Luke 7:39

Alex / Ali alexali at
Tue Oct 9 08:23:51 EDT 2001

In regard to Kenneth Litwak and Steven Lo Vullo's discussion of Luke 7:39.

Steven noted,

>It's important to note that this is a second class (contrary-to-fact)
>condition. In a present contrary-to-fact condition, the protasis has EI
>the imperfect indicative and the apodosis has AN with the imperfect
>indicative. If a past contrary-to-fact condition is intended, the aorist
>indicative is used in both protasis and apodosis. (There are some
>to these rules. AN is sometimes omitted, and because EIMI doesn't have an
>aorist, the imperfect may be used in a past contrary-to-fact condition.) So
>AN is construed with EGINWSKEN, not TIS. And the sense of the present
>contrary-to-fact here is: "If this man were a prophet, he would know, etc."
>(Not sure why RSV and NRSV translate as they do.)

I don't have the time to do more than suggest a possible reason (in terms of
the grammar) for the NRSV translation, "he would have known ..." (and my
doing so is not an indication that I understand the text as the NRSV
translators have).  Maximilian Zerwick in his 'Biblical Greek illustrated by
Examples' (section 314, page 107) argues, in relation to unreal conditions,
that "the choice of 'tense' whether in protasis or in apodosis depends
entirely on aspect and not on the time referred to;  and it is all the more
necessary to note this, in that some defective grammars teach that 'the
aorist is used of past time and the imperfect of present time'."   Porter in
his 'Verbal Aspect ...' (p305) similarly, "In contradistinction to the
general rule found in the grammars, the difference in verb forms within I.b.
conditionals relates to their verbal aspect, not temporal reference."  In
his post, Ken wrote that what seems required is "some such sense as 'he
would have known'. "  Did the NRSV translators, agreeing with Ken's required
sense and with the grammatical possibilities as suggested by Zerwick and
later by Porter, take the Pharisee to be speaking of the past moment when
the Lord could have taken steps to prevent the woman from taking hold of him
(in which case it does make sense to refer to the time when, if he were a
prophet, 'he would have known')?

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia

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