In any language, there are words and grammatical phenomena that cannot be expressed easily or succinctly in another language. Some of the meaning is undoubtedly lost. The word or phrase can usually be expressed, but not concisely—sometimes requiring a paragraph or more of explanation to convey the same meaning.
This creates a problem for translations of Scripture, where it is necessary to use no more than a few words to convey the idea. Another problem is that the result can be awkward, and the translation can lose its readability.
With this in mind, I’d like to look at one such example in the Greek New Testament that I hope will bring a richer, fuller understanding to God’s Word as you study and preach it. The word combination ouv mh is usually used with the aorist subjunctive (although occasionally with the future indicative). ((It occurs 94 times in the NT, and another 531 times in the LXX. The NT references are as follows: Matt. 5:18; 5:20; 5:26; 10:23; 10:42; 13:14; 15:6; 16:22; 16:28; 18:3; 23:39; 24:2; 24:21; 24:34; 24:35; 25:9; 26:29; 26:35; Mk. 9:1; 9:41; 10:15; 13:2; 13:19; 13:30; 13:31; 14:25; 14:31; 16:18; Lk. 1:15; 6:37; 8:17; 9:27; 10:19; 12:59; 13:35; 18:7; 18:17; 21:18; 21:32; 21:33; 22:16; 22:18; 22:67; 22:68; Jn. 4:14; 4:48; 6:35; 6:37; 8:12; 8:51; 8:52; 10:5; 10:28; 11:26; 11:56; 13:8; 13:38; 18:11; 20:25; Acts 13:41; 28:26; Rom. 4:8; 1 Co. 8:13; Gal. 5:16; 1 Thess. 4:15; 5:3; Heb. 8:11; 8:12; 10:17; 13:5; 1 Pet. 2:6; 2 Pet. 1:10; Rev. 2:11; 3:3; 3:5; 3:12; 9:6; 15:4; 18:7; 18:14; 18:21; 18:22; 18:23; 21:25; 21:27.)) There is no stronger way to express a negative. The simple negative ouv without the indicative suggests that something will not happen. But ouv mh with the subjunctive goes further to deny even the slightest possibility that something will occur. In essence, it says there is no chance in the world that it will happen.1
This phrase is often translated “in no case,” “in no wise,” “never,” and “certainly not” – expressions which generally convey the idea. But we may be surprised to see how often translations fail to bring out this idea at all. Many times it is translated only with a simple negative, making no attempt to bring out the emphatic negation. A rich study awaits us if we will go through each of these passages to see the ideas being communicated with such force.
I will list just a few. There is absolutely no possibility of:
- The law and the prophets passing away until every last word is completely fulfilled (Matt. 5:18)
- One entering into heaven whose righteousness does not exceed the scribes and Pharisees (5:20)
- Losing a reward for ministering a cup of water for Christ (10:42)
- One entering into heaven who does not become like a like child (18:3)
- Jesus’ words passing away (24:35)
- The one who drinks of the water Christ gives ever thirsting (Jn. 4:14)
- The one who comes to Christ ever hungering or thirsting (6:35)
- The one who comes to Christ ever being cast away (6:37)
- The one who keeps Christ’s words ever seeing death (8:51)
- The sheep ever being snatched from Christ’s saving care (10:28)
- Carrying out fleshly desires while walking by the Spirit (Gal 5:16)
- God remembering the sins of His people (Heb. 8:12)
- God deserting His people (13:5)
- The names of the over comers ever being removed from the book of life (Rev. 3:5).
Of the 94 occurrences of the emphatic negation, seven deserve special attention.2 These seven not only use the emphatic negation ouv mh, but they intensify the negation by adding the phrase ei~j to;n ai;w`na.3
This phrase further amplifies the certainty of something not happening by expressing the total impossibility of something ever at any time happening — quite an intense statement. Studying these passages will result in a fuller and deeper understanding and experience of God’s promises, not only for the preacher, but also for the church of God. Let us not withhold from God’s people the riches He has given them to know and enjoy.
Gons, Philip R. “Emphatic Negation: Drawing Out the Riches of God’s Promises.” Συναθλουντες 1, no. 3 (October 2002): 8–9.