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A recent question about the securing of a tomb on the Sabbath made me wonder whether the guards posted at Jesus' tomb in Matthew 27:62-66 are Roman guards (which I guess I'd always assumed) or Jewish guards (which the grammar in the quote "You have a guard" seems to imply).

Are the Pharisees merely asking permission to guard the tomb? Or are they requesting that Pilate post a Roman guard as well?

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1 Answer 1

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The translators of the KJV seemed to translate the Greek verb ἔχετε (echete) in the indicative mood. The indicative mood is used to "make factual statements or pose questions."1

However, there's a peculiarity one must understand, and this is not something you would know unless you're familiar with Koine Greek.

While ἔχετε is a verb conjugated in the

  • 2nd person
  • plural number
  • present tense
  • active voice
  • indicative mood

it is also a verb conjugated in the

  • 2nd person
  • plural number
  • present tense
  • active voice
  • imperative mood

(Note: the difference occurs in the mood: indicative v. imperative.)

I don't have a Greek parsing sheet available to scan, but a simple plug of the verb into Perseus' Greek Word Study Tool will also demonstrate this fact:

ἔχετε verb 2nd pl pres ind act

ἔχετε verb 2nd pl pres imperat act

Yes, it is spelled exactly the same way, but the meaning changes depending on whether the original author intended to use it in the indicative mood or the imperative mood.

This doesn't occur in other persons (e.g., 1st person, 3rd person), or other moods (e.g., subjunctive). It's a peculiarity between these two conjugations.

Another example exists in Matt. 23:3 with the verbs τηρεῖτε and ποιεῖτε. Did Matthew mean, "Observe!" and "Do!" (imperative mood), respectively, or "You observe..." and "You do..." (indicative mood), respectively? You be the judge.

But, in Matt. 27:65, when Pilate says, «ἔχετε κουστωδίαν», I don't think he meant, "You have a watch..." (indicative mood), because if they already had a watch, they wouldn't have asked him for one! Rather, it should be translated in the imperative mood, viz. "Have a watch!" That is, "You want a watch? Have one!" So, the Roman guards, at Pilate's command, went and secured the sepulcher.

John Gill astutely notes, "...the words may be read imperatively..." He's right; they can, since that particular conjugation can be translated into English in either the indicative mood or imperative mood.

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Indicative is also the unmarked, default mood. It's difficult to find much value in building a case for an answer based primarily on this mood so I appreciate you drawing out the morphological overlap of this form. However, I'd also like to see you draw out more of the Greek grammar in the immediate context of this passage and expand the study beyond a local word study that focuses on the mood. You clearly have a bit more knowledge in the realm of linguistics-please share it a bit more expansively. –  swasheck Mar 23 '13 at 4:44

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