Is there an intelligible Doctrine of the Koine Subjunctive?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Oct 15 1997 - 09:11:30 EDT

As I have a notion that this little corner of Hellenistic Greek grammar may
be more esoteric than some list-members care to get involved in, I've tried
to cut down the cited material from previous posts to a minimum, assuming
that those really interested have saved and can consult the original posts.
I'm also not citing Carlton Winbery's post on this subject of yesterday

At 5:44 PM -0500 10/14/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>At 02:03 PM 10/14/97 +0000, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:
>>Jonathan Wrote:
>>The "Permissive Subjunctive" can generally be translated "let us",
>>but it is a command, not a request.
>>If this is the case, then what can be made of the following quote
>>from BDF 364(1)?
>Can of worms alert! Watch out for what follows...
>>> > BDF states ". . . in the first
>>> >person singular . . . an invitation is extended to another to
>>> >permit the speaker to do something."
>Well, my BDR, which is the current German edition of the Blass grammar, says
>BDR 364(1): In etwas andere Weise auch in der 1. Sgl., indem an den anderen
>die Aufforderung ergeht, den Redenden etwas tun zu lassen, klass. mit AGE,
>FERE, auch DEURO (Pl. DEUTE), im NT nur mit AFES und DEURW, zB Mt 7,4 = Lk
>Now the interesting thing about this is that the word "invitation" in your
>quote is the German word Aufforderung, which can mean an invitation, a
>request, or a demand, depending on the context. For instance, you can get an
>Aufforderung to show up in court, which is not really optional, or an
>Aufforderung to dance with someone, which you could turn down without legal
>consequences. So which meaning is intended? Or does this have the same range?
>The first person singular hortatory subjunctive (remember that phrase for
>word games!) only occurs five times in the Greek New Testament:

I think that the examples which Jonathan has gone on to cite from BDR are
really fascinating but not wholly illuminating. In fact, when putting this
material together with Carlton's note about Byzantine MSS offering a simple
future tense for the subjunctive in Acts 7:34B and some things I've noted
not too long ago on hINA + subjunctive subordinate clauses functioning as
infinitives in Hellenistic Greek, I'm wondering whether it isn't time for a
massive concentrated study of the Koine subjunctive in terms of a careful
cataloging of NT and contemporary Koine usage and coordinated with (a)
study of LXX representation of Hebrew constructions involving Greek
subjunctive forms, (b) contemporary Latin independent and subordinate
subjunctive usage, (c) diachronic comparative consideration of
pre-classical (Homeric) and classical Greek subjunctive usage as well as
post-Koine (Byzantine, Medieval, Modern) Greek subjunctive usage. Perhaps
this isn't really called for and all I'm doing here is stating the extent
of my own perplexity about the Koine subjunctive and my own sense that the
phenomenon is NOT one that has ever been systematically and consistently
studied and clarified in the extant NT grammars.

I've noted previously that I think beginning students are often done a
disservice by being taught at the outset that hINA + subjunctive
constructions normally denote subordinate purpose clauses. It is true that
they sometimes do, but I don't think it is right or fair to say that they
NORMALLY do: there are just too many instances of hINA + subjunctive that
are simple substantive clauses--noun clauses--functioning as subjects or
objects of verbs. So while I think that I can generally figure out what a
subjunctive verb in a NT text means in its context, I'm not so sure that I
could readily outline a clear "doctrine" of the Koine subjunctive, and I
wonder whether such a clear "doctrine" of the Koine subjunctive, one that
all those grammarians who have been rewriting the "doctrine" of Koine verb
aspect, along with those content with grammar "as it was in the beginning,
is now and ever will be" could come near to agreement about. Am I
misrepresenting the facts about the way the subjunctive is understood and
taught? Or have I caught Clay Bartholomew's fever for starting from scratch
and writing a new kind of grammar?

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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