The Conditional Sentence in John 12:26

For Jen, irritated by the NRSV (and anyone else, too!).

John 12:26, NRSV:
Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
John 12:26, MAF:
The one who wants to wait upon me must follow me; that way wherever I am, my attendant will also be there. The Father will honor anyone who waits upon me.
John 12:26, GNT:
ἐὰν ἐμοί τις διακονῇ, ἐμοὶ ἀκολουθείτω, καὶ ὅπου εἰμὶ ἐγώ, ἐκεῖ καὶ ὁ διάκονος ὁ ἐμὸς ἔσται· ἐάν τις ἐμοὶ διακονῇ, τιμήσει αὐτὸν ὁ πατήρ.
What we have here in John is a very nice conditional sentence using the subjunctive, imperative, and future indicative. (We haven't yet gotten out of the indicative, but I'll explain as we go.)

It has five pieces, three before the colon, and two after.
1. ἐὰν ἐμοί τις διακονῇ
2. ἐμοὶ ἀκολουθείτω
3. καὶ ὅπου εἰμὶ ἐγώ ἐκεῖ καὶ ὁ διάκονος ὁ ἐμὸς ἔσται

4. ἐάν τις ἐμοὶ διακονῇ
5. τιμήσει αὐτὸν ὁ πατήρ

We can re-map these into more normal syntax, which will also involve breaking (3) into two parts and temporarily getting rid of the "and"s.
1. ἐάν τις ἐμοὶ διακονῇ
2. ἐμοὶ ἀκολουθείτω
3a. ὅπου ἐγώ εἰμὶ
3b. ἐκεῖ ὁ διάκονος ὁ ἐμὸς ἔσται

4. ἐάν τις ἐμοὶ διακονῇ
5. ὁ πατήρ αὐτὸν τιμήσει
So now you can see that (1) and (4) are the same. In conditional sentences, we call this piece the "protasis," which just means that it comes first in order (from protasso, "put in front"). In Latin, we'd call it a proposition, for the same reason. And what it says is basically, "If anyone should serve me ...".

The ean and the verb diakone go together here. Ean is just the particle ei, "if," plus the marker that tells you you're looking for a subjunctive verb: an. And sure enough, diakone is in the subjunctive. (We'll cover why on a separate occasion, but you can find its full conjugation table here. Have I mentioned that Wiktionary is awesome?) The key words we tend to use with the subjunctive in Greek are "may" or "might" and "should" or "shall," either for future likelihood of an event or for indicating conditions. So the form of this clause is "if SUBJECT should VERB OBJECT". Or we could also say "should SUBJECT want to VERB OBJECT," because what the next clause will do is set the terms for SUBJECT VERBING OBJECT. In this case, for "anyone" who wants to "serve me."

And the apodosis tells us what the condition is. ("Apodosis" comes from apodidomi, "give after," and it means "the bit that comes after the protasis," which was the bit that was put before it.) Or at least, the apodosis gives us the condition in (2); (5) is a different beast. But both (2) and (5) follow up on the subjunctives in (1) and (4).

Let's talk about the verb diakoneo for a second. This is the verb we take "deacon" from in church English. A diakonos is not a servant in the same way a doulos is. A doulos is a slave or an indentured servant, someone whose service to a master is bound by some outside term. By contrast, a diakonos is someone who offers some service to another person willingly and freely (free as in "not bound" -- you still pay your waiter, don't you?). It also carries cultic religious connotations, as in the servant of a god in a temple. But generally, we can talk about the diakonos as an attendant, an assistant, someone who waits upon the needs of someone else.

So, what do we have to do if we want to serve Jesus in this way? Well, naturally, we have to be where he is. And (2) tells us how with an imperative: emoi akoloutheito, the one who wants to serve Jesus "must follow me." To be where Jesus is, we have to go where Jesus goes along with him. There's no other way.

And (3) explains the combination of (1) and (2). Pou means "where," and hopou means "wherever" or "anywhere." And you know ego eimi: "I am." So (3a) is "Wherever I am ...". And that "where" is matched by ekei in (3b), which means "there." And we have an ARTICLE NOUN ARTICLE ADJECTIVE descriptive phrase that follows it, "the servant the mine," or "my servant," used with the future of eimi. So (3b) is "... there will my servant be." So now we can put the "and"s back in, and the first half looks like this:
Anyone who would serve me must follow me; and wherever I am, my servant will also be there.
In this way (3) logically follows from (1) and (2), because if you follow Jesus in order to serve him, you will be wherever he is.

Now, since (4) is the same as (1), (4-5) is a parallel statement to (1-3). Which means that when (2) and (3) are true as conditions of (1), (5) is also true.

So (5) reads ho pater auton timesei in SUBJECT OBJECT VERB form. The father, or if we take the article as an implicit possessive, "my father," the father of the covenant people and also of Jesus, is the subject. And God will therefore "honor," which means dignify or value, the one who follows Jesus in order to serve him.

And so we can put the whole thing back together in its original form, and note emphasis. "Anyone who would serve me must follow me; and wherever I am, my servant will also be there. Anyone who would serve me, the Father will value."

So the NRSV version is a bit wooden, but it works as a translation of the Greek; you can see I've added some nuance by saying "that way wherever I am, my attendant will also be there" in my own translation.

Now, how would you say it?


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