Oct 10, 2008 David Lang

Ignore the Optative? Absolutely Not!

Lately my family and I have been reading through Romans, and we've consequently been getting into all kinds of theological concepts which are a bit obtuse for kids ranging from 13 to 7. To offer a bit of comic relief to help break up the headiness of it all, I've taught them to shout "Me genoito!" every time we run across the phrase, "Absolutely not!" Chances are you've never heard kids shout a Greek phrase with such passion and feeling.

Me genoito is, of course, the Greek phrase which is typically translated as "Absolutely not!" It is the strong exclamation with which Paul answers the anticipated distortions of his teaching. Me is simply a negative particle, but genoito is the verb ginomai (to be or become) in a form which is quite rare in the New Testament: the optative mood.

When I studied classical Greek in college, we learned the optative mood along with all the others, but when I took New Testament Greek in seminary, the optative was given only passing mention. I guess the idea was that the optative is so rare that the students would be able to learn all they needed to from commentaries and grammars when they ran across it; why require them to study one more unusual form?

Should we ignore the optative because it is so uncommon? Shall we focus only on indicatives, imperatives, and subjunctives? To this, brothers and sisters, I say Me Genoito!.

Originally, I was just going to do a few searches and show you how you can use Accordance to learn more about the optative mood, but I actually think you'll learn more (both about the optative and about Accordance), if I challenge you to see what you can find out on your own. If you're up for a challenge, spend some time this weekend trying to answer the following questions:

  1. Just how rare is the optative in the New Testament?
  2. Do different Greek texts (such as Nestle-Aland, the Textus Receptus, etc.) differ with respect to the number of times the optative appears?
  3. What about other Greek texts (Pseudepigrapha, Apostolic Fathers, Josephus, Philo, etc.)? Is the optative equally rare in those texts?
  4. What is the meaning of the optative mood?
  5. Why is Me genoito translated variously as "God forbid!", "Absolutely not!", "Not at all!", or "By no means!"? What does it literally mean? Which translations, if any, give that literal meaning?
  6. What else can you learn about the optative mood?

If you're up for the challenge, I'd be interested to hear what you find out (and how you found it out) in the comments on this post. Obviously, those of you who have tagged Greek texts are at an advantage over those who don't, but I'd be willing to bet that anybody can learn something about the optative by consulting commentaries, doing a search all, etc.

See what you can come up with, and next week, I'll go over specific ways you can use Accordance to learn more about the optative.

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