[b-greek] Re: Ephesians 4:26

From: Alex / Ali (alexali@surf.net.au)
Date: Thu Mar 28 2002 - 07:26:26 EST

I'd like to go back to Ephesians 4:26a, the subject of one of our threads
worked out over the last few days.


In commenting on this verse, David Rollins wrote:

>"Be angry ( perhaps even - continue being angry - present imperative) and
stop sinning ( MH + Present imperative = demand of the cessation of the
action) .

I know that it has been argued that MH + the Present Imperative commands the
cessation of an action already begun, and that this view can be seen both in
grammars and in material intended to be accessible even to those without
Greek. Wuest's volume, 'The Practical Use of The Greek New Testament' is of
the latter type; he writes (p42), 'the present imperative with MH demands
the cessation of an action that is already in progress, whereas the aorist
subjunctive in a prohibition is an exhortation against doing a thing not yet
begun.' (He then mentions the story of the discovery of this rule by
Moulton's friend Davidson 'who heard a Greek command his dog to stop barking
by using MH with the present imperative'. A fuller account is given in the
Prolegomena to Moulton's grammar, p122.) Wuest's book was published in

But Wallace, in his grammar published fifty years later (GGBB, p716), wrote,
'Whether or not the action had already begun is not a part of the ontology
of either tense of the imperative' and, referring to the work of scholars
such as McKay, Boyer, Porter [see 'Verbal Aspect' p352], and Fanning, sums
up, 'The traditional view has thus shown to be faulty.' (The dog story
quoted approvingly by Wuest is recounted by Wallace, with fuller details but
without approval, pp714-715.)

McKay (in his article 'Aspect in Imperatival Constructions in New Testament
Greek' in Novum Testamentum 27, 1985, 201-226) had written, in the section
on prohibitions (216), 'The effect of the aorist is to prohibit or advise
against an activity as a totality, whether that activity is shown by the
context to be a single action, momentary or extended, or a series of
actions, and whether it has already begun or not. The imperfective
prohibits or advises against an activity as a process, and according to
context can imply *do not begin/try to ..., do not continue to ..., do not
habitually ... * .' The aorist is appropriate 'mostly when the activity has
not begun ... but it is sometimes used for an activity that is already in
train'; and while one usage of the imperfective is 'to urge cessation of an
activity already begun or prepared for', yet 'in a different context it may
not imply continuity, but beginning or attempting' (p217).

Anticipating McKay, Zerwick (Biblical Greek illustrated by Examples), having
acknowledged that it is common for MH + present imperative to forbid the
continuation of an act (#246, p79), had written, 'It is however to be noted
that it is not necessarily the continuation of an act already begun that is
prohibited (or commanded) by the present form, which may be used also to
express the idea of (future) repetition or continuation or the enunciation
of a general principle' (#248, p80).

Thus, for example, Mark 13:21 KAI TOTE EAN TIS hUMIN EIPHi, IDE hWDE hO
CRISTOS, IDE EKEI, MH PISTEUETE. The context is eschatological (a warning
against placing faith in false Christs), the reference future; the
construction cannot mean 'Stop doing what you're already doing'. Similarly,
when the twelve are about to be sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God and
The commands pertain to the future, not what they are now doing; they are
*not* being told to *stop* from taking various items on a journey they
hadn't even commenced.

The view that MH + Present Imperative necessarily speaks of stopping an
action already commenced has led to erroneous conclusions when applied to a
number of Biblical passages; Wuest's ardent adherence to it supplies some
examples in the volume of his cited above. But to return to Ephesians
4:26a, ORGIZESQE KAI MH hAMARTANETE: we cannot conclude that Paul was
implying that the Ephesians *were sinning* in this matter and so were to
*stop* from sinning.

I'd like to comment briefly, also, on the force of the imperative ORGIZESQE
here. In this there is a question of form and function, whether an
imperative (form) always conveys an imperative meaning. This is a matter I
know has been discussed on BGreek before (e.g. back at about August 20,
1999). In thinking of the range of the imperative, I sometimes find it
helpful to recall to mind the scene of the Lord's crucifixion, when
passers-by said (Matthew 27:40), hO KATALUWN TON NAON KAI EN TRISIN hHMERAIS
STAUROU. The commands to 'Save yourself' and 'come down' from the cross are
a rhetorical expression of the speakers' contempt and mockery; they add to
the emotional force of the description of the Lord's crucifixion, but they
are not true commands. Amongst other uses of the imperative mood Wallace
(GGBB, pp485ff) includes command, prohibition, request (a.k.a. entreaty,
polite command), permissive imperative, conditional imperative, and
potential imperative. [In checking over this thread I see that Daniel Buck
listed seven options allowed by Wallace in consideration of this verse. I
have not seen the article by Wallace cited by Daniel, but Wallace does treat
Eph 4:26 specifically in GGBB, at pp491-492.] This broad range of use
allows us in this context to interpret the ORGIZESQE as having a force other
than a command, should we wish. Personally, I follow this path, as the
context does not suggest to me a positive command to (righteous) anger; and
also because I am mindful of what is said at James 1:19b-20 ESTW DE PAS
ERGAZETAI. However, this is moving into interpretational and hermeneutical
considerations, so I will conclude by saying that the imperative does not
compel us to interpret ORGIZESQE as a command but allows us other options
which we may explore depending on our understanding of the context.

Alex Hopkins
(Melbourne, Australia)

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