Conditional Clauses in Greek

What is a Conditional" Clause in Greek?

Conditional clause = These dependent clauses can be identified in most English translations by beginning with the conjunction "IF".

A conditional clause is a supposition (a fact that is supposed) which may or may not be true, depending on the fulfillment of certain specified conditions.

A conditional clause in Greek is formed by combining a preposition with a certain verb mood (Indicative mood = fact; subjunctive = has some degree of uncertainty; optative = reflects even more uncertainty).

Conditional clauses can be grouped into two general categories:

(1). The first and second class conditional statements are used with the indicative mood and view the situation from a standpoint of reality, assuming the premise is either true (First Class Condition) or untrue (Second Class Condition). The speaker is simply making a declarative statement based on the assumption that what he is saying is either true or false.

(2). The third and fourth class conditional statements use the subjunctive and optative moods respectively and reflect uncertainty or doubt.

Summary of the Four
Class Conditions of "IF" in Greek:

1. First class = (If) what follows is accepted as TRUE. Could be translated "since" or "because". True statement or fulfilled condition.

  • Ei + any tense of indicative mood

1Peter 2:1+, Col 1:23+, Col 3:1+ Eph 3:2+; Eph 4:21+, etc

Caveat - not every first class condition can accurately be translated with "since" -- see addendum below. 

2. Second class = (If) what follows is NOT TRUE. Statement contrary to fact or an unfulfilled condition.

  • Ei + past tenses of indicative mood

Jn 15:19

3. Third class = (If)… and it may be true or may not be true. Supposition where the reality of the issue is uncertain.

  • Ean + subjunctive mood implying uncertainty

Mt 4:9+

4. Fourth class = (If) = IF… it might be true, but it is very doubtful. Same expression as 3rd class but even > doubt of fulfillment.

  • Ei + optative mood

1Peter 3:14+

Related Resources:


Here are some supplementary notes on whether one should use "since" in translating the "if" in a first class condition. 

Let's look at a couple of examples and as a good inductive student you decide if "since" would be appropriate.

Here is 1 Peter 2:3 when in NASB reads "if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord." Look at the context? The question is had they tasted the kindness? Or was it "iffy" so to speak. Look at 1 Peter 1:22-23 - "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God." So clearly in context his readers had "tasted" the kindness of the Lord. Now if you go back to the passage in 1 Peter 2:3 it seems we can accurately "paraphrase" it "Since you tasted the kindness..." And here is the translation by the HCSB -  1 Peter 2:3 since you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1Pe 2:3 CSB)

Here is John MacArthur's comment on the "if" in 1Peter 2:3 = "Verse 3, he says, “Long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word if you’ve tasted the kindness of the Lord.” What does he mean by that? You know what he means. It’s a first-class conditional in the Greek, it means since or because." (Sermon entitled "Desiring the Word" in 1988). 

Look at Luke 4:3 "And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” In Greek the "if" introduces a first class conditional declaration by the devil to Jesus. 

"IF" could be translated with "since" in this sentence and it would be accurate. 

John MacArthur's comment on this passage "Verse 3, “The devil said to Him,” all the way through the devil speaks, by the way, with a measure of truth. Deception only works if it somehow has partial truth in it. And so when the devil speaks, he starts from a point of truth. That’s the subtlety of his deception. So the devil said to Him, “If … or probably better translated … since,” this is a first class conditional with a particle a which is ei in the Greek, and a first class conditional does not presume doubt, it does not presume doubt. So he’s really saying … “Since … since You are the Son of God.” This is true and this is the measure of truth with which Satan launches the deception."  (The Temptation of the Messiah Part 1, 2000). 

Some other examples where "since" makes "sense"...

“But if (since) ye be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law”,   Galatians 5:18.

Romans 8:31   What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

Paul makes a dogmatic statement that is to be applied to every Christian so clearly in this context it would be fair and accurate to translate ".If (First Class Conditional) with "since God is for us." Why? Because there is no doubt that God is for us (believers). 

