Lesson 59: Adverbial Clauses/Conditional Sentences


855.1 Conditional sentences consist of a subordinate clause stating the condition or supposition (the if-clause) and a main clause giving the inference or conclusion. The if-clause is called the protasis, the main clause the apodosis. The subordinating conjunction in Greek used to introduce the protasis is εἰ or ἐάν (= εἰ + ἄν).

855.2 Conditional sentences are classified fundamentally in accordance with the character of the assumption in the if-clause, i.e. whether the condition is assumed to be true, whether it is assumed to be untrue, or whether its reality or unreality is left undetermined. Accordingly, there are three basic types of conditional sentences.

855.20 Conditional sentences are sometimes divided into as many as nine subtypes (Smyth §2297). These finer distinctions depend upon the correlation of a variety of apodoses with the protasis. This variety can be observed equally well in a simpler scheme.

The use of the optative mood in the classical period made possible a fourth type of condition related to but distinct from the third type of assumption indicated in §855.2. Since this type of conditional sentence is rare in hellenistic Greek (there is no complete example in the New Testament), it need be noted only in passing.

The classification scheme adopted in this grammar is basically that of A.T. Robertson (Robertson-David: 349-357; cf. Bl-D §371).


856. In a first class condition the protasis is a simple conditional assumption with emphasis on the reality of the assumption (but not on the reality of what is being assumed). It is therefore taken to be a real case, though it may, in fact, be an unreal case.

The protasis consists of εἰ plus any tense of the indicative; the apodosis has any tense of the indicative (or imperative, or independent use of the subjunctive). Bl-D §§371-372.

856.1 The present tense in the protasis:

(1) τί οὖν βαπτίζεις
εἰ σὺ οὐκ εἶ ὁ Χρίστος;
Jn 1:25
Why, then, do you baptize
if you are not the Christ?

856.2 A past tense in the protasis:

(2) εἰ ἐμὲ ἐδίωξαν,
καὶ ὑμᾶς διώξουσιν
Jn 15:20
If they persecuted me,
they will also persecute you

856.3 The future tense in the protasis:

(3) εἰ πάντες σκανδαλισθήσονται ἐν σοι,
ἐγὼ οὐδέποτε σκανδαλισθήσομαι
Mt 26:33
If everyone takes offense at you,
I will never take offense

856.4 The apodosis or conclusion assumes a variety of forms. Examples (1)-(3) all exhibit the indicative mood, although the apodosis in (1) is a question. The apodosis may also take the form of an imperative:

(4) εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ
εἰπὲ τῷ λιθῷ τούτῳ ἵνα γένηται ἄρτος
Lk 4:3
If you are the son of God,
tell this stone to become bread

Among other possibilities, a hortatory (volitive) subjunctive (§819) may serve as an apodosis.

856.5 The protasis may be initiated by καὶ εἰ even if:

(5) καὶ, εἰ ἐγὼ ἐν Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια,
οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν ἐν τίνι ἐκβάλλουσιν;
Mt 12:27
Even if I cast out demons by Beelzebub,
by whom do your sons cast them out?

This form of the protasis is sometimes called a concessive clause. The assumption in the protasis is taken to be true for the sake of the argument, but Jesus would deny that he, in fact, cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub. It is therefore important to emphasize that the assumption, not the fact, is assumed to be true.

856.6 For an apodosis introduced by the inferential particle ἄρa then, s. Mt. 12:28.


857. The assumption is taken to be untrue in the protasis of a second class condition; it is considered an unreal case (whether it is, in fact, is another matter). The conclusion follows from the premise.

The protasis consists of εἰ plus a past (augmented) tense of the indicative; the apodosis also has a past tense of the indicative, usually with ἄν. Bl-D §360.

857.1 Referring to present or past time, with the imperfect in both clauses:

(6) εἰ γὰρ ἐπιστεύετε Μωϋσεῖ,
ἐπιστεύετε ἂν ἐμοί
Jn 5:46
If you believed Moses [but you don't],
you would believe me

Cf. Heb 11:15.

