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Greek Conditional Sentences (Part 2)

(Author's note: In my last column, I mentioned that our third child was on the way. He was born on January 11th, 2005. Thanks to God, both he and his mother are healthy and doing very well.)

As we mentioned in the previous column, there are five classes of Greek conditional sentences. We discussed the first class conditional sentence in the previous column in which we noted that this condition assumed something to be true for the sake of argument. Hence, Satan uses this form in Matthew 5:3, "If you are the son of God, command that these stones become bread." The temptation was not to cast doubt that Jesus was the Son of God, but to tempt Jesus into obeying Satan for physical desires.

The second class conditional sentence represents that which the speaker believes to be contrary to fact. There aren't nearly as many of these in the Greek New Testament as first class conditionals (only about 50). We use this kind of conditional sentence quite frequently in English, most often when we express how we wish things to be. "If I were rich, then I could buy a new car." We use the past tense "be" verb "were," along with "if" to express this contrary-to-fact condition. There are other ways we express contrary-to-fact conditionals in English, but this example will best help us to understand the Greek. Hence, in Greek, a contrary-to-fact conditional contains the word "EI," (if) which must take either an imperfect or aorist verb (i.e. past tense verbs), in the conditional part of the sentence (the protasis) and the conclusive part of the sentence (apodosis) may or may not have the particle "AN," but will have a secondary tense verb (imperfect or aorist, that is, past tense verbs) in the indicative mood.

Some examples of the second class condition occur in the following passages:

Hebrews 8:4 "For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest ..." The point the writer is making is that Jesus is not on earth and so he isn't a priest according to the law, but according to the order of Melchizedec.

Galatians 1:10 "... if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." Here, of course, Paul's point was that he was a servant of Christ, so he wasn't trying to please men.

1 Corinthians 12:19 "And if they were all one member, where were the body?" The whole context of this passage contains illustrative counterfactuals regarding the body. In verse 17, the verbs are not explicitly stated in the Greek, but they are implied, "If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?" The point being that the body is not one member, but many.

The counterfactual can even be used to perpetrate a lie as in John 18:30, "... If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee" as stated by those who delivered Jesus to Pilate. Of course, the truth was that Jesus was not a malefactor, but the Sanhedrim didn't want Pilate to know that. Hence, the second class conditional is used to perpetrate a false counterfactual.

There are several other examples. It would be good to look for these as one studies through the New Testament.

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Greek Conditional Sentences (Part 1)

by Kevin Cauley

We've all used conditional sentences in language. Perhaps the greatest use (abuse) of the conditional is in regard to rearing children, "If you touch that, then you'll regret it!" (Ah, the joys of parenthood.) But we also use conditional sentences in every day conversation and business. "If the third quarter profits are up, then we will remove the hiring freeze."

Conditional sentences come in many varieties. Sometimes we use conditionals when we want to assume something to be true for the sake of argument. "If, as you say, the rent is due on the 15th, then I will pay it." Sometimes we use conditionals to indicate probability. "If it rains on Friday, then I will not be able to play golf." Sometimes we use conditionals to indicate counterfactual situations. "If you were a gentleman, then you would have opened the door for your date."

We find conditional sentences in the New Testament as well. Linguists have categorized these conditional sentences into five classes. A class one conditional sentence is a sentence that assumes the truth of the condition for the sake of argument.1 This conditional is composed of the word "EI" (if) with the indicative mood in the first half of the conditional, and with any mood or tense being used in the conclusive half of the condition. (Linguists call the conditional part of the sentence [the part with 'if'] the protasis, and the main clause the apodosis.)

Some have stated in the past that "EI" in the first class conditional may be translated "since." But this isn't the case. More properly, we should consider the conditional clause that which is assumed true for the sake of discussion or that which is assumed true because someone believes it to be true (either the speaker or the one with whom one is having the conversation). While it is the case that the indicative mood is the mood of fact, it is the mood of fact only insomuch as some individual believes his statement to be fact. It isn't always necessarily the case that the speaker is stating facts, though he believes them to so be. Hence, when seeing the first class conditional used, we may readily accept that someone believes the condition to be true, though it may not actually be.

One such example is found in Matthew 12:26-28. Jesus says in verse 27, "And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out?" This statement is, in fact, a first class conditional sentence. Does that mean that it is true that Jesus casts out demons by Beelzebub? No. But it does mean that Jesus assumed that to be true for the sake of argument in this context, namely, because the Pharisees believed that to be true. Verses 26 and 28 also contain examples of first class conditional sentences because someone believed those things to be true as well.

Matthew 17:4 is another fine example. Peter says, "It is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." Peter uses the first class conditional, assuming that it would be the Lord's will that these tabernacles be made. It was, in fact, Peter's belief that this would be the Lord's will. But it really wasn't the Lord's will.

Lord willing, we shall take up the discussion of the remaining four classes of conditional statements in the weeks to come. For the present, however, I shall be taking a short break from writing my column as we are expecting our third child next week. I look forward to sharing more from my studies of Greek, after a short hiatus. Thanks for reading.

1. See Wallace's discussion in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Zondervan 1996) pp. 690-694. The first class conditional is fraught with some controversy on how it is to be handled, but I believe that Wallace does a good job in pointing out the fallacies of the "traditional" view that "if" may be translated "since" in some passages. In fact, Wallace states, "We will argue that the first class condition should never be translated since."

