1 John 1:9

1 John 1:9

Dear Alastair,

Do you have examples from the new testament, or if not then from the septuagint, of the construction “ean” + subjunctive aorist, which clearly mean more than simply an indefinite possibility? I have not seen “ean” + subjunctive used when the “gnomic sense” is intended, and I consider “ean” to “modify” the verb, including its grammatical and semantic meaning. For example, Matt 9:21 uses “ean monon aywmai” where the aorist subjunctive is clearly referring to the possibility of the woman touching Jesus’ garment just once, so it must be the context that supplies the “gnomic” meaning. Other clear examples of this construction in Matt which are not gnomic are 12:29, 16:26, 18:13,15-17, 21:3,21,24-26, 22:24, 26:42, 28:14. So are there examples which are unambiguously “gnomic”?

David Lim

On 3 April 2011 12:34, Alastair Haines wrote:

> > On Apr 2 Renwick Preston wrote: > > Aorist Subjunctive in 1 Jn 1:9 > > Why is the word for forgive in this verse an aorist? > > > > From: Carl Conrad > > 1 John 1:9 ἐὰν ὁμολογῶμεν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν, πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος, > > ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ καθαρίσῃ ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἀδικίας. > > [1John 1:9 EAN hOMOLOGWMEN TAS hAMARTIAS hHMWN, > > PISTOS ESTIN KAI DIKAIOS, hINA AFHi hHMIN TAS hAMARTIAS > > KAI KAQARISHi hHMAS APO PASHS ADIKIAS.] > > > > I would think it’s because God’s forgiveness is thought of as a single > act > > rather than as an ongoing one. > > > > From: Nikolaos Adamou > > It is the 3rd structure of a hypothetical case > > ἐὰν + subjunctive , ἀόριστος (past) > > ἐὰν ὁμολογῶμεν – ἀφῇ + καθαρίσῃ > > > > it is used to indicate the something is repeated in the past and in the > > future > > http://users.sch.gr/papangel/sch/anc/ph10.ipothetiki_logi.pdf > > CC: “rather than as an ongoing one” > NA: “repeated in the past and in the future” > > At the prompting of Professor Conrad, regarding the force of the aorist for > exactly this same verb three times in Matthew 6, I checked some well-known > authorities on the subject. > > Porter categorises many cases like these as OMNITEMPORAL, which is a broad > class subsuming several traditional divisions. Fanning, on the other hand, > in a discussion of gnomic aorists, refines traditional divisions into > additional classes. For example, “the aorist of similies” (not relevant > here), but also, “aorist for Semitic perfect” (following Black). Two > classes > of Semitic perfect typically translated by aorists in the LXX are gnomic > perfects and stative perfects. Similar observations are made in technical > commentaries on Matthew. > > In the current verse, would Porter, Fanning, Black et al. line up behind CC > “single act rather than … ongoing” or NA “repeated in … past and … > future”? Perhaps these authorities may support BOTH CC AND NA in 1 John and > in Matthew. That is, the aorist could reflect John’s (or Matthew’s) first > language Semitic usage. Whatever precise idiomatic usage obtains, however, > the verb “to forgive” is being abstracted beyond a single TIME SITUATED > event. > > In so far as Professor Conrad and Nikolas Adamou refer to the same > conception, I think the best literature supports them. That conception is > something like: PRIMARILY the state of God forgiving the remorseful viewed > as a TIMELESS UNITY, but with legitimate conotations of concrete > instantiation of this general principle, without commitment to whether it > is > regular, continuous, past, present or future. > > I can supply various quotes from Porter, Fanning, Black and various > commentaries if there is sufficient interest. > > alastair > > — > home page: http://www.ibiblio.org/ > mailing list > @lists.ibiblio.org > http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/ >

9 thoughts on “1 John 1:9”

  1. Dear Alastair,

    I do consider “gnomic” to refer to generic meaning, however there does not seem to be evidence that this generic meaning is intrinsic to the verb or, for that matter, even a whole complete clause, just as in English the statement “I will get what I want” is ambiguous, either meaning “I will get later what I want at the present” or the gnomic “I will get what I want in general”, so whether some statement is gnomic in English depends completely upon the wider context, not even the immediate context and certainly not the verbs. I do believe the same is true in Greek.

