RE: b-greek digest: May 10, 2000

From: Phil Sanders (
Date: Thu May 11 2000 - 09:16:17 EDT

Fellow B-Greek listers,

Though usually a lurker, I felt the need to speak on this subject and point
you to an excellent source which discusses the change of person and number
in the preaching of Peter found in Acts 2:38.

Carroll Osburn, "Interpreting Greek Syntax," Biblical Interpretation:
Principles and Practice, ed. F. Furman Kearley (Baker, 1986), pp. 234-43.

Osburn devotes four pages of the article to Acts 2:38 and says:

"Greek literature itself evidences an idiomatic usage that is pertinent to
Acts 2:38, in which the third person singular imperative functions in
concert with a second person plural imperative so as to bring emphasis to a
command by allowing he speaker addressing a group to address members of that
group individually. In this emphatic imperatival useage, the speaker
attaches such tremendous importance to the command that he makes it clear
with the third person imperative that not a single member of the group is

He notes as examples Ex. 16:29; Josh. 6:10; 2 Kings 10:19; Zech. 7:10; 1
Macc. 10:63; Didache 15:3. One particular reference found in Ignatius
(Magn. 6:2) is especially similar.

"In view of the abundance of such examples, there is no syntactical basis
for the assertion that the second person plural imperative and the third
person singular imperative cannot refer in Greek to the same subject."

I hope this is helpful,
Phil Sanders
> We had a thread last week (subject-header: "Re: Acts 2:38 --
> umwn") dealing
> not directly with what's involved in this present passage but with the
> larger question of shifts from singular to plural and vice versa. I had
> noted that Paul tends to underscore the CORPORATE relationship of
> believers
> to God through Christ and its implied relationship of believers to each
> other in the congregation. Someone as a corrective noted that there were
> points where Paul underscores the personal relationship of believer to God
> in Christ also, something I wouldn't want to deny. And here is one. It's a
> curious movement of subjects, from indefinite sg. in Gal. 4:1, to
> corporate
> 1 pl. in 4:3 and the essential 1 pl. is continued through 4:5 (...
> APOLABWMEN). In 4:6 he shifts to the 2nd pl. (hOTI DE ESTE hUIOI ... but
> again shifts to the 1st pl. (EIS TAS KARDIAS hHMWN ...). And then in 4:7
> comes this shift to the sg. hWSTE OUKETI EI DOULOS ALLA hUIOS ...). After
> shifts like that, I'd be inclined to interpret the flow of this passage as
> conversationally homiletic: "I tell you all, this is how we are, this is
> what God has done for us ... you all must realize ... this means that you
> (pointing to an individual) are a Son, not a slave ..." I have no
> idea what
> the discourse analysts will say about this, but this is a pretty powerful
> impression I derive from reading it.
> --
> Carl W. Conrad

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