Friday, October 3, 2014

Attendant Circumstances (Great Commission Revisited)



After my last blog about the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, a friend of mine read it (thank you very much for being one of three) and sent me a comment. He said that I failed to interact with Wallace’s argument that the participle should be translated “Go”. Oops, I thought, I did miss that. I didn’t realize that Wallace did have an argument in his grammar specifically stating that Matthew 28:19 should be translated “Go”. So, with a bit of wounded pride, embarrassment and some fear and trepidation, I read Wallace’s argument. Actually, I was excited to hear a good argument for the “Go” translation. Happily, I found one in Wallace that both affirmed my thinking and gives reasons for a “Go” translation. He calls this an “Attendant Circumstance” participle. I didn’t know what that meant either. Wallace defines it as a participle used “…to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinated with the finite verb. In this respect it is not dependent, for it is translated like a verb. It is translated like a finite verb connected with the main verb by “and”.” He later adds, “If a participle makes good sense when treated as an adverbial participle, we should not seek to treat it as an attendant circumstance.” 

Wallace is simply saying that the participle, πορευθεντες, can be translated as a verb, “Go”. I actually didn’t dispute that in my original post. I said that the translation “Go” is permissible but maybe not the most accurate expression of Matthew’s thought. I do think it can be translated as “Go” but my contention is that the verbal idea can be better expressed in English than using two imperatives.

Since attendant circumstance participles are rare, Wallace also offers five criteria to determine if a giving participle might fall into this category and Mathew 28:19 meets all five. They are as follows:
  • The tense of the participle is usually aorist. Check. 
  • The tense of the main verb is usually aorist. Check. 
  • The mood of the main verb is usually imperative or indicative. Imperative. Check. 
  • The participle will precede the main verb. Check. 
  • Attendant circumstance participles frequently occur in narrative. Check. 
We are five for five, so Matthew 28:19 could be an attendant circumstance. That means that “…we must argue from sense rather than from translation.” and “… the relative semantic weight in such constructions is that a greater emphasis is placed on the action of the main verb than on the participle”.

Since Matthew chose to use a single imperative verb preceded by an aorist participle to convey Jesus command, the question is, "What is the sense of the command and how do we best express that in English? If we accept that this is an attendant circumstance, then according to Wallace, we agree to the following:
  • We have a participle being used to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinated with the finite verb. 
  • The semantic weight of the construction should emphasize the main verb. 
  • We must argue from sense rather than from translation 
  • and, I would add, that Matthew chose this construction over two commands. 
The sense is that we have a primary command with a very closely tied verbal idea from the participle. Can we combine those in such a way in English so that the command “Make disciples” is prominent and “Go” is closely tied but still secondary to the command? Do we have a structure in the target language (English) to communicate such an idea? I see two options.

The two command option:

We can use two commands “Go and make disciples”. While this is permissible, in English both verbs “go and make” have the same semantic weight. One could even argue, and many sermons bear this out, that the command “go” receives the greater semantic weight because it is the first command. This does not seem to completely line up with what Matthew wrote. As I argued in the previous post, Matthew could have used two imperatives. That would have been common, acceptable Greek. In that case, the sense would have been “Go and make disciples”. We essentially have a functional almost exact equivalent in English. However, this is not the case. By translating the attendant circumstance as two imperatives we are removing the nuance of the Greek construction. In other words, by reading the translation, we cannot determine if the original was two commands or a participle command.

The assumption – command option:

If we translate the participle as an assumption, I think we better capture the sense of what Matthew wrote. By way of illustration, I imagine that I’m sitting at the dinner table with my family enjoying a meal. Near the end of the meal, it comes to my mind that someone should clear the table and do the dishes. I might say to one of the children. “After you clear the table, wash the dishes.” The command is “wash the dishes”, but there is an assumption that before washing the dishes, they will clear the table. It is almost stronger than a command because there is no real opportunity to refuse. I could have said, “Clear the table and wash the dishes.” The semantic content is essentially the same but when I use a single verb, “wash”, the participial phrase, “after you clear the table”, is an action coordinated with the main verb and the semantic weight falls on “wash”. This structure seems to be in line with what Matthew wrote. The verbal idea of going is coordinated with the main verb but the semantic weight falls on “make disciples”. This can be done in English by what many have called the “Great Assumption”. In Jesus’ command to make disciples, the idea of going is assumed. “Since you are going [anyway], make disciples” or “After you have gone [aorist participle], make disciples.” Again, there is no opportunity to refuse to go. It is simply assumed that you will go.

In summary, I have no problem with calling Matthew 28:19 an attendant circumstance. I also have no problem with translating the participle as “go”. I simple think that translating Matthew 28:19 as the Great Assumption closely coordinated with the Great Commission, keeps the emphasis on the main verbal command and lines up very well with the sense of what Matthew wrote.

