:13 is parallel to 7:12 with the intended actor of the third person
imperative a believing wife with an unbelieving husband.
7:15 has as intended actor the same unbelieving husband of the believing
wife of 7:13.
Given this close analysis in which we have a series of third person
imperatives each covering a different category of intended actor, I
think, Don, that the most reasonable answer to your question is that
each of these imperatives is intended as a command (or a prohibition as
the case may be) not to the congregation but to the intended actors, and
that this includes the case of 7:15. I don’t see any contextual grounds
for distinguishing it from the others.
Finally, although nothing I have written has anything to do with
translation, I note that there is evidently some uncertainly among
translators about this passage for TEV (GNB) has the following
translation, “However, if the one who is not a believer wishes to leave
the Christian partner, let it be so.” I understand this translation as
taking the Greek as ambiguous between treating the partner as the
intended actor or the congregation as intended actor. I think the
context argues against this interpretation, but perhaps there are other
facts about Greek that support it. Note that even in this translation,
the immediately following translation itself supports the notion that it
is the husband who is the intended actor: In such cases the Christian
partner, whether husband or wife, is free to act. God has called you to
live in peace.
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