857.2 Referring to past time, with the aorist in both clauses:

(7) εἰ γὰρ ἔγνωσαν,
οὐκ ἂν τὸν κύριον τῆς δόξης ἐσταύρωσαν
1 Cor 2:8
If they had known,
they would not have crucified the lord of glory

Cf. Mt 11:21.

857.3 The tenses in the protasis and apodosis may be different:

(8) εἰ ἠγαπᾶτέ με,
ἐχάρητε ἄν
Jn 14:28
If you loved me,
you would have rejoiced

(imperfect and aorist)

(9) εἰ γὰρ ἐξ ἡμῶν ἦσαν,
μεμενήκεισαν ἄν μεθ' ἡμῶν
1 Jn 2:19
For if they had been of us,
they would have continued with us

857.4 Contrary to classical usage, ἄv is sometimes omitted in the apodosis:

(10) οὐκ εἶχες ἐξουσίαν κατ' ἐμοῦ οὐδεμίαν,
εἰ μὴ ἦv δεδομένον σοι ἄνωθεν
Jn 19:11
you would have no power over me,
unless it had been given you from above

Cf. Jn 15:22, 24, Gal 4:15.


858. The assumption in a third class condition is left undetermined. Since it indicates what is expected under general or specific circumstances, ἐάν with the subjunctive appears in the protasis. There is some expectation of realization, so the subjunctive is used in preference to the optative, which would indicate that the prospect of realization is remote. It may therefore be said that a third class condition is undetermined but with the objective possibility of fulfillment.

A first class condition is taken to be a real case; a second class condition is considered an unreal case; a third class condition is a probable case. The third class condition is an expected case or a generalizing case in present time. The examples below will help locate its primary sphere.

The future, present indicative, imperative, gnomic aorist, or independent use of the subjunctive may form the apodosis.

Bl-D §§371, 373.

858.1 A third class condition may have the present indicative in the apodosis:

(11) ἐὰν εἴπωμεν ὅτι οὐχ ἡμαρτήκαμεν,
ψεύστην ποιοῦμεν αὐτόν
1 Jn 1:10
If we (ever) say that we have not sinned,
we make him a liar

The present tense in the apodosis often gives the condition a generalizing force (indicated by ever in the translation).

Cf. Jn 5:31, 8:31.

858.2 The apodosis may show an imperative:

(12) ἐὰν ἔλθῃ πρὸς ὑμᾶς,
δέξασθε αὐτόν
Col 4:10
If he comes to you,
welcome him

858.3 Or a gnomic aorist (= valid for all times, §7880):

(13) ἐὰν δὲ καὶ γαμήσῃς,
οὐχ ἥμαρτες
1 Cor 7:28
But if you do marry,
you do not sin

858.4 A third class condition with the future indicative in the apodosis is called a future more vivid condition by some grammarians (Smyth §§2323ff.): it is a stronger statement of the case:

(14) ἐὰν οὖν ὁ υἱὸς ὑμᾶς ἐλευθερώσῃ,
ὄντως ἐλεύθεροι ἔσεσθε
Jn 8:36
If, therefore, the son makes you free,
you shall be truly free

An even stronger statement of the case, a future most vivid (Smyth §2328), has the future indicative in both clauses; this is a special form of a first class condition, and an example may be found in (3), §856.3.

For additional examples of the future more vivid, see Jn 5:43, 8:24, Mt 6:14, 15.

858.5 Another form of the future more vivid condition has οὐ μή and the subjunctive in the apodosis (futuristic emphatic negative assertion, §818):

(15) ἐάν τις τὸν ἐμὸν λόγον τηρήσῃ,
θάνατον οὐ μὴ θεωρήσῃ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα
Jn 8:51
If anyone keeps my word,
he will never see death

Cf. Jn 4:48, Mt 10:42.

