Cohortative Mood

For those truly interested in understanding certain biblical texts, it may help if you invest a little time in study the concept of “cohortative mood.” While the English language does not utilize it the same as the Hebrew and Greek, we do make implication to such when we utilize the phrase “let’s” or “let us.” Similar to when I get to my shop and say to myself, “Let’s see what tools I need for this project.” Certainly, the use of let’s is a contraction of let us, but that does not mean I am a plurality of beings.

In particular the plurality of ‘us’ may not be taken to infer plurality to the speaker, or even to those spoke to.

It has now been shown in different ways that linguistically there is no justification for inferring from “And said, Let us make…”, that the plurality of ‘us’ extends back to. Rather the Cohortative mood demands that, as the speaker issuing a command, is singular! This is also attested to by the singular Hebrew verb for ‘said’ (And said) and the singular pronouns and singular verbs in subsequent verses, which refer back to of Genesis 1:26.

This should help clarify past confusion resulting from ungrammatical and unbiblical claims that the Hebrew ‘Elohim’ (Strong #430) of Genesis 1:26 is a uniplural or is a collective noun or in some other way points to there existing or not existing more than one Person. In truth nothing may be concluded from Genesis 1:26 regarding the number of Persons! 

The cohortative mood (also known as Intentional; “cohortative subjunctive” is also synonymous with “hortatory subjunctive”) is a grammatical mood, used to express plea, insistence, imploring, self-encouragement, wish, desire, intent, command, purpose, or consequence. It is similar to the jussive mood, with the notable exception that the cohortative appears only in first person, whereas the jussive appears in second or third. Cohortatives are found in several languages, including Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew. In English they are expressed by such verbal auxiliaries as “let” and “should”, yet this is misleading, as it implies a request for confirmation not always intended in the original text.

Cohortative in Biblical Hebrew
While not found in modern Hebrew, the cohortative mood has a significant role in Biblical Hebrew, where it was represented by a lengthened future form; namely adding the vowel ‘ā’ (adding of the letter ה) at the end of an already conjugated verb.

Cohortatives are often found in the Hebrew Bible. One example is found in Genesis 1:26-

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”

The verb “let us make” is problematic, as it is found in plural form, whereas Judaism believes in a single god. One explanation for this is the notion that God consulted the angels which he created earlier. Another explanation, however, is that this verb comes in fact in the cohortative mood, now extinct in Hebrew. (Polytheists and Trinitarian Christians often interpret this passage and others like it as indicating actual plurality in the nature of the God or gods depicted, the cohortative thus being a true first person plural.)

This next site presents a very good and thorough discourse on cohortative mood.

End note # – Explanation of Cohortative Verb Mood

The reader needs to be first familiar with the grammatical terms: 1st person, 2nd person and 3rd person. The 1st person refers to the speaker(s) (I, we). The 2nd person refers to the person(s) spoken to (you singular, you plural) by the 1st person. And the 3rd person refers to the person(s) spoken about (him, her, it, and them) by the 1st person to the 2nd person. As an example: I (1st person) tell you (2nd person.) that he (3rd person) is tall.

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd person may be singular (I, you, he) or plural (we, you, they). The 1st person can only speak to the 2nd person. In particular the 1st person cannot speak to the 3rd person: but can only speak about the 3rd person to the 2nd person. This last point is important for understanding the Jussive command mood. The 1st person can speak to the 1st person singular, namely, when he speaks to himself. But when the 1stperson speaks to the 1st person plural, he addresses himself and the one(s) with him. This last point is important for understanding the Cohortative mood.

There are three verbal moods for expressing commands or strongly held wishes or intentions. The Imperative mood is the most commonly-used of the three command moods. All three command moods are used by the 1st person (speaker); but he may address them: (a) to the 1st person by using the Cohortative mood; or (b) to the 2nd person by using the Imperative mood; and   to the 3rd person(s) by using the Jussive mood.

The Imperative mood is usually used by a superior to a subordinate; as in: “Stand,” and “Present arms!” In the Jussive mood the 1st person gives a command for the 3rd person to the 2nd person; as in: “Don’t let him go!” and “Make him stay!” Note that grammatically it is impossible for the 1st person to address directly the 3rd person; because the 3rd person is the one spoken about to the 2nd person.

In the Cohortative mood the 1st person commands the 1st person singular or plural. When the 1st person commands the 1st person singular, the command is to self, as in I shall guard. But when the 1st person commands the 1st person plural, the commands (1) himself and (2) the one(s) with him, as in “Let us make. . .” For this last case note in particular that the subject is singular. That is the plurality of the ones commanded (us) does not transfer backwards to the subject. This point is generally overlooked by commentators to Genesis 1:26, “And God (singular) said, Let us (plural) make man in our image.”

Note that the English Jussive and Cohortative moods require auxiliary verbs (e.g. shall, make and let). Also that in neither the Imperative, nor the Jussive mood, nor the Cohortative mood a subject (speaker) is expressed. So these commands are usually brief, as in: “Sit! Don’t let him go!” and “Let us make.” The Subject is simply understood.

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