Greek Conditional Sentences (Part 4)

Last week we looked at the third and the fifth class conditional sentence. This week we will look at the last kind of conditional, the fourth class conditional. There are no complete fourth class conditionals in the New Testament. You may wonder, “Well, why not?” The fourth class conditional uses the optative mood in both the conditional and conclusive part of the sentence. And, while classical Greek used the optative mood frequently, Koine Greek had evolved so as to replace the optative mood with the subjunctive mood. So, while the optative mood is used in the New Testament, the language was phasing it out in deference to the subjunctive and we’ve seen that the subjunctive third class conditional is the preferred linguistic method for hypothetical conditionals in the New Testament.
We do gain one benefit from this, however. When the optative mood IS used, we know that the author specifically chose that mood to communicate it’s nuance. The fourth class conditional was usually used to communicate remote possibility. In other words, something that the author considered highly unlikely.
Some examples of the fourth class are found in the following passages:
1 Peter 3:14 “But even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled.” Peter considers it unlikely that this particular audience is going to suffer for doing good. In fact, he states in verse 13 that it’s likely that they won’t suffer for doing good with a third class conditional “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good?” So Peter considers it likely that they won’t suffer for doing good and unlikely that they will, but he doesn’t completely rule it out one way or the other.
Acts 8:31 is a partial fourth class conditional. The nobleman asks, “How can I [understand], except some one shall guide me?” In other words, the nobleman is saying, “If someone won’t guide me (will you?), I can’t understand this.” He’s hoping that Philip will, but he’s not very confident about it.
Acts 17:18 has one also. “And certain also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, What would this babbler say? others, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.” In “what would this babbler say” a fourth class is implied. The idea is “if he had anything sensical to say, what would he say?” They already didn’t have a very high opinion of Paul’s preaching.
Acts 17:27 too contains a fourth class conditional. “That they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” “If haply they might feel after him and find him,” in other words, it’s not likely they will find Him in the dark, but if they keep on seeking they might eventually by happenstance. How much better to turn on the light to find God!
Well, it’s likely you won’t run across a fourth class conditional too many times in your study as there are only a handful and not complete one’s at that in the Greek New Testament. The few that remain, however, are gems to be treasured.

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Kevin Cauley

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3 thoughts on “Greek Conditional Sentences (Part 4)

  1. What does the conditional in Romans 6:5 say about baptism and our hope of the final resurrection and being united with Christ?

  2. What does the conditional in Romans 6:5 say about baptism and our hope of the final resurrection and being united with Christ?

  3. Romans 6:5 is EI with the indicative which would make it a first class conditional sentence. Here Paul is setting forth what he believes to be true in regard to the resurrection, namely, if we are united with Christ in his death (that is in baptism) then we will also be united with him in the resurrection. In other words, if the first part of the conditional is true, then the second part is true as well.

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