Saturday, January 27, 2024

Acts 1:20: Third-person imperatives

In English we commonly use imperatives in the second person, and there is no distinction between a 2-S and a 2-P imperative.  Thus,

Come here!

Watch out for that car!

could be applied to either one or several people.  In addition, English imperatives have no special morphology.  I.e., 'drink' can equally serve as an indicative 

I / We/ You/ They/ drink milk with tea.

or an imperative.

Drink your milk!

English can tell a third person to do something

        Let them eat cake.  

        May God have mercy on your soul.

but a helping word ('let', 'may') is required, and I would argue that third-person

English imperatives are not common outside special, sometimes formal, contexts.

Now, back to our verse:

Γέγραπται γὰρ ἐν βίβλῳ Ψαλμῶν, Γενηθήτω ἡ ἔπαυλις αὐτοῦ ἔρημος, καὶ μὴ ἔστω ὁ κατοικῶν ἐν αὐτῇ· καί, Tὴν ἐπισκοπὴν αὐτοῦ λαβέτω / λάβοι ἕτερος.

“For it is written in the book of Psalms: ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ‘May another take his position.’ 

There are three imperatives commonly seen in this verse, although some authorities cite only two, a difference which we will look at below.

The three imperatives are:


[μὴ] ἔστω


All of these are third-person singular imperatives, i.e., 'let him/her/it do or be something'.  The parsings are as follows:

1  γενηθήτω: 3-S, aorist passive imperative, γίνομαι, 'I become'

2  [μὴ] ἔστω:  3-S, present imperative, εἰμί, 'I am'

3  λαβέτω: 3-S, aorist active imperative, λαμβάνω, 'I receive, I take'

Note that (2) is a negative imperative, i.e., 'let there not be'.

As I said, some authorities* do not cite all three of these imperatives, using λάβοι instead of λαβέτω.  I confess that λάβοι was an unfamiliar form; looking it up, I discovered that rare New Testament beast, an optative.  

Smyth (see #1830) says that "The potential optative with ἄν may be used, in a sense akin to that of the imperative, to express a command, exhortation, or request", but there is no ἄν here, so I am not sure of this construction.

In the next post: a bit of vocabulary to wrap up verse 20.


* See notably The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, 2005, by Maurice Robinson and William Pierpont

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