1 Cor 15:2 - "by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain."

Here is Bob Utley's note on “if” - This is a FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL sentence, which implies that they would “hold fast” to the truth of the gospel, which he preached to them, but it adds a note of contingency by a second “ei” (unless). This seems to parallel Jesus’ Parable of the Soils (cf. Matt. 13) and John’s discussion in 1 John 2:19 of those who were in the fellowship, but left. There were those factions in Corinth who by their actions, attitudes, and theology showed they were never believers! They rejected Paul’s gospel and Apostolic authority and merged the gospel into Roman culture, whereby the culture became dominant! Cultural Christianity is always weak and sometimes not Christian! However, please note that contextually Paul is asserting his confidence that the Corinthian believers are true believers. (1) AORIST tense, v. 1, “received”  (2)   PERFECT tense, v. 1, “in which also you stand” (3)  FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL sentence, v. 2, “since you hold fast”

Galatians 4:7 - “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God”

Bob Utley writes - This is a FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCE, “since you are sons” (TEV, NIV). The Spirit removes our slavery and bondage and establishes our sonship (cf. Rom. 8:12–17). This assures our inheritance (cf. 1 Pet. 1:4–5). Here is the NIV which renders the "if" with "since" = "NIV  Galatians 4:7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." (As does the NLT paraphrase)

Now I am not a Greek expert but clearly some passages with a first class conditional can be translated with "Since" -- should every first class condition be translated with "since"? That's another question. I think what can help make that decision is examination of the context, so see if "since" makes sense or is non-sense. See the notes below from Mounce and Wallace...

Here is the note from Greek Expert William Mounce says...source = Basics of Biblical Greek: Grammar

            First class conditional sentences. Also called “conditions of fact.” These sentences are saying that if something is true, and let’s assume for the sake of the argument that it is true, then such and such will occur.

      The apodosis is introduced with εἰ and the verb is in the indicative.

         ■      Most of the time you will translate εἰ as “if.” The protasis is assumed true for the sake of the argument, but you are not sure whether the protasis is in fact accurate. Sometimes it clearly is not.    

           εἰ ἡ δεξιά σου χεὶρ σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔκκοψον αὐτήν (Matt 5:30).

           If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.


           εἰ δὲ ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται (1 Cor 15:13).

           But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

         ■       Sometimes the apodosis is true, and you may want to translate εἰ as “since.”

           εἰ γὰρ πιστεύομεν ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἀπέθανεν καὶ ἀνέστη, οὕτως καὶ ὁ θεὸς τοὺς κοιμηθέντας διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἄξει σὺν αὐτῷ (1 Thess 4:14).

           For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God, through Jesus, will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

         This may be over-translating a bit, saying more than what the sentence actually means, but there are times when using “if” adds an element of uncertainty that is not appropriate to the verse.

ADDENDUM TO MOUNCE'S BOOK NOTE ABOVE - This is a copy of Mounce's article entitled Is it “if” or “since”? -

First class conditional sentences are formed with a protasis (the “if” clause) with εἰ and the indicative (any tense). Their basic meaning is to say that if such-and-such is true (and we will accept the truth of the protasis for the sake of the argument), then such-and-such will occur.

Of course, that does not mean the protasis actually is true. It could be a lie, or it could just not be true. In fact, the second class conditional sentence (“condition contrary to fact” it is also called) is identical in form to the first (except that the verb in the protasis is past time) and the protasis is clearly false. “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (Jn 5:46). They clearly do not believe Moses.

I have often heard it argued that you should translate the εἰ of the protasis as “since” and not “if” since the protasis is assumed to be true. There certainly are verses in which the use of “if” adds an apparent element of question that is not appropriate for what is being said. Satan says, “If you are the Son of God [εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ], tell  this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). There was no question in Satan’s mind who Jesus was.

Wallace argues strongly against this practice, saying that it over-translates εἰ, saying more than εἰ actually says (pp. 692f.). Greek has a word for “since,” you don’t know if the speaker “would actually affirm the truth of the protasis,” and sometimes this construction is used with a rhetorical force that is removed by “since.”

I came across a great example of this latter argument. When you look at 1 Cor 15:12 out of context, it seems a candidate for “since.” “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” There is no question that “Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead,” so why not translate “since Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead”?

But look at the next two verses. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor 15:13). “And if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is groundless, and your faith is to no purpose” (1 Cor 15:14).

