Re: Greek conditionals

From: Harold R. Holmyard III (
Date: Sat Apr 01 2000 - 07:23:01 EST

Dear Kimmo,

I am not an expert in Greek grammar. When I come across a conditional that
is troublesome for me, I go to grammar books, see which classification it
falls into, think about the context, and come to an understanding of what
the writer implied by the words.

What I understand the first class conditional to imply is that the grammar
of the sentence assumes a condition to be true, regardless of whether or
not it is in fact true. In both the conditions in Matt 12:27-28, Jesus uses
"if" to suppose that a condition is true. Whether it is actually true or
not is a matter of history and reality, not a matter of grammar.

Recently I wrote to a friend about the third class conditional. Let me
share what I wrote:

It is true that "if" can often mean "since" in the New Testament, but it
does not in Romans 10:9:

Rom. 10:9: "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe
in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

The Greek consists of a specific form of "if" (ean), and an aorist
subjunctive verb ("you confess"). This combination is called a third class
conditional. In A New Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by A. T.
Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, the authors describe the third class
conditional construction as follows:

3rd class: undetermined with prospect of determination: eav with the
subjunctive in the condition, usually future or present indicative in the
conclusion. This condition states the condition as a matter of doubt, but
with some expectation of realization. . . . Hence the subjunctive is the
mode of doubt used. . . It is undetermined and so does not use the
indicative mode.

Thus this would be the wrong conditional to use if one was stating a
condition that was assumed to be true. So "since" would not be a correct
translation of the word translated "if."

Kimmo, what I trying to show is that Paul in Romans 10:9 uses a third class
conditional because he does not assume that the person confesses. The
syntax of the third class conditional implies that the condition is a
matter of doubt. So Paul implies that there is a degree of uncertainty as
to whether the person will confess. If Paul had used a first class
conditional, the sentence would have assumed that the person would confess.
Jesus in Matt 12:27 uses a first class conditional to assert the condition
as if it were true. He does not believe that it is true, but he asserts the
condition as if there were no doubt about it.

                                        Harold Holmyard

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