John 17:17 NASB95 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” The word “sanctify” here in the Greek is in the aorist, active, imperative. The Blue Letter Bible defines the imperative mood as “a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding.” I don’t know too much about Greek grammar, but does this mean that Jesus was commanding the Father to sanctify us in the truth; not just simply requesting? Otherwise, the verb would be in the subjunctive or the optative mood correct?
Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ commands the Father in the same way that the apostles would command the Father in the Lord’s Prayer.1 These imperatives were part of prayer and indicated earnest entreaty rather than an actual command.
As Dallas Burdette wrote,2
Even though Jesus utilizes the imperative in His prayer to the Father, we would not translate this as Jesus commanding the Father to do something, but rather Jesus’ entreaty to the Father.
We do not command God to do something, but rather we entreat God. Another example of the imperative used in the sense of entreaty is found in the so-called Lord’s prayer in the Gospel of Matthew. He writes, “Give (δὸς, dos, to give [in various sense literally or figuratively]) us today our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). We cannot command God, even though the imperative is used in the prayer, but rather we beseech God to give us daily bread.
Likewise, Peter Perry wrote,5
On the imperative, William Goodwin wrote,5
Likewise, Moses Stuart wrote,6
1 “Give (δὸς) us today our daily bread.”
2 Burdette, p. 385
4 Perry, p. 101
5 Goodwin, p. 287, § 1342
6 Stuart, pp. 170–171, §49
Burdette, Dallas R. Bible Preaching and Teaching. Vol. 2. Maitland: Xulon Press, 2010.
Goodwin, William Watson. A Greek Grammar. Boston: Ginn, 1895.
Perry, Peter S. Brushing Up English to Learn Greek. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2014.
Stuart, Moses. A Treatise on the Syntax of the New Testament Dialect. Edinburgh: Clark, 1835.
I want to start by looking at "Your kingdom come" Matthew 6:10. "come/eltheto" is a 2nd aorist imperative.
With "Your kingdom come" I think we do not have a request as in, "Please may your kingdom come". i.e there is no "please may".
Neither do we command God to make His kingdom come. We do not tell God what to do as a command. e.g. "Make Your kingdom come".
I suggest that what we do have is something like "come on Spurs!". A strong statement of encouragement and identification with a particular cause.
But God is Almighty ; "all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me" Matthew 28:18. He will win; His kingdom will come; He will sanctify His people.
So if God is going to win anyway; if it is inevitable that the Father will sanctify [aorist imperative] His people; then Jesus can say [and those in Christ echo]:
"You are going to sanctify Your people; I/we are with You on this; go on do it; sanctify them!"
Beyond the Basics page 487:
"The imperative is often used to express a request".
Page 488 gives Mat 6:10 as an example. To which I add: It is a particular sort of request when what is requested is foreordained to happen, foreordained because of who God is.
The text in question makes no mention of any command. This text is not about issuing commands, but of speaking with a particular authority. In this case, it is words spoken by Jesus, while on earth, in prayer to his Father in heaven, with the authority of deity to deity.
The text in question likewise makes no mention of any request. Christians are encouraged to "present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6) with thanksgiving, and although it's true that they can make statements to their Father in prayer (e.g. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, give us this day... etc), those are not commands from mortals to deity. Those are expressions of faith and assurance in the promises of God. They are uttered because Jesus told those ones to make such prayerful statements. They stand in contrast to doubtful statements, like, "Oh, I hope your kingdom comes, I hope your will is done on earth, I hope you'll give daily bread..." etc. No, Jesus had the authority of deity to know that God's kingdom shall come, his will shall be done on earth, and food shall be provided, etc. So, when believers pray like that, they are doing so on the authority of Jesus. They are not commanding God.
To know why Jesus spoke as he did in John 17:17, the need is for us to grasp the unique relationship between the Father and the Son, which was not diminished by the Son being on earth as a man. Jesus partially explained here:
"He that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him. They understood not that he spake to them of the Father... I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him." John 8:26-29
This unity with the Father, while the Son was on earth, was such that not only did he always do things that pleased his Father, he always spoke words taught to him by the Father. That would include words spoken in prayer.
Note that before he commanded dead Lazarus to walk out of his grave, Jesus prayed aloud, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always; but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth'." John 11:41-43
Before speaking those words of command to a dead man, Jesus had ascertained the Father's will and knew that it was God's will, for then people would put their faith in him. Thus he commanded with the authority of deity.
Jesus confidently said, "Sanctify them through thy truth" because he already knew the Father would sanctify those ones through his truth. This was not a command to do something the Son had in mind. This was an emphatic declaration of the united will of the Father and of the Son, enabled by the Holy Spirit to work out in practice. So, yes, there is a sense in which the text shows Jesus speaking a command, but he is not commanding the Father. He is stating the known will of the Father, that those ones be sanctified by God's truth. This is deity speaking to deity, where one never commands the other because this is the one God here, who cannot be divided or disunited.
Why to be subservient to written definitions of grammar books that are sometimes too narrow and do not regard the entire spectrum of possibilities, for as mentioned by the earlier commentators, the aorist imperative can be used also for an entreaty and request, not only command; and psychologically speaking, is it always easy to distinguish between an entreaty and command? When a girl asks her lover who wants to depart for watching a football: "Stay with me!", will this boy understand it as an entreaty or as a command? Those grammar textbooks, without a nose to smell nuances!