[b-greek] RE: Rom 9:3

From: Roy Millhouse (rmillhouse@commbible.org)
Date: Fri Jul 07 2000 - 11:33:55 EDT

> It sounds as Greek grammar alone is not sufficient to decide the
> issue....in this case. Theological considerations (as always I guess)
> must inform us.....

I recently completed a thesis on the use of the imperfect in the New
Testament, and while I only briefly touched on this particular passage, I
did spend considerable time on the grammatical situation found here. This
is actually a well-documented occurance in Greek grammar, often called the
desiderative imperfect (I prefer to view it as an imperfect used in a
desiderative context). To quote just one example, Robertson (who actually
classifies it as a "potential imperfect"), on pg. 886, notes that "Verbs of
propriety, possibility, obligation or necessity are also used in the
imperfect when the obligation, etc., is not lived up to, has not been met."
Thus, Paul views his desire to be unatainable; though he would wish he could
be cursed in the stead of his fellow Jews, he understands full well that he
cannot. He therefore phrases his statement in such a way that this is
clear. Other examples of just this type of situation (present reference for
the imperfect in an impossible wish)appear in Acts 25:22; Gal. 4:20; 2 Cor
11:1, and Rev. 3:15 (some would include Philemon 13, though I personally see
Paul as referring to the time when he first decided to send Onesimus back to
Philemon). Thus, this is less an issue of theology and more an issue of

I should note however, that just because a verb of wish or obligation
appears in the Imperfect, it does not mean that it is always an impossible
situation, as some grammars assert (i.e., Robertson, Grammar, 887; Turner,
Syntax, 90; Fanning, Aspect, 252). It may be simply an example of a past
situation. I note in my thesis that "(o)f the 24 instances of the Imperfect
form for the words DEI, OFEILW, or ANHKW, only 10 of them appear in passages
where the obligation is not met. A further eight appear in passages where
the obligation has been met, while six appear in general statements of
obligation." My thesis notes the specific examples.

This, in the end, gets back to the question of time reference with the Greek
verb. Now, I don't really want to re-open the aspect wars, but if the
Imperfect is seen as remote instead of merely past referring, conditions
like this come as no surprise. Sometimes the remoteness is temporal--a past
event. But sometimes the remoteness is logical--an impossible event
portrayed as a wish. In the end, I think this particular passage is an
excellent example of logical remoteness, while the statement by "Dennis,"

> So, recognizing this, the action of the imperfect HUCOMHN was no
> longer valid when Paul was writing. When it was valid
> is uncertain, but it seems to me it was during the time Paul was a
> Christian and was afraid the majority of Jews who
> had rejected Christ as their saviour would be permanently lost.

seems to not take into account the clearly set pattern of the Imperfect used
in present referring contexts, and specifically, it's use in desiderative
contexts. --I should note that I am on the digest version and did not
receive the full text of this note, but only those portions that appeared in
Mike Wine's note. I hope I did not mistake the intention of the note due to
my lack of context. I am commenting on what appears to be an attempt to
place the situation in the past due to the presence of the imperfect.

Anyway, I like Mike Sangrey's conclusion:

>It appears to be very well worded Greek--presenting both the intensity of
>Paul feels along with the reality he so frustratingly understands.

Paul's intensity is gathered from what he expresses: his desire to stand in
his fellow Jews' place, as well as the emphatic AUTOS EGW. His
understanding of reality is expressed clearly in his use of the remote

Roy Millhouse
Community Bible Church
P.O. Box 2366
Russellville, AR  72801
"Fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission"

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