Re: Conditional sentences

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Wed May 08 1996 - 12:04:25 EDT

A. Brent Hudson said:

>Bl.-D refers to the structure "EI + indicative in the protasis
>as "EI with the indicative of reality."
>It seems that the "reality" is demonstrated from the classification of the
>indicative rather than on formal grounds relating to the condition. I
>searched for first class conditions in the 1Cor (thanks for the hint Bruce)
>and I found that 1Cor 15:17 appears to be a "contrary to fact" first class
>condition. If we can take the indicative as "potential indicative
>expressing a condition" (p. 117) in this instance, why must the "declarative
>indicative" be used in other first class conditions? (p. 117) It seems to
>me that only context can determine the reality or unreality of a first class
>condition. Such an approach would allow an interpretation of "since" (which
>you have already noted is possible but I assume we must based on the context
>since it would not work in 1Cor 15:17) and also a simple "if."

I think you'll find that part of the problem with Conditionals in Koine is that
the barriers between the types is becoming a bit fuzzy. Take for example the
the example given by BDF #372(3) where EI is encroaching on the sphere of EAN
sporadically in Matt 5:29: EI hO OFQALMOS SOU SKANDALIZEI SE, which in Mark
9:43 has EAN SKANDALIZHi, which follows the concept of the 3rd Class of a
Hypothetical Statement for the sake of Argument much more closely (Jesus is
neither affirming nor denying that such people exist, he's just using it as
an example to prove a point, which is borne out by his recommendation to tear
out your offending eye.). Vice versa in 1John 5:15: EAN OIDAMEN... One other
note about BDF 372 is that you have to be careful since they are not
discussing exclusively 1st class conditions but 2nd and occasionally 3rd
class in this article; as with most other things in BDF I find that I have
to read very very carefully...

I would reiterate what Rod Decker said, with a little elaboration based on my
own observations:

>In either system the condition does not specify whether or not the protasis
>is true. That must be determined from context. This has been ignored and
>sometimes arguments are based on the fact that "it is a first class
>condition and is therefore true." There are several first class conditions
>in the NT that are demonstrably false and a great many in which truth or
>falsity cannot be determined.

The point of conditional sentences is not whether they are true or untrue, but
rather it is an issue of how the writer is portraying the issue for the sake
of argument. The reason this gets fuzzy is because, as Rod said, sometimes the
thing being portrayed is, in fact, true, other times it is in fact false, while
other times its truth or falsity cannot be determined (which is where I think
the major problem lies for us as 20th Cent readers; I'm not sure that there
aren't cases where the true or falsity of the protasis was not clear to the
original audience, but today's reader is unsure because of our historical
distance). The following examples are all from BDF, since its the only grammar
I have at home and my own sytax notes/examples are at school.

In general, what I've found is that: (1) If the protasis of a first class
conditional sentence (portrayal of truth for the sake of argument) is in fact
true, the English translation "since..." can be used: Matt 6:30 "Since God
clothes the grass..." (as BDF # 372[1a] points out, this is reinforced by
the context), but (2) if the protasis of a 1st class sentence is clearly not
true then "since..." would make no sense from the standpoint of English,
indeed sometimes you need to add additional help to get the point across:
Mark 3:26: "If, as you claim, Satan has risen up against himself..."; the
switch from EAN in v 24ff, is also instructive; the contrast between the
truth and falsity of the protasis can be seen in Matt 12:27, 28, where
v 27 is untrue but portrayed as true (the opponents claim this) for the
sake of argument, but v 28 is true and is so portrayed. (3) If the truth
or falsity of the protasis is not clear, or it could go either way, or it
is not clear whether the speaker is repeating someone else's position, or
it is simply not an issue, "since..." cannot be used, and frequently a
little extra help from English is needed. The "If..." statements of 2Tim
2:12, 13 could go either way, ie., some may, some may not (the surrounding
EI + Aorist and EI + Future are instructive). These statements begin to
approach 3rd Class Hypotheticals as a result. This situation is further
enhanced when the statement gets even more ambiguous by the addition of
TIS, as in 1Cor 3:14ff. "If someone's work should/does remain..." Finally,
the situation gets even more convoluted when a negative is introduced into
an already ambiguous situation, like in 1Cor 15:12ff. In English I suspect
we would probably say: "If, as you claim, Christ has not been raised from
the dead, then..." to help clear up the ambiguous feeling.

In John 15:18 you have a case where we cannot at present tell if the
disciples are already feeling hated, if this is something to come in the
future, or if it is just a generic statement. Verse 20b seems to suggest
that, at least from Jesus' perspective and portrayal, this is still a
future event, as Carlton suggested: "When the world hates you..." or
perhaps ingressive: "When the world begins to hate you..." I agree with
Carlton that this is both true and is being portrayed by Jesus as true;
the problem for us as English speakers is that if we apply "Since..."
to this sentence it sounds like its already going on at this point in
time, and v 20 seems to suggest that it not the point Jesus is trying
to drive home; ie., though it may in fact be true that they are presently
hated, that is not the truth Jesus is portraying in this statement.

BTW, (I hope he doesn't mind me saying so; I've never known him to be
shy) but Beegleman (aka Dan Wallace) is a lurker in this group; perhaps,
since he's put his Syntax to bed, he could shed some additional light
on this subject--I have this sneeking suspicion that he had to wrestle
with this concept recently at length in doing the Syntax... I also
suspect that alot of folks would like to know (so they can plan their
Syntax classes for next year) the publication info as well...

Dale M. Wheeler, Th.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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