[B-Greek] Third-person commands
iver at larsen.dk
Sat Nov 12 03:53:35 EST 2005
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 dont have
separate and different meanings see below.)
IL: The purpose of using a different term for 3. person is to avoid the notion that a 3rd person imperative is as much a
command as a 2nd person imperative is. I am not aware of any language that has a 3rd person imperative functioning in
the same way as a 2nd person imperative. You know more languages than I do, so maybe you can think of one? You know
Swahili, which has a 2nd person singular and plural imperative, functioning as a command (fungua mlango!). But in
addition, there is a set of subjunctive forms in all persons, where the second person form is used as a polite command
either in the positive, (e.g. ufungue or in the negative, e.g. usifungue). For Greek, I would have suggested subjunctive
for the 3rd person, but that term is already in use for something different.
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.
IL: I don't think this is a helpful description of the 3rd person imperative in Greek. Why do you suggest to add "I say
to"? By doing so, it becomes unclear who the addressee is. If you say "I say to him", it sounds as if he is the
addressee, but he is in fact not. He is the actor.
There are an abundance of 3rd person imperatives in Greek, 15 in 1 Cor 7 alone, and 43 in 1 Cor as a whole. (Most of
them are singular). Looking at the usage and meaning, the prototypical sense of the 3rd person imperative seems to be
obligation and is often best translated in English by "should" or "ought to".
When I looked up the 15 3rd person imperatives in 1 Cor 7, the GNB only once uses "let" (in 7:15). For all the others,
it uses 7 "should"s, 3 "must"s, 1 "ought to" and one is buried in the idiom "never mind" (more literally: It should not
bother you.) So, at least the GNB prototypically translated a 3rd ps imperative by "should".
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).
IL: Yes, this is fine, but it seems simpler to me to express this by saying: I am telling you people that such a person
ought to.... or in short: He should... One could make it stronger and say: He must.... , but I am not sure that the
import of the Greek imperative is that strong. That may be a matter of context or presuppositions, and I noticed that
GNB decided that in 3 cases the context called for a "must" (vs. 11,12 and 13.). NIV and NLT also use "must", but I
think this may be theologically motivated. RSV, NET and NCV use "should" in the same places.
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.
IL: My point is that the prototypical sense of command is fine for the 2nd person, but not for the 3rd person. There the
protocypical meaning is more like obligation.
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
dont know for sure, but I think that this is unlikely. We must not be
misled by English translations here as English lacks third person
IL: This is where I disagree, and I don' think I am being misled by English translations, not being a native English
speaker anyway. Which English translation are you referring to? I am looking at the actual occurrences of the 3rd person
imperatives in the GNT, and rarely is the English word "let" an adequate translation of the intended, contextual
meaning. The GNB exceptional usage of "let" in 1 Cor 7:15 is probably motivated by context.
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.
IL: Well, it makes a big difference whether we assume that the prototypical meaning of the 2nd and 3rd person is the
same (based on formal and historical criteria) or whether they are different (based on semantic criteria.)
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