[B-Greek] Third-person commands
Dr. Don Wilkins
drdwilkins at sbcglobal.net
Wed Nov 16 14:44:22 EST 2005
Thanks for the responses, guys. I've been unable to use email for a couple
of days, thus the delay. Harold and Iver are quite right; besides, "Ask him"
in 9:23 simply reiterates "Ask him" in v. 21. Thus far the closest thing I
can find to a 3p command that has clear implications for the 2p who hears it
is the language of prayer. Ordinarily the 2p listeners might be expected to
relay the message and avoid hindering the execution of the command, as in
the 1 Cor. example, but this would not be the case for God as the 2p
listener (as in "Dear Lord, let those who seek my life be put to shame"). It
is also clear that this is not a permissive idea, as though the offenders
will eventually make fools of themselves if God will just allow them to. We
can probably expand the idea to any case of an inferior addressing a
superior, as e.g. someone petitioning a king.
But where this runs into trouble as an example of 3p command = 2p is that it
is easy to explain it simply as a means of avoiding a direct (2p) command to
a superior. So even though it seems clear that the speaker's *intent* is to
petition the 2p listener, this special usage firmly places the command on
the 3p grammatically as an idiom of respect or reverence toward the 2p
superior. The 1p cohortative is also used in such a situation for the same
reason (as in "Let me not be put to shame"), in this case effectively
placing a command on the first person.
So I *think* it is safe to say that the 3p command is always a command to
the third person grammatically, with possible implications for the 2p
listeners. But I would continue to maintain that these implications have
nothing to do with the actual grammar, only the rhetorical effect. To
illustrate the difference, Yancy made an interesting comment when he said in
connection with John 9:21, "...the future indicative 3rd singular stands for
the third person command." While I don't quite agree, in this case at least
you can make a logical progression from 3p future ind. to 3p command. You
start with the idea that the speaker is predicting the behavior of the third
person and move on to the idea that the speaker is imposing that behavior on
the same person. It would be another matter to argue that such a 3p future
is really directed grammatically to a 2p listener as a command for that 2p
to force the 3p to do something. If that were the intent, it would be
simpler and more sensible just to use a 2p command, as in "Tell so-and-so"
or "Have so-and-so do this." A translator might render a 3p
command/future-used-as-imperative that way in an English Bible, but only to
make the idea clearer to a reader of moderate ability--not because the Greek
grammar was really that flexible. On the other hand, a case might be made
for the 3p future as a polite substitution for the 2p, as in the case of the
3p command in prayer, but then the grammar would again be directed to the
>> Concerning what Don was asking recently about third person commands,
>> an interesting case arises in John 9:21 and its transformation in
>> 9:23. The question Don raised seemed to be, can a third person
>> command be intended to understood as a command for a second person?
>> (i.e. When Paul "commands" the unbeliever to "depart" is this
>> intended to mean for the believers "not to stand in the way." The
>> short answer to this question is ofcourse, it happens all the time
>> and John 9:23 is an example of something very much like it. In 9:21
>> the future indicative 3rd singular stands for the third person
>> command. However, in 9:23 the author rephrases what the speakers had
>> said as a second person command.
>It doesn't happen all the time, and this is not an example of what Don was
>suggesting, since there is no 3rd person
>imperative in the example.
>> HLIKIAN ECEI, AUTOS PERI hEAUTOU LALHSAI
>> HLIKIAN ECEI, AUTON EPERWSATE
>> Note that the author reports the second statement as a functional
>> equivalent of the first,
>No, the two are not equivalent.
>In 9:21 the parents say:
>AUTON ERWTHSATE, hHLIKIAN ECEI, AUTOS PERI hEAUTOU LALHSAI.
>The first part is the command. The second and third part describe the son
>as old enough to answer for himself. The
>parents might have used a 3p imperative in the last part, but didn't.
>In 9:23 John has an abbreviated restatement, where he changes the command
>slightly from AUTON ERWTHSATE to AUTON
>EPERWTHSATE, and also reorders the pieces. The description of the son's
>maturity is shortened to the first part only:
>hHLIKIAN ECEI. The second part AUTOS PERI hEAUTOU LALHSAI is not repeated
>as it is not necessary.
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