How many commandments in the New Testament are in the imperative in the Greek?

I ask this, because I came across a Christian book that says, there are over 1,000 commandments in the New Testament, but when someone checked each of the so-called commandments, he found that not all the underlying text is in the imperative in the Greek. Perhaps another question is, does it have to be in the imperative in the Greek, why or why not, before a commandment can be designated as a commandment in the New Testament?

  • What is your definition of a commandment? – bradimus Sep 7 '17 at 10:40
  • I do not know. I am not a New Testament Theologian, but at the very least, I want to narrow it (unless a Theologian corrects me) to any underlying text that is written in the IMPERATIVE, meaning it is a COMMAND. – ninamag Sep 7 '17 at 10:50
  • If you know any Bible passage that defines what a commandment is, then that would do too. – ninamag Sep 7 '17 at 10:51
  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it would be better posted on Biblical Hermeneutics. – Lee Woofenden Sep 17 '17 at 17:12

The answer to the last part of the question, in the body rather than the heading, is no. A commandment is not necessarily in the imperative. Jesus said

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22 37-40

This is in the future indicative tense, rather than the imperative. This applies to the original Greek, and to some modern translations. Other modern translations use the imperative in English, but the Greek text is future indicative.

In English we might be told "You will report for duty at 0600 hours". This would be a command expressed in the future indicative.

Even many of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament are in the future indicative (e.g. "Thou shalt have none other gods but me") while others are in the imperative (e.g. "Honour thy father and mother").

Just as not all commands are imperatives, not all imperatives are commands. "Come in" called by a parent whose children are playing outside is a command, but addressed to a friend at the door is an invitation. In the Lord's Prayer we say "Give us our bread". Addressed to a servant this would be a command, to a baker a request, and to God a prayer. There is no grammatical difference and whether an imperative is a command, a suggestion, an invitation or a plea sometimes requires subjective judgement.

Apart from the two commandments mentioned by Jesus in the above passage, there are no other commands in the New Testament which are very widely referred to by the specific term "commandment"; although many could be considered as such. Some commands of Jesus or of the writers of the epistles may be considered to apply to all Christians. Some clearly applied only to a specific situation and were not intended to apply generally. When, on Palm Sunday, Jesus told two of his disciples to go and fetch a donkey, He clearly wasn't issuing a universal commandment (at least, as far as I know, nobody thinks He was). Some instructions have been argued over as to whether they applied only to those they were directly given, or to all Christians, or to the successors of the apostles (however defined).

James Boyer, of Grace Theological Seminary, counted 1,632 imperatives in the New Testament and discussed the grammatical use of the imperative, in this article

  • This answer, in part, shows that a command can be in the imperative, as well as in the "future indicative". Now A different comment: "When, on Palm Sunday, Jesus told two of his disciples to go and fetch a donkey, He clearly wasn't issuing a universal commandment. " Is there a Christian sect somewhere who believes that this is a "universal commandment"? – ninamag Sep 7 '17 at 13:49
  • I gave it an upvote, but because I am new, it does not allow me. – ninamag Sep 7 '17 at 13:50
  • @ninamag - you ask if there is a sect somewhere that believes fetching the donkey on Palm Sunday was intended as a universal commandment. Good point - I don't actually know for certain that there isn't, and given the enormous diversity in differing sects, perhaps there might be. I'll edit my answer accordingly. – davidlol Sep 7 '17 at 16:14
  • besides imperative and future indicative, in what other linguistic sense (or verb tense) can a command embody? – ninamag Sep 7 '17 at 16:19

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