    For example, that which you quoted from Iliad is: [Iliad II:17:30-32] “but you having retreated, I urge [you] to go into [a] crowd, not even standing opposite me, before [you] suffer something evil. moreover [it] having been done, even [a] fool shall know [it].” Yes, in this context the gnomic meaning is intended, but it is dependent on the context and independent of the verb tense. The anarthous “nhpios” is part of it, because it has no referrent and therefore implies a “general” fool.

    And I cannot agree that we should assume that “ean” only influences the choice of mood and does not affect the semantic meaning. As far as I have seen, the usage reflects not only the choice of the subjunctive mood but also the range of semantic meaning that can be expressed. Also the subjunctive does not exist in certain “tenses” and therefore cannot have a one-to-one correspondence with its indicative counterpart. So all my examples were meant to prove is that the gnomic meaning is determined solely by the context and not by the verb tense.

    As for those which I listed, you might dispute Matt 12:29, but it means “how can anyone enter into the house of the strong man unless [he] first binds the strong man?”. If it said “[a] strong man” I agree that it can be gnomic, but because it refers to “the strong man”, and the context has Jesus saying “if I cast out the demons in [the] spirit of God, then the kingdom of God came upon you” before and “and then [he] will plunder his house” after, the context indicates the intended meaning to be association between Jesus and the one who binds the strong man, the strong man having been referred to earlier. Other examples similarly refer to an indefinite possibility rather than a generic truth. Matt 18:13 uses both present imperative “go” and aorist imperative “reprove” as well, if we consider imperatives also in our study.


    David Lim

  2. Dear Alastair,

    It is true that the definite article would not in general exclude the possibility of a statement being gnomic. However an article usually means one of three things. We would first expect it to refer to an antecedent, which is usually the closest in grammatical proximity. If there is none in the expected places, we would then expect the articular noun to be specified by one or more adjectival clauses, which may include prepositional clauses or participles. If neither of the two are present then it usually refers to a known entity in the wider current scope, which may end up being the common frame of reference. This is meant mostly for ordinary nouns and names are not included. “pneumati qeou” therefore falls into the third category, referring to “[the] spirit of God” in the Jewish frame of reference. “h basileia tou qeou” is in the second category, referring to “the kingdom which is of God”. The second “the strong man” is of course in the first category, referring to the previously-mentioned “strong man”. Within that sentence alone it is impossible to decide for the first, however Matt 12:24-28 indicates that Jesus had a specific “strong man” in mind, therefore it must be non-gnomic, although of course anyone may disagree with this analysis. The point is that it is most probably non-gnomic. =)

    Regards, David Lim

  3. Hi again David

    I’m going to be a little naughty, and try to steal your example (Matthew 12:29), which I think you have accurately identified as a subjunctive aorist in the protasis of a conditional, where a generic/gnomic/omnitemporal reading might be a possibility. Although you provide evidence that, at least in this case, the aorist isn’t generic/gnomic/omnitemporal, please allow me to offer counter-evidence.

    29b ἐὰν μὴ πρῶτον δήσῃ τὸν ἰσχυρόν; 29c καὶ τότε τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ διαρπάσει. 29b EAN MH PRWTON DHSHi ISXURON; 29c KAI TOTE THN OIKIAN AUTOU DIARPASEI.

    The example is slightly complicated because the verb (in this case DEW, “I bind”) is negated (by MH). Additionally, the example suggests, to me at least, that the connection between protasis and apodosis, in this particular case, is procedural (note PRWTON … TOTE) rather than deontological or teleological, as in Matthew 6:14-15. However, it is nicely analagous to Matthew in that the conditional structure is “EAN + (aorist) subjunctive (DHSHi) … future indicative (DIARPASEI)”.

