Re: Future conditions (+ general harangue)

Carl W. Conrad (
Thu, 24 Oct 1996 07:57:13 -0500

At 5:04 PM -0500 10/23/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Most NT texts seem to use the term "future more probable" for the same form
>that most classical people call "future more vivid". If I'm not mistaken, a
>couple of RBGs (Really Big Greeks) have stated flatly that it is more vivid,
>not more probable. Yet NT grammars seem to favor more probable.
>Is this used differently in NT Greek?

Having just perused Wallace's (_GG Beyond the Basics)_ account of
conditionals, I see that he categorizes the conditions as "Class(es) 1, 2,
3, and 4." As I've seen this categorization used by posters to B-Greek, I
know that it must have some degree of currency with NT students. It may
well be that everyone prefers what s/he was originally taught and became
used to with regard to conditionals, but I personally find this sort of
non-descriptive terminology for classification anything but praiseworthy. I
can see some degree of reasonability in Class 1 comprising all sorts of
contingent clauses with indicatives in both protasis and apodosis, negation
OU, and verbs in any tense, but I cannot see the advantage in avoiding the
useful descriptive terms "Contrary-to-fact," "Unreal," or "Counter-factual"
for what in the supposedly "classy" categorization is "Class 2;" nor can I
see the advantage in avoiding the descriptive terms "Future less vivid"
(which Mounce DOES term "Future more probable," which is perhaps a better
phrase than "future less vivid") and "Present general" and lumping clauses
that use EAN or AN in the protasis together in "Class 3"--and finally
having a "Class 4" to comprise what I learned as "Future less vivid" and
what might as well be called "Future less probable," this being the
construction, relatively rare in the NT, employing the optative in both
protasis and apodosis. While it is true that the Classical Attic categories
as traditionally taught:
(a) Generalizing: present and past types (including relative &
(b) Counter-factual: present and past (inclusive aslo)
(c) Future: most vivid, more vivid, less vivid (inclusive as well)
are not used with such clear distinction in the later Koine, primarily
because the optative has become obsolescent or obsolete for some writers,
it always seemed to me that these were more useful terms because they
described the situations. I do think that using "probable" in place of
"vivid" for these Future conditions is an improvement. I might add that it
is also common to refer to the "Future less vivid" condition as a
"Potential" or "Should-would" condition (i.e. optative in both clauses, AN
in the apodosis).

This leads directly into a bone I'd like to pick with grammarians of the
ancient languages generally and of NT Greek in particular. The more NT
Greek grammars I see (to a lesser extent, I've seen this with Latin
grammars also), the more I observe what seems to me an EPIDEMIC of
multiplication of grammatical categories with a consequence of complicating
still further a grammar that is already complicated enough--and to be
crudely sweeping about this, I think it applies both to the classification
of case usage and to the classification of verb syntax. I'd have to bring
to bear on this observation something that I think is also relevant: the
insistence upon a synchronic perspective of the Greek of the NT by NT
grammarians accompanied by the virtual abandonment of any diachronic
perspective on a language with a literary history ranging from Linear B
tablets of the 15th century BCE up to the present. While I'll readily grant
that one can learn to read basic NT Greek without ever reading a word of
Greek outside the NT or outside of the era of the NT, I would heavily
underscore something that Edgar Krentz wrote on the Classics list last week
with regard to teaching NT texts as part of a Classical Greek curriculum:
when reading the NT comes to fine-tuning and is ready to become an art, it
will require at least some measure of experience with Greek outside the NT
and outside the era of the NT.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR