Greek Negation

Have you ever wondered how the New Testament Biblical authors say “no” in the Scriptures? There are several different ways to say “no” or to prohibit an action in Greek. These nuances are important but sadly, not normally reflected in the English translation.

οὐ Plus the Indicative

This is a simple negation. The word οὐκ is used if the next word begins with a vowel that has smooth breathing. The word οὐχ is used used before verbal forms that occur with rough breathing. In rhetorical questions, οὐ implies a positive answer. Mark 6:3 says, “οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ⸂τέκτων, ὁ υἱὸς⸃ τῆς Μαρίας;” “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” This rhetorical question using οὐχ with the present active indicative ἐστιν expects a positive answer.

The use of οὐ plus the future indicative carries imperatival force. The imperatival future carries more semantic weight than the imperative mood. “Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη οὐ μοιχεύσεις.” (Matthew 5:27) Here we have a quote from the Old Testament using the future active indicative μοιχεύσεις with οὐ. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’” Another example is John the baptist's denial that he is the Christ, Ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ χριστός. (John 1:20).

μή Plus the Present Imperative

A present imperative does not necessarily forbid an action that has already begun. If the cessation of an action that has already begun is intended, it must be inferred from the context. In rhetorical questions, μή implies a negative answer. Present and aorist imperatives are used for third person prohibitions. These are not weaker than second person imperatives. John 9:40 says, “μὴ καὶ ἡμεῖς τυφλοί ἐσμεν;” “We are not blind also, are we?” The use of μὴ in this rhetorical question expects a negative answer. In the context, the Pharisees cannot believe Jesus would consider them to be blind.

 “Μὴ ἀγαπᾶτε τὸν κόσμον μηδὲ τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ.” (I John 2:15) “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.” The word ἀγαπᾶτε is a present active imperative second person plural used with the negative particle μή.

 “ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω.” (Mark 10:9) “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate.” The word χωριζέτω is a present active imperative third person singular. We often translate the third person imperative with the word “let,” but this does not imply granting permission. The third person imperative is as direct in meaning as the second person imperative.

μή Plus the Aorist Imperative

Aorist prohibitions do not necessarily warn against starting an action. There are only eight aorist prohibitions in the New Testament that use imperative forms. All of the forms occur in the Gospels. Negation using the aorist tense form typically uses the subjunctive mood.

 “ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος μὴ ⸀καταβάτω ἆραι ⸁τὰ ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ” (Matthew 24:17) “Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house.” The word καταβάτω is an aorist active imperative third person singular.

μή plus the Aorist Subjunctive

According to Mounce the force of this negative construction is stronger that the first above "οὐ Plus the Indicative". It is a strong construction of negative in Greek.

μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας (Matt 5:17).

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.

μὴ φοβηθῇς παραλαβεῖν Μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου (Matt 1:20).

Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.

Double negative – οὐ μή with Aorist subjunctive

This is the strongest way to negate a statement in Greek. It is where "The speaker uses the subjunctive verb to suggest a future possibility, but in the same phrase he emphatically denies (by means of the double negative) that such could ever happen. This linguistic combination occurs about eighty-five times in the New Testament, often in significant promises or reassurances about the future (Mounce, Chapter 31 Exegetical Insight)."

Mounce notes that, "When Greek uses a double negative, one does not negate the other as in English. The οὐ and μή combine in a very firm, “This will certainly not occur!” This is stronger than 4 above and refers to a future situation. (Mounce 33.18)"

According to Matthewson and Emig, "James L. Boyer suggests that the double negative is “a form of litotes; i.e., the second negative (μή) negates the subjunctive verb . . . ; the first negative (οὐ) negates the doubtful clause introduced by μή. As a whole the clause communicates that ‘there is no doubt about it; it is not an uncertain matter’” (Emig & Matthewson, 8.13)

Jesus' preservation of His sheep as secured by His promises and power is described with emphatic negation. John 10:27 τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἐμὰ τῆς φωνῆς μου ἀκούουσιν, κἀγὼ γινώσκω αὐτά, καὶ ἀκολουθοῦσίν μοι, 28 κἀγὼ δίδωμι αὐτοῖς ζωὴν αἰώνιον, καὶ οὐ μὴ ἀπόλωνται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, καὶ οὐχ ἁρπάσει τις αὐτὰ ἐκ τῆς χειρός μου. (My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. ἀπόλωνται is aorist middle subjunctive 3rd plural.


ὅτι ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ δι’ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν τὰ πάντα· αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, ἀμήν. ~ ΠΡΟΣ ΡΟΜΑΙΟΥΣ 11:36


Published by Jeff Chavez

Sinner saved by grace

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