Imperatives and encouragement

Matthew Longhorn
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Imperatives and encouragement

Post by Matthew Longhorn » October 3rd, 2018, 4:15 pm

Hi all, just a quick question on whether it is acceptable to read imperatives such as those in Philippians 4:4 (Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε) and 1 Thess 5:16 (Πάντοτε χαίρετε)to rejoice as encouragements and not as commands.
I frequently read that these are commands, but in English we use imperatives in contexts that indicate we desire that state for someone. We use them to encourage a person to get better soon, among other scenarios that indicate that we don’t expect an act of will to make it so.
I just heard one audio book proclaim that “to not rejoice is a sin”.

I recognise that a hortatory subjunctive would be more applicable to encouragement or a third person imperative, but is it acceptable to see this nuance in a second person imperative?
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timothy_p_mcmahon
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Re: Imperatives and encouragement

Post by timothy_p_mcmahon » October 3rd, 2018, 5:27 pm

Your audio book author is one of those hyper-literalists who latch onto a term like imperative and make foolish observations.

The imperative mood simply indicates that the speaker/writer wants the hearer/reader to do something. It can have the nuance of a request, an exhortation, a military-style order... not to beat a dead horse, but it's all about context – specifically, the relationship between the two parties.

Would your audio book guy suggest that all the imperatives in Psalms are examples of ordering God around?
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Matthew Longhorn
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Re: Imperatives and encouragement

Post by Matthew Longhorn » October 4th, 2018, 3:30 am

Thanks Timothy.
I agree on the context side of things. I finished not too long ago Fantin’s book on the imperative and he went into context a fair bit. My guess is that the author of that audio book would not be tempted to say imperatives from a lower ranked person to a higher would carry the same force as higher to lower. He seems to be arguing that the bible through the Holy Spirit is authoritatively commanding us to rejoice.
I am mainly wondering if there is any linguistic basis that I can challenge this on from a theoretical standpoint. I didn’t spot anything in Fantin specifically related to “good wishes” or desires for someone to have an attitude without it being a moral imperative ( I may need to dig back through a bit more carefully)
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Matthew Longhorn
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Re: Imperatives and encouragement

Post by Matthew Longhorn » October 4th, 2018, 7:14 am

This is the basic structure of my thinking so far. Nowhere near complete and hacked together in my break at work. Any suggestions on how to develop it

I suspect that a common objection to my view of depression from a Christian perspective would be to raise passages such as Php 4:4 and 1 Thess 5:16. These passages contain statements to the effect that we should rejoice, indeed Phillipians tells us to rejoice always.
The word rejoice in these passages is in the grammatical form of an imperative mood. Most commentators that I have read look at this form and state that it is a command to rejoice, such statements indicate that there is a moral requirement to fulfil the command and to not do so is to sin. This view is understandable, after all – if the Bible tells us to do something, surely it is a sin to not do so. Unfortunately, as with most of language, the use of the imperative mood is not so simple as these presentations of it suggest.
For this post I am following the linguistic theory called Relevance Theory, the overall conclusions here are however supported by other linguistic theories. The use of a linguistic theory does not make something necessarily so, after all, the theory could be wrong. The benefit of using a specific theory does however put the onus on those without such a structure to demonstrate that their view has some theoretical validity.
An imperative, like all grammatical forms, is simply a way of providing a clue as to how a speaker’s thoughts are communicated by the words used. In this case, the thought in different contexts can have a different effect. Some examples of how imperatives are linguistically used may help to illustrate this:
1. Commands – requirements for someone to do something. The expectation is to be obeyed, to not be obeyed would therefore incur some emotional (such as disapproval) or tangible consequence (such as imprisonment).
2. Requests from one person to another – Frequently an imperative is used from people to God in the Bible with no suggestion that God would be morally culpable if the act is not performed. The force is softened to a desire for their wish to be fulfilled
3. Instructions – imperatives can be used to tell someone how to do something. If following an Ikea assembly instruction sheet for a chest of drawers the instructions will be in the imperative mood. Do this, then that.
4. Permission – someone can ask for permission to do something, the response may be in the imperative. Just as with the requests and instruction categories – there is no necessary moral force behind the imperative form.
5. Well-wishing – “get well soon” is an imperative that is used in an idiom within English. The ability to get well is not directly within the power of the person’s will, nor is the well-wisher anticipating that the action will necessarily be carried out. Again, there is no necessary moral force behind these
6. Imperatives without recipients – just as with well-wishing, imperatives can be used in situations where there is no ability within the will of the one spoken to. In this instance, statements like “don’t rain” express a wish to a personified entity. There is no moral approbation attached to the imperative, it is a desire.
7. Exhortations – “don’t let them annoy you” would be another imperative that is expressed as a desire for someone else’s benefit and not for the person speaking. The imperative may or may not contain a moral force, but it can often simply be advice with an expression of solidarity between speaker and recipient.
That the range of meanings of imperatives as discussed in linguistic literature is large is a problem for those defaulting to a command view of the imperative. Naturally we look to the Bible for moral instruction, it does not mean however that every instance has the same force. The fundamental meaning of an imperative that helps unite the above instances is a desire and a belief that something is possible.
Context, as with all language is the key to interpretation. The relative ability of someone to do something is one such contextual clue as to imperatival thought. Telling someone to sing out in joy as they are experiencing the immediate effects of a third degree burn is completely perverse. The imperative in this instance would not be taken as implying an immediate moral requirement and would have the effect of directing the person to look forward to the future for a time that they could do so. It would be a statement of not wanting someone to wallow in their pain. Here the acceptability comes down to timing. The imperative immediately after the event is lacking any strong force. The longer the delay between the onset of pain to the use of the imperative has an effect on its appropriateness and its possible moral impact.

