Monday, August 30, 2004
- Reply at 15562: (Jason BeDuhn [Thu Sep 2, 2004 4:48 pm] (Re: John 8:58 - Rob #6: The PPA and Adverbial Phrases))
- Up to Rob #7
- Down to Rob #5
In this post, I will begin commenting on the question of EIMI in John 8:58 as a present of past action in progress (PPA). I will start by reviewing what Greek grammar textbooks say about the PPA, surveying all of the NT texts cited as examples of the PPA and then addressing the issue of the role of adverbial phrases in the PPA. See the end of this post for a bibliography of Greek grammar textbooks cited. References are to page numbers rather than sections unless otherwise indicated.
I. SURVEY OF GREEK GRAMMARS ON THE PPA
A. What the Greek Grammars Say about the PPA
Let me begin by setting out what Greek grammars say about the PPA.
- Winer (334): “Sometimes the present tense includes a preterite…, viz., when the verb indicates a state which commenced at an earlier period but still continues,--a state in its continuance.”
- Goodwin (9): “The present is often used with expressions denoting past time, especially PALAI, in the sense of a perfect and a present combined.”
- Jannaris (434): “It often stands with adverbial expressions denoting past time, such as PALAI ‘long since,’ ARTI or ARTIWS ‘just (now),’ where in English the progressive present would seem to be required (_I have long been looking_).”
(10): “*The Present of past Action still in Progress.* The Present Indicative, accompanied by an adverbial expression denoting duration and referring to past time, is sometimes used in Greek, as in German, to describe an action which, beginning in past time, is still in progress at the time of speaking. English idiom requires the use of the Perfect in such cases…. This Present is almost always incorrectly rendered in the R. V.” Burton
- Robertson (879): “_The Progressive Present_. This is a poor name in lieu of a better one for the present of past action still in progress. Usually an adverb of time (or adjunct) accompanies the verb…. Often it has to be translated into English by a sort of ‘progressive perfect’ (‘have been’), though, of course, that is the fault of the English.”
- Dana and Mantey (183): “Sometimes the progressive present is retroactive in its application, denoting that which has begun in the past and continues into the present. For the want of a better name, we may call it the present of _duration_. This use is generally associated with an adverb of time, and may best be rendered by the English perfect.”
- Smyth (422): “*Present of Past and Present Combined.*--The present, when accompanied by a definite or indefinite expression of past time, is used to express an action begun in the past and continued in the present. The ‘progressive perfect’ is often used in translation.”
- BDF (168): “The pres[ent] is not perfective in those cases where the duration or repetition of an act up to and including the present is to be designated (a temporal expression indicates the intended period of the past).”
- Turner (62): “The Present which indicates the continuance of an action during the past and up to the moment of speaking is virtually the same as Perfective, the only difference being that the action is conceived as still in progress (
, [sect.] 17).” Burton
- Brooks and Winbery (77): “Durative Present. Some grammarians call this the progressive present. An action or a state of being which began in the past is described as continuing until the present. The past and the present are gathered up in a single affirmation. An adverb of time is often used with this kind of present, but a verb alone is sometimes sufficient as in the final example given below [2 Cor. 12:9]. This use of the Greek present is usually translated by the English present perfect. Although impractical to bring out in English translation, the full meaning is that something has been and still is.”
- Greenlee (49): “Past action continuing into the present (requires a specific phrase expressing the past aspect).”
- Fanning (217-18): “Far more specialized than the customary or gnomic presents but sharing the same broad frame of reference is the use of the present indicative to denote a situation which began in the past and continues in the present. This is more specialized because it always includes an _adverbial phrase_ or other time-indication with the present verb to signal the past-time meaning. However, it is otherwise like the customary or gnomic in sense…. It is unlike the other uses in that it _explicitly_ includes a period of the past during which the situation continued as well…. Because of the past-time indication, the idiomatic translation is an English present perfect, and not a simple or progressive present…. There seems to be no shorthand term which serves well this category…. But most grammars are content to use some form of the lengthy description ‘past action still in progress’ without a shorthand title, and this seems the most accurate approach.”
- Young (111): “A present tense form is called durative when the context conveys an action that began in the past and continues into the present. The time element is often explicit in the context…. English translations will therefore employ the present perfect.”
- McKay (41, 42): “Extension from Past. When used with an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implications (but not in past narrative, for which see 4.2.5), the present tense signals an activity begun in the past and continuing to the present time:… This is a form of the continual realization of the imperfective aspect, and similar uses are found with the imperfect tense and with imperfective participles….”
- Wallace (519): “Extending-from-Past Present (Present of Past Action Still in Progress). 1. Definition. The present tense may be used to describe an action which, begun in the past, continues in the present. The emphasis is on the present time…. It is different from the progressive present in that it reaches back in time and usually has some sort of temporal indicator, such as an adverbial phrase, to show this past-referring element. Depending on how tightly one defines this category, it is either relatively rare or fairly common.”
B. Analysis of What the Greek Grammars Say about the PPA
Some summary observations are in order.
First, almost all of these grammars note that the action or state that the verb expresses is “still in progress at the time of speaking” (
Second, most of these grammars state that an adverbial expression modifies the present-tense verb. These are described as “expressions denoting past time” (Goodwin), “adverbial expressions denoting past time” (Jannaris), “an adverbial expression denoting duration and referring to past time” (Burton), “an adverb of time (or adjunct)” (Robertson), “an adverb of time” (Dana and Mantey; Brooks and Winbery), “a definite or indefinite expression of past time” (Smyth), “a temporal expression [that] indicates the intended period of the past” (BDF), “a specific phrase expressing the past aspect” (Greenlee), “an adverbial phrase or other time-indication” (Fanning), “an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implications” (McKay), and “some sort of temporal indicator, such as an adverbial phrase” (Wallace). Of those who offer any description of the PPA beyond a title, only Winer, Turner, and Young fail to mention this temporal adverbial expression.
Third, we should note the somewhat varying assessments that these grammars give as to how often these adverbials accompany a PPA verb. Goodwin, Jannaris,
In short, eight grammars (Goodwin, Jannaris,
Finally, by an “adverbial expression” of past time most of these grammars evidently mean an adverb or adverbial phrase. Three mention “an adverb of time” and two (Fanning and Wallace) mention “an adverbial phrase.” Robertson says “an adverb of time (or adjunct).” Here “adjunct” evidently means a phrase or group of words that are not strictly necessary for the sentence or clause to be complete. Most of the examples that the grammars cite, as we will see, have such adjuncts or adverbial phrases. The only grammars that evidently include whole clauses are BDF and McKay (and only because they count John as a PPA).
II. SURVEY OF NT EXAMPLES OF THE PPA CITED IN GREEK GRAMMARS
At this point, I will quote the relevant portions of the NT texts that NT Greek grammars have cited as examples of the PPA, including John 8:58 for now. I am listing every example that I have seen listed in the grammars, regardless of whether I agree that the verb is a PPA. The verbs that these grammars identify as PPAs are marked with asterisks; the Greek words of the (real or alleged) qualifying adverbial expressions, as well as some of the verbs, are in all capitals. Following each verse, I have placed in brackets the references in the grammars supporting each, and any dissenting comments.
A. The PPA Example Texts Cited in the Grammars
“Look, your father and I have been searching* (EZHTOUMEN; alt., ZHTOUMEN) with great anxiety (ODUNWMENOI) for you” (Luke ). [Turner, 62; Moule, 8; Robertson, 879, says “descriptive present”]
“Look, for three years (TRIA ETH AF’ hOU) I have been coming* searching for* fruit” (Luke 13:7). [
“Look, all these years (TOSAUTA ETH) I have been serving* you” (Luke ). [
“Jesus, seeing him lying there, and knowing that he had been* (ECEI) that way a long time already (POLUN HDH CRONON)…” (John 5:6). [Jannaris sect. 1834;
“Before Abraham came into existence (PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI), I am*” (John ). [Winer, 334 (who says to compare Jer. 1:5; Ps. 89:2 LXX); BDF, 168; Turner, 62; McKay, 42; Robertson, 880, says EIMI is “really absolute”; Wallace, 531 n. 46, says this is not “convincing”]
“I have been* (EIMI) with you so long a time (TOSOUTWi CRONWi MEQ’ hUMWN)” (John 14:9). [Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Young, 111; Greenlee, 49; Fanning, 217; McKay, 41]
“And you testify, because you have been* (EIMI) with me from the beginning (AP’ ARCHS MET’ EMOU)” (John ). [Winer, 334; BDF, 168; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Dana & Mantey, 183 (but cf. 186, “static present”); Brooks and Winbery, 77; Fanning, 218; Young, 111]
“For Moses has had* (ECEI) from ancient generations (EK GENEWN ARCAIWN) in every city those who preach him” (Acts ). [
“This man has been doing (PRASSEI) nothing worthy of death or imprisonment” (Acts 26:31). [BDF, 168, “without temporal designation (referring to Paul’s whole way of life, especially his Christianity)”; Turner, 62, who says “his manner of life still continues”; but cf. Winer, 334, “the reference is not to Paul’s previous life, but to his conduct generally, _this man…does nothing bad_.”]
“You are going* a fourteenth day today (TESSARESKAIDEKATHN SHMERON hHMERAN) without food, living in suspense, and have eaten nothing” (Acts 27:33). [Fanning, 218; Wallace, 520]
“Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain* until now (hEWS ARTI), though some have died” (1 Cor. 15:6). [Wallace, 520, says this is a “possible” instance]
“My grace is sufficient (ARKEI) for you, for power is perfected (TELEITAI) in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). [Dana & Mantey, 183 (could be misprint for ); Brooks and Winbery, 77; Robertson, 879, says “descriptive present”; Fanning, 217 n. 30, says these verbs “are better understood as gnomic presents”]
“Have you been thinking* all this time (PALAI) that we have been defending* ourselves to you?” (2 Cor. 12:19). [BDF, 168; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62]
“…and that from childhood (APO BREFOUS) you have known* (OIDA) the sacred writings…” (2 Tim. 3:15). [
“For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have remained* the same from the beginning of creation (AP’ ARCHS KTISEWS)” (2 Pet. 3:4). [Winer, 334; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Fanning, 218; but Dana & Mantey, 186, call it “static present”]
“The one saying he is in the light and yet hating his brother is* (ESTIN) in the darkness up to now (hEWS ARTI)” (1 John 2:9). [Robertson, 879; Turner, 62]
“…the devil has been sinning* from the beginning (AP’ ARCHS)” (1 John 3:8). [Winer, 334; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Fanning, 218; Young, 111; but Dana & Mantey, 186, call it “static present”]
B. Why These Grammars Omit John 2:9 and Similar Texts
I need to make one comment about this list, before proceeding further. In your first post, Jason, you wrote:
“A PPA verb does not even need such a modifying clause, for example in Luke 2:48 listed by Rob, or John 2:9 not included in his list (and there are many others).”
I will comment on Luke 2:48 later. However, regarding John 2:9 (not to be confused with 1 John 2:9), I should point out that Winer (335) expressly excludes from the PPA texts using the present tense in place of a past tense where this is the result of mixing direct and indirect discourse. The lead example Winer gives is John 2:9, though he lists quite a number of other examples. Likewise, Robertson in his comment on this verse in _Word Pictures in the New Testament_ states that POQEN ESTIN expresses an “indirect question retaining present indicative.” Moreover, I have not found a single grammar that lists John 2:9 in this category. I will therefore follow Winer here and exclude 1 John 2:9 and other texts fitting this category from the list of possible PPAs.
B. Undisputed Examples of the PPA
The grammars in the survey above list 17 NT references as examples of the PPA. Of these, 11 are uncontested (Luke 13:7; ; John 5:6; 14:9; ; Acts ; 27:33; 1 Cor. 15:6 [which one writer, Wallace, lists as “possible”]; 2 Cor. 12:19; 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 John 2:9). In each of these 11 uncontested examples of the PPA, the present-tense main verb is modified by a temporal adverb or adverbial phrase:
“for three years” (Luke 13:7)
“so many years” (Luke )
“a long time” (John 5:6)
“so long a time” (John 14:9)
“from the beginning” (John )
“from ancient generations” (Acts )
“a fourteenth day today” (Acts 27:33)
“until now” (1 Cor. 15:6)
“all this time” (2 Cor. )
“from infancy” (2 Tim. )
“up to right now” (1 John 2:9)
Two of the contested examples also have such an adverbial phrase:
“from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4)
“from the beginning” (1 John 3:8)
Dana and Mantey classify these two texts as “static presents,” but it is difficult to see why. If we include these two texts, as we probably should, 13 of the 17 texts listed in the grammars as examples of the PPA have such a temporal adverb or adverbial phrase modifying the main verb. Of these 13 texts, 11 are undisputed examples.
C. Disputed Examples (Excluding John for Now)
Of the remaining 3 example texts that are disputed (excluding John for now), *none* of them has a temporal adverb or adverbial phrase modifying the main verb (Luke ; John ; Acts 26:31; 2 Cor. 12:9). In other words, of the 16 examples besides John 8:58 listed in the grammars, 13 have temporal adverbials and are almost always acknowledged as PPAs, whereas the other 3 that do not have a temporal adverbial are all disputed as examples of the PPA. These data, at the very least, support the position that where a temporal adverbial word or phrase is lacking, the burden of proof is on the one who would argue that the present-tense verb is a PPA.
For a simple overview of how the grammars line up on these 17 texts, see the short paper “Greek Grammars and the PPA,” located in the Files section of this discussion group:
Let’s look at the other three disputed examples of the PPA.
1. Luke 2:48
Two grammars (those by Turner and Moule) classified the present tense verb ZHTOUMEN as a PPA. As noted above, though, A. T. Robertson classified ZHTOUMEN in Luke 2:48 under the heading “descriptive present” rather than a PPA (p. 879). The descriptive present expresses a “durative action” in “present time.” There is a very good reason to dispute Turner and Moule’s classification of ZHTOUMEN: The action clearly is not still in progress at the time of speaking. Mary and Joseph have found Jesus, and after finding him, Mary makes this statement. For this reason alone, we should not classify the verb as a PPA.
We could translate Mary’s statement as follows: “Your father and I are going crazy looking for you!” As I pointed out in _Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John_, Mary’s statement is an emotional outburst, so the above translation probably captures the sense and tone of her statement quite accurately.
In addition, I should note that the preferred reading is EZHTOUMEN, which is imperfect, not present tense. The NA and UBS texts accept this reading; my 4th edition of the UBSGNT does not even mention the present-tense form as an alternate reading. (The Westcott-Hort text did have ZHTOUMEN.) In his _Word Pictures in the New Testament_, Robertson accepts the reading EZHTOUMEN: “Imperfect tense describing the long drawn out search for three days.”
Given the dubious textual basis for the present-tense reading, the fact that the action of the verb is not still in progress at the time of speaking, the sense of Mary’s statement as a whole, and the lack of any temporal adverbial expression, it is best not to count Luke 2:48 as an instance of the PPA.
