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

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Oct 15 1999 - 10:01:22 EDT

At 9:14 AM -0500 10/15/99, Jay Adkins wrote:
>Carl wrote:
>> 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.
>Thank you all very much for your responses. I was not aware of the changes
>in modern Greek. Furthermore, not all the translations that used the
>subjunctive force in these verses are as old as Darby, which helped to
>confuse me even more.
>1Joh 3:5 (NIV) But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our
>sins. And in him is no sin.
>1Joh 3:8 (NKJV) He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from
>the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He
>might destroy the works of the devil.

It might be worth mentioning (although it's pretty obvious, if only one
stops to think about it), that:
     (1) any language that is widely spoken is always changing;
     (2) there's always (or usually) a difference between the diction and
         grammatical usage that most people use conversationally or in
informal documents and what they write in more formal documents;
     (3) the "dignity" of a document or text has a considerable bearing on
the diction and grammatical usage employed in it;
     (4) religious and legal documents and texts and other documents and
texts of a similar "dignity" are likely to employ more archaic,
obsolescent, or even altogether obsolete diction and grammar (although it
could be argued that if anyone is still reading and understanding an
obsolescent diction or grammatical usage for a reason other than
antiquarian scholarly interest, that diction or grammatical usage cannot
really be quite obsolete--I still remember as a child memorizing and being
told the meaning of what Jesus said to his parents when found in the
Temple: "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?"--but I'd
question whether anyone conversationally today uses "wist" as a
second-person plural preterite of "know");
        (5) although I don't think there's any one-to-one correspondence
between theological conservatism and preference for 'obsolescent' diction
and grammatical usages, I do think there's something of a tendency for
theologically conservative groups to prefer language that preserves more of
the discernible grace and dignity of the King James Version, inasmuch as it
and Shakespeare have probably influenced the nature of historical English
more than any other literary texts. It hardly surprises me therefore that
NKJV should still use "that he might destroy the works of the devil" for 1
John 3:8--surely one can still hear/read remnants of 17th century English
in that. Nor does it surprise me that NIV, however much it represents a
compromise with more recent English idiom, should still use the obsolescent
"so that he might take away our sins" for 1 John 3:5; I think that these do
indeed reflect a sense that this older usage has greater dignity than the
now much more normal standard English usage, "appeared in order to take
away our sins" for 1 John 3:5 or "The reason that the Son of God appeared
was to destroy the devil's works" for 1 John 3:8. I don't mean to imply
that these are the only ways to convey the Greek of those verses in
"formal" English, but they may be sufficient to show why the tastes and
inclinations of some people are more attuned to the archaic diction and
usage. And I have no quarrel with those to whom such language speaks
clearly and eloquently, even if it is not my own preference.

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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