    There’s another complication, though, in that the protasis does double-duty, providing a condition both for 12:29a and 12:29c.

    29a ἢ πῶς δύναται τις εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ 29a καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἁρπάσαι, …

    29a Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, 29b unless he first binds the strong man? 29c And then he will plunder his house. (NASB)

    The basic idea seems to be: (all x) (all y) (possible for x to rob y implies possible for x to bind y) equivalently (all x) (all y) (impossible for x to bind y implies impossible for x to rob y).

    The significance, of course, is that Jesus (according to the text) is not only asserting power to bind, but intention to rob. The dispute with the Pharisees is regarding them acknowledging Jesus’ power, but questioning his motives. So, yes, as you said David, “the strong man” in this gospel tradition, refers to the Devil: Jesus’ boss according to the Pharisees, but his “target” according to Jesus. However, I think you’re too smart for the text, David. Jesus is his typically (almost annoyingly) circumlocutionary self here, talking of some abstract, generalised “strong man” rather than giving the Devil his name in this verse.

    I should stop there, and just ask some questions. Why does the text have a future tense hARPASAI? Why not a perfect instead of the aorist DHSHi? Why does the NASB translate both into the English present?

    I think there are a lot of generic indicators in this verse. “How is it possible for just anybody to go into the home of the strong and grab his stuff? Unless…”


  4. Dear Alastair,

    Alright, I will give my answers to your questions then. =)

    Why does the text have a future tense hARPASAI? Because “[he] will plunder his house” after “[he] binds the strong [one]”, just as the phrase “kai tote” implies. Clearly “the strong [one]” is singular and not plural, so it is not impossible but unlikely to refer to “the strong [ones]” in general.

    Why not a *perfect* instead of the aorist DHSHi? Because subjunctives usually come in aorist form, as Mark Lightman also pointed out. In other words what we call tense of the verb (present, aorist, perfect…) may be constrained by what we call the mood (indicative, subjunctive), and may not be independent “parameters” of the verb. It is almost natural for “ean” to be followed by either a present or aorist subjunctive, so they do not have exactly the same meaning as the indicative counterparts (even if they once had).

    Why does the NASB translate both into the English *present*? I am not interested in what people translate the words as, especially since each translation has its own features and flaws. I think we are instead interested in what the author originally meant, which may not be anything more than an indefinite possibility.


    David Lim

  5. EAN (ἐὰν) originated in crasis (vocalic mingling) of εἰ and ἀν (EI and AN).

    As for why an aorist is translated into Engish as a Present tense, I think the simple reason is that English has no Aorist tense, but the Present tense in English has much broader range of usage.

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

  6. Dear Alastair,

    Oh if you were concerned with just how to render the Greek into English, then for Matt 6:14-15 I certainly agree that the closest representative of “ean afhte” is “if you forgive”, however we should note that translation is not exactly what we are concerned with. As another point to note, I do believe “ean” causes the subjunctive verb to drop its tense, becoming something like the infinitive, inasmuch as “ean afhte” is, as Carl mentioned, similar to “ei an afhte” which is approximately “if you shall forgive”, which is why I said being an aorist does not mean the same thing in different constructions. Anyway, Matt 6:12 in the Byzantine text-type says “ws kai hmeis afiemen” so I never saw what you meant in the first place until I looked at the NU text haha.. Perhaps the scribes saw no difference between the present and aorist (for this particular context), thus the variants.

    Regards, David Lim


    1. My apologies, Mr Troy Day
      Dear friends students and scholars of Greek. I think it’s wonderful. Keep up the good work. Churchill once said he flunked English but it served him well. While his peers went on with Greek and Latin he was still learning the structure of the English sentence.
      I do think, if I’m not mistaken, that there are a few scholars and pastors from Greece.

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