T.B. Williams, «Reading Social Conflict through Greek Grammar: Reconciling the Difficulties of the Fourth-Class Condition in 1 Pet 3,14.», Vol. 26 (2013) 109-126
For the most part, it is assumed that in the Koine period the fourth-class condition indicated a future contingency with a possible or, in many cases, only a remote chance of fulfillment (e.g., “if this could happen”). If this meaning is applied to the condition in 1 Pet 3,14, it seems to imply not the reality of suffering, but merely the remote possibility, which is at odds with the popular understanding of the epistle’s social situation. This study is an attempt to examine the meaning of the fourth-class condition in 1 Pet 3,14 and its function(s) within the larger Petrine argument, a task which not only sheds light on the interpretation of 1 Pet 3,13-17, but also provides the unity of the epistle with some much-needed substantiation.
116 Travis B. Williams
more remote than had the third-class been employed17. Thus, for one
attempting to describe the fourth-class condition, a simple designation
might be, “a future, less probable contingency”.
3.2. Semantics of the Fourth-Class Condition in the Koine Period
When it comes to the use of the fourth-class condition in the Koine
period an important shift has taken place. With the optative on the
decline, many of its duties began to be encroached upon and even taken
over by the subjunctive18. In fact, one will look long and hard to find any
examples of complete fourth-class conditions within this period19. In the
NT, only partial fourth-class conditions appear (either the protasis or
apodosis)20. This point is crucial for understanding the use of the fourth-
class condition in Hellenistic Greek. If it is not taken into consideration,
statistics will be misrepresented and semantics will be misunderstood21.
With this in mind, we will begin with a look at the fourth-class condition
in modern grammatical discussion.
The decline of the optative and the resultant absence of any complete
fourth-class conditions in the NT has caused some to re-evaluate how
the form should be interpreted. In one of his numerous articles on NT
Greek grammar appearing in Grace Theological Journal, James L. Boyer
objects to the traditional distinction between third and fourth-class
conditions (i.e., the former being considered a more probable and the
The admission of Smyth, Greek Grammar, 523 (who does not hold to a fulfillment/
non-fulfillment based system of classification), is revealing at this point: “ἐάν with the
subjunctive and εἰ with the optative are rarely used in successive sentences. In most such
cases the difference lies merely in the degree of distinctness and emphasis of the expression
used; but where the speaker wishes to show that the conclusion is expected or desired, he
[sic] uses ἐάν with the subjunctive rather than the other form” (emphasis added).
See A.N. Jannaris, A Historical Greek Grammar Chiefly of the Attic Dialect (London
1897) 450, 462. For a fuller discussion on the decline of the optative, see F.G. Allinson,
“On Causes Contributory to the Loss of the Optative, etc. in Late Greek”, in Studies in
Honor of Basil L. Gildersleeve (Baltimore 1902) 353-56; M.J. Higgins, “Why Another
Optative Dissertation?”, Byzantion 15 (1940-41) 443-48; C. Sanspeur, “Le potentiel en
grec”, Les Études Classiques 31 (1963) 43-51; K.L. MacKay, “The Declining Optative: Some
Observations”, Antichthon 27 (1993) 21-30.
L. Radermacher, Neutestamentliche Grammatik: Das Griechisch des Neuen
Testaments im Zusammenhang mit der Volkssprache (2nd ed.; Tübingen 1925) 165, was
unable to find any examples of complete fourth-class conditions in Koine Greek.
Luke 1,62; Acts 5,24; 8,31; 17,18. 27; 20,16; 24,19; 27,12. 39; 1 Cor 14,10; 15,37; 1 Pet
Even with this fact in mind, there is something further that must be recognized:
“The data must be handled with sensitivity both to contextual factors [contributing to the
decline] and to the effects of artificial Atticising revival of the mood” (T.V. Evans, “The
Comparative Optative: A Homeric Reminiscence in the Greek Pentateuch?”, VT 49