Re: the anaphora of 1 John 3:5 & 8 & the subjunctive

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Oct 14 1999 - 09:24:13 EDT

At 7:41 AM -0500 10/14/99, Jay Adkins wrote:
>Dear B-Greekers,
>Can someone please explain why in the anaphora of 1 John 3:5 & 8 the
>subjunctive verbs are translated like an indicative or an infinitive by so
>many translations?
>The phrases are:
>1Joh 3:5 (DBY) .... *he* has been manifested that he might take away our
>1Joh 3:8 (DBY) .... To this end the Son of God has been manifested, that he
>might undo the works of the devil
>1Joh 3:5 (NEB) .... Christ appeared, as you know, to do away with sins....
>1Joh 3:8 (NEB) .... the Son of God appeared for the very purpose of undoing
>the devil's work.
>I have counted 9 translations that treat verse 5 as an indicative or an
>infinitive and 8 as subjunctive. In verse 8 the same translations treat it
>as an indicative or an infinitive 14 times and only 3 as subjunctive. I
>understand that the subjunctive in an Indefinite Relative Clause is often
>translated like an indicative, but why in a purpose clause would you do so?
> Is it because there is a futuristic aspect in the English phrasing which
>accounts for the degree of doubt represented by the subjunctive? That is
>my only guess as I really do not know the answer. There is no hidden
>agenda here.

The hINA + subjunctive clauses in both 3:5 and 3:8 are indeed a purpose
clauses. I would say that the Darby versions you cite are rather archaic
English ways of translating a Greek or Latin purpose clause in secondary
sequence (i.e. when the clause follows an introductory verb in a past
tense). There's not really anything tentative about the "might"--it is
simply the obsolescent auxiliary verb used with an infinitive in
contingency constructions (e.g. "I hope that he may come" or "I hoped that
he might come"--where "may" and "might" do not express tentativeness but
rather the wish for eventuation of what is not under the speaker's
control). Older NT Greek textbooks in English, such as Machen, do teach the
translation of purpose clauses with "may" and "might." Nevertheless the
infinitive has long been used more commonly in colloquial English and even
formal rhetorical English to express purpose: Shakespeare's "I come to bury
Caesar, not to praise him." In Koine Greek one does occasionally see an
infinitive without any introductory element used to express purpose,
although one more commonly sees the articular infinitive in the genitive
(e.g. TOU KHRUTTEIN) or in the accusative with EIS (EIS TO KHRUTTEIN) or an
infinitive with hWSTE (hWSTE KHRUTTEIN).

It's always fascinated me that the hINA + subjunctive clause came
eventually to supplant the morphologically distinct infinitive; thus the
modern Greek infinitive is NA + the conjugated present or aorist
subjunctive of a verb (NA PW, for instance is the 1st person infinitive of
"say"--from what was once the Hellenistic hINA EIPW.

In any case, "might" in those Darby version formulations does not express
doubt as such; it's simply the obsolescent usage of the auxiliary verb
"may" in a past tense contingency construction.

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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