While I’m not new to the process of writing and editing, I am new to the whole internet blogging world. For some reason, I was under the assumption that while my contributions the past few months may have been read by a few people, no one felt it was significant enough to comment on. When I happened to mention this to my contact at CRC Communications, they assured me that there had been comments. So after clicking around on the website and trying to locate my previous posts, I finally found them, and, yes, there have been comments. Thank you to all of you who wrote; I apologize that it took me eights months to figure that out and to find your responses.
On my very first blog last August, I received a comment asking if I could verify “the apparent imperative in the Lord’s Prayer for the statements which are called the first, second, and third requests.” They stated, “It would almost seem possible that these three requests are praises to God as well, i.e., ‘hallowed be Your Name’ or ‘hallowed is Your Name.’”
Great question, and I will address it on several different levels. First, there are many expressions in Greek in which a verb is missing. Most of the greetings that occur at the opening of New Testament letters, for example, do not have verbs. Consider Romans 1:7b: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (lit. trans.). There is no verb. But is this phrase a statement—“Grace and peace belong to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”? Or is it a wish or a prayer—“I pray that you will experience the grace and peace that come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”?
Well, we cannot say with 100 percent certainty, but most likely these opening greetings are prayers. In many ancient Greek papyrus letters discovered about a hundred years ago, there are similar greetings at the opening of a letter that go something like this: “To my son Quartos. Greetings. I pray for your health.” Paul is adapting this letter form with its wish or prayer for his Christian audience. Moreover, in both 2 Peter 1:2 and Jude 2, a verb does occur with the opening greeting, namely, “be multiplied” (πληθυνθείη); this verb form is actually a Greek optative—a verb form (not used often in the New Testament) that denotes a prayer or a wish.
Second, however, regarding the Lord’s Prayer, I need to point out that there are no missing verbs that we need to supply. In fact, all the verb forms in the Lord’s Prayer (except for “as we have forgiven our debtors”) are imperatives in Greek. In petitions 4, 5, and 6 (e.g., “give [δός] us this day our daily bread”), these are second person singular imperatives. But in the petitions 1, 2, and 3, they are third person singular imperatives (“hallowed be [ἁγιασθήτω] your Name, your kingdom come [ἐλθέτω], your will be done [γενηθήτω]”).
Third person imperatives? What, pray tell, is that? Well, we in English do not have such a verb form or verbal construction. Let me try to explain what it is. If we want to give a command to someone, we look right at that person and say, “Do this,” or “Don’t go there.” This is the second person imperative. But suppose you wanted to give a command to someone who lives in another town. How would you do that? Well, we would have to call that person on the phone or write that person a letter or email. But in the Greek language, you can give a command to that person without having any direct contact by using the third person imperative.
Now, we have no good way to translate that Greek construction into English. Students studying Greek get used to using the word “let,” as in “Let him do that,” or “Don’t let them go there.” But “let” in English often has the nuance of “allow” (“Allow him to do that”), but that expression has no imperative feel at all. Perhaps a better way to express this verb form would be to say, “He must do that” or “They should not go there.” Whenever you encounter a third person imperative in the Greek (and you will only know for sure if a third person imperative occurs by looking at the Greek text), you need to think: imperative! Some sort of command is being given.
Finally, let’s get back to the Lord’s Prayer. I have already pointed out that we have a mixture of third person imperatives and second person imperatives. We have no good way in English to “command” that a name be hallowed, that a kingdom come, or that a will be done; the English verb forms most frequently used to translate the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are English subjunctive verb form (e.g., “hallowed be your Name”). Never forget, however, that these three petitions actually use the Greek imperative mood.
But wait a minute! What right to we have to command God? In petitions 4, 5, and 6, do we think we have the right to command God—to order him, as it were, to give us our daily bread? Ah, this makes us realize that the social situation we are in may require us to give a different nuance to the Greek imperative.
Let me put it this way. If someone superior to you (say, your boss) were to give you a command to do something, he or she has the authority to give that command and expect that it will be carried out without question. But in English, we do not consider it right for an employee to command one’s boss. In other words, for the most part, we do not address authority figures with an English imperative; rather, we would say, “Can you please help me out here?” But in Greek it is perfectly okay to use an imperative with an authority figure—including God—without any special “please” word; but note that this use of the imperative is not viewed as an authoritative command but as the imperative as entreaty or request. This is one of the standard uses of a Greek imperative.
Just a final comment. In terms of statistics, I have read that about 83 percent of imperatives in the New Testament are direct commands or prohibitions, about 11 percent are prayers or entreaties, about 2 percent express permission (e.g., Luke 7:40), and the rest are a few miscellaneous uses. Has this been helpful in trying to make sense of the Greek imperative and especially its use in the Lord’s Prayer?