Monday, January 12, 2015


Luke 7:39 NAS
by Ed Cardwell

The word ‘IF’, though one of the smallest in our English language, has often been acclaimed the biggest word in the dictionary. That may very well be true in a practical sense, because even the simplest of decisions, contingencies, and eventualities often hang precariously upon the uncertainty implied by this single two-lettered word. As we have all become painfully aware, much in life pivots on this one-syllable instrument of communication.
Throughout the Scriptures this one word introduces an almost limitless parade of intrigue and fascination. In Luke 7:36-50, for example, we read the fascinating story of our Lord’s acceptance of an unlikely invitation to dine at a Pharisee’s house. While there He was attended by a woman of ill repute who had found in Him her living Messiah. He had lifted her burden of sin and guilt, and had thereby filled her heart with unspeakable joy and gladness. As He reclined at table she came in behind Him, as was permitted by custom, and attended Him in reverent service while pouring out her soul with tears of thanksgiving.
The Pharisee, reclining at table across from Jesus, observed her intimate actions, and knowing who she was, said to himself:
IF this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”  LUKE 7:39 NAS
On the surface of it one may wonder whether this Pharisee named Simon is on the threshold of a great discovery. Is he searching out this man wondering whether or not He is a prophet? Or is he giving Him the benefit of the doubt waiting to see the outcome?
Our key to the penetration of the Pharisee’s thoughts lies in the exactness in the Greek of that smallest of words ‘IF’. We are unable to feel its force in the English, but in the original it speaks volumes!  Let us examine the word more closely so that we might gain added insight into what the Holy Spirit has preserved for us.

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There are primarily three different classes of ‘IF’s in Greek, each one introducing a conditional clause. Each has its respective form and carries its particular power and weight to the meaning of the statement:
CLASS I – The ASSUMED-TRUE Condition. This condition was used when the speaker assumed, or wished to assume, that his premise was TRUE. The grammatical construction is simply the introduction of the Greek word ‘if’ (eiv) at the beginning of the conditional clause followed by a verb in the indicative mood (in the same clause).

As an illustration we have the case of the Temptation of our Lord in Matthew 4. In verses 3 and 6 the Class I condition of ‘IF’ is used both cases:
IF You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” vs 3 NAS
IF You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.” vs 6 NAS
Satan’s objective was the nullification of the plan of salvation. His strategy was to lure Jesus out of His self-imposed human character as an obedient servant of God and into His rightful character as Lord over nature, but without first going to the Cross. The leverage the Tempter uses on this occasion is the assumed fact of Jesus’ deity. Satan insisted that the Lord make His rightful demands upon the ‘IF’, or better interpreted, ‘since’, or ‘it being true that’ He was the Son of God.
How this passage comes alive to us today with all the intensity of a great drama!  How we can more readily see the infinite pathos of our Lord’s suffering in order that His work FOR US might be fully accomplished.
CLASS II – The CONTRARY-TO-FACT Condition. This condition was used when the speaker assumed, or wished to assume, that his premise was UNTRUE. Let us look at three illustrations:
a.       A simple example would be the declaration made by both Mary and Martha in John 11. In addressing Jesus upon His arrival, each said in turn:

