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Greek Thoughts

Examining the construction "ou me"

This week let us consider the Greek construction ou me. When I first discovered this construction, I was left spellbound. The construction ou me is the combination of two negative particles, both as a mere lexical entry, meaning not. ou is used most frequently with the indicative mood, but occasionally, with the subjunctive and the infinitive. While me is used most frequently with the imperatives, infinitives, and participles, though it is used occasionally with the indicative.

Moreover, when they are used together, ou me, it is "for the purpose of stating denials or prohibitions emphatically."F1 In his Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics, Daniel B. Wallace makes this insightful observation:

One might think that the negative with the subjunctive could not be as strong as the negative with the indicative. However, while ou + the indicative denies a certainty, ou me + the subjunctive denies a potentiality. The negative is not weaker; rather, the affirmative that is being negatived is less firm with the subjunctive. ou me rules out even the idea as being a possibility.F2

In other words, the Greeks knew how to say no without any reservations. In the following paragraphs, let us look at some key passages where this wonderful construction occurs.

First, Matthew 5:20, what some have considered the key text of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records Jesus use of this construction: "For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter ("will never enter," ou me + the aorist subjunctive) the kingdom of heaven." The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was self-righteousness and hypocrisy. True faith in the sight of the Lord must "exceed" a self-righteous religion. Or there will not be the slightest of opportunity for a self-righteous person who does not place his or her faith in the Lord Jesus to ever enter the Kingdom of heaven. That is the force of the expression "will never enter" (ou me + the aorist subjunctive).

Second, Matthew 24:25, in the context of this verse, Jesus is responding to the earlier questions posed by his disciples (24:3). After a response to their first set of questions, Jesus makes this famous statement: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" ("will not pass away," ou me + aorist subjunctive). In effect, what Jesus was telling his disciples is that there is not a slightest chance in the world that what he has just told them will not come to pass. "Heaven and earth will pass away" first before something like that can happen. There will have to be a universal upheaval. Jesus was being very emphatic.

Third, John 10:28 is one of the most comforting Scripture to believers. John record Jesus as saying: "I give them [his sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish ("they will never perish," ou me + aorist subjunctive), and no one will snatch them out of my hand." This shepherd and flock picture is powerful. It must be gazed upon by all believers, until every dimension of the picture is forever ingrained in the mind. The true flock of Jesus "will never perish." The Lord said it. That settles it. End of discussion.

Fourth, Hebrews 13:6 is a quotation from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture. Having just admonished the believers not to keep their life free from the love of money and to be content with what they have, he quotes the Lord as saying: "I will never desert you ("I will never desert," ou me + aorist subjunctive), nor will I ever forsake you" ("will I ever forsake," ou me + aorist subjunctive). I find it intriguing how these two ou me constructions are just separated by the negative conjunction, oude, "nor."

Of all the vices that Jesus spoke out against, none received more attention than covetousness or the love of money. Though the Greek adjective aphilarguros (a—privative + philarguros, in fact, RC TrenchF3 demonstrates the synonymy of pleonexia, "covetousness" and philarguria, "love of money") translated "free from the love of money" is only used twice in the Greek NT (Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 3:3), it corresponds to the many prohibitions in the Scripture to avoid covetousness.

Believers have to make sure that their character is free from the love of money and to be content with what they have and God has emphatically declared that his presence will be with them. What an encouraging thought?

Finally, I am profoundly grateful for the discovery of the double negative construction, ou me and the force it conveys. Though this double negative construction might seem awkward in the English, it is all too powerful in the Greek. Read those Scripture that we have just discussed, again.

F1: H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (NY: Macmillan Company, 1927), p. 266.
F2: Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 468.
F3: R.C. Trench, Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1989), pp. 97-99.


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Meet the Author
Thomas C. Robinson, a preacher of the gospel and a student of the Scriptures. He is a graduate of Herigate Christian University in Florence, Alabama with a Bachelor of Arts. Currently he is working on completing his Master of Arts in NT at Freedhardeman University.

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