Re: strict grammar

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Mar 01 1996 - 15:42:52 EST

On 3/1/96, brent justin anduaga-arias wrote:

> First, I would like to thank everybody for their answers on "graphe
> artios" - I have been swamped with terrific information.
> I have another question this time pertaining to Matthew 19:6. Most all
> my English translations have "...let not man put asunder. (RSV)" I would
> like to know if the Greek under this has the sense of "it is IMPOSSIBLE
> for man to put asunder" or "man SHOULD NOT put asunder." The "let" in
> English translations suggest the latter choice. However I am curious if
> this rendering was influenced by the presence of what appears to be an/the
> exception clause of Matthew 19:9. In other words, if this exception
> clause (or any other) were not in the text, would there be any purely
> grammatical reason why Matthew 19:6 should not be rendered rouphly as "it
> is IMPOSSIBLE for man to put asunder?"

The verb in question, XWRIZETW, is a 3rd-person imperative; it does not
mean it is IMPOSSIBLE to do, and in fact, there could and would be no
imperative urging a particular behavior as right if there were no moral
freedom of choice to do otherwise. It occurs to me, however, upon
reflection, that the "exception clause" of 19:9 to which you refer is not
allowed for by the fact that this imperative is in the PRESENT tense, which
suggests that its sense is "try/endeavor to put asunder"--as opposed to the
aorist imperative's functionally different sense of unqualified demand that
one not do it. Perhaps one could even read it with the negation of the MH,
"one ought to try not to put asunder." This is an interesting question:
what do you grammarians say about the negated imperative? I'm thinking, for
instance, of Jesus' words to Mary Magdalene in John 20:17: MH MOU hAPTOU,
imperative hAPTOU with the negative MH. The sense: "Don't try to touch me"
or "Don't keep trying to touch me" or "Don't keep holding on to me"--for
the command must be coordinated with the stated reason for its being issued
in the OUPW ... PATERA clause.

At any rate, it seems to me that there might well be an opening for that
"exception clause" in the very fact that the imperative is in the present
tense. It does seem to me that the way the clause is spoken liturgically,
"let no man put asunder" has more the ring one would expect of an aorist

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

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