Great Stuff Found on the Web — Wild Boar from the Forest on “Grammar Corner”

Another great post by Wild Boar from the Forest:



In the Epistle Reading appointed for this Sunday (Col 3:12-17), you hear the following :

“Let the peace of God rule in your hearts… Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…”

In Greek, it is a little bit different. “Rule” and “Dwell” are 3rd person imperatives. What does that mean?

There are three persons to which a sentence can refer. It can refer to myself (I: first person), the person to whom I speak (you: second person) or another party outside of the conversation (he-she-it: third person).

An imperative verb is a command. In the sentence “Go get your dog”, I am commanding you to do something. The you is understood, and is usually written (you) in diagrams. In English, the imperative is always second person. That is, I can command you to do something, but I can not command a third party to do something to you, unless I talk to them, in which case they are now the second person. (Keeping up? Because it is about to get dizzying.)

The Third person Imperative, which exists in Greek, commands someone or something to do something to or for you. So, for example if you take the sentence, “(You) go get your dog” and try and make it third person imperative, it will be (in the best English available) “I will now command the dog to come to you”. Not exactly what the Greek means, but better than, addressing you and saying “(Dog) come to you,” which makes absolutely no sense at all in English.

However, it is this very tense that Paul uses in Colossians. He is not telling you to allow the word of Christ, he is in fact commanding the peace of God rule and the word of Christ to dwell in you.

Is all this important? It is if you want to avoid a Arminian view of these verses. Or should I say, “It is so verses you avoid Arminian viewpoint”?

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff Found on the Web — Wild Boar from the Forest on “Grammar Corner” — 14 Comments

  1. Can’t argue with the pros, but The LORD bless you and keep you feels like 3rd person imperative to me, is the Hebrew in Numbers like the Greek in Colossians?

  2. I go to a Baptist University, and in our mandatory “Chapel class”, I’ve heard this verse used so often as Law, and not Gospel. Thanks for showing me the true meaning of this verse!

  3. We need to get the good Reverend over at Wild Boar from the Forest to enable the “follow” capability on his blog….great stuff over there….

  4. Joe :
    Can’t argue with the pros, but The LORD bless you and keep you feels like 3rd person imperative to me, is the Hebrew in Numbers like the Greek in Colossians?

    Yes, but in Hebrew, the “3rd person imperative” is referred to as the jussive.

    I had a professor in Seminary who was a notorious stickler for jussives in the liturgy – especially since there was a trend at the time to render them as subjunctives instead. (In Latin, whence we get the bulk of our liturgical language and forms, the “jussive” and subjunctive forms are usually identical.) I never witnessed it first hand, but his reputation was that if he were sitting in chapel and the liturgist rendered the Salutation as “May the Lord be with you,” instead of the customary reply of “And with thy spirit,” this professor would answer, “may not!” One apparently received the same response if you rendered the Votum at the end of the sermon (“May the peace of God which passes all understanding…”) or the Benediction (“May the LORD bless thee and keep thee…”) with the subjunctive helper verb (“may” or “let”) instead of in the jussive (no helper verb).

    Biblical blessings are certainties that should not be rendered as wishful thoughts. 3rd person imperatives, or jussives, are not actions that we do but that are done to/for us. We could, I suppose, render them as passive imperatives (“Be blessed by the Lord and be kept by Him…”), but like active verbs, jussives are more powerful rhetorically. Just don’t confuse the agent with the object.

  5. Dr. Art Just at CTS would say, “get ride of the french brother, no ‘may we’ or ‘let us.’ I hear his voice in my head whenever those words are on the page and quickly hit the backspace button.

  6. No pun intended (regarding that Seminary prof’s name), but this thread has a lot to do with exactly the same reason why “just” prayers are like finger nails on the blackboard to my ears. The use of “just” as an English adverb in this context means “only or merely,” which is a strange way to express petitions to God. It either sounds condescending, as “we aren’t asking for much so could you at least do this or that for us;” or like false humility, as “we don’t deserve anything, but could we at least have a few crumbs…” Of course we don’t deserve anything! But Jesus clearly tells us to pray for spiritual blessings with boldness as well as humility. “Just,” in this sense simply takes all of the wind out of the sails. Yet, it is as common a phrase as the newly fallen snow among evangelicals….

