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"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." John 15:12 ESV.

Seeing that "agapate"[love] is a subjunctive what is its sense in the Greek?

A. This is my commandment that you 'may' love. i.e. Without the command the possibility of loving would not exist.

B. You 'should/ought' to love.

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." NIV.

C. The NIV drops the "hina/that" and makes "Love each other" a direct command. [Do this].

D. Another possibility.

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Both the commandment of love in Matthew (19:19) and the one in John (15:12) employ the verb agapaó. However, there is a notable difference in the mood.

You shall (agapēseis) love your neighbor as yourself – Mt 19:19

This is My commandment, that you love (agapate) one another – Jn 15:12

In Matthew, the verb agapaó is in the indicative mood, whereas in John it is in the subjunctive. “Different moods indicate different degrees of contingency.”ntgreek.net Whereas the indicative is a mood of zero contingency, inherent to the subjunctive mood is the presence of some contingency. In other words, the action of the verb in the subjunctive mood is dependent on some other factor.

The action of the verb will possibly happen, depending on certain objective factors or circumstances. It has a number of specific uses and is oftentimes used in conditional statements (i.e. 'If...then...' clauses) or in purpose clauses. ntgreek.org

The rationale for the subjunctive mood in Jesus’ commandment is seen more clearly in John 13:34.

I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that (hina) you also love one another. – Jn 13:34

The hina (ἵνα) in the last clause can be understood to mean “in order that,” in which case it acts as a subordinate conjunction with the subjunctive mood of the verb indicating purpose or result.

This is a construction where the subordinate clause begins with ἵνα generally to express purpose and is translated, in order that. motorera.com

The last clause of Jn 13:34 can thus be read as saying: “as I have loved you“ in order that “you also love one another.” Our loving one another is therefore contingent on Jesus’ love for us, the fullest expression of which is in the laying down of his life for our sins (cf 1 Jn 4:10, Rom 5:8).

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends. – Jn 15:12-13

Jesus’ love was manifested by his death. In dying for our sins, he opened the door for us to receive God’s grace and made it possible for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whereas we were once “helpless” (Rom 5:5-6), incapable of keeping his commandment, his love enabled us to love one another as he loved us.

But I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I am leaving; for if I do not leave, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. – Jn 16:7

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you. – Jn 14:26

It is also in keeping his commandment to love one another that we remain in his love and friendship (Jn 14:21, 15:14).

By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another. – Jn 13:35

The parable of the vine and the branches (Jn 15:1-10) illustrates the dual aspects of the subjunctive mood, of both action and contingency. Each part of the vine is connected to the other by the love that flows first from God (Jn 15:9). We have been given the privilege to stand in this grace (Rom 5:2), not by any merit of our own, but by the love of Jesus in laying down his life for our sins. While the life of the branch is contingent on its connection to the vine, that connection is meant to bear fruit. Likewise, we are called to love one another as Jesus loved us, but that too is the fruit of God’s Spirit and grace working in us.

Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. – Jn 15:4-5

[Disclosure: I have not studied the Greek language. This answer is based solely on my observations of the text and what I have learned from researching this question.]

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Unless we try in our miserable short lives to imitate and become like the Lord Jesus Christ, who is perfect man and God-incarnate in one Person, who gave us commandment to be as perfect as Himself and our Heavenly Father (Eph. 4:13; Matthew 5:48), then how on earth can we inherit His and the Father’s eternal heavenly Kingdom, a? And what sense is to discuss indicatives, subjunctives or optatives in hell? For it is 100% clear that unless we try to fulfill His commandment of loving each other as He loved us, we shall find our eternal abode in a less lucrative place than the Lord’s Kingdom.

Of course, the fulfilling of this new commandment is impossible on our own, but only through Christ working in and through us, for we are necessitated to abide in Him in order to do His-like things (cf. John 15:7), and unless we - twigs - are attached the Lord Jesus Christ - the vine - we shall not be able to bear fruit of His commandments (John 15:5).

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    If the command is "Abide in me" John 15:4 [imperative] and John 15:12 the result [that you love one another] then God comes first even in our love for one another-would that fit?
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 9:09
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    @C. Stroud Most certainly so, for unless Christ acts in us, we cannot love each other as He loved us, that is 2+2=4 of Christian theology. Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 10:08
  • P.s. as He Himself says, He is vine and we are twigs growing out of this vine, and if we fall from the vine we cannot bear grapes of Christly love. Doing Christ’s commandments is a synergic activity of Him and us. Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 10:26
  • @C.Stroud Thanks, I have put this explanatory point, as you have asked. Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 21:26
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This is such an excellent question that has been much neglected. See the appendix below for a general discussion about love in its various aspects. The NT teaching about agape love can be summarized as follows:

  1. God is Love, 1 John 4:8, 16. This teaches that God, at His inner core and essential essence is love. Such love is other-focused and since God is eternal, so is love. This is principled love - not based on sentimentality but a firm decision to love someone who may or may not deserve such love as proven in John 3:16.

