3rd-person imperatives in the Lord's Prayer

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Wed Aug 13 1997 - 20:53:32 EDT

I've had an exchange off-list that came to me through my web-site. I
thought at first that the question was about 3rd person imperatives in
general, but it turns out to be a much more interesting question: why are
the opening "petitions" of the Lord's Prayer formulated as 3d person
imperatives rather than as jussive subjunctives. Probably this is something
that has been pondered at length in the commentaries, but I have nothing
but a Greek text at hand, all my rfc books having been already sent home to
St. Louis whither I shall follow them all too soon. So I'm speculating
openly: why is it that these first three "petitions" are formulated as
imperatives in the Greek? Do these imperatives represent anything unique in
Aramaic that would distinguish them from the 2nd person imperatives that
follow? And most particularly, I'm curious why the imperative should be
used particularly with these subjects which are, it would seem, abstract
substitute formulae for God? Has anyone else pondered this question before
(surely someone has, no?)--and if so, is there some consensus judgment on
the matter?

Am I even right in my formulation of the difference between a 3rd person
imperative and a jussive subjunctive? Or has that distinction become really
negligible in NT usage?

At any rate, here's the tentative response I offered. What might others think?

>At 7:24 AM -0400 8/13/97, Andy Sharples wrote:
>>Thank you very much for your assistance on my question regarding the 3rd
>>imptv. I'll be looking up the grammars you pointed out.
>>I'm afraid I've done a poor job of communicating my core question,
>>though. It is this: what is the *meaning* of 3rd imptv? In English, it
>>seems to be expressed more as a wish (optative), or even subjunctive.
>>How does 3rd imperative compare to these? In particular, in Lu 11:2, the
>>KJV has "Hallowed be thy name," where "hallowed be" translates the 3rd
>>imptv. Is this merely a wish?
>That actually is a good question, but as you say, it wasn't clear to me
>that was what you were wanting to know. The problem with the third-person
>imperative is that there is no exact equivalent of it in English. But
>maybe this will help; let's take the verb ERCOMAI, "come" and consider
>subjunctive, optative, ;and imperative forms.
>ERCHTAI (pres. subjunctive m/p 3 sg.) This may be translated (and usually
>is) as an English subjunctive following "let": "Let him/her come!" It
>would be a bit more precise to say that it means "(I want that) he come"
>The classical term for this is JUSSSIVE SUBJUNCTIVE, and "jussive" means
>But of course "imperative" means "commanding" also--and the 3d person
>imperative form ERCETW could also be translated (and usually is
>translated), "Let him/her come!" Is there a difference or even a nuance of
>difference between the subjunctive and the imperative? Not a whole lot, if
>any. Properly speaking, I think that the subjunctive expresses what the
>SPEAKER of the verb WANTS the subject to do, whereas the imperative
>doesn't depend so much upon the will of the speaker--it is somewhat more
>objective. So ERCETW could be translated "He/she MUST come!" or "He/she is
>to COME!"
>The optative 3d sg. ERCOITO (which is hardly to be found any more in the
>Koine of the NT period, although it may be found in well-educated formal
>writers of Greek of the time) more precisely expresses a WISH on the part
>of the speaker: so ERCOITO would mean "May he/she come" or "I wish that
>he/she would come." It's a little bit more remote than either the
>subjunctive or imperative.
>Summing up:
> ERCHTAI (subj.) "let him/her come" -- implicitly "I want he/she
>should come!
> ERCETW (imptv.) "let him/her come" --implictly "he/she MUST come"
> ERCOITO (optative) "may he/she come" --implicitly, "I wish he/she
>would come."
>And yes, the petitions in the LP (Mt 6:9-10) at the outset are 3d person
>imperatives. The classical translation of them in English is as
>subjunctives--that's what the "BE" in "hallowed be" is. I think there's
>some question, however, about the three verbs here and why they should be
>in the 3d person imperative. The question is what form an Aramaic original
>may have been (presuming that Jesus spoke Aramaic rather than Greek and
>that what we have is a translation of the Aramaic original into Greek).
>The question is whether a petition in a prayer can be anything more than a
>fervent wish if it is a real petition. If the imperative force is taken
>deadly seriously in the Greek, however, the urgency of these three verbs
>is overwhelming. I'd make it then something like this:
> "Your name MUST be kept holy;
> Your reign MUST come!
> Your will MUST come to fulfilment!
>Looked at that way, it may be that we should understand these opening
>imperatives of the LP not so much as "petitions" but rather as underlying
>(eschatological) ASSUMPTIONS governing the petitions which in vss. 11-13
>are expressed as 2nd person imperatives (DOS, AFES) and in the aorist
>subjunctive with MH (MH EISENEGKHiS).
>Does that make sense?
>Regards, cwc

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243
cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu OR cconrad@yancey.main.nc.us
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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