Prohibitions in the imperative mood

dalmatia at dalmatia at
Wed Oct 7 15:59:20 EDT 1998

Bret A. Hicks wrote:
>     I was studying 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 this morning and came across
> the negative imperatives:
>     MH SBENNUTE  - do not extinguish (vs 19)
>     ME EXOUTHENEITE - do not despise (vs 20)
>     As I was researching this, I remebered the discussion on whether
> prohibiions on present imperatives (especially as contrasted with aorist
> subjunctives) signify that one is supposed to stop doing what they are
> presently doing ("Stop extinguishing the Spirit"; "Stop despising
> prophecies") or whether they are really merely prohibitions ("Do not
> extinguish the Spirit"; "Do not despise prophecies").
>     The opinion of scholars seems to be divided.  Roberston, both in his
> Word Pictures (Volume 4, page 37) and his Grammar (pages 851-852), and
> Brooks & Winbery (pages 127-128; they even use the verse in question as
> an example) seem to see the use of MH with the present imperative as
> indiciating that a present action must be stopped.  On the other hand,
> Mounce (pages 309-310) and Young (Intermediate NT Greek, page 144)
> indicate that this is reading too much into the grammar.
>     Interestingly enough, I notice that the older grammars seem to
> accept the distinction, while the newer ones see it as doubtful.  Is
> there a shift in understnading prohibitions with present imperatives, or
> is the matter simply one that is debated among grammarians?  Is it
> reading too much into the grammar to suppose that this use indicates
> stopping a present activity, or is this a distinction that should be
> maintained?  Any help would be greatly appreciated.  (If this topic has
> been discussed at length in the past, a point in the direction of the
> dates/posts would be greatly appreciated as well.)

English is a little strange here ~ The aorist is the simple injunctive
"Do not despise...", whereas the present tense prohibition says "Do
not be despising..."  Implicit in the present prohibition is the idea
that there is some despising going on, whereas in the aorist, such an
idea is not implied.  So the "Stop despising..." translation arises
for the present injunctive.

A little English example might help.  To tell people "Do not kill one
another" is a general injunctive, whereas to tell them "Do not be
killing one another"  seems to mean that they are killing one
another.  This distinction, however, easily blurs in English, because
an English speaking person CAN mean either with either. Modern Greek,
I am told, reserves the aorist injunctive as the sharp and immediate
command to 'stop immediately', while the present form is more of a
general prohibition.  I do not know if k Greek uses the aorist as a
sharp command...  Carl?

I hope I have not muddied the waters!


Lisa Messmer..................ICQ# 5666415
George Blaisdell        dalmatia at

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