Re: subjunctive contingency

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon May 03 1999 - 10:45:13 EDT

At 6:34 AM -0700 5/3/99, Mark House wrote:
>Greetings, B-Greekers.
>I'm new to the list. I've been reading Greek for some time, but am in my
>fourth year of teaching beginning NT Greek in a seminary. I'm really
>enjoying reading the discussions on the list so far.

We're glad to have you aboard. It appears that you are experiencing the
same thing I've experienced over years of teaching: there's an awful lot to
be learned from the process of smart students' posing of good questions--it
really sends you to the reference works and even more, to thinking about
whether the reference works are saying all that needs to be said about the
problem you're dealing with. To me personally, the most gratifying thing
about this list is the opportunity to explore grammatical questions beyond
the parameters of what the reference books have to say. To be sure, a lot
of what we do here is speculate, but the process of "Auseinandersetzung"
(oder sowie es bein den Deutschen heisst) is one that can sharpen the
insight of all of us, at whatever level of acquisition and enhancement of
our Greek competence we may be.

>A student raised a question the other day that I told him I would research
>further. It relates to the use of the subjunctive mood, which I told my
>students typically introduces a mild element of contingency. Specifically,
>we're reading 1 John 1, and the question arose concerning the use of the
>subjunctive in v. 9, where the writer promises that (pardoning any
>DIKAIOS, hINA AFHi HMIN TAS AMARTIAS.... The question concerned the hINA
>clause, which I explained as a result rather than a purpose clause.
>Wouldn't the use of a future indicative (without hINA) have made the promise
>more reliable? Something like: If we confess..., he is faithful...and he
>WILL forgive.... Put another way, doesn't the subjunctive here lend to the
>uncertainty of a promise that the writer seems to want to drive home to his
>readers with certainty?
>I ventured the guess that the INA clause is a standard way of expressing
>results (or, more frequently, purpose), and doesn't necessary carry with it
>any implicit uncertainty. But that answer did seem to run contrary to my
>prior definition of the subjunctive as communicating contingency.

I think that the Hellenistic Greek hINA clauses have a still greater range
of functionality that I never fully appreciated until I read through the
selections from Greek over three thousands years in George Thomson's little
book, now oup, of course, _The Greek Language_ and then learned a little
Modern Greek. I think that the hINA + subjunctive clauses in Hellenistic
Greek are already on the way to becoming what they have become in Modern
Greek (NA + subjunctive): an all-purpose infinitive that will translate
pretty well into an English infinitive and work in many of the same ways
that an infinitive will in English. Thus in the sentence above, while I
think you could understand this as a result construction by saying that
there's an implicit hOUTWS with PISTOS KAI DIKAIOS, you might also look at
the hINA clause as a sort of "epexegetical" (I love that word, although I'm
not altogether sure I know what it means) infinitive used to clarify those
adjectives, so that one could convert the Greek thus: "If we acknowledge
our sins, he is trustworthy and fair to forgive our sins." I have nothing
against using the future, if you prefer, but yet another way to look at
this construction is as an equivalent of hWSTE with an infinitive, which
one is taught is the "natural result" construction, although in Hellenistic
Greek it's much more than that--it seems often enough to be used to express
purpose. In sum, it seems to me that hINA + subjunctive tends to become in
Hellenistic Greek the equivalent of what hWSTE + infinitive is in
Hellenistic Greek, and also that the hINA + subjunctive construction is a
"pregnant" one that is in the process of assuming a much more important
function in the economy of Greek syntax.

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

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