Re: 3rd-person imperatives in the Lord's Prayer

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Aug 14 1997 - 07:43:18 EDT

At 6:45 AM -0400 8/14/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>A few other interesting things about this use of 3rd person aorist
>1. ELQETW is active, hAGIASQHTW and GENHQHTW are both passive. What exactly
>is the distinction in meaning in this context?

ELQETW is active because the active form of this root is standard, in the
aorist at least (although future is middle/reflexive ELEUSOMAI). hAGIASQHTW
is indeed really passive, but I would personally prefer to understand
GENHQHTW as intransitive (I think, as I've argued before, that classifying
every -QH- aorist as passive is morphological oversimplification. I don't
think there's really any distinction in meaning between EGENETO and
EGENHQH, but that the latter is what has more traditionally been described
as a "passive deponent" equivalent of the middle/reflexive EGENETO.).

>2. This seems similar to the indefinite plural, but it is singular. BDR does
>not mention anything about singular versus plural in this usage - were both
>forms used in prayer?

I'm having a memory lapse about the "indefinite plural" (and I'm assuming
you're not talking about 3rd-singular verbs used with neuter plural
subjects?). Which is to say, I don't know what you mean: each of the
subjects in these clauses is in fact singular.

>3. Most prayers in the NT do not seem to follow this usage. I did find it in
>Matt 26:42 GENHQHTW TO QELHMA SOU, which matches the words in the Lord's
>prayer exactly.
>4. I notice that Jesus uses the same form when he heals people or performs
>miracles, e.g. Matt 8:13 hWS EPISTEUSAS GENHQHTW SOI, see also Matt 9:29,
>Matt 15:28. In 1 Cor 3:18, Paul says "if anyone of you thinks he is wise,
>let him become foolish (MWROS GENESQW) so that he may become wise.
>Overall, at least for GENHQHTW, the meaning seems to be "let your will be
>done" or "may your will be done", but I wonder how significant it is that
>Jesus used this form to perform healings - is this a real command, with the
>authority of God backing it up? Should we interpret Matt 8:13 hWS EPISTEUSAS
>GENHQHTW SOI as a short prayer?

I think it may be that the 3rd-person imperative is not distinct in
meaning--at least in NT usage--from the 3rd-person jussive subjunctive. At
any rate, what the raising of this question has meant to me is that it's
time for me to do a bit more research into history and usage of the
3rd-person imperative. Of course, the Latinate-English names of these two
constructions are not really suggestive of a difference: "imperative" and
"jussive" both refer to the giving of an order. BUT I doubt we should lay
very much store by the literal meanings of these traditional terms of
reference used for grammatical constructions.

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 OR

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