[B-Greek] Third-person commands

Dr. Don Wilkins drdwilkins at sbcglobal.net
Thu Nov 10 15:15:00 EST 2005

First let me (using "let" here as permission) thank all of you who  
responded. I think I understand your perspectives, and most prefer to  
see the imperative as very flexible, not confined to true commands.  
What I'm really hoping for is outside-the-box exploration, ultimately  
beyond not only GGBTB but BDF and Porter as well. However, the  
comment cited from Porter ("...any permissive sense is a phenomenon  
of English translation") is a good starting point. If you'll all  
humor me, perhaps another good one would be that the flexible  
imperative theory is in the same category as "if = since" in the so- 
called first-class condition. I would call the latter a fallacy  
resulting from the perceived effect of the statement on listeners,  
and actually neutralizing the rhetorical force of "if." That said,  
let me try a different approach by offering my current view of  
passages like 1 Cor. 5:17 and Matt. 27:42 and asking for critiques  
and suggestions. Since this is all for the sake of discussion and  
exploration, please consider the starting points I just mentioned as  
givens, if at all possible.

So from this perspective, the third-person imperatives are commands  
grammatically, whether to the departing unbeliever, Jesus on the  
cross, or even to the cup in Matt. 26:39. The latter perhaps should  
be classified as specialized prayer-language following a long  
tradition, so I would concentrate on the first two examples. We all  
infer from the context of 1 Cor. 5:17 that Paul's readers are being  
tacitly directed or advised not to impede the execution of the  
command. "If the unbeliever is leaving, then he is to leave!" (The  
rest of you, don't try to stop him.) In Matt 27:42 we have "Jesus had  
better come down from the cross, then we'll believe in Him!" (We dare  
Him to do it!) Keeping in mind our theoretical starting points, I  
could classify the parenthetical statements as rhetorical effects of  
the actual commands, probably intended to be so by the original  
speaker or writer. In a sense, the key to all of this is what options  
does the speaker/writer have in his syntactical arsenal? In Greek  
there are convenient ways of expressing all the ideas gathered under  
the "flexible imperative" theory that are more direct than using the  
imperative, so why is the imperative used anyway? I would submit that  
the imperative maintains its own force, with other implications (e.g.  
the parenthetical statements above) easily being inferred. The  
question in my mind is whether it would be legitimate to speak of  
these uses of the third-person imperative as being "pregnant," in the  
sense of carrying such implications as a matter of rhetoric, but not  
grammar. Clearly the temptation is define the rhetorical effect as a  
category of the imperative itself, as if e.g. Paul had said, "If the  
unbeliever is leaving, all you other people stay out of his way!" I  
would suggest instead that he is saying, "If you are one of those  
unbelieving spouses, then get out!" And since impeding the offender's  
progress would be in opposition to Paul's command, it is logical to  
infer "Stay out of his way" as an unspoken directive to the others.  
This happens to be an important passage with respect to real-world  
marriage relationships, so it might also help to think in terms of  
what a pastor or counselor should say to someone whose spouse is  
threatening to leave.

I hope that clarifies my perspective, right or wrong. I would be  
grateful for additional responses, however we need not cover the same  
ground again. To those who would insist that what I am describing as  
a rhetorical effect is really a grammatical meaning of the  
imperative, let me say in advance that I respect their position and  
will continue to think about it.

Don Wilkins

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