Here is a rhetorically powerful triad of confessions that Paul is calling the Corinthians to affirm (even though the second is in reverse).

Is Christ proclaimed as raised from the dead?

Is there a resurrection?

Has Christ been raised?

The use of “if” in this triad calls for an affirmation of faith on the part of the reader, an affirmation that they believe Christ has been raised from the dead, that there is a resurrection, and that Christ has been raised.

“Since” would destroy the rhetorical strength of Paul’s statements.

Daniel Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) has this note...

  Semantic Categories of Conditional Sentences

    1. First Class Condition (Assumed True for Argument’s Sake)

      a. Definition   The first class condition indicates the assumption of truth for the sake of argument. The normal idea, then, is if—and let us assume that this is true for the sake of argument—then… . This class uses the particle εἰ with the indicative (in any tense) in the protasis. In the apodosis, any mood and any tense can occur. This is a frequent conditional clause, occurring about 300 times in the NT.

      b. Amplification

         1) Not “Since”

  There are two views of the first class condition that need to be avoided. First is the error of saying too much about its meaning. The first class condition is popularly taken to mean the condition of reality or the condition of truth. Many have heard this from the pulpit: “In the Greek this condition means since.”

  This is saying too much about the first class condition. For one thing, this view assumes a direct correspondence between language and reality, to the effect that the indicative mood is the mood of fact. For another, this view is demonstrably false for conditional statements: (a) In apparently only 37% of the instances is there a correspondence to reality (to the effect that the condition could be translated since). (b) Further, there are 36 instances of the first class condition in the NT that cannot possibly be translated since. This can be seen especially with two opposed conditional statements. Note the following illustrations.

  Mt 12:27–28 εἰ ἐγὼ ἐν Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν ἐν τίνι ἐκβάλλουσιν; … (28) εἰ δὲ ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ ἐγὼ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, ἄρα ἔφθασεν ἐφ ̓ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? … (28) But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Obviously it is illogical to translate both sentences as since I cast out, because the arguments are opposed to each other. And it would be inconsistent to translate the first participle if and the second since.

1 Cor 15:13 εἰ δὲ ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται

But if there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised.

It is self-evident that the apostle Paul could not mean by the first class condition “since there is no resurrection”!

Cf. also Mt 5:29–30; 17:4; Mt 26:39 with Mt 26:42; John 10:37; 18:23; 1 Cor 9:17; 1Cor 15:14.

MY CONCLUSION - Clearly two Greek authorities disagree about use of "since." one saying yes you can but make sure it makes sense and Wallace saying no you should not translate "If" (1CC) with "since."  But for example look at Col 3:1 - "Therefore if (FIRST CLASS CONDITION) you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." So here's the question - have you been raised up with Christ in this context? Clearly the answer is yes since unbelievers could not obey the command to "keep seeking the things above..." And so it is not surprising that the dynamic paraphrase NIV has "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Col 3:1NIV) Take another example - John 10:37  “ if (FIRST CLASS CONDITION) I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me." To translate that as since would be "non-sense" because did do the works of His Father. And so it is not surprising that none of the Bible versions translate this "if" as "since." 

In sum it seems that context is king and if we cannot be 100% sure, we should stick with the literal Greek word and translate it with "if" and not with "since." 

Greek Conditional Sentences

Conditional sentences are "If ..., then ..." statements. They make a statement that if something happens, then something else will happen. 

The 'if' clause is referred to as the 'protasis' by grammarians. It comes from the Greek words 'pro' (meaning before) and 'stasis' (meaning 'stand'). So the 'protasis' means 'what stands before' or 'comes first' as far as these two clauses are concerned. The 'then' clause is termed the 'apodosis'; it is what 'comes after' the protasis.

Logical Relationship between Protasis and Apodosis

There are a number of different relationships that can exist between the protasis and apodosis. It is important that you try to distinguish between these relationships for sake of more clearly understanding the text. Please also note that there can be some overlap between these three relationships.

They could represent a Cause-Effect relationship, where the action in the protasis will cause the effect in the apodosis. For example Romans 8:13b, "...but if by the spirit you put to death the practices of the body, you will live."