2. Acts 26:31
As noted previously, two grammars classify Acts 26:31 as a PPA. BDF states here that the verb appears “without temporal designation (referring to Paul’s whole way of life, especially his Christianity)” (p. 168). The reference in BDF to the lack of a “temporal designation” is an acknowledgment that such a temporal expression is at least customary with the PPA. Turner also classifies Acts 26:31 as a PPA, saying, “his manner of life still continues” (p. 62). However, Winer comments: “the reference is not to Paul’s previous life, but to his conduct generally, _this man…does nothing bad_” (p. 334). In other words, Winer actually describes the verb as what Robertson calls a descriptive present or, perhaps somewhat more precisely, what Wallace calls a customary or general present (Wallace, 521-22). The actual explanation of the statement offered in BDF also agrees with this classification. Therefore, I conclude that Acts 26:31 is not a reliable example of the PPA.
3. Second Corinthians 12:9
“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient [ARKEI] for you, for power is perfected [TELEITAI] in weakness.’” (NASB) Brooks and Winbery clearly think this is an example of the PPA. Dana and Mantey also give this reference, although it is just possible that they meant 2 Corinthians 12:19, an undisputed example of the PPA. Robertson classifies 2 Corinthians 12:9 as another “descriptive present.” Fanning states that the two verbs “are better understood as gnomic presents.” Wallace says that this example “is debatable.”
An exegesis of the text leads me to conclude that the two verbs in 2 Corinthians 12:19 are not valid examples of the PPA. Most English translations render the first verb, ARKEI, in the simple present tense, “is sufficient.” Nothing in the context suggests that we should construe this verb as a PPA, which would then mean something like, “My grace has been and continues to be sufficient for you.” The problem with such a rendering is not that it is impossible but that it is overreaching, unwarranted, and inferior to a much better interpretation. The most likely force of the verb in this context is, as Fanning notes, *gnomic*—that is, expressing a general principle or maxim. This is a common use of the present (see, e.g., Wallace, 523-25). In this instance, the text is saying that the grace of Christ is always sufficient for Paul (and for us). A more dynamic translation might be, “My grace is all you need” (e.g., the NLT has “My gracious favor is all you need”). Christ is not making an historical observation about the sufficiency of his grace for Paul in the past up to the point of his speaking; he is stating a principle on which Paul is to maintain his faith or confidence in Christ despite his suffering.
The second verb, TELEITAI, is a present passive form, and thus literally translated “is perfected” or “is made perfect.” To construe it to be a PPA would mean understanding it to mean something like “has been and is continuing to be perfected.” Such an interpretation, again, would err by turning Christ’s statement from a statement of principle into a historical assertion. What Christ was telling Paul was that Christ most completely expresses his power in our lives when we are at our weakest. We should therefore construe this verb also as gnomic.
I conclude, then, that 2 Corinthians 12:9 is almost certainly not a valid example of the PPA.
D. Review of Undisputed and Disputed Examples
What do we have, then? We have 13 undisputed or reasonably clear examples of the PPA in the NT, all of which have a temporal adverb or adverbial phrase modifying the present-tense verb. Three other disputed examples of the PPA, each of which is classified as a PPA by only two grammar textbooks, lack such a temporal adverbial, and each of them can be just as well explained, and even better explained, as something other than a PPA.
This leaves us with John 8:58, another disputed example, which does not have a temporal adverbial word or phrase modifying the verb. Rather, it has a temporal subordinate clause with its own verb, PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI. Might it be that a temporal subordinate clause can create the conditions under which a present-tense verb functions as a PPA? The best way to answer this question is to compare John 8:58 to other texts in which we find the same pattern. I will do this in my next post.
Here are the grammars I include in this survey (listed in chronological order):
Winer, G. B. _A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek_, trans. W. F. Moulton. 3d rev. ed.; 9th
Goodwin, William Watson. _Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb_.
Jannaris, A. N. _An Historical Greek Grammar Chiefly of the Attic Dialect_.
Robertson, A. T. _A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research_. Rev. ed.
Dana, H. E., and Julius R. Mantey. _A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament_. Prentice-Hall, 1957.
Smyth, Herbert Weir. _Greek Grammar_. Rev. by Gordon M. Messing.
Moule, C. F. D. _An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek_. 2d ed.
Blass, F., and A. Debrunner. _A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature_, trans. Robert W. Funk.
Turner, Nigel. _Syntax_. Volume III, _A Grammar of New Testament Greek_, by James Hope Moulton.
Brooks, James A., and
Greenlee, J. Harold. _A Concise Exegetical Grammar of New Testament Greek_. 5th rev. ed.
Fanning, Buist M. _Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek_.
Young, Richard A. _Intermediate New Testament Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach_.
McKay, K. L. _A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek_.
Wallace, Daniel B. _Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament_.
In Christ's service,
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
- Response at 15584: Jason BeDuhn [Wed Sep 8, 2004 11:55 am] (Re: John 8:58 - Rob #7: The PPA and Temporal Clauses with PRIN or PRO)
- Up to Rob #8
- Down to Rob #6
In this post I will comment on texts that more closely parallel John 8:58 grammatically than the PPA texts. In the texts surveyed here, the main clause has a present indicative verb and is qualified by a subordinate clause with an aorist infinitive introduced by PRIN, PRIN H, or PRO TOU. I will first consider all of the biblical texts in this category, and I will then address the two extrabiblical examples you cited.
I. BIBLICAL TEXTS
In my research, I have found eleven texts in the canonical books of the Bible that parallel the grammar and syntax of John 8:58 (LXX: Ex. 1:19; Deut. 31:21; Job 8:12; Ps. 89:2 [90:2 Eng.]; Prov. 8:25; 18:13; Is. 46:10; Jer. 1:5; Mal. 3:22 [4:5 Eng.]; NT: Matt. 6:8; 13:19).
It turns out that not one of these eleven biblical texts is a PPA. In all of them, the main verb expresses an action, event, or state of being antecedent to the point in time specified in the PRIN/PRO clause. If that main verb denotes an action or state of being that continues after the point in time specified in the PRIN/PRO clause, it does so timelessly or eternally.
These eleven texts, I hasten to make clear, do not all use the present tense verb in the same way as John 8:58. In some of them, the verb is an iterative present (Ex. 1:19 LXX; probably Is. 46:10 LXX). One is a customary present (Job LXX), another is a gnomic present (Prov. ), another is a futuristic present (Mal. LXX), and another is a conative or tendential present (John ). The other five, in my estimation, are all instances of an unusual use of the present that I call the eternal present (Deut. 31:21 LXX; Ps. 89:2; LXX; Prov. 8:25 LXX; Jer. 1:5; Matt. 6:8). I expect you to challenge my judgment as to what use of the present each of these texts exhibits here or there. However, I think the evidence shows that *none* of these texts as a PPA.
Let’s look at each of these texts in canonical order. For details on the different uses of the present tense, see almost any standard Greek grammar; I have used terms found in Wallace’s _Greek Grammar beyond the Basics_, 513-39.
“…for they give birth [TIKTOUSIN] before [PRIN H] the midwives get [EISELQEIN, aorist infinitive] to them.”
Here TIKTOUSIN is probably to be construed as an *iterative present*. The speaker is saying that repeatedly the Hebrew women (of that general period) give birth before the midwives can arrive to assist.
Deut. 31:21 LXX:
“…for I know [OIDA, perfect indicative used as present] their wickedness which they do [POIOUSIN, present indicative] here this day, before [PRO TOU] I have brought [EISAGAGEIN, aorist infinitive] them….”
Of the standard classifications of uses of the present, the only one that comes close is the *gnomic present*, which expresses “a general, timeless fact” (Wallace, _Greek Grammar beyond the Basics_, 523). However, the gnomic present does not relate its timeless truth to a specific event in the past, and need not be durative. We seem to have here either an unusual subcategory of the gnomic present or a different category of use. It expresses a state of affairs that is timelessly true, that is, a state that has always been true, even before a particular event of the past to which that state of affairs is related. The sense is that God simply and always knows what wickedness these (and other) people will do, even before they do it. I will call this unusual usage the *eternal present*.
“…does not any herb wither [XHPAINETAI, present passive indicative] before [PRO TOU] it has received moisture [PIEIN, aorist infinitive]?”
The question in context appears to express rhetorically (and hyperbolically) a recurring situation of concern, in which case the verb is to be construed as a *customary present*. Job is complaining that life is bad—even herbs with their roots are drying up before they can get water.
Psalm 89:2 LXX (90:2
“Before [PRO TOU; in some mss., PRIN] the mountains were brought into existence [GENHQHNAI, aorist infinitive] and the earth and the world were formed [PLASQHNAI, aorist infinitive], even from everlasting to everlasting [APO TOU AIWNOS hEWS TOU AIWNOS], you are [SU EI, the second-person equivalent of EGW EIMI].”
This is one of the two LXX texts that Winer compared John 8:58. The present indicative EI here is clearly an *eternal present*. The phrase “even from everlasting to everlasting” makes this connotation rather explicit. Note the progression in the text:
Before the mountains were brought into existence,
And the earth and the world were formed,
Even from everlasting to everlasting,
Each successive clause or phrase widens the temporal scope of God’s existence, from the rise of the mountains to the antecedent formation of the earth and the world to the omnitemporal passing of the ages. This progression eliminates any supposed ambiguity as to whether “from the age to the age” expresses omnitemporal (everlasting) existence. It also proves that the climactic present tense verb EI expresses some kind of transtemporal existence: God is literally “ageless.” It is a mistake to circumscribe the temporal force of EI to that typical of the PPA, a state continuing from the past into the present, since to limit it in this way would ignore the literary feature of the poetic progression and would not take into account the future-oriented hEWS TOU AIWNOS.
However, the verb EI is qualified not only by that phrase but also by the subordinate PRO/PRIN clause. The force of EI is the same in relation to both that subordinate clause and the shorter adverbial phrase. Thus, this text illustrates the fact that the present indicative qualified by such a PRO/PRIN + aorist infinitive clause can be construed as an everlasting present.
“…before [PRO TOU] the mountains were settled [EDRASQHNAI, aorist infinitive passive], and before [PRO] all hills, he begets [GENNAi, present indicative] me.”
Given the highly controversial status of this text (as part of Proverbs -31), agreement on the significance of the present tense here may be difficult to reach. Since wisdom’s “begetting” by the Lord cannot be a repeated or temporally ongoing event, we may set aside the iterative, customary, and PPA uses of the present. Since the begetting does not take place at the time of writing, we must eliminate the “punctiliar” and descriptive presents. The conative (“about to be”) and futuristic (“will be”) uses are clearly out. Again, this isn’t a “timeless truth” in the sense of a maxim or general principle. This leaves the historical present and the eternal present. If GENNAi is an historical present, it is a highly unusual one in many respects, though I am not sure that it can be ruled out absolutely. (The odds of an historical present in a translation of a bit of Hebrew poetry would seem to be extremely minute.) The eternal present has some merit to it, especially if verse 23 is understood (as I think it should) to be saying that wisdom was established before time (PRO TOU AIWNOS). In addition, the similarity between this text and Psalm 89:2 LXX supports the *eternal present* view. The main evidence against this reading of the Greek is the use of EKTISEN (“made”) in verse 22. It seems that any way we construe the verb GENNAi will have to recognize its use as part of a highly poetic passage.
“He who answers [APOKRINETAI, present indicative middle] a matter before [PRIN] hearing it [AKOUSAI, aorist infinitive]….”
This is clearly a *gnomic present*. The sense is that giving an answer before one clearly hears and understands the question results in one’s embarrassment. The proverb asserts this observation as a general, timeless truth (typical of proverbs).
Isaiah 46:10 LXX:
“…declaring [ANANGELLWN, present active participle] beforehand the last things before [PRIN] they come to be [GENESQAI, aorist infinitive]….”
Although ANANGELLWN is a participle rather than an indicative, the grammar appears to be sufficiently akin to the other examples to warrant including this text on the list. The present participle may be construed either as an iterative present (the Lord repeatedly announces through his prophets beforehand what will happen before it does) or as an eternal present (the Lord decrees from everlasting what will happen before it does). In my estimation, the *iterative present* is somewhat more likely here.
Jeremiah 1:5 LXX:
“Before [PRO TOU] I formed [PLASAI, aorist infinitive] you in the womb, I know [EPISTAMAI, present indicative] you; and before [PRO TOU] you came [EXELQEIN, aorist infinitive] from your mother’s womb, I consecrated [hEGIAKA, perfect indicative] you; I appointed [TEQEIKA, perfect indicative] you as a prophet to the nations.”
This is the other LXX text that Winer compared to John 8:58. In view of the perfect tense verbs “consecrated” and “appointed” that parallel the first line, it would be a mistake to translate that first line “I have been knowing you since before I formed you in the womb” (as if EPISTAMAI were a PPA). The sense of the whole statement is that God has *always* known what he planned for Jeremiah to do. His consecration or appointment was not a contingency choice but God’s intention for him all along. Thus, the best classification of EPISTAMAI in this context is the *eternal present*.
Malachi LXX (; 4:5
“And behold, I am sending [APOSTELLW, present indicative] to you Elijah the prophet before [PRIN] the great and terrible day of the Lord comes [ELQEIN, aorist infinitive].”
This is actually a *futuristic present*; the sense is that God will send this Elijah figure before the eschatological day of the Lord.
“…for your Father knows [OIDEN, perfect indicative with present meaning] what you need before [PRO TOU] you ask [AITHSAI, aorist infinitive] Him.”
Since the asking can occur at any time, the verb “knows” (OIDEN) can be construed as a *general present* (whenever you ask, it is the case that God already knows). On the other hand, since the point of the text is that God already knows what one needs whether or not one asks, it seems likely that this is another *eternal present*.
“From now on [AP’ ARTI] I am telling [LEGW, present indicative] you before [PRO TOU] it comes to be [GENESQAI]….”
Thematically this statement recalls Isaiah 46:10 (see above) and similar statements in Isaiah. Grammatically, LEGW appears to be a kind of conative present, more specifically the *tendential present* (Wallace, _Greek Grammar beyond the Basics_, 533-34). The sense of the text is, “I am going to start telling you right now, before it happens….”
To review so far: The evidence shows that none of these 11 biblical texts is a PPA. The only ones ever classified as a PPA, to my knowledge, are Psalm 90:2 and Jeremiah 1:5. However, I have shown that we should classify both of those texts as examples of the eternal present. In any case, at the very least, one can no longer argue that texts following this grammatical pattern *must* be assigned the category PPA. Beyond any reasonable doubt, nine of the eleven texts simply cannot be PPAs. Therefore, we now know that it is quite possible that John is not a PPA—and I would argue that the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that it is not.
II. EXTRABIBLICAL EXAMPLES
In your opening post, you cited two extrabiblical texts that you said showed that EIMI qualified by a subordinate clause using PRIN “often has a past meaning.” Let us look at those two texts.
In Menander’s play _Dyscolos_ 615-16, Sostratos says to Gorgias:
EIMI GAR AKRIBWS ISQI SOI PALAI FILOS PRIN IDEIN
I am for fully be (imp.) to you a long time friend before to see (aor.)
