If you wish, you can - ???

From: Andre Desnitsky (bsruss@dol.ru)
Date: Sun Sep 14 1997 - 19:59:24 EDT

Dear colleagues,

I would like to ask you a question about a well known NT passage that
usually is neglected by the commentators though it often remains
unclear. I mean the leper's words to Jesus: "If you wish, you can make
me clean" (Mt 8:2, Mk 1:40, Lk 5:12). What does this expression - if you
wish, you can - E)A\N QE/LH|S DU/NASAI - actually mean? Several answers
come upon one's mind (perhaps none of them is correct):

1) it's a statement (= there is nothing impossible for you);

2) it's a request (= you certainly can do it for me. Will you?)

3) it's a politeness formula (= French "s'il vous plait"), marking high
respect for the addressee or a very humble position of the speaker.

The only other occurence of the expression E)A\N QE/LH|S in the NT is Mk
6:22 - O(/ E)A\N QE/LH|S - whatever you wish. Similar expressions can be
found in the LXX (e.g. Sirach 15:15-16) or in the Hellenistic literature
of the same period (e.g. Josephus, de bel. jud, 1.621 or Philo, de fuga,
28.1). The meaning seems to be "if you wish; as you wish, whatever you
wish" etc. But that does not seem appropriate for the NT passage (the
leper is asking to save his life!).

Any ideas?

Andre S. Desnitsky, PhD
(Bible Society in Russia;
Oriental Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

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