Re: INA subjunctive in John 17:4

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Sep 02 1997 - 13:53:47 EDT

At 12:00 PM -0500 9/2/97, lakr wrote:
>Dear b-Greekers,
>I'm trying get a feel for the Greek of John 17:4, and I'm a bit
>stumped with the 'INA POIHSW'. My copy of Porter's Idioms calls this
>a 'content clause'.

Everybody seems to have his/her own "pet" terminology for NT Greek grammar;
perhaps some of the traditional terms are not very useful or adequately
descriptive, but I wonder whether some of the newly-minted ones aren't
downright cryptic.

>The other place I see this used is John 4:34. I have conditioned myself,
>probably in error, to always look for a meaning when I see a subjunctive
>that relates to 'might', something that has not happened, etc.

I think that the best way to understand hINA POIHSW here is as equivalent
to an infinitive (as it has become in modern Greek). POIHSW is subjunctive
because hINA is regularly followed by a subjunctive form--I don't think we
can give another reason for it here.

The more traditional way of explaining this, I think, is "having finished
the work which you gave me in order that I do (it)"--as a purpose clause
dependent upon DEDWKAS. I guess that's still what works easiest, but one
might also perhaps construe this as hO hINA POIHSW (= "the doing of which"
or "to do which"), i.e. as a noun clause functioning as the object of

Certainly normal English would make this: "I have glorified you on earth by
finishing the work that you gave me to do." But in the English, does "to
do" depend upon "you gave" or upon "the work"? I really think that the
neuter accusative relative pronoun might better be understood as object of
POIHSW than as the object of DEDWKAS--and then hO hINA POIHSW becomes a
noun clause functioning as the object of DEDWKAS.

How well does this work? I'm sort of tentative about this; I don't see it
explained thus in any grammar I've ever read, but I do think that the hINA
clause is not really the traditional purpose clause here. I'm convinced
that my version is the normal way to express the content in English, but
even construing that English is somewhat questionable, isn't it?

>I'll admit I don't understand subjunctive. But in verse 17:4, Jesus
>has already completed the work 'TO ERGON TELEIWSAS' and yet this
>work is described as 'INA POIHSW'. This work was not completed when
>Jesus spoke the words in John 4:34, so I don't see a conflict between
>this instance and my understanding of the use of the subjunctive.
>Why is 'INA POIHSW' not in the indicative in John 17:4 ? The only thing
>I can come up with is that the 'INA POIHSW' is refering to the time
>when he was given the work and before he completed it.
>Larry Kruper
>PS I'll try not to introduce elementary questions on B-GREEK by doing
>research before I post and so I am also interested in what resources might
>be available to which I can refer to answer questions like this.

This is not an elementary question, in my judgment. I think it zeroes in on
one of the constructions that is changing radically from earlier toward
later Greek, and I'm not sure that the usual ways of explaining it are

I apologize for not answering the questions asked more clearly, but I
couldn't help but see larger issues here. I'm curious what others may think.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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