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Third Class Greek Conditionals

Greek 3rd class Conditional

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#1 Mark Nigro

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 01:35 AM

I am hoping one of you scholars can help me by sharing some thoughts on my questions regarding 3rd class conditionals. In particular, 1 John 1:9 (ἐὰν ὁμολογῶμεν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν, πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος, ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ καθαρίσῃ ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἀδικίας). I would have checked the syntax tree to verify some of this, but it's not yet finished for this portion of scripture.

Do these conditionals always necessitate a potentially reversible contingency? I.e. if A, then B (also implies) if NOT A, then NOT B?

I am wrestling with this idea in 1 Jn 1:9 for the following reasons:

1. The text appears to be throwing the weight of John's statement on the faithfulness and ability of Christ (πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος) to forgive and cleanse when we confess, rather than the outcome of not confessing. With ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας following πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος, it looks like the qualification for cleansing is in Christ's faithfulness and righteousness, rather than the preceding subjunctive condition of what we do (or don't do).

2. It doesn't seem logical to me that the opposite of a conditional must always be inferred in a given language. For example, if I make the following conditional statement, "If you come to my house at 2:30, I'll be there," it does not necessarily follow that if you don't come at 2:30, I wont be there. I may be there anyway, even if you don't come. It seems possible this is the case with 1 John 1:9. Of course, I want the authority of the text to speak rather than my own reasoning here, I'm only trying to illustrate.

3. To insist on a reversible contingency (if that is what it is called), wouldn't it also in this particular case hinge Christ's being "faithful and just" on the preceding subjunctive conditional (ἐὰν ὁμολογῶμεν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος)?

I understand "faithful and just" to be John's emphasis and that we need never wonder if forgiveness can be received when confessing, precisely because Christ is "faithful and just." Please correct me if I am wrong and I welcome any explanations you all are willing to offer.

Thanks in advance!

Edited by Mark Nigro , 18 October 2012 - 01:54 AM.

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#2 Bob Kuo

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 11:03 PM

Mark - a few thoughts:
  • If we have some statement "if A, then B" the inverse is "if not A, then not B". From a purely philosophical standpoint, a statement and its converse are not always equivalent (i.e. both true or both false), as in the example you noted. What is equivalent is the contrapositive, "if not B, then not A".
  • I've never heard about third class conditionals being equivalent to their converse, though I have not studied Greek for very long. Daniel Wallace's Greek grammar says this about third class conditionals:

    The third class condition often presents the condition as uncertain of fulfillment, but still likely. There are, however, many exceptions to this. It is difficult to give one semantic label to this structure, especially in Hellenistic Greek (note the discussion below). The structure of the protasis involves the particle ἐάν followed by a subjunctive mood in any tense. Both the particle (a combination of εἰ and the particle ἄν) and the subjunctive give the condition a sense of contingency. The apodosis can have any tense and any mood. This is a common category of conditional clauses, occurring nearly 300 times in the NT.

    I only skimmed Wallace, so perhaps I missed something. Was there another grammar that suggested the third class conditional worked this way?

  • Broadly speaking, John can speak in an almost circular fashion, stating the same truth in two different ways - e.g. "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:3 ESV). This is especially true in 1 John where John returns to make the same point multiple times. I think contextually we can see a number of antitheses John sets up in 1 John 1:6-10:

    v6: If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth
    v7: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin

    v8: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us
    v9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
    v10: If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

    Note that these verses are not completely antithetical ("A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother." ESV Prov. 15:20) but rather focus on the first part of the conditional, called the "protasis". I think John is focusing on the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of certain Christians and displaying the outcomes: if we say we have no sin, we are self-deceived; if we confess our sins, Jesus forgives our sins and cleanses us completely.
  • In short, no I don't think the third class conditional implies that the converse is true. You could do a Greek construct search to find all of the third class conditionals in the NT and see if the converse of those are true. I believe you are right when you say that John is putting the emphasis on gracious nature of Jesus to forgive our sins upon confession. Colin Kruse in the Pillar New Testament Commentary on the Letters of John says

    God's faithfulness is his trustworthiness in fulfilling the commitments he has made to his people... God is faithful to beleivers in that he is carrying through on his commitment to forgive and purify those who confess their sins, something which necessitated the giving of his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for their sins.

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