Greek Conditional Sentences (Part 2)

(Author’s note: In my last column I mentioned that our third child was on the way. He was born on January 11th, 2005. Thanks to God, both he and his mother are healthy and doing very well.)
As we mentioned in the previous column, there are five classes of Greek conditional sentences. We discussed the first class conditional sentence in the previous column in which we noted that this condition assumed something to be true for the sake of argument. Hence, Satan uses this form in Matthew 5:3, “If you are the son of God, command that these stones become bread.” The temptation was not to cast doubt that Jesus was the Son of God, but to tempt Jesus into obeying Satan for physical desires.
The second class conditional sentence represents that which the speaker believes to be contrary to fact. There aren’t nearly as many of these in the Greek New Testament as first class conditionals (only about 50). We use this kind of conditional sentence quite frequently in English, most often when we express how we wish things to be. “If I were rich, then I could buy a new car.” We use the past tense “be” verb “were,” along with “if” to express this contrary to fact condition. There are other ways we express contrary to fact conditionals in English, but this example will best help us to understand the Greek. Hence, in Greek, a contrary to fact conditional contains the word “EI,” (if) which must take either an imperfect or aorist verb (i.e. past tense verbs), in the conditional part of the sentence (the protasis) and the conclusive part of the sentence (apodosis) may or may not have the particle “AN,” but will have a secondary tense verb (imperfect or aorist, that is, past tense verbs) in the indicative mood.
Some examples of the second class condition occur in the following passages:
Hebrews 8:4 “For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest?.” The point the writer is making is that Jesus is not on earth and so he isn’t a priest according to the law, but according to the order of Melchizedec.
Galatians 1:10 “?if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Here, of course, Paul’s point was that he was a servant of Christ, so he wasn’t trying to please men.
1 Corinthians 12:19 “And if they were all one member, where were the body?” The whole context of this passage contains illustrative counterfactuals regarding the body. In verse 17, the verbs are not explicitly stated in the Greek, but they are implied, “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” The point being that the body is not one member, but many.
The counterfactual can even be used to perpetrate a lie as in John 18:30, “?If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee” as stated by those who delivered Jesus to Pilate. Of course, the truth was that Jesus was not a malefactor, but the Sanhedrim didn’t want Pilate to know that. Hence, the second class conditional is used to perpetrate a false counterfactual.
There are several other examples. It would be good to look for these as one studies through the New Testament.

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Kevin Cauley

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