2

Τί τὸ ὄφελος ἀδελφοί μου ἐὰν πίστιν λέγῃ τις ἔχειν ἔργα
δὲ μὴ ἔχῃ μὴ δύναται ἡ πίστις σῶσαι αὐτόν

what the profit brothers of me if faith say anyone to have works
however not has not is able the faith to save him

Is there some grammatical reason that "not is able the faith to save him" must necessarily be a question rather than a statement?

1 Answer 1

6

Yes, it is necessarily a question rather than a statement. The relevant part of the text (NA-28):

μὴ δύναται ἡ πίστις σῶσαι αὐτόν

Note the negative particle μὴ followed by an indicative verb (δύναται). Normally, the indicative verb is negated by the particle οὐ. LSJ describes οὐ as:

the negative of fact and statement, as μή of will and thought; οὐ denies, μή rejects; οὐ is absolute, μή relative; οὐ objective, μή subjective.

Most students just learn that οὐ is used with the indicative and μὴ is used with the subjunctive, infinitive, etc. This instance falls into the "etc" category; μὴ is negating the entire thought. This is a classic case of a question expecting a negative answer.1 The construction is without a precise parallel in English, but the so-called "tagged" questions in English provide the same sense (if in a somewhat un-literary style):

This faith is not able to save him, is it?

1. Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament (Sheffield, 1999) p. 277.

4
  • Thank you Susan. I wasn't sure. Paul uses οὐ when he says "Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?" 1 Corinthians 9:1, and I couldn't find an instance where μὴ was used as a question. So is this a case of Jacob using bad grammar?
    – Cannabijoy
    Aug 2, 2016 at 12:17
  • 1
    No, it's not bad grammar in either case. οὐ questions expect an affirmative answer ("I am indeed an apostle"). μή questions expect a negative answer (e.g., in addition to Jas 2:14, 1 Cor 12:29 -- "no, not all are apostles...").
    – Susan
    Aug 2, 2016 at 12:21
  • @anonymouswho I have found that appeals to the original languages are rarely definitive and simply double the possibilities rather than settle the question. It is refreshing when there does seem to be a satisfying resolution.
    – user10231
    Aug 2, 2016 at 12:53
  • @WoundedEgo I agree, and I think Susan has provided a very satisfying answer. Jacob is saying "This faith is not able to save him, is it?", and the answer is "No, such faith cannot save him." Reading this in English, some might say "This is only a hypothetical question", and then they'll go on an extremely long rant about why this doesn't contradict Paul. Of course, they think Jacob and Paul are talking about being saved from an eternal torture chamber, so I understand why.
    – Cannabijoy
    Aug 2, 2016 at 13:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.