[B-Greek] aorist optative in Acts 5:24

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Fri Apr 9 06:10:57 EDT 2010


On Apr 8, 2010, at 10:45 PM, Mark Eddy wrote:
> Can a potential optative (or one expressing an indirect question) ever refer
> to a past action? E.g. in Acts 5:24 why not translate TI AN GENOITO TOUTO in
> the past this way: "how this might have happened"? All other optatives in
> the NT appear to refer to the future or present, which would make this
> phrase say something like: "what this might become" or "what might come of
> this." Does the fact that this is aorist and not present have any bearing on
> the answer to this question? 
> 
> I have looked at all the examples in Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the
> Basics and in Robertson's Greek Grammar. But I cannot find any hint in them
> about whether an optative can be used in a question about what might have
> happened in the past.
> 
> If the optative cannot refer to a past action, what construction would Greek
> use to express "how this might have happened"?

Text: 24 ὡς δὲ ἤκουσαν τοὺς λόγους τούτους ὅ τε στρατηγὸς τοῦ ἱεροῦ 
καὶ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς, διηπόρουν περὶ αὐτῶν τί ἂν γένοιτο τοῦτο. 
[24 24 hWS DE HKOUSAN TOUS LOGOUS TOUTOUS hO TE STRATHGOS 
TOU hIEROU KAI hOI ARCIEREIS, DIHPOROUN PERI AUTWN TI AN GENOITO TOUTO. 

I guess this is a potential optative but this optative is also in a clause of indirect question,
which is common in older Greek but not in NT Koine. I think one could probably
find lots of instances of this in Hellenistic prose narratives but Luke is the only
one in the NT that writes that style of narative.  It's in the optative because
the introductory verb DIHPOROUN  is past tense. "They were flumoxed over 
what this could possibly be."

To be sure, it means "how this might have happened." But it's more than that;
it's a way of saying "What the hell is going on?" or simply "What the hell IS this?"
If the introductory verb had been present tense, the clause of indirect question would
more likely have been in the indicative, e.g. TI (ESTIN) TOUTO?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)






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