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In the Greek, Acts 17:11 reads:

οὗτοι δὲ ἦσαν εὐγενέστεροι τῶν ἐν Θεσσαλονίκῃ, οἵτινες ἐδέξαντο τὸν λόγον μετὰ πάσης προθυμίας, τὸ καθ’ ἡμέραν ἀνακρίνοντες τὰς γραφὰς εἰ ἔχοι ταῦτα οὕτως.

The last phrase εἰ ἔχοι ταῦτα οὕτως is commonly translated along the lines of "whether these things were so", or "to see if these things were true", which would imply no more than a mere objective inquiry into whether the things Paul spoke about agreed with Scripture or not.

However, the verb ἔχω is in the optative mood. The optative mood is normally defined as a mood indicating wish or hope, which would imply that the Bereans examined the scriptures, not with an objective, neutral mindset, but hoping to confirm what Paul said. They wanted it to be true, and sought confirmation from the Scriptures.

Perhaps I am reading too much into the optative ἔχοι, or my understanding of the optative mood is too narrow.

So my question is, what is the force of the optative ἔχοι in Acts 17:11? Are most English translations insufficiently nuanced in their translation of the optative ἔχοι?

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  • This makes me ask: isn't this condemning this scrutinizing attitude toward the authoritative apostolic teaching on Scripture, not praising it (i.e. 'were more honorable than those at Thessalonia, who would recieve the word with all readiness, daily checking if the Scriptures really read as had been said?')? I feel like too many use this as an excuse for 'sola scriptura,' despite the more explicit (Acts 8:30-31). Jul 23 '18 at 18:18
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Disclaimer: I have no formal education in Koine.

In Robertson's Word Pictures, Robertson seems to say that the presence of "ei" (IE: "if") suggests that this is a fourth class condition indicating that the Bereans were skeptical, not just doing due diligence:

...Whether these things were so (ei ecoi tauta outw). Literally, "if these things had it thus." The present optative in the indirect question represents an original present indicative as in Luke 1:29 (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 1043f.). This use of ei with the optative may be looked at as the condition of the fourth class (undetermined with less likelihood of determination) as in Acts 17:27 ; Acts 20:16 ; Acts 24:19 ; Acts 27:12 (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1021).

He asks us to compare several other Lukan examples in Acts to get a sense of Luke's use of the optative. In Acts 17:27 the optative could be replaced with "and feel after him and find him" but the phrasing introduces the doubt, "might" feel after him, etc.:

Act 17:27  That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 

Acts 20:16 For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.

Acts 24:19 Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me.

Acts 27:12 And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west.

In each case they are sure of their intent but less sure of the outcome of their efforts. So as I understand the verse in question it indicates that the Bereans were looking to see if the things Paul claimed were so but they were not sure going in what the outcome of their search would be. Luke says that in this way they demonstrated that they were not overly credulous nor hoping to find error. This is the healthy balance desirable in a hearer of the gospel. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2375233?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

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