8 comments:

Mark McD said...

Alph, I think that you could be correct, but I think the participle is best understood imperatively. This construction is used a few more times in Matthew, of poreuthentes with an imperative. In Matthew 2:8, Herod sends the wise men to Bethlehem and says poreuthentes find out about the child. They would find out about the child in Bethlehem, not as they were going to Bethlehem. Matthew 11:4 is more clear. When John's disciples come to Jesus to ask about his ministry, Jesus says poreuthentes tell John what you have seen and heard. It makes no sense for John's disciples to tell him on their way to the prison. They will tell him when they get there. I think the same applies in Matthew 28:19. They are not to make disciples of the nations on the way to the nations. Rather they are to go the nations, and when they get to the nations they are then to make disciples. The fact that it is possible for the participle to meet the attendant circumstances criteria just shows what we have always seen. The grammar rarely solves problems, it just limits the range of possibilities.

The Mosse' Family said...

Good thoughts Mark. I in part agree and am not opposed to the popular translation using two imperatives. Your two examples are excellent, but they can also be seen as making my point. In Matthew 2:8, Matthew writes that Herod said, “Poreuthentes, seek the child diligently…”. The idea is that he is sending them and giving them a command. But again the first command represented by the participle is implied in the primary second command represented by the imperative. Contextually, Herod knows that they intend to go seek the child and assuming that is the case he assumes that the action of going is unavoidable and “since they are going anyway” he gives them another command “seek the child diligently”. It is not that they are to seek them on the way, the idea is more that since they are going or after they have gone (the force of the aorist can bring in an antecedent action to the main verb nuance). Matthew 11:4 can be understood in much the same way. Matthew writes that Jesus said, “poreuthentes announce what you heard and saw..”. Again, Jesus knows that they will return to John and “since they are going anyway….” here is what you do (command) – announce (imperative). Finally, and this is the kicker for me, if we are to translate an attendant circumstance as two imperatives, how are we to translate two imperatives. The fact that Matthew could have used two imperatives, which he often does, and didn’t makes me think that there is a nuance here that he is trying to communicate. As always, my disagreement with you doesn’t in any way diminish my recognition of your superior brilliance.

Mark McD said...

Thank you Alphie for acknowledging my superior brilliance, but I sense that you were not kneeling when I wrote that. I also noticed that you forgot to mention my noble appearance, dazzling charm, and profound humility. So your debts have only increased. I must confess I did not read through your posts as carefully as I should have the first time. But the second time I did read more carefully and I wanted to comment again. What d'ya do?

In, I think, your first post, you said this: "Then in verse 7, he uses the aorist participle (exactly the same form of the verb as he does in 28:19). “As you go” or “after you have gone, (command) preach…”. Here we have a near parallel to Matthew 28:19 and it is clear in the second use (verse 7) that the participle is subordinate to the imperative."

However, I think the verb in Matthew 10:7 is πορεύομαι, and the specific form is the participle πορευόμενοι. I think that that participle form is a present tense rather than an aorist (πορευθέντες) as is used in Matthew 28:19.

You mention that Matthew could have used two imperatives had he wished, since there are times when he uses the imperative form of "to go". One question I have is do we have examples of where he uses two verbs together with both being imperatives? He certainly uses the verb "go" by itself as an imperative, but does he use two imperatives close together like "go and do"?

Also, as to your idea that "they were going to go anyway", I am not sure that we can say that for sure. Jesus was telling his guys to go to all nations. Chances are good that unless forced to they never would have left their home towns. This is exactly the problem we see in Acts. They stayed in Jerusalem and only really left when persecution came. But they certainly never would have already been going to visit all nations. I think that they needed to be told to go. But if we must say attendant circumstance in Matthew 28:19, I can live with it perhaps as long as we don't translate it as "as you go". Because the tense of the participle is aorist and not present. The present participle in Matthew 10:7 I could see as "as you go". But not the aorist in Matthew 28:19. "Having gone" is better.

The Mosse' Family said...

Mark. I ask a thousand pardons for not mentioning your noble appearance, dazzling charm and your profound humility. In my mind they are assumptions, but I will endeavor to express such obvious attributes in the future.

Also, this time I really am kneeling. You are right about Matthew 10:7. The participle is present tense. I must have confused it with a different use. My bad. (feeling sheepish). I have corrected the first blog entry thanks to your insight. That mistake does weaken the secondary point of having a strong parallel to Mathew 28:19. We do still have a parallel, but it is not as strong. However, my main point with that example was to show Matthew’s skill is using this particular verb. From 10:6 and 7 we see that he is very comfortable using the word as a participle and as an imperative.

