Re: ESESQE in 1 Peter 1:16

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Wed Nov 25 1998 - 19:03:01 EST

At 10:32 98/11/25 -0700, Bob Stevens wrote:
>Greetings to all the big and little Greeks!
>This is my second day on the forum and I am so
>excited to find it! I am a layman in western
>Colorado. Had two years of NT Greek at John
>Brown University twenty years ago. I love the
>language, but recognize my limitations.
>Have a question about 1 Peter 1:16, "hAGIOI
>ESESQE". My limited understanding leads me to
>see both the obvious imperative, "be holy" and a
>subtle implied promise, "you will be holy". Am I
>abusing the Greek?
>Bob Stevens

And greetings to you, Bob, and welcome.

Carl has already explained the role of the LXX in influencing the use of
the future in the GNT with imperatival significance. And certainly the
casting of the Ten Commandments into the future would have been important
in the establishment of this usage. We can note that it is used in both
positive and negative form in presenting OT commands: e.g., Mt 19:18-19,
where we find not only negative commandments from the Decalogue using this
imperatival future, but also AGAPHSEIS TON PLHSION SOU hWS SEAUTON, "you
shall love your neighbour as yourself". Plus of course the instance you
cite from 1 Peter 1:16.

However, in the GNT the imperatival future has escaped from just LXX
quotations and found a life of its own. Thus for example, Mt 1:21, "You
shall call his name Jesus ..."; Mark 10:43, "he shall be your servant".

Is the imperatival future any different in meaning from a straight
imperative? The NIV thinks not: it renders the Mt 19:18-19 and 1 Peter 1:16
imperatival futures as straight imperatives. Sometimes the NRSV likewise
renders them as an imperative (e.g., Mt 5:48); more usually it translates
them with "shall" (as in Mt 19:18-19; 1 Peter 1:16), sometimes with "must"
(as in Mark 10:43-44), sometimes with "you are to (Mt 1:21).

In all such passages, and others of like ilk, what the Greek contains is a
normal future form. I have not noticed any places where NIV or NRSV
translates such futures as "will" - which of course is the normal future
translation. (Is anyone aware of any?) That is, the NIV and NRSV
translators identify the usage as "imperatival future" and then use a form
of words to bring out its imperatival force. Thus they regard it as quite
different from the normal predictive use of the future. Indeed, from their
translations, most of the time you would not know from the English that the
Greek used a future form at this point (the exception is when the NRSV uses
"shall"; the NIV very occasionally uses "shall" for imperatival futures as
in Mt 16:22; 18:21, Luke 3:5; sometimes for predictive futures such as John
1:50,51; 8:33; more commonly for deliberative subjunctives such as Mt 6:31;
27:22; Mark 4:30).

So then, does the imperatival future have the same meaning as the straight
imperative? The conclusion I have come to is: No, it is not the same as a
straight imperative. An imperative contains within itself no indication as
to whether or not the requested act will be performed; indeed, whether or
not the requested act CAN BE performed, whether it lies within the realm of
the possible. To the contrary, when the imperatival future is used, it is
of something which CAN be performed - and the future element indicates that
in fact it will be performed.

Now, if this conclusion is valid, this will have significant theological
ramifications, including with the verse at the centre of this thread, 1
Peter 1:16. And such others as Matthew 5:48. Wow!



Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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