“Lord, IF You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Joh 11:32 NAS
The condition is Class II, contrary-to-fact. We can, of course, surmise this by the context of the narrative. We know that Jesus was not there when Lazarus died; He tarried beyond the Jordan. But had we been unaware of these added circumstances we could have made the matter certain by reading the passage in the original. There we find the special Class II grammatical construction (eiv [ei] + past tense of a verb in the indicative mood + a;n [an]).
b.   Another illustration can be found in our Lord’s declaration in John 15:22 and 24. This statement concerns the meaning and result of His coming to earth – to bring the glorious light of Truth and thus to expose sin in all its hideousness, so that men might see their desperate need and thus be drawn to Him, the True Light.
IF I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin.” vs 22 NAS
IF I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin.”  vs 24 NAS
But our Lord DID come and He DID speak to them; and He DID work among them the works which no one else did. So the condition presented is stated contrary-to-fact; and the net result of the unreality is revealed by our Lord in verse 22:
“But now they have no excuse for their sin.” NAS
In this case, as well as in example ‘a’ above, the meaning is plain from the whole context. But again the Greek grammatical construction of the sentence (eiv [ei] + verb + a;n [an]) confirms the conclusion with certainty.
c.   A slightly less obvious example is found in John 5:46. Jesus says, in addressing His skeptical Jewish audience:
“For IF you believed Moses, you would believe me .” NAS
Our Lord is not leaving anything open to conjecture here; the simple Greek grammatical construction (eiv [ei] + verb + a;n [an]) proves the existence of a conditional clause the negative reality of which is assumed. They didn’t believe Moses. They were idolaters. They were a self-initiated elite who had long since lost the true meaning of being the children of Abraham. They flatly rejected Moses. OTHERWISE, Jesus was saying, you would believe me.”
CLASS III – The UNDETERMINED-FULFILLMENT POSSIBLE Condition. In this condition uncertainty is implied, with the possibility of fulfillment. In Scripture the use of the Class III is far more frequent than any of the other conditions, but two examples will suffice:
a.   In the story of the Temptation in Matthew 4, referred to above, we have an illustration of the Class III condition in verse 9 where the Tempter says:
“All these thing will I give You, IF You fall down and worship me.” NAS
Satan was hoping for fulfillment, but doubt encompassed the issue. The premise was neither a question of being True (Class I) nor Untrue (Class II), but remained, at least to him, a possibility of fulfillment. The uncertainty in such cases is often clear, but should the context leave us in doubt, the original once again comes to the rescue with the Class III construction in Greek:  eva.n [ean] + subjunctive mood of the verb.
b.      Another interesting example of the Class III condition is found in Acts 5:38 where it is contrasted with a Class I condition in verse 39.
The wise Gamaliel seeks to restrain the Council’s murderous intentions against the apostles. He challenges his colleagues to keep their heads cool in this matter:
“And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, For IF this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown.”
“But IF it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
In the conditional clause in verse 38 we find the Class III construction – Doubt, but Possibility. But in verse 39 we find Class I – Assumed True.
Gamaliel assumes the validity of Christianity, at least for the sake of his argument, and he puts the alternative (that these activities under discussion are only from men) in the realm of uncertainty. We cannot conclude absolutely that Gamaliel was a Christian nor that he was leaning in that direction; he may merely have wanted, as some suggest, to score a further point against the Sadducee contingent of the Council, whose opposing political and religious influence was suffering embarrassment at the hands of the apostles. On the other hand, neither can we rule out his leaning toward the apostles’ faith at this time, for we read in Acts 6:7 that “A great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” NAS  Also early tradition includes Gamaliel by name in that innumerable company of saints. If so, it would be this contrast in conditions of Class III (verse 38) and Class I (verse 39) that gives us the first hopeful hint at such an eventuality.

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Now, having examined the three possible conditions, let us return to our story in Luke 7.
The woman who is attending Jesus is a woman who has been deeply shattered by a new and keen awareness of her sinful state; she is now, however, rejoicing in reverent jubilation that He, her Messiah, has brought to her a new life and a lasting hope, and that without measure. By her presence and by her attendant adoration she is a living testimony to all those reclining at that table that this great Personage has a special attraction for those in great need. Sinners whose lives have become hopelessly shackled to the bonds of sin and degradation need only appeal to Him. And this woman! How animated is her intense display of thanksgiving! What a message to all who are witnesses!

But does the Pharisee hear her testimony?  Does he accept her witness?

By no means! He has a closed mind. He welcomes any shred of evidence that might point to Jesus as a fraud. How revealing is the statement by Simon – to himself:  “IF this man were a prophet…! How intimately we are able to peer into the abyss of his darkened heart and at once learn of his sad condition (and that from his own thoughts!) - that he is a man ruled by pride and overcome by spiritual blindness.