859. The fourth class condition had εἰ with the optative in the protasis and the optative with ἄν in the apodosis. It represents something as thought of, without regard for the reality or unreality of the assumption, and emphasizes the hypothetical character of the assumption; it is a potential case (the optative is the mood of potentiality, §307.3).

The fourth class condition has virtually disappeared in later colloquial Greek.

The past general condition with εἰ and the optative in the protasis and the imperfect or its equivalent in the apodosis (Smyth §2340), has also all but disappeared.

There are some examples of εἰ with the optative in the protasis, but with a conclusion from another class of condition, e.g.

(16) ἀλλ' εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε διὰ δικαιοσύνην,
1 Pet 3:14
But even if you suffer for righteousness' sake,
you are blessed

Cf. Acts 20:16, 24:19, 1 Pet 3:17. Bl-D §§371, 385(2).

8590. Concessive clauses introduced by εἰ καί or ἐὰν καί, although, are a subspecies of conditional sentences.

(17) ἐὰν καὶ προλημφθῇ ἄνθρωπος ἔν τινι παραπτώματι,
ὑμεῖς οἱ πνευματικοὶ καταρτίζετε τὸν
Gal 6:1
Although a man's sin be detected,
you who are spiritual are to restore him

Cf. (5), §856.5.

860. Equivalents of the conditional clause. The protasis of a conditional sentence may take forms other than those introduced by εἰ (ἐάν).

860.1 A circumstantial participle may be the equivalent of an if-clause:

(18) ὁ γὰρ ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων κρίμα ἑαυτῷ
ἐσθίει καὶ, πίνει,
μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα
1 Cor 11:29
For the one eating and drinking eats and
drinks judgment to himself,
if he does not discern the body

Cf. §846.6 and the example cited there. Cf. also Heb 2:3.

860.2 An indefinite relative clause with ὅς (ὅστις) ἄν (ἐάν = ἄv, Bl-D §§107, 371) may be the equivalent of a protasis, usually in a third class condition (§858) :

(19) ὅς ἐάν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων
τῶν ἐλαχίστων ...,
ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ
τῶν οὐρανῶν
Mt 5:19
Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these
commandments . . . ,
shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven

The relative may also appear in relative conditions of other types:

(20) ὅς γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν καθ' ὑμῶν
ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ἐστιν
Lk 9:50
For he that is not against you
is for you
(= if he is not against you)

Cf. §674, (18). Bl-D §380.

860.3 Indefinite local clauses also exhibit an affinity with conditional clauses:

(21) ἀκολουθήσω σοι,
ὅπου ἐὰν ἀπέρχῃ
Lk 9:57
I shall follow you
wherever you go

ἐάν again = ἄν (Bl-D §107) .

860.4 A temporal clause with ὅταν (= ὅτε + ἄν) and the subjunctive corresponds to the protasis of a third class condition:

(22) μακάριοί ἐστε
ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς
Mt 5:11
Blessed are you
whenever they revile you

(22) corresponds to a present general condition (§858.1), with the present indicative (or equivalent) in the apodosis. See Mt 6:5 for an example of ὅταν and the subjunctive in the equivalent of a future more vivid condition (§858.4). For the imperative or a subjunctive of prohibition in the apodosis, see Mt 6:2, 6, 16.

861. Key for identifying conditional sentences or equivalents. Identifying conditional sentences in accordance with the terms set out in §§855-860 depends on identifying the type of protasis (if-clause). For that purpose a simple key may prove useful.

861.1 ἐάν with subjunctive in the protasis: third class (§858)

1a) present indicative or equivalent in apodosis:
present general (§858.1)
1b) future indicative or equivalent in apodosis: future more vivid (§858.4)

861.2 Augmented (past) tenses of the indicative in both clauses, with ἄv in the apodosis: second class (§857)

861.3 If the sentence does not have εάν and the subjunctive in the protasis or ἐάv in the apodosis, it is: first class (§856)

3a) future indicative in both clauses: future most vivid (§§858.4, 856.3)

861.4 Note: ἄν is sometimes omitted in the apodosis of second class conditions (§857.4).