Because “If” Makes No “Since”

Because “If” Makes No “Since”

By Ward Crocker, Professor of Apologetics at Southern California Seminary
As we refresh our Greek knowledge, it is important to look at the first-class conditional clause. The New Testament contains several kinds of conditional clauses with the first-class condition being unique in that it “indicates the assumption of truth for the sake of argument.”[1] In other words, the writer assumes the “if” (εἰ) portion of the clause (called the protasis) is true for argument sake. Significantly, the first-class condition does not need to be true. In fact, there are a number of occurrences that are blatantly false, yet the writers present them as conditionally true in order to provide emphasis or impact. One clear example is found 1 Corinthians 15:13–14 where Paul uses two first-class conditional clauses: “13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.”
Through the use of the first-class condition, both verses are presented as true for the sake of argument, however neither is actually true. Paul’s point emphasizes the need for Christ’s resurrection yet since both clauses are false, there is no attempt to translation the “if” (εἰ) as “since” for this would result in Paul clearly contradicting the point of the chapter. Naturally, there are first class conditions that are true. For the first class conditions that are known to be true, there is a temptation to translate the “if” (εἰ) as “since.” An example of this would be 1 Corinthians 15:44b. Here Paul uses a first-class condition when he says, “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Because this claim is obviously true it would seem like a good candidate to translate the conditional clause using “since” instead of “if.” In this case, the verse would be interpreted as reading, “Since there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” The conditional element is removed the verse now reads as a declarative sentence (a statement of fact). However, this article will provide five reasons why a first-class condition (“if” εἰ) should never be translated “since” even if that condition is obviously true.
To begin with, the view that the “if” (εἰ) can be translated “since” rests on the popular assumption that the first-class condition means “the condition of reality or the condition of truth.”[2] However, as Wallace notes, this popular level view is based upon a grave misunderstanding of key scholars, specifically that “their language has often been misunderstood: ‘assumption of truth’ has been interpreted to mean ‘truth.’”[3] Another way of stating the problem is that the writer focuses exclusively on the underlying fact of the verse without taking into account the manner of presentation. This is illustrated by Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen when they discuss 1 Cor 15:44b in the following manner, “Paul states the obvious truth that every one of us has a physical body. Taking this simple fact, he asserts that we also have a spiritual body.”[4] However, this simplistic understanding of the first-class condition is grounded in a limited view of the first-class condition; a limitation that diminishes its value (as will be demonstrated).