(His ‘if’ statement in Luke 7:39 is found in the original to be Class II – his premise is assumed UNTRUE!  He has, to his own peril, already concluded in his heart that this man IS NOT a prophet. To give evidence and weight to this conviction he reasons to himself further that:  “Otherwise, this man would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” NAS)

Why do such men reject this Jesus? Why do they deny Him? How can they ignore all the evidence that points to His deity?

This Pharisee has judged Jesus through the eyes of one who is confined to his fallen nature, devoid of all spiritual insight. He imagines that his Guest must conform to the contrived and futile standards of spiritually impoverished men, who compare themselves to one another to establish their goodness. He is the ‘natural’ man (1 Cor 2:14) who finds nothing worthy of adoration in Him, but only contempt, and he is, therefore, utterly repulsed by what he observes.

The Pharisee’s mind had been prejudiced by the sundry doctrines of humanism of his day (as is true in our day).  As examples:  We exist by the chance occurrence of ‘favorable’ mutations, ie, we are brothers of the boulders and we are cousins of the stars [evolution]; there is no God outside of ourselves; there is no life after death nor is there a day of judgment awaiting us; and, for the ‘religious’, there are many ways to God. The list is almost endless.

Salvation had come to Simon’s house – in Person!  Oh, how many would have given anything to trade places with Simon! But our Lord chose to visit him. Because it was at Simon’s house that a great sermon was to be preached. But Simon didn’t think that the message was for him. There is no grand reception, no hint of appreciation. He is thankless, cynical, and proud. For he was blinded by his pride and trapped in unbelief, and thus did not recognize this great hour of his visitation – that the full embodiment of the Love and Mercy of the great God of the Universe had left His home in glory to come down to dine before Simon at his very table.

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Additional Scriptural passages which contain the conditional ‘IF’ are given according to Class:

CLASS I:  Mat 5:29, 30; Mar 3:26; Luk 12:26; Joh 8:46; Act 4:9; Rom 7:16, 20; 1Co 7:9; 2Co 3:7; Gal 2:14; Col 2:20; 3:1; 1Th 4:14; 2Th 3:14; 1Ti 3:5; Phm 17, 18; Heb 2:2; Jms 1:5; 1Pe 1:17; 2Pe 2:4; 1Jo 3:13.

CLASS II:  Mat 11:21, 23; 12:7; 23:30; 24:43; Luke 7:39; 10:13; 19:42; Joh 4:10; 5:46; 8:19, 42; 9:41; 15:19; 18:36; Act 18:14; 26:32; Rom 7:7; 1Co 11:31; Gal 1:10; 3:21; Heb 4:8; 8:4; 11:15; 1Jo 2:19.

CLASS III:  Mat 6:14, 15; Mar 1:40; Luk 17:3(2), 4; Joh 11:25; Act 9:2; Rom 2:25(2), 26; 1Co 5:11; 2Co 5:1; Gal 5:2; Col 4:10; 1Ti 1:8; Heb 13:23; Jms 2:2; 1Pe 3:13; 1Jo 1:6, 7, 8, 9. 10; 2:1; 3Jo 10; Rev 3:3; 22:18, 19.

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1. Some scholars identify four Classes of conditions, the fourth being a further division of Class III. This further distinction is most often hazy, is never found in its full form, and has been characterized as a highly ornamental and little used construction. It is therefore omitted here from discussion.

2. Because thought is not always expressed in the most clearly defined forms, the student of the New Testament is met throughout with sundry mixed, implied, and elliptical conditions and grammatical exceptions. All of theses insure that one will never master the language entirely and that he will never exhaust the innumerable challenges presented by these variations.

3. It must be emphasized that the condition itself of Class I and II is concerned only with the statement, not with the actual reality or unreality of the matter.

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