They could show a Evidence-Inference type relationship, where the apodosis is inferred to be true based upon the evidence presented in the protasis. This will often be semantically the converse of the ‘Cause-Effect’ relationship. For example 1 Cor. 15:44, "If there is a soulish body, there is also a spiritual one."

Or, the relationship could be one showing Equivalence between the protasis and apodosis, which is actually a subset of the Evidence-Inference relationship. For example Gal. 2:18, "...if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor."

Classification of Greek Conditional Sentences

Greek has more ability than English in describing the kind of relationship between the protasis, and the apodosis. It is possible for the writer/speaker to indicate whether the protasis is true or not. Actually they can indicate if they are presenting the protasis as 'assumed true (or false) for the sake of argument'. In order to indicate this kind of relationship between the protasis and apodosis, Classical Greek traditional had four kinds of conditional sentences, based upon what tense and mood the verb occurs in and upon some helping words. These are much the same in Koine (Biblical) Greek, with slight variations. 

(Please see link to the chart below for a description of formation and examples of conditional sentence.)

First Class Condition - Is considered the 'Simple Condition' and assumes that the premise (protasis) is true for the sake of argument. The protasis is formed with the helping word ei ('if') with the main verb in the indicative mood, in any tense; with any mood and tense in the apodosis. 

Second Class Condition - Is known as the 'Contrary-to-Fact Condition' and assumes the premise as false for the sake of argument. The protasis is again formed with the helping word ei ('if') and the main verb in the indicative mood. The tense of the verb (in the protasis) must also be in a past-time tense (aorist or imperfect). The apodosis will usually have the particle an as a marking word, showing some contingency.

Third Class Condition - Traditionally known as the 'More Probable Future Condition', the third class condition should actually be split into two different categories, the 'Future More Probable Condition' (indicating either a probable future action or a hypothetical situation) and the 'Present General Condition' (indicating a generic situation or universal truth at the present time). It is formed in the protasis using the word ean (ei plus an = 'if') and a verb in the subjunctive mood. The main verb of the protasis can be in any tense, but if the condition is a 'Present General', the verb must be in the present tense. 

Fourth Class Condition - Is usually called the 'Less Probable Future Condition' and does not have a complete example in the New Testament. The fulfillment of this condition was considered even more remote than the Third Class Condition. It was formed with the helping word ei and the optative mood in the protasis. The apodosis had the helping word an and its verb was also in the optative mood.

Greek Conditional Sentences in the New Testament (Classified by Structural Formation)
Type of Condition Possibility of Being Realized Protasis ("if") 
Conditional Word
Mood Tense Apodosis 
Mood Tense Examples
First Class ‘Simple Condition’ – ‘Presumed True for the Sake of Argument’ *(pp. 690-694) Assumes the reality of premise for the sake of argument, whether actually true or not. ei (negative: ouj) (Not accurate to translate as ‘since’.)           Matt.12:27-28
Luke 4:3
Romans 6:5
Galatians 5:18
Colossians 3:1
Assumes the reality of premise for the sake of argument, whether actually true or not. Assumes the premise as untrue for the sake of argument, whether actually untrue or not. ei
(negative me)

Past tense:

a) Imperft
b) aorist




Past tense:

a) Impf
b) Aorist

a) Present Time:
Luke 7:39
John 5:46

b) Past Time:
Mark 13:20
1 Cor. 2:8

Third Class ‘More Probable Future Condition’ a) ‘Future Likely’ ‘Probable’, or ‘Hypothetical’ Condition b) ‘Present General Condition’ (5th Class Condition) (pp. 696-698) Fulfillment is uncertain, but still likely. a) Specific situation in future time, OR Only hypothetical b) Generic situation in present time ean
(negative me)

a) any tense

b) present

  any mood any tense

a) Future More Probable:
Matt. 4:9
Mark 5:28 Heb 6:3

1 Cor. 13:2

b) Present Gen:
John 11:9
2 Ti 2:5

Fourth Class ‘Less Probable Future Condition’ Only partial formations in NT. (pp. 699-701) Possible fulfillment; “if perhaps this should occur, then …” ei optative present or aorist an optative present or aorist 1 Peter 3:14, 17
Luke 1:62
Acts 17:18

Source (See more explanatory notes).