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So 1 Cor 15:24-28 has a surprising amount of verbs in the subjunctive, whose mood seems to be largely untranslated as indicated by the bold in the quote below.

1 Corinthians 15:24-28 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

With the exception of the last subjunctive verb all the others seem to lack the normal subjective indicators I'm used to seeing in English, such as "should" "might" "could" etc... This seems to be the case for nearly all English translations except the most literal.

Is the subjective being otherwise expressed in English translations in a way that I do not recognize? If not what do we lose by not expressing the subjective mood of these verbs? Is there something that Paul is trying to express that we are missing out on?

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  • These are all things that 'should' happen but have not yet happened.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 11:50
  • subjunctive not subjective. English doesn't always require the should/would aux verb to indicate; it is conveyed without those verbs, Im sure you can find these details in your Grammar books of Greek.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 10:01
  • @Michael16, that sounds like you have the beginnings of an answer there to my question. I'd appreciate it if you'd include it below.
    – Austin
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 14:56
  • No that's all, it's quite basic. Not everytime we will see those aux verbs in English for subjunctive; it's unnecessary, nothing more to it. The translations which have used them here seems to be a bit amateur in their attempt to translate more literally, such as SLT.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 15:15
  • you shouldn't go on looking into such issues when youre' not studying the grammar books. There is not much to explain more than what I said. we don't need "would" necessarily in English to translate it. I recommend John Dobson's self learning Greek book, it's the best for starters.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 16:01

2 Answers 2

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Let us take these one at a time:

  • παραδιδῷ = he shall/should hand over (present subjunctive active). This is almost impossible to translate in English and in any case, make almost no difference to the meaning. However, if we are very strict we might get something like: "he shall hand over" but that sounds like the future tense which is misleading. Thus, most versions correctly translate as, "when he hands over".
  • καταργήσῃ = he shall have annulled (aorist subjunctive active). Same comment as above so it is translated: "he has destroyed"
  • θῇ = he shall have put (aorist subjunctive active). Same comment as above, so it is translated: "He has put" (again, the "shall" makes it look like future tense which it is not.)
  • καταργεῖται = to be abolished (present indicative active) - same comment as above.

... and so forth. This simply illustrates how difficult it is to accurately render the subjunctive mood in English in every case without being misunderstood and confusing the tense (let alone mood or voice). See appendix below.

The popular translations of 1 Cor 15:24-28 convey the meaning quite well anyway. However, if we wanted to become really pedantic, we might translate the "when" with "whenever", but this still, does not alter the meaning much at all.

APPENDIX - Subjunctive Mood in Koine Greek

In his excellent book, "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics", Daniel Wallace sets out four types/functions of the subjunctive mood in Koine Greek: Hortatory, Deliberative, Emphatic Negation, and Prohibition. See page 463ff.

Hortatory, (a.k.a. Volitive)

  • to exhort or commend oneself and one's associates, eg, Mark 4:35, Luke 6:42, Acts 4:17, 7:34, Rom 5:1, 1 Cor 15:32, Gal 6:9, Heb 4:14, Rev 21:9. this is usually (but not always) translated something like, "let us ..."

Deliberative, (a.k.a. Dubitative)

  • asks a rhetorical question and thus is most often the hortative turned into a question. This subjunctive comes in two forms, the real and the rhetorical.

... and so forth - see GGBB for more details.

In 1 Cor 15:24 we have a special construction involving the significant conjunction, ὅταν (hotan) = when. However, when coupled with the present subjunctive, it becomes almost equivalent to "whenever".

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  • 1
    As another example, if I'm not mistaken the Greek adverb ἐάν is subjunctive/conditional but is sometimes used to mean "when" and not "if". So I agree with this answer that subjunctive doesn't also express doubt or uncertainty about an event.
    – bob
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 15:20
  • @bob, I think you could make you comment into a separate answer as it is a fresh perspective and valuable insight to my question, which include whether or not the subjunctive is being communicated in another way than I previously expected.
    – Austin
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 18:35
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Greek often uses the subjunctive in places where English would not. Several such examples can be seen in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 of how the subjunctive is used after a temporal adverb (hotan, meaning when/whenever) or conjunction (achri, meaning until) in a dependent clause. According to ntgreek.org, this construction is called “an indefinite temporal clause” and is used to indicate “a future contingency” (Indefinite Temporal Clause).

In 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, we have an event, “the end,” that is contingent on several things occurring (translations taken from ESV):

  • when (hotan) He hands over the kingdom to God the Father
  • after (hotan) destroying every rule and every authority and power
  • He must reign until (achri) He has put all His enemies under His feet
  • when (hotan) all things are subjected to Him

Contingency does not necessarily imply probability. In other words, it does not mean there is any doubt that these events will occur, which would be the implication were the English subjunctives used to translate these verbs. If there is any doubt, it is restricted to the question of when these events will happen. Thus, in order to prevent misunderstanding, the majority of English translations have opted not to use the subjunctive in their renderings.

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  • @Austin My response is simplified for the sake of brevity, but there appears to be levels of contingencies, with the first contingency (the first bullet in my response) being contingent on the ones that follow.
    – Nhi
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 17:15
  • thank you this is very helpful. I'm still struggling with this passage and it's implication for the logevity of Christ's rule. I would be interested in your response to this question if you were so willing: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/88141/25589
    – Austin
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 8:13
  • @Austin The connection between 1 Cor 15:25 and Lk 1:33 is tenuous. Elsewhere in the epistles of Paul, basileuō (G936) is used to mean authority/dominion (Rom 5:14-21, 6: 12 & 1 Cor 4:8), not once in the context of a literal kingdom. Also, "the kingdom" in v24 is distinct from "the kingdom of God" in v50, though the suggestion is that the 1st will be part of the 2nd once it is handed over to God the Father (v28). Furthermore, if "the kingdom" is the kingdom of this world, then Jesus denies it as his (cf Jn 18:36). Nevertheless, there is little doubt of Christ's authority over it (cf Mt 28:18).
    – Nhi
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 16:10
  • Furthermore, the passage outlines the conditions that must be met for Christ to hand over "the kingdom" to the Father. To understand "achri" as referencing the limits of Christ's kingdom is to take it out of context (see the Cambridge commentary on how achri is used in Rom 5:14).
    – Nhi
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 16:46

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