Barry Newman's Blog

May 30, 2010

Christ Centred Communion – Further Thoughts (part VI)

Filed under: Christ Centred Communion — barrynewman @ 3:33 am

The Grammatical Mood of “Poieite” (Do?)

A friend of mine, George May, recently raised with me the possibility that Luke 22: 19 could be understood in a slightly but significantly different way to how it is commonly understood.  He asked if I had considered the idea that the central sentence under discussion might be in the indicative mood rather than the imperative mood.  Was it a command or a simple statement?  I was a little stunned.  I realised that the Greek, “poieite” could be understood either as “you plural, present tense indicative” or “you plural, present tense imperative”.  In either case, the same Greek form is used.  However, I along with everyone else I had ever come across had simply assumed that a command was involved – “poieite” had to be understood as being in the imperative mood.  I had never thought otherwise. From early times Christians referring to the Last Passover meal in one way or another and for whatever reasons saw it as a command and those who came afterwards simply considered this understanding to be correct seemingly without question.  I have previously argued that sinful humanity would rather live under rules, regulations and ceremonies than live under grace and the work of the Spirit. I suspect this provides part of the explanation as to why the understanding that a command was involved was adopted.  However, I am not hereby arguing that this understanding was in fact incorrect.  I am merely suggesting how such an understanding might have become entrenched, whether correct or incorrect.



  1. Hi Barry. I’ve been following your careful and insightful posts with keen interest – great work! I wonder if there’s a more simple explanation for the early Christians seeing poeiete as a command: the existence of unambiguous aorist imperatives in the parallel accounts. Matthew 26:26-27 has “take, eat … drink”; Mark 14:22 has “take”. It doesn’t necessarily solve the issue of whether poiete in Luke 22:19 is imperative or indicative (since the imperatives in the parallel accounts aren’t actually “do this”) – but it does provide a piece of data for the history of interpretation. God bless, Lionel.

    Comment by lionelwindsor — May 30, 2010 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

    • Lionel,

      Many thanks for the comment. You could be quite right. Understandably, where people were familiar with Matthew and Mark as well as Luke, they may well have decided that what they saw as imperatives within the discourse recorded in Matthew and Mark meant that “poieite” within the discourse of Luke had to be understood as an imperative.

      Presumably we assume that they are imperatives in Matthew and Mark because of the nature of the action involved, even though as with “poieite” the indicative and imperative forms are the same. They are however present tense forms and not aorist ones are they not?

      An interesting point is that in the early discourse of Luke, where the words of remembrance are not involved (Luke 22: 17) “take” is again in the present tense form (indicative/imperative) but “divide” is in the aorist imperative form. I take it that the experts have some reasonable explanation for this.

      With respect to the words of remembrance in Luke, that there are no other imperative possibilities within that discourse itself, allows us to more freely consider that “poieite” could be in the indicative mood. The same applies to Paul’s report of the discourse in 1 Corinthians 11: 24, 25. The occurrence of the unambiguous present indicative form for “is” within the discourse may also be considered to be suggestive.

      Anyway, hopefully for better, I have assumed the possibility of the indicative mood and your suggestion of why historically it was understood otherwise may be correct. Thanks again for the helpful thought.


      Comment by barrynewman — May 31, 2010 @ 1:18 am | Reply

      • Hi Barry – I’m pretty sure these are (second) aorist imperatives (i.e. Matt 26:26-27, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:17). Second aorist imperatives are distinguishable from second aorist indicatives by their lack of the augment (e.g. “take/received” is labete in Mark 14:22, “you took/received” is elabete in Mark 11:24). But since second aorists take the present form endings, I can understand how easily they might be mistaken for present tense forms!

        Notwithstanding all this, I agree that “poiete” itself can quite possibly be read as indicative in Luke 22:19 and 1 Cor 11:24-25. Quite interestingly, the people who provided parsing information for my Bibleworks program only suggest an imperative in Luke 22:19 but suggest that in 1 Cor 11:24-25 it can be EITHER indicative or imperative!

        Comment by lionelwindsor — May 31, 2010 @ 4:44 am

  2. Lionel,

    Many thanks for the info. I am continually learning. I should have recognised the second tense stems. Language is not one of my strengths and here I am dealing with an indicative versus imperative mood issue!! Interesting that your Bibleworks program suggests for “poieite” only an imperative in Luke 22: 19 but either an indicative or imperative in 1 Cor 11: 24,25. Obviously someone sees the possibility.

    Comment by barrynewman — May 31, 2010 @ 11:16 pm | Reply

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