Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Friday, November 11

More on the Subjunctive with May and Might

A few blogs back I talked about my growing apprehension with connecting may and might by default with the subjunctive. Many of you responded with helpful information. Thanks.

Mike Aubrey left a comment about Margaret Sim's book Marking Thought and Talk in New Testament Greek: New Light from Linguistics on the Particles Hina and Hoti, and it was repeated by Carl Conrad on the Biblical Greek forum. Richard Walker is correct; It seems that the use of may/might in purpose clauses now belongs to a higher register of English and is to be eliminated from modern translations that aspire to a certain type of clarity. Thanks.

The comment by David Croatia was also helpful. He started polling people and found that almost every person hears the idea of contingency or probability in may/might. His examples of misuse were especially interesting. (Translations are from the NIV.)

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to (ἵνα) help you and be (ᾖ) with you forever (John 14:16, NIV). Is there any question that the Holy Spirit might be with you?

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us (ἵνα) to do (περιπατήσωμεν) (Eph 2:10). Does this mean, as David heard preached, that sanctification is probable, but not a reality, because of the subjunctive verb. It is true that we do not always do what the Lord has prepared for us to do, but that doesn’t come from the subjunctive. The NIV got this one right.

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that (ἵνα) they too may obtain (τύχωσιν) the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:10. Does this mean that the elect might, but not necessarily, obtain their salvation? The NIV committee needs to look at this one.

So I am more encouraged than ever to remove may/might as default translations for the subjunctive.


I wonder, then, what the alternative is, when teaching the subtle distinctions between Subjunctive and other moods. I suppose the use of "would" still successfully captures the subjunctive idea, while avoiding a sense of contingency? The ideal would be to "bring back" grammatical clarity, reteach these distinctions, rather than change the way we translate. Idealistic, perhaps.