Ward Crocker

The second reason to avoid translating the conditional clause as “since” is due to the fact that the biblical authors had terms available to them that mean “since.” As James L. Boyer observes, the “Greeks had a word for ‘since’ (at least two of them) but they deliberately chose ‘if.’”[5] Boyer is correct in that the biblical authors could select from several words that mean “since” (e.g., ἐπεί, ἐπειδή, ἐπειδήπερ, and ἐπείπερ). This means that the conditional clause was used for a reason and it is up to the exegete to understand why. Simply glossing over this fact will not suffice for it offers no quality explanation as to the reason why the condition was used as opposed to one of these other terms. An extension of the second reason to avoid translating the conditional element as “since” is that doing so misses the rhetorical impact being employed by the author. Another way of putting this is that the author is trying to persuade (πείθω) the reader with more than mere facts. Naturally, biblical facts are important, but it must be remembered that God did not inspire the authors simply to list key “facts,” though He certainly could have taken this approach. Facts lacking context also lack impact. Various writers use different literary tools (different ways of writing) in order to provide the requisite “impact” of the fact in question. This means the manner in which facts are presented is significant as well, and not simply the fact or truth itself. Consider what Peter says in 2 Peter 2:4-9. In the opening verses of the chapter, he warns his readers that there will be false teachers in their midst who introduce destructive heresies (v. 1), that many will follow their immoral ways and malign the truth (v. 2), and the false teachers will work to exploit the readers (v. 3). Peter then moves to reassure his readers of two things: 1) God is able to rescue them from such ungodly people and 2) ensure due punishment for the false teachers (vss. 9–10a).
Notice, and this is the important point, Peter does more than merely provide his readers with theological facts of God’s provision for them and punishment for the ungodly false teachers. Here is how Peter actually presents this important issue: “if God did not spare the angels [condemning ungodly angelic beings] nor the wicked ancient world [vss. 4–5a] but persevered righteous Noah and his family [v. 5], if God condemned the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah [v. 6] and was able to rescue righteous Lot [v. 7], and we know all of this is true based upon ancient Jewish writings including Genesis, then you can rest assured God can rescue you from the wickedness you face.” Peter could simply say, “God is sovereign and will protect you while condemning the false teachers,” which is, in essence, his point. However, he does not take this “facts only” tactic. Instead, by means of the rhetorical approach using a series of first class conditions (vss. 4–9), Peter comes “alongside” them and helps them grasp the facts.
We can think of it in the following way. Let’s say a friend is struggling with trusting that God will help her through a hardship. Often well-meaning Christians will state the fact, “God is sovereign and will take care of you.” Such an approach tends to be rather ungracious and non-relational. Contrast this with the following, “If God is able to take care of the nation of Israel through its failures and misfortunes, and if God is able to preserve a remnant for Himself despite the challenges of life, then it seems God can take care of you and I through ours. Would you agree?” Notice that the two approaches say essentially the same thing. However, one of them is a longer way of addressing the issue because it also considers, and cares for, the heart of the recipient. The extended approach is long on grace with truth as oppose to short on grace with (nearly) a rebuke undertone with its use of truth. In other words, the longer approach is persuasive in nature without sacrificing truth.
This persuasion (reaching the heart) can be easily overlooked when simply focusing on the “fact” or “truth” of a passage. This literary context can be highlight simply by asking a few key questions such as, why did the author present the issue in the fashion he/she did? Why did the author avoid simply stating the fact of the matter? What is the benefit of providing the “truth” or “fact” in the style used? What we find is the desire of the author (and Author) to do more than merely present facts. The goal is to reach the heart of the reader in a fashion (literary style) that “speaks” to the reader. This is because facts without literally context carry little impact. This impact, it can be argued, is part of the authorial intent. This leads to the next problem involved with translated the conditional as “since”: the common over-emphasis on a “just the facts” approach to Scripture neglects the verbal scenery of the Word of God embedded in the authorial intent of the passage. While truth is undeniably important to the Christian faith, the truth alone is not the only thing that matters. Jesus Christ came filled with both grace and truth (John 1:14, 17). Truth and love are partners which must not be separated (2 John 1–3).
Authorial intent is not simply the “fact” of the matter but also the “heart” of the matter. The author “intends” to reach the heart of the reader and often employs a variety of linguistic styles to do this. Denigrating or even ignoring this part of God’s Word tends to neglect the “heart” behind the truth.
The next reason to avoid translating the conditional clause as “since” is that the exegete should always avoid altering the meaning of the text.  Altering the meaning or even style of presentation can lead to a loss of the author’s presentation. However, in this case, the change is more significant than what is often given credit. By translating the condition as “since” the exegete/theologian reduces the conditional claim to the mere fact of the matter leaving out the rhetorical element brought by the hypothetical. One likely reason for taking a “just the facts” approach to Scripture is that, in general, Christendom undervalues the worth and role logic plays both in Scripture and in the life of the mind of the believer. When a healthy appreciation for logic (a necessary attribute of the divine Mind which should be reflected in the lives of believers) is evidenced, more attention to the rhetorical elements of Scripture will take place. Significantly, none of the previous five reasons deny the truth of the first-class conditions when they are in fact true. The point is simply that being true does not justify translating the condition as “since” because this fails to account for how and why the condition is used in the first place. In other words, we must still acknowledge when a condition is true but must not do so at the expense of the persuasion instilled by the author. Keeping these points in mind will help us understand that “if” really makes no “since.”

[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 690.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 690 n11.
[4] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, vol. 18, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), 574.
[5] James L. Boyer, “First Class Conditions: What Do They Mean?” Grace Theological Journal 2.1 (1981), 77.

Ward Crocker serves as professor of Apologetics at Southern California Seminary, teaching in both the undergraduate and graduate Biblical Studies programs. He possesses a B.R.E. from Prairie Bible College (Alberta, Canada), a M.A. in Biblical Exegesis and Linguistics from Dallas Theological Seminary, a M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from Talbot School of Theology, and a D.Min. in Engaging Mind and Culture from Talbot School of Theology.

© 2018 All rights reserved Dr. Ward Crocker

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