The Four Classes of Conditional Sentences

Conditional Sentence = If ... (protasis) + then ... (apodosis)
 
 

  Protasis
(if-clause)
Apodosis
(conclusion-clause)
Meaning

I. Portrayal of certainty, assertion
First class conditional εἰ + any indicative
(negated by οὐ)
any mood/tense condition assumed true
Second class conditional εἰ + past indicative
(negated by μή)
(ἄν) + past indicative condition assumed false
(contrary-to-fact)

II. Portrayal of doubt, undeterminedness
Third class conditional ἐάν + subjunctive any mood/tense
(often future indicative)
condition might fulfill in future
(some expectation of realization)
Fourth class conditional εἰ + optative (ἄν) + optative major doubt if condition will fulfill
(remote prospect of determination)

Notes:
1. The key to identifying the class of a conditional is the mood of the protasis. Do not rely on particles (εἰ, ἐάν, ἄν). For example, a 3rd class conditional protasis is usually introduced by ἐάν, but occasionally it uses εἰ; however, it will always be in the subjunctive mood.
2. First and 3rd class conditionals are quite common.
3. Fourth class conditionals are rare (since the optative was dying out). In fact, there is no complete 4th class conditional sentence in the NT, LXX or papyri (often lacking apodosis).
 
 
 

Examples

1. First class conditional (assumed true for argument's sake)

a. εἰ = since
1Jn 4:11 Ἀγαπητοί, εἰ οὕτως ὁ θεὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς, καὶ ἡμεῖς ὀφείλομεν ἀλλήλους ἀγαπᾶν.
KJV: Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
NIV: Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

b. εἰ = if (cannot mean "since")
Mt 12:27 καὶ εἰ ἐγὼ ἐν Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν ἐν τίνι ἐκβάλλουσιν;...
And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast (them) out?
Mt 12:28 εἰ δὲ ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ ἐγὼ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, ἄρα ἔφθασεν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God arrived upon you.

Obviously it is illogical to translate both sentenses as "since I cast out," because the arguments are opposed to each other. And it would be inconsistent to translate the first particie "if" and the second "since".
The force is "if, and let us assume that this is true for the sake of argument, I cast out demons" ... This yields satisfactory results for both halves. --GGBB p.691,693


 

2. Second class conditional (assumed false for argument's sake)

a. protasis = imperfect (contrary to a present fact: If X were ..., then Y would ...)
Jn 18:36 ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου. εἰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ἦν ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμή, οἱ ὑπηρέται οἱ ἐμοὶ ἠγωνίζοντο [ἂν] ἵνα μὴ παραδοθῶ τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις. νῦν δὲ ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐντεῦθεν.
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my attendants would be fighting so that I would not be delivered over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.
Lk 7:39 οὗτος εἰ ἦν προφήτης, ἐγίνωσκεν ἂν τίς καὶ ποταπὴ ἡ γυνὴ...
If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind the woman (is).
Is Jesus a prophet? Yes, he is. So why second class condition here? RIght, it tells us that the Pharasee actually thinks Jesus is not a prophet. Language is a portrayal of reality from the speaker's perspective.

b. protasis = aorist/pluperfect (contrary to a past fact: If X had been ..., then Y would have ...)
Jn 15:22 εἰ μὴ ἦλθον καὶ ἐλάλησα αὐτοῖς, ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ εἴχοσαν.
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have had (any) sin.
(But Jesus did come and did speak to them -- contrary to a past fact)


 

3. Third class conditional (condition probable in future)

a. apodosis = future -- more probable (If ... might happen, then ... will definitely happen)
Rom 10:9 ἐὰν ὁμολογήσῃς ἐν τῷ στόματί σου κύριον Ἰησοῦν καὶ πιστεύσῃς ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ σου ὅτι ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ἤγειρεν ἐκ νεκρῶν, σωθήσῃ.
If you would confess in your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and would believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

The 3rd class conditional presents probability, not fact. To "confess" and "believe" is realizable for the reader ("you"). Paul is not asserting if his reader has confessed/believed or not (1st class condition).

b. apodosis = present -- general (stating a general truth, an axiomatic truth)
John 3:3 ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
Unless someone would be born again (or from above), he is not able to see the kingdom of God.


 

4. Fourth class conditional (condition remotely possible)

1Pet 3:14 ἀλλ' εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε διὰ δικαιοσύνην, μακάριοι.
But even if you should suffer on account of righteousness, blessed (are you).

 
 
 

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