First Class Conditions: What Do They Mean? -- By: James L. Boyer

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 02:1 (Spring 1981)
Article: First Class Conditions: What Do They Mean?
Author: James L. Boyer

First Class Conditions: What Do They Mean?

James L. Boyer

This inductive study of the approximately 300 NT instances of the first class condition (εἰ + indicative) disputes the common understanding that this construction should be interpreted as obviously true and translated assince.” It is found that this is the case only 37% of the time. Surprisingly, in 51% of the occurrences the condition is undetermined. Four proposed explanations of this construction are examined and found to be inadequate. It is then argued that the correct explanation of the first class condition is a simple logical connection between protasis and apodosis.

The meaning of words is properly determined by a study of the ways they are used in their many contexts, not by theoretical rationalizations on root meanings and etymologies. In just the same way the significance of a group of words in grammatical construction is determined by careful study of the same construction in actually occurring contexts, not by rationalizing about voice, mood, and the technical terminology employed by grammarians to identify them.

A commonly occurring example of the neglect of this axiom is the manner in which the construction frequently called “First Class Condition” is handled in much exegetical literature. Reasoning from the use of εἰ instead of ἐάν and the use of the indicative mood, the mood of reality and actuality, the conclusion is drawn that the first class conditional sentence is not really a condition at all, but it implies that the condition is actually true and could well be translated “since.”1 Is this true?

To gather the information for this kind of biblical study, it was necessary to locate all examples of this grammatical construction

occurring in the NT. By using the GRAMCORD tool,2 a print-out was produced of all places where the conjunction εἰ is followed by an indicative verb. Next, the list was edited manually to remove nonapplicable situations3 and to supplement the list by inserting those first class conditions not caught by the program.4 The result was a list of about 300 instances5 in the NT where first class conditions occur. The procedure in case of uncertain instances was to include both, noting, of course, the problem.

Having in this list the materials f...

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