Re: Re Conditional sentences

From: Bruce Terry (
Date: Tue May 14 1996 - 12:11:52 EDT

Last Fri, 10 May 1996, Michael Holmes wrote:

>Like Don, I have appreciated very much the discussion of conditional
>sentences. Don here raises the matter of translation of them, and I am
>curious to learn what list members would do in a case like Luke/Mat 4:3, "if
>you are the son of God ...". In my experience, virtually every English-only
>reader thinks that the tempter is challenging the *identity* of Jesus,
>whereas it seems almost certain that what is being challenged is his
>*character* (cf., e.g., Fitzmyer on Luke)--i.e., the only reason the tempter
>bothers to tempt this particular individual is precisely because he is "son
>of God," and he wishes to learn what kind of son he will prove to be. In
>this case, in view of the limited means in English to deal with conditional
>sentences (limited, at least, vis-a-vis Greek), doesn't it "inadvertantly
>confuse the context" to translate EI as "if"? Would not "since" be truer to
>the intent of the text?
>Do grammatical concerns have any bearing here, or is this a matter of
>translation theory?

I have no qualms at all about saying that the tempter knew the reality of the
fact that Jesus was the Son of God. However, I do not think that is implied
by Greek grammar. The view that it is sees the first class conditional
sentence as being marked for reality; I see it as being unmarked, although
often used to express reality. This is only a slight difference, but it
affects what one can imply from the grammar.

May I suggest that there is in fact a challenge to the identity of Jesus.
That challenge, however, is not given because the devil doubts who Jesus is;
rather, it is given to motivate Jesus to prove His identity by obeying the
devil, a temptation which Jesus resists.

To answer Michael's question, I see pragmatic concerns being much more
important here than grammatical ones in understanding this passage.

Further, even if the first class conditional sentence is marked for reality
for conditional *statements*, I suspect that the first class protasis is the
regular construction that is used with conditional commands, even if the
condition is hypothetical. If this is the case, the use of a first class
condition would mean nothing at all--it is just the way Greek makes a
conditional command. Someone who has access to a good grammatical search
engine may want to check me out on this one. Search for EI plus the
indicative in the protasis and the imperative in the apodosis. Then repeat
the search changing to EAN plus the subjunctive in the protasis.

Bruce Terry E-MAIL:
Box 8426, ACU Station Phone: 915/674-3759
Abilene, Texas 79699 Fax: 915/674-3769

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