Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Great Commission and Participles

This morning it was said in church from the pulpit that the typical translation of Matthew 28:19 (“Therefore go and make disciples”) is incorrect because the Greek word for “go” (poreuthentes) is a participle and should be translated “going/ as you go.” Makes a reasonable homiletical point (day by day as you go through life, make disciples), but is it what Jesus said?

The problem stems from an inadequate knowledge of the Greek text. While it is true that poreuthentes is a Greek participle it is not true that it must be translated like an English gerund. (The interested student should turn to Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics for a forty-some page discussion of the participle in Greek.) In the Matthew passage poreuthentes “fits the typical structural pattern for the attendant circumstance participle” (NET Bible, p. 1744, note 2) with the participle picking up the mood of the main verb. Since matheteusate is an aorist active imperative, poreuthentes should be translated “Go.”

I wanted to check this grammatical “rule” (rules being generalized statements of the way language works) so with the help of Accordance I found that in the New Testament there are twenty-seven occasions where poreuthentes is followed by a main verb in the imperative mood. The result? In every case the participle is translated as an imperative.