  2. All true love come from God.

  • 1 John 4:7, 8 - Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
  • 1 John 5:1 - Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.
  • Rom 8:39 - neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • 1 John 4:9, 10 - This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrificed for our sins.
  1. We love because God loved us
  • 1 John 4:11 - Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
  • 1 John 4:12 - No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us.
  • 1 John 4:19 - We love because He first loved us.
  • 1 Thess 4:9 - Now about brotherly love, you do not need anyone to write to you, because you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.
  • 1 John 3:23 - And this is His commandment: that we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and we should love one another just as He commanded us.
  1. The love of God we show others in manifested in various ways
  • John 13:34, 35 - A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
  • John 14:15 - If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. [Note that the verb, "will keep" is not imperative but future indicative suggestion that love for God is what induces obedience to God's commends.]
  • John 15:12, 13, 17 - This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. [That is, just as Jesus did.] ... This is My command to you: Love one another.
  • Eph 5:1, 2 - Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.
  • Eph 5:24 - Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
  • 1 John 4:12 - No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us.
  • Rom 12:10 - Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another.
  • 1 Thess 3:12 - And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone else, just as our love for you overflows,
  • Heb 10:24 - And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds.
  • 1 Peter 4:8-10 - Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without complaining. As good stewards of the manifold grace of God, each of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve one another.
  • 2 John 5, 6 - And now I urge you, dear lady—not as a new commandment to you, but one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments.
  • 1 Peter 3:8 - inally, all of you, be like-minded and sympathetic, love as brothers, be tenderhearted and humble.

The meaning in John 15:12 is subtle - if we are loving, we reflect God's love for us. However, I would not press this to far as John was overly strict in the way he used such rare verb-forms.

APPENDIX - Love in the NT

The Bible does not discuss just one type of love but clearly recognizes several kinds. The Greek language had six words for various kinds of love, but only three of these broad categories are discussed here. They are arranged into a kind of hierarchy – the widest first and the narrowest last.

“Agape” love (Greek: agapao (v) or agape (n))

This is the most general kind of love and does not necessarily involve any sentimentality, feelings nor whim. Nor does this kind of love necessarily involve liking somebody. It springs purely from principle and is often opposed to the natural inclinations. This dependable, abiding and constant love is celebrated in 1 Cor 13. It is others-focused so excludes all self-centredness.

The best definition of agape love is, “God so loved … that He gave His son …” (John 3:16). The “agape” love is the central most important characteristic, the very essence, of God (1 John 4:8, 16). Love’s outward manifestation is grace. It is God as love that defines God and all else about Him such as justice/righteousness tempered with kindness.

This principled love of God (1 John 4:8, 16) is to be imitated by all Christians (John 13:34, 35) and is motivated by God’s love for us (1 John 4:9, 10, 19-21, 2 Cor 5:14). Thus, love is quintessentially Christian and reached its zenith when God gave Jesus as the solution to the sin problem (2 Cor 5:14, Eph 2:4, 3:19, 5:2, John 3:16). Therefore, Christians should have as their primary focus their love of, and love to God (Matt 22:37, Deut 6:5), and secondarily love to fellow humans (Matt 22:39, Lev 19:18).

This word is used to describe God’s love to Jesus (John 17:26) and humankind generally (John 3:16, Rom 5:8). It also describes the love that Christians should have to all people (1 Thess 3:12, 1 Cor 16:14, 2 Peter 1:7).

From this agape love springs all else and expresses itself in obedience to God’s commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23, 15:10, 1 John 2:5, 5:3, 2 John 6). Love is the root of respect for others’ opinions and choices; thus it is also the basis for freedom of choice (which see) and freedom of religion (which see).

Isa 63:9 expresses the kind of empathetic love that God has for each person.

In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Friendship, Affection (Greek: phileo (v) or philos (n))

Friendships arise between people who have some kind of common interest. Affection may arise from a deeper friendship where greater closeness and some physical contact is appropriate. Thus, affection exists between family members, close friends, or even pets, etc. In the New Testament the word most commonly represents tender affection. (Its close cognate relative, “philema”, means, “kiss”.)

The word is used to describe the love of the Father for Jesus (John 5:20) and the believing Christian (John 16:27, 20:2).

In the New Testament, this philos love is never used in a command of men to love God.

Erotic Love (Greek: eros (n))

Erotic love involves sexual intimacy which, within a marriage, is highly praised in the Bible but condemned outside marriage. The book “Song of Solomon” is a celebration of this kind of love.

The hierarchy of love means that agape-love is a necessary pre-requisite to friendship and affection, and that friendship is a necessary prerequisite to erotic love (SS 5:16). It is the frequent inversion of this hierarchy in modern culture that has created so much interpersonal tension and societal difficulties, and directly leads to the oxymoron of selfish love. Such would be impossible if our love had its proper origin in divinely inspired agape love.

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μὴ with a aorist subjunctive is often used for a prohibitive command.

The aorist is customarily found as a prohibitive subjunctive. -- Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (p. 487). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

However, in John 15:12 ἀγαπᾶτε is a present active subjunctive with ἵνα, and as Dr. Wallace wrote ἵνα with the subjunctive is used rarely with the force of a command. He used Mark 5:23 and Eph. 5:33 as examples.

           Imperatival Ἵνα

The subjunctive is rarely used after ἵνα with the force of a command. Although structurally this looks to be a subordinate use of the subjunctive, it occurs in clauses where the subjunctive is the main verb. Thus, this usage could just as easily be treated under independent use of the subjunctive. -- Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (pp. 476–477). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

This addresses the grammar of what you are asking. John's Gospel address the meaning of this verse with its context, particularly starting with John 13 and the following. John 13:34 has the same structure.

Ἐντολὴν καινὴν δίδωμι ὑμῖν, ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους, καθὼς ἠγάπησα ὑμᾶς ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους. (NA28)

The basic meaning is:

The measure of our love for another is set by Christ’s love for us. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 13:34). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

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