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The Future Perfect of Matthew 16:19, 18:18

by Kevin Cauley

In Matthew 16:19, Jesus stated to Peter, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." A similar statement is made in Matthew 18:18 concerning all of the apostles. Catholics have long used this verse to justify the authority of church tradition. They state that it was always Jesus' intention for the apostles to determine doctrinal matters and that heaven would then "ratify" the apostles' decisions in that regard. Such could not be further from the truth, but upon initial inspection this appears to be what is being taught in these verses. Did Jesus really intend for the apostles and eventually the church to make doctrine? If not, then why is this worded this way?

This words under consideration in this passage, namely, "shall be bound" and "shall be loosed" are from a Greek participle that is in the Future Perfect tense. Rienecker and Rogers (pg. 49) state, "This construction is the fut. perf. pass. periphrastic trans. 'will have been bound,' 'will have been loosed.' It is the church on earth carrying out heaven's decisions, not heaven ratifying the church's decision." It is also interesting to note that such a use of the Future Perfect has been consistent in the Greek language since classical times.

Hence, this passage should not read as it does in the common translation, but rather should read, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." The same is true for Matthew 18:18 as well. With this understanding of the verse, the Catholic dogmatist has no ground upon which to stand in claiming that "church tradition" is as equally authoritative as heaven's pronouncements themselves.

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Studying Greek--Beginners' Pitfalls (Part 3)

by Kevin Cauley

(Author's note: This article concludes this series of articles on "Beginners' Pitfalls." I hope that the reader has enjoyed studying these things and can take some practical benefit from them.)

  1. Presume ordinary meanings to grammatical terminology.

I mentioned this particular pitfall earlier as an example of using grammar to interpretationalize the text, but I believe that this pitfall deserves its own brief discussion. When one reads through a Greek grammar, one will notice that words that describe grammatical constructions often appear familiar. Words like "absolute," "accusative," "locative," "habitual," "temporal," "aspect," "elative," and even simple things like "gender" and "number" can provide difficulties to the beginning student. It's easy to impose a definition one already has in mind upon one of these grammatical words and come to a conclusion that isn't warranted. These words are used by the grammars to have reference to grammatical relationship. While if one ponders the grammar, the ordinary usage may be enlightening, to come to conclusions about grammar based upon the conversational use of the word more than often leads to misunderstanding. Moreover, it is a good idea to keep an English dictionary handy when studying such words as many times the English dictionary will give the grammatical meaning of a word as one of its definitions.

  1. Presume that everything can be translated word for word.

I believe in word-for-word translation as much as is possible. However, I don't believe that every Greek word can be translated with a single English word all the time. Some Greek verbs contain multiple thoughts and must be translated by multiple English words. Sometimes in order for the sentence to read smoothly in English, one must supply certain English words. Too, Greek nouns in the gentive, ablative, dative, locative, and instrumental cases often imply certain prepositions which must be understood in order for these words to make sense in the translation. We don't decline English words into cases like the Greek language does. So we have to use some additional words to translate case. But even beyond that, there are idioms. Idioms are mostly small groups of words that, when used together, render a specially unique meaning that one would not normally expect from just reading the solitary words in the idiom by themselves. A frequently used idiom in the book of First John is EN TOUTW. Literally translated it means "in this thing" or "in this one." Idiomatically, it may be translated "hereby" or "herein" depending upon how the phrase is used in the context. Another idiom that I discussed in a previous article relates to the use of definite article and the conjunction KAI to link together multiple epithets applied to the same noun. When so done in Greek, one may come to the conclusion that the epithets are being used adjectivally instead of as distinct and different nouns. (See my article, A Greek Proof For the Deity of Christ.)

  1. Presume that nothing may be translated word for word.

Just the opposite of the above fallacy is the presumption that everything in Greek is idiomatic and that, therefore, nothing may be translated word for word. This presumption underlies most of the modern translation theories. They state that since one cannot translate everything word for word then nothing may be translated word for word. Hence the effort at word-for-word translation is abandoned and replaced with a more or less thought-for-thought translation process. While it is true that not everything may be translated word for word, it isn't the case that nothing can be. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 (the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament) is a fine example of a passage that may be translated word for word. And frequently there is a one-to-one correspondence from words in the Greek to words in the English. God chose to reveal his message to us in words selected by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13). It's not the translator's prerogative to abandon God's chosen method of revelation in the effort to translate. So while we must recognize the existence of idioms in the Greek language, we must also maintain the feasibility of literal translation. This method of translation is referred to as the modified literal method.

  1. Assume that you can know it all when it comes to the Greek language.

I offer this last "pitfall" more or less as an ending cap to this series of articles. The Greek language is tremendously difficult. Even grammarians who have studied the language for years and years find occasion to disagree regarding this or that particular aspect of the language. I started studying Greek in 1987. I'm still working on it today and wouldn't dream of calling myself a "master" at the language. When we consider the vast period of time over which the language was spoken (some believe it to be nearly 2000 years, not including modern Greek), the amount of literature that was written in this language, and the fact that it was once the language of the world, we can begin to appreciate the complexities involved in understanding it. I would caution the beginning student not to believe that he could ever "master" the language as a whole, but rather come to understand that studying Greek is more like peeling an onion. Once one gets through one layer, there is yet another, thicker layer, waiting to be discovered. Of course, I don't want to discourage one from studying Greek. There are true gems to be discovered and treasured in the language, but one should not set one's expectations so high that he becomes discouraged, but rather be encouraged to know that just around the bend is another nugget waiting to delight the mind and capture the intellect.

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