Does Matthew use poreuthentes as the first of two imperatives? To be honest, I am working through Matthew’s grammar right now. When I wrote this entry, I read through Matthew and noticed that he often used imperatives and at times two imperatives together. He does use poreuthentes as an imperative but not often with a second imperative. I was trying to carefully write that he knows how to use two imperatives, but not necessarily that he often uses poreuomai as one of the imperatives. That all said, I can give at least two examples of Matthew using two imperatives and in one case, the verb is even poreuomai. In Matthew 2:13, when the angel appears to Joseph in a dream he tells Joseph to “…take the child and his mother and flee…”. Both imperatives – take and flee. Drop down to 2:20. After Herod dies, the angel appears again and tells Joseph to “…take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.” Again, these are two imperatives (take and go) and the second one is indeed poreuomai. I understand that poreuomai is not the first imperative but I’m going in another direction. My point is twofold. One, Matthew does know how to use two imperatives together and two, he does know how to use poreuomai as one of those imperatives. In short, the use is clearly in his “wheelhouse” and he chose to use a different structure in 28:19. I am assuming that there is a nuanced reason why he chose one structure over the other and I want to find a way to distinguish the two in English.

I don’t agree with your assumption that the disciples had to be forced to leave Jerusalem but that is another discussion. But your point of bring out the aoristic aspect of the participle is well taken. The translation “having gone” or “after you go” does bring out the antecedent action better.

Thanks again for being my grammar guru and keeping me honest!

Mark McD said...

If you don't mind I may make one more comment. I have applied my usual method of interacting on issues like this, namely, speak first, listen later. So I read your posts more carefully and see that I have not clearly understood what you are arguing. So let me see if I have this right this time. You are saying that Wallace labels πορευθέντες a participle of attendant circumstance and that you do not disagree. You disagree with it being labelled a simple imperatival participle (as do I). You have said that you do not disagree in principle with the translation "go" for the participle, but you are concerned about the fact that in English we have two imperative verbs on the syntactical level connected by "and," whereas in Greek we have a participle and an imperative verb with no conjunction. I think that feel that something is lost by not staying closer to the formal structure of the Greek grammar. I hope that is right, correct me if I am wrong.

I think I hear what you are saying. I think that an aspect of the attendant circumstance participle is that it derives an aspect of its meaning from the main verb. In Wallace's words, the participle "piggy-backs" on the mood of the mean verb. Thus, if the main verb is imperative, the participle will carry a bit of that same mood. I think that Wallace's explanation of Matthew 2:13 "Rise and take the child and go" is persuasive. To simply take the participle as a temporal participle is to make the rising optional and possible rather than being an assumption. It would be an assumption only if the participle were sharing the imperatival mood of the main verb it precedes.

But after reading your posts, I hear you speaking most loudly about translation. I hear your concern about putting 'go' and 'make disciples' on the same level. It made me think about something we say in English, and made me wonder what you would think of this option. Sometimes in English we say "Go do this". "Go take a bath, go brush your teeth". Any of those words ringin' a bell? The participle πορευθέντες is used more times in front of imperative verbs and so I looked at some of those other places. Luke 13:32 says "καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πορευθέντες εἴπατε τῇ ἀλώπεκι ταύτῃ". The NIV translates this as "He replied, “Go tell that fox". This is exactly the structure of the participle and main imperative verb, but there is no "and". They are not equal and it seems like to me that 'tell' is the main focus, just like taking a bath and brushing teeth. What if in Matthew 28:19, we say, "Now (οὖν) go make disciples of all nations. . ." I think that might could work. Let me know what you think.

Mark McD said...

Actually there are two more arguments in favor of a basically imperatival sense for πορευθέντες, but I didn't want to use them because they are so strong and overwhelming that it would have just been too much. But I think the fact that Mark was written before Matthew and the fact that Paul did not write Hebrews for me makes it indisputable that the participle has an imperatival sense. I didn't want to bring out the big guns, but you left me no choice.

The Mosse' Family said...

Mark, you are actually one of the few who are willing to listen to my grammar ramblings and I am grateful. As you your last comment, you do understand and I am incredibly jealous because your comment is actually clearer than my post! The primary issue for me is how to communicate what Matthew wrote in English. I realize that there is a range of options and in my opinion "Go and make" fits in the range but on the fringe. I like your last suggestion and will incorporate it into my thinking on the subject.

Concerning the last two "big gun" arguments. What can I say except that it brings a smile to my face when I think of the exhortational conversation with Peter, Paul, Matthew and Mark waiting for you in heaven. I want to watch from far enough to take in the whole picture but close enough to hear.

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