  7. Timotheus :
    Dr. Art Just at CTS would say, “get ride of the french brother, no ‘may we’ or ‘let us.’ I hear his voice in my head whenever those words are on the page and quickly hit the backspace button.

    That would be the cohortative (or, using the analogy from above, the first person plural “imperative”).

    “Bless we the Lord” is so much stronger than “Let us bless the Lord.” “We pray…” is so much stronger than “Let us pray…” It’s a cohortative, not a subjunctive, tarn-found-it! Use it!

    And if you think I get animated about cohortatives, don’t even get me started on present perfect: “I AM baptized,” “Joy to the world, The LORD IS come,” “Built on the Rock, the Church DOTH stand,” “Alleluia, Christ IS risen,” etc.

  8. Or would you say
    Optative: May we.
    Hortatory subjunctive: Let us.

    Aren’t the imperatives in Col. 3:15-16 singular? Is that interesting?
    Aren’t the imperatives in Col. 3:15-16 present active? Is that noteworthy?

    Such imperatives from the mouth of the Lord are in a sense “creative” in a way that He alone can be creative, imperatives which accomplish what they say. In English, we are familiar with “Let there be light” from Genesis. In that creative sense, I suppose one could allow for the word “let” in Col. 3, but not in the sense that we have to do any “letting” in order for peace to “rule” or Word to “dwell.”

    Interestingly, we hear about the Word “dwelling” in John 1 (though a different word for “dwell,” lit. “tabernacled”). And isn’t talk about “ruling” or “reigning” kingdom of God talk, a kingdom where the Prince of Peace “rules” . . . not by imperatives but in righteousness and truth, grace and mercy? Many Gospel threads to pull.

  9. I can only think of what David Scaer would say to tall this: Ah the narrow mind of grammarians.;-)

  10. I’ve been saying for a while that I think English is grossly inadequate for conveying the truth of God’s word. Oh it’s fine for most things, but when you realize that large parts of the text are in a different mode and domain than you are used to, you begin wishing for Greek lessons.

  11. Luther on Grammar:

    “I wonder what kind of a man Zwingli is, since he is so ignorant of grammar and dialectic, to say nothing of the other [liberal] arts, yet ventures to boast of victories. That kind of glory quickly leads to embarrassment.” (AE 49:179-180)

    “The children are to recite these grammatical rules from memory, so that they are compelled and driven to learn grammar well. Where the schoolmaster shuns this kind of work, as is often the case, he should be dismissed and another teacher found for the children, who will take on this work of holding the children to grammar. For no greater harm can be done to all the arts than where the children are not well trained in grammar.” (AE 40:317)

    “Hence, though they know the grammar, yet they have not correct understanding of the Scriptures but, as Isaiah [29:11] says, ‘And the vision is become as the words of a book that is sealed. Who then shall follow them?’ Now, let no one think or conclude from all this that I would reject the grammar, for this is altogether necessary; but this much I do say: he who, with the grammar, does not study the contents of the Scriptures also, will never make a good teacher.”

    “The art of grammar teaches and shows, what words imply and signify; but we must first learn and know what the things are and what the matters mean. Hence, must he who would teach and preach first know his subject and its bearings before he can speak of it. For grammar only teaches the names and forms of the words which we use to set forth our subject. Our knowledge is two-fold; relating to words on the one hand and on the other to things. And accordingly, he who does not possess a knowledge of the thing or the subject of which he is to speak, will not find a knowledge of words or any service to him.”

    “We learn German or other languages much better by word of mouth, at home, in the street, or at the church, than out of books. Letters are dead words, the utterances of the mouth are living words, which in writing can never stand forth so distinct and so excellent, as the soul and spirit of man bodies them forth through the mouth. forth through the mouth. Tell me, where was there ever a language which men could learn to speak with correctness and propriety by the rules of grammar? Is it not true that even those languages, like the Latin and the Greek, which possess the most unerring rules, are much better learned by use and wont, than from these rules? Is it not then extremely absurd for one who would learn the sacred tongue in which divine and spiritual things are discoursed of to neglect a straightforward and pertinent search into the subject-matter and attempt, instead, to pick the language out of grammar alone?”

    NOTE: The term “grammar” admits of various connotations, a number of which may be found herein.

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