[b-greek] Re: Perfect Subjunctive

From: Daniel L. Christiansen (dlc@multnomah.edu)
Date: Thu Nov 02 2000 - 19:45:52 EST

   I typed this response out, prior to seeing that Rob was satisfied with the
responses already received (his post was hidden in my mail). I thought I might as
well send it anyway, since I was impressed with the numbers. I knew that the form
was indeed rare, but didn't know how rare that was.

    In keeping with what Carlton wrote about the NT occurrences of perfect
subjunctives, the LXX affords very few examples. I find 8 PfSj (Gen 24:41; Ex 8:6,
18; 9:14; 11:7; 1Macc 11:31; 3Macc 6:10; Wis 16:18) and 8 Pf Periph Parts (Ex 21:36;
33:13; Num 5:13 bis, 14, 27; Job 39:30; Is 8:14). Given that there are over 4000
perfects and in excess of 5500 subjunctives in the LXX, the perfect subjunctive does
indeed appear to be rare in the entire biblical corpus.
    Smyth brushes aside the question of the PfSj by stating that it "is rarely
used." His conclusion is that the Aorist Subjunctive commonly "replaces" the
Perfect of that mood, because the Perfect is more exact than may be demanded by the
writer. Robertson spends a bit more time on the subject, noting that the perfect
was disappearing in general, following the classical period, and that the total
absence of the tense from the optative, and near-total absence from the subjunctive
is merely indicative (no pun intended) of the process of simplification and
assimilation to the aorist. He also notes that the PfSj was rare even in classical
writing, but I'll leave that to Carl and others who may quote Eurypides from memory
    MHT treats the subject more by omission than discussion. The Prolegomena states
that it is unnecessary to discuss the force of present, aorist and future tenses
with the subjunctive, since they should already be well understood; however, no
mention is made of the relative frequency or importance of these various tenses in
that mood. MHT's Syntax notes that the perfect is fairly common in both participial
and infinitive forms, but these are contrasted with the "perfect with present
meaning," rather than with the PfSj. Turner's treatment of the PfSj paradigm uses
EIDW, and appends a note "The ordinary verb makes its subjunctive
    All things considered, I think we are probably safe in assuming that the perfect
subjunctive is extremely rare. This is one of those elements of Greek which make my
Reading students happy. If they recognize and correctly parse either a Perfect
Subjunctive, or any optative other than MH GENOITO, we let class out early.

Daniel L. Christiansen
Professor of Biblical Languages, Portland Bible College
Adjunct Professor, Bible Department, Multnomah Bible College
(503) 820-0231

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