# Is the statement about love and obedience in John 14:15 an imperative or an indicative?

In the 1984 NIV, Jesus says in John 14:15:

If you love me, you will obey what I command.

But in the 2011 revision, the same sentence is rendered:

If you love me, keep my commands.

This rendering gives it a much stronger feel of a command, almost inviting the disciples to prove the love they claim to have for Jesus by obeying his commands; whereas in the former it could be understood as Jesus explaining that because they love him, they will keep his commands.

Is the 2011 just a revision of an imperative that should have been more explicit in the 1984 version? Or is it an interpretive change? If so, which is to be preferred?

John 14:15 reads in the NA27 (and NA28):

Ἐὰν ἀγαπᾶτέ με, τὰς ἐντολὰς τὰς ἐμὰς τηρήσετε

However, there is a manuscript discrepancy that would render the last word as τηρήσατε. According to Metzger in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.),

A majority of the Committee preferred the future tense τηρήσετε, read by B L Ψ 1010 1071 1195* 2148 al (and perhaps supported indirectly by witnesses that read the aorist subjunctive τηρήσητε, P66 א 060 33 al), instead of the imperative τηρήσατε, which, though rather well supported (A D K W X Δ Θ Π f 1 f 13 28 565 700 892 Byz), accords less well with ἐρωτήσω in the following verse.

In other words, both readings are fairly well supported. It appears that the first translation committee (1984) sided with the future active indicative reading (τηρήσετε), and the second committee (2011) went with the aorist active imperative reading (τηρήσατε).

It should also be noted that a (lesser-supported) variant also exists, the aorist active subjunctive (τηρήσητε). This could potentially render the verse something like the following:

If you love me, you would keep my commandments.

Concerning internal evidence, 14:15 begins with a subjunctive clause (Ἐὰν ἀγαπᾶτέ) which are often followed by future verbs, and Metzger mentions that the immediate context of 14:16 also uses a future active indicative verb (ἐρωτήσω, "I will ask"). This seems to support the future active indicative reading (τηρήσετε).

Given the internal and external evidence, the future active indicative reading (τηρήσετε) seems like the best option (the choice of the first NIV translation committee in 1984).

• To all in general, as you noted, τηρήσητε is indeed in John 15:10, but it's in the protasis, not apodosis. – user862 Feb 19 '13 at 23:30
• Good point, I should probably remove that reference. It is not a direct correlation. – Dan Feb 19 '13 at 23:37
• @H3br3wHamm3r81 I removed it, good catch. – Dan Feb 19 '13 at 23:38
• +1. The "aorist active imperative reading (τηρήσατε)" has a wider geographic distribution of attestation which may be the rationale behind the change. At any rate, the subjunctive introduces a degree of uncertainty, and may have greater governance over the entire clause. Ergo, the imperative can't be evaluated in a vacuum but as subordinate to the subjunctive. Theologically (Christian) it makes more sense for ἀγαπᾶτέ to govern, because otherwise the passage would read, "You MUST keep my commandments if you might love me." – swasheck Feb 20 '13 at 17:46

The difference in translations is based on recognition of existing textual variants.

According to the 1550 Stephanus, the Greek verb is τηρήσατε which is conjugated in the 2nd person, plural number, imperative mood. Therefore, it would be a command, not an observation (which would be the indicative mood).

According to the Nestle-Aland 27th edition, the Greek verb is τηρήσετε (note the epsilon instead of the alpha), which is conjugated in the 2nd person, plural number, future tense, indicative mood, active voice. Therefore, it would be essentially a prediction of a future state.

Because I'm not at home, I don't have access to a textual apparatus to determine which has "weightier" witnesses.