1

Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink". ESV

How "let" is possibly used:

  1. I will let you use my car-permission-I give the thirsty person permission to come to me.

  2. Let's go for a walk-a suggestion- If you are thirsty I suggest/invite you to come to me for a drink.

  3. Let go of that rope-a command-If you are thirsty you are commanded to come to me for a drink.

  4. Let him come-let him come to my party-do not prevent one another from coming to Jesus. "There was a division among the people" John 7:43. If there was a division some would have tried to influence others.

  5. What would be wrong in translating "erchestho" a 3rd person singular imperative without "let" but as "he must come to me"? i.e. What part does "let" play?

  • This is interesting. It is similar to 'Suffer little children to come unto me - and forbid them not'. – Nigel J Aug 26 at 18:41
2

Koine Greek has second-person and third-person imperative forms, each of which can be expressed by a single verb. In the case of ἔρχομαι:

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However, English truly only has a second-person imperative. For example, “Come!” For the first and third-person, known as the cohortative (adhortative) and jussive, respectively, English uses auxiliary verbs in conjunction with the primary verb.

In Modality in English: Theory and Description, it states,1

...in addition, the prototypical English imperative (the second person imperative) contains the base form of the verb, as in Be quiet! In some approaches, such second person imperatives are called orders or commands, and in narrow definitions of imperatives, the three terms are synonymous. However, under a wider (and I believe more useful) definition, imperatives are not confined to second person imperatives, for there exist also first person imperatives (adhortatives) and third person imperatives (or jussives). In English, two of these — first and third person imperatives — can occur with or without let. In other words, a common way to express imperatives in English is by means of a periphrastic construction involving let.

In John 7:37, the King James Version employed “let” as an auxiliary verb in conjunction with the primary verb “come” to translate the Greek third-person imperative.

On the word “let,” the Oxford English Dictionary states,2

The imperative with noun or pronoun as object often serves as an auxiliary, forming the equivalent of a first or third person of the verb which follows in the infinitive. Also (U.S. colloquial) in irregular phrase let's you and me (or you and I, or us): let us (do something).

One should not confuse that use of “let” as an auxiliary to express an imperative with another use in the sense of “not to prevent; to suffer, permit allow.”3 For example, such a use occurs in the following scripture,

Acts 27:15

15 And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.

John 7:37 is not saying, “If anyone thirst, he may come to me and drink.” Or, “...permit him to come to me.” Rather, it is ordering or commanding the thirsty person, “If anyone thirst, come to me and drink!” It is not a request; it is a command (imperative).

Furthermore, the verb ἔρχομαι is conjugated in the middle-voice because it is a deponent (verb, a verb which lacks a form in the active voice),4 not because of some implied notion of permission or volition.

In summary, the Lord Jesus Christ is commanding whoever is thirsty to come to him. “Let” is only being used periphrastically to express the third-person imperative which English has no usual means to express. It is not being used to imply allowance or volition, although it is obvious that one must come voluntarily. Can someone come to something without choosing to move their own self? No. Otherwise, they are not coming but being brought.

Footnotes

        1 p. 316
        2 OED online, “let, v.1,” 14., a.
        3 OED online, “let, v.1,” II., 12., a.
        4 Mounce, § 18.15


References

Bourdin, Philippe. “On the “great modal shift” sustained by come to VP.” Modality in English: Theory and Description. Ed. Busuttil, Pierre; Salkie, Raphael; van der Aiwera, Johann. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009.

Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek. 4th ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019.

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-1

The word "let" does not actually appear in the Greek of John 7:37. The operative word here is ἐρχέσθω Verb - Present Imperative Middle or Passive - 3rd Person Singular and would be translated as "let him come". The force of the verb mood here, if we take the middle voice, let the person come (to Jesus) of his own volition.

Thus it is rendered in various versions:

  • CEV: "If you are thirsty, come to me and drink!"
  • GNT: "Whoever is thirsty should come to me, and drink."
  • NLT: “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!"
  • HCSB: "If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink!"
  • GWT: "Whoever is thirsty must come to me to drink."

The mood is imperative - if you thirst then you must come to Jesus (see GWT) to drink; but is also in the middle or passive voice - we must either come under our own volition or be brought by others. Thus we observe people bringing others to Jesus such and Andrew (John 1) and the crippled man whose four friends had to dig through the roof to get to Jesus.

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  • Yes, indeed. The middle voice with the imperative is an imperative to the active party, which party is not the same as the one with the thirst. +1. – Nigel J Aug 26 at 11:41
  • Hmm... actually, no. ἔρχομαι is intrinsically about coming, not being brought. You can't say, "Is it okay if I come a friend to your party?" It is intrinsic to the word. Please consult any grammar or lexicon. – Ruminator Aug 26 at 12:40
  • @Ruminator . . . . but you can say 'Can I invite someone ?' And the answer is 'Yes - let them come.' That is how we express the middle voice imperative in English. – Nigel J Aug 26 at 14:19
  • @Nigel Your "Yes-let them come" sounds to me more like permission than command. – C. Stroud Aug 26 at 17:17
  • 1
    @C.Stroud If it is worded as 'Do not prevent them coming' it is an imperative. – Nigel J Aug 26 at 18:40

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