Prohibitions in the imperative mood

From: Bret A. Hicks (
Date: Wed Oct 07 1998 - 10:37:47 EDT

    I was studying 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 this morning and came across
the negative imperatives:

    MH SBENNUTE - do not extinguish (vs 19)
    ME EXOUTHENEITE - do not despise (vs 20)

    As I was researching this, I remebered the discussion on whether
prohibiions on present imperatives (especially as contrasted with aorist
subjunctives) signify that one is supposed to stop doing what they are
presently doing ("Stop extinguishing the Spirit"; "Stop despising
prophecies") or whether they are really merely prohibitions ("Do not
extinguish the Spirit"; "Do not despise prophecies").
    The opinion of scholars seems to be divided. Roberston, both in his
Word Pictures (Volume 4, page 37) and his Grammar (pages 851-852), and
Brooks & Winbery (pages 127-128; they even use the verse in question as
an example) seem to see the use of MH with the present imperative as
indiciating that a present action must be stopped. On the other hand,
Mounce (pages 309-310) and Young (Intermediate NT Greek, page 144)
indicate that this is reading too much into the grammar.
    Interestingly enough, I notice that the older grammars seem to
accept the distinction, while the newer ones see it as doubtful. Is
there a shift in understnading prohibitions with present imperatives, or
is the matter simply one that is debated among grammarians? Is it
reading too much into the grammar to suppose that this use indicates
stopping a present activity, or is this a distinction that should be
maintained? Any help would be greatly appreciated. (If this topic has
been discussed at length in the past, a point in the direction of the
dates/posts would be greatly appreciated as well.)

In Christ the Lord,

Bret A. Hicks
Pastor, Bay Ridge Christian Church
Annapolis, Maryland

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