So, back to rejoicing… yes there are imperative forms used to communicate a need to rejoice. The need is however not necessarily one that is attached to moral judgment, nor is it necessarily applicable with the same strength at all moments it is uttered. That a desire is expressed is clear, that it is expected of someone where they have the ability to perform it is also clear. Put simply, the fact that there is an imperative to rejoice does not mean we are wrong if we do not currently perform it. To suggest otherwise is to suggest the absurd situation of never ceasing without being guilty of breaking a commandment.
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Imperatives and encouragement

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » October 4th, 2018, 12:35 pm

By exploring multiple semantic/pragmatic categories for the NT Greek Imperative you are following the path most traveled by "traditional grammar" which is now obsolete. Your looking for meaning at the lowest level (code level) of discourse which is an inversion of the "top down" approach to exegesis.

The imperative doesn't contribute much to the semantics of the discourse. Think minimalist.
Last edited by Stirling Bartholomew on October 4th, 2018, 12:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Matthew Longhorn
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Re: Imperatives and encouragement

Post by Matthew Longhorn » October 4th, 2018, 12:40 pm

Hey Stirling, can you clarify what you mean?
I am not arguing for multiple semantic categories, I am listing different contextual instances that it finds itself in. The minimalist part being that there is a desire for something and a belief that it is possible. Not the most rigorous definition, but I am just garbling up RT articles on mood. I am also happy to list Fantin’s Volitional directional understanding of a core definition, with the caveat that the force of the directional can be contextually cancelled
Last edited by Matthew Longhorn on October 4th, 2018, 12:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Imperatives and encouragement

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » October 4th, 2018, 12:45 pm

I hate the expression but what were talking about is a genuine "paradigm shift" it isn't trivial.
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Matthew Longhorn
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Re: Imperatives and encouragement

Post by Matthew Longhorn » October 4th, 2018, 12:50 pm

That definitely isn’t what I am trying to do. Not well read enough to argue for something genuinely novel. I am just applying articles by wilson etc and other articles from different perspectives that I read in the past without having given it much more than a quick afternoon’s thought.
I need to properly read around further on it, but If I am saying anything controversial then I need to relook and probably abandon the post until I am better informed.
Just as context - this post is just meant to be some small supplementary thoughts to a possible critique I am anticipating of another post I am doing on depression and Christianity. I wasn't initially comfortable posting that context as I didn't want it to turn into a theological discussion (which it hasn't). It isn't intended to be a rigorous treatment, literally just supplementary thoughts.
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Imperatives and encouragement

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » October 4th, 2018, 1:07 pm

The Iceberg principle demonstrates the inferential component of human speech. What appears above the water is the code, what is hidden below the water is the shared cognitive framework which allows inferential meaning to be understood. It's a mistake to think that meaning is somehow embedded at the code level. It isn't there. Without the shared cognitive framework the code will fail. The top-down approach begins with the shared cognitive framework and moves down from there. The traditional approach attempts to extract meaning from the code itself which is futile.
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Matthew Longhorn
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Re: Imperatives and encouragement

Post by Matthew Longhorn » October 4th, 2018, 1:17 pm

Ok, I think we are actually in agreement without necessarily being clear on it. I am absolutely not arguing for a code model of translation, I am approaching it from a RT perspective that would indicate that the "code" is there, and constrains interpretation but needs to be padded out with reference resolution, disambiguation, free enrichment and broadening / narrowing of words to meet the contextual demands. A mutually manifest cognitive environment is part of this and cannot be separated.
I listed different examples of imperatival usages not to suggest that the imperative means these things, but to point people who haven't read beyond "the imperative is a command" to counter-examples of this being the absolute default that we should always go to. My post was meant to show your average Joe encountering the comment I did in that audiobook that things are not that clear cut.

Perhaps the confusion is that I am not clear on my target audience? This isn't meant to convince people of a theory, or to carefully work through the issues - it is just intended to make people think a bit more carefully about saying that "we are commanded to rejoice, therefore we sin if we don't". I deliberately avoided technical terminology that may have made my position more precise.

Does this make more sense? If so, I will add to the post to make it clearer
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