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Indicative and Subjunctive - 1 John 4:7, 19 (Monday with Mounce 157)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceEvery once in a while you will see an inflected form that can be parsed two different ways. If all you are looking at is the Greek word, you can get tricked.

In 1 John 4:7 John says, “Dear friends, let us love (ἀγαπῶμεν) one another, because  love is from  God.” In 1 John 4:19 we read, “We love (ἀγαπῶμεν) because he first loved us.”

Both forms are identical, and the question I received was why is one translated with “let us love” in all the translations and the other as “we love.”

The answer is pretty straight forward, but it does illustrate an important point. ἀγαπῶμεν can be either subjunctive (“let us love”) or indicative (“we love”). Because it is an alpha contract verb, the contraction in the indicative and the lengthened connecting vowel in the subjunctive create an identical form.

Lesson # 1. If all the translations follow a certain translation, there is a good reason.

Lesson #2. If things aren’t clear, check your basic assumptions. I remember many times the morphology of a form would stump me, and until I got back a bit from the form and checked my basic assumptions, I couldn’t see the error.  In v 7, if you tried to translate ἀγαπῶμεν as an indicative, you would have, “Dear friends, we love one another, because  love is from  God.” In isolation it might make a little sense, but in the context of the paragraph an exhortation is required.

At least that is what all the translations think.


MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.

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