What is an imperative? In Greek, an imperative is a verb that expresses a command. An imperative is a command given by a man in authority to a man who is under the commander’s authority. We’ve all heard about the six hundred plus laws that were given in the Old Testament. We’re likely familiar with the ‘new commandment’ that Jesus gave in the New Testament on the night he was betrayed. So much has been written about the law of commands in the Old Testament and so little about the imperatives in the New that I thought I might take a second to show that the New Testament writers where not half as shy about giving commands as we are about obeying them.
It may come as a surprise (it did to me when I just did a search on this) to many that there are over 1600 imperatives used in the New Testament alone (1648 to be exact). It is true that about half of these commands are found in the Gospels, which if nothing else means that the number could be cut down by a third do to repetition, but still, one thousand imperatives is no small matter.
Here is a small sampling of the imperatives found in the New Testament:
ESV Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.In this small verse, we actually have three imperatives; bless, bless, and curse not. When translating an imperative, it is fine to add the word ‘must’ so that the reader does not think that the command is optional. These are not suggestions. Paul is not saying, “If you would like, you may bless.” He is using imperatives and therefore we could safely translate this verse like this, “You must bless those who persecute you; you must bless and you may not (must not) curse them!”
ESV 1 Corinthians 4:16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.Again, this could be translated, “I urge you then, you all must be imitators of me.”
ESV 1 Corinthians 6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.“You must glorify God in your body!” Paul speaks as if he means it, not only as if this were possible, but as if it were required. Indeed, it is required, “Glorify God in your body today!”
ESV 1 Corinthians 7:13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.This one is interesting. Greek has a third person imperative. Often, we see the translation go something like this, “Let her not divorce him.” However, the word ‘let’, or even worse 'should' , seems too permissive to the English speaker's ear, so I don’t like using it. I would rather see, “She must not divorce him.”
More on imperatives later.