We may translate these lines as follows:
“For I have been—be fully [sure]—a friend of yours a long time, [even] before I saw you.”
I agree that EIMI is a PPA here. However, what qualifies it as a PPA is not the subordinate clause PRIN IDEIN but the adverb of time PALAI. This particular adverb is often associated with the PPA (as in 2 Cor. ), especially in older, classical Greek literature (William Watson Goodwin, _Greek Grammar_, rev. Charles Burton Gulick [Waltham, Mass.: Blaisdell, 1958], 268; Herbert Weir Smyth, _Greek Grammar_, rev. Gordon M. Messing [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959], 423).
In the Testament of Job, Job says:
EGW GAR EIMI IWBAB PRIN H ONOMASAI ME hO KURIOS IWB
I for am Iobab before to name me the Lord Job
We may translate this statement as follows:
“For I was Jobab before the Lord named me Job.”
Whatever the verb EIMI is here, it is not a PPA. In a PPA, as I showed in my previous post, the state or action of the verb continues from the past into the present. But Job is not saying that he has continued to be Jobab even after the Lord named him Job. Rather, Job is saying that he used to go by the name Jobab before the Lord named him Job. The next sentence makes this clear: “When I used to be called (EKALOUMHN, imperfect participle) Jobab…” (see also ).
This is the third statement in a short space in which Job begins with the words, EGW GAR EIMI (“for I am…”):
“For I am your father Job” (1:5).
“For I am of the sons of Esau the brother of Jacob” (1:6).
“For I am Jobab before the Lord named me Job” (2:1).
There are different ways of interpreting this evidence. It is possible that the Greek version represented here assimilated the opening words of 2:1 to the previous affirmations. Possible support for this suggestion comes from the textual variants for this verse. Another version reads, “I was [EIMHN, a variant form of the imperfect HMHN] a very rich man living in the East in the land of Uz, and before the Lord called me Job, I was called (EKALOUMHN, imperfect tense) Jobab.” It is difficult even to be certain whether the book was originally written in Greek (many scholars now think so). The extant manuscripts include four medieval Greek manuscripts, an Old Slavonic version, and an incomplete Coptic text. The variants may thus be explained either as the result of the assimilation just suggested or as the product of different translations from a different language.
If we accept EGW GAR EIMI IWBAB in 2:1 as correct, one possible classification of the verb EIMI is that of historical present. This verse does begin Job’s “story” proper, and so an historical present would not be out of place contextually. On the other hand, the use of EIMI as an historical present would be unusual. It would be helpful to know whether the Testament of Job uses historical presents elsewhere; unfortunately, I have not had the time to investigate this question.
However we understand Testament of Job 2:1, though, it cannot be a PPA.
Finally, I should point out that in neither of these texts is the verb EIMI absolute. That is, in both texts a complement follows EIMI: “For I have been…A FRIEND”; “For I was JOBAB.” The only examples I have seen so far of sentences in which the main verb is EIMI with no complement expressed and that has a subordinate clause of the type PRIN or PRO plus an aorist infinitive are Psalm 89:2 LXX and John 8:58. These two texts are also similar in their use of the emphatic pronoun (SU or EGW, the emphatic and even dramatic position of SU EI or EGW EIMI at the end of the sentence, and the use of the same verb in the subordinate PRIN clause (GENEQHNAI is simply the passive form of GENESQAI).
The whole matter of whether EIMI is “absolute” and whether the text expresses or implies a complement deserves separate treatment. I will deal with this topic in a separate post.
In Christ's service,
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
- In Response to 15534: Robert Bowman [Mon Aug 23, 2004 10:08 pm] (Update on John 8:58 discussion)
That's a-okay, Rob. I do have a few other things to do, so we can pick up again whenever you are ready. Hope you feel better soon.
Monday, August 23, 2004
- In Response to 15540: Jason BeDuhn [Tue Aug 24, 2004 3:17 pm] (Re: Update on John 8:58 discussion)
In Christ's service,
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
Friday, August 20, 2004
- In Response to 15521: Robert Bowman [Wed Aug 18, 2004 10:22 pm] (John 8:58 - Rob #5: Word order (cont.))
- Up to Jason #6A
- Down to Jason #5
In your last message (#5), you asked me to comment on Psalm 89:2 (LXX). In a previous post, you had offered this verse as an example of an English sentence in which an adverbial clause preceded a main clause that employed the verb "to be." This is Psalm 90:2 in English Bibles. The NIV translation is: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." I pointed out that this provides no parallel to John 8:58 because the main clause is a complete copulative clause, "You are God," and so the adverbial clause is an adjunct, not a complement to the verb. One should also note that the Psalms are poetry, not prose.
Now you have asked me to comment on the Greek of this verse, as found in the Septuagint (LXX). Of course, the English verse is not a translation of the Greek of the LXX; it is a translation from the Hebrew, which reads substantially as the NIV has it. The Greek differs. I give it in the transliteration used on this site, along with an interlinear (lexical) rendering of each word:
PRO TOU ORH GENHQHNAI
before the mountain came to be
KAI PLASQHNAI THN GHN KAI THN OIKOUMENHN
and was formed the earth and the world
KAI APO TOU AIWNOS EWS TOU AIWNOS
and from the age until the age
You have asked me how I would translate this verse. If we remove the second adverbial modifier (the APO phrase), and keep only the first adverbial modifier (the PRO clause) with the main clause, this would clearly have to be translated:
"You have been before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed." or better "You have existed before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed."
The formally present tense verb of the main clause (EI) is a PPA, because it is modified by an adverbial clause indicating past time. Therefore the subject did and continues to do the action of the verb (that's what a PPA is), in this case, "exist."
One COULD NOT translate this sentence as:
"You are before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed."
Such a translation (1) ignores the Greek idiom that indicates continuation of past action in the present, and so violates the Greek, and (2) ignores English verbal tense complementarity, and so violates English. Unlike Greek, English does not (cannot) use a present tense verb to convey continuation of past action in the present. English uses the imperfect tense for that meaning. This is the case with this verse because of the adverbial clause which indicates that the action of the main verb began in the past.
Granted that the Psalms are poetry, and as such may employ more varied word order than prose, one could arguably translate this sentence with the adverbial clause first:
"Before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed, you have existed."
Note that this form of the sentence is to be preferred to:
"Before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed, you have been."
As I said in a previous post, in modern English such a dangling be-verb calls out for a depictive complement, and the reader or listener must mentally go back over the sentence and, in effect, retranslate, either restoring standard prose word order or substituting "existed" for "been" for the sentence to make sense.
The simple sentence I have been discussing is complicated by the addition of a second adverbial modifier, this one a phrase rather than a clause. This addition moves the verse away from the close similarity of structure to John 8:58 that the more simple sentence would have. It adds a new adverbial element that may impact the best translation of the main verb. Whether it does or not depends upon the temporal meaning of "from the age until the age," which as it stands in the Greek is ambiguous. Are the ages referred to here, in their immediate literary context, all ages past and future, or only ages of the past? Note that I am not asking a theological question, but a literary one. I am not asking if the Psalmist believes God to exist through all ages past and future; I am asking if the Psalmist refers to such an eternal existence here, or is making another point. Note the previous verse, in both its verbal tense and structure (I give it in the NIV translation): "Lord, you have been (EGENHQHS) our dwelling place throughout all generations (EN GENEA KAI GENEA)." The Psalmist is speaking of a past record of accomplishment, and the close structural parallelism of "in generation and generation" to "from the age until the age" would lead me to read the latter as referring to past ages as well. If that is the sense of the APO phrase, then the translation of the rest of the verse is not significantly changed:
"You have existed from age to age, before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed." or, more poeticly, "Before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed, from age to age, you have existed."
But let's assume that the Psalmist is shifting from what God has been to what he is in the middle of verse 2, and that "from the age until the age" refers to all ages past and future. In order to avoid a non sequiter, with conflicting temporal modifications of the main verb (one past tense adverbial clause and one trans-temporal present adverbial phrase), we must choose one of the two adverbial expressions as having priority over the other in connection with the main verb. That is, we need to consider one of them a depictive complement to the verb, and the other as a more distantly connected adjunct. So, if we choose the APO phrase as the complement, and understand it as a trans-temporal present, then we would translate the main verb differently, using the present tense:
"You exist from age to age, before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed." or "Before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed, from age to age, you exist."
Note that "exist" is the verb we would normally use in English for the sense of this sentence, and not "You are from age to age" or "From age to age, you are." Note, too, that the presence of the past tense adverbial PRO clause makes any translation with the main verb as a present tense awkward, since the PRO clause does not provide a suitably trans-temporal modification of the main verb (something like "Before the mountain came to be and after it is reduced to dust") – it contains only past time reference. For this reason, I think that my first reading, with both adverbs having a past tense reference, remains the best:
"You have existed from age to age, before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed."
"Before the mountain came to be and the earth and world were formed, you have existed from age to age."
Finally, note that only the presence of the APO phrase gives us any reason to hesitate on the PPA status of the main verb. Without the APO phrase, with the main verb EI (2nd person singular form of EIMI) modified only by an adverbial clause of past time reference (the PRO clause here, the PRIN clause in John 8:58), it would be absolutely clear that the main verb is used to express continuation of past action. God is not said to now exist before mountains and earth were formed, as if the mountains and earth are things that will in the future come to be. They already came to be in the past, and so God's existence "before" them is a past fact, but also an ongoing fact, and that is why the Greek employs EI as the standard idiomatic way to convey this complex verbal meaning. This is exactly the same in John 8:58, where the same idiom is employed.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
- In Response to 15521: Robert Bowman [Wed Aug 18, 2004 10:22 pm] (John 8:58 - Rob #5: Word order (cont.))
- Up to Jason #7
- Down to Jason #6B
Thank you for your latest post. It seems to me there are only a couple matters that require a response from me.
You are right that the study of grammar is descriptive, though we must not ignore the prescriptive dimension of how language is learned. To the best of my knowledge, in all languages and throughout recorded history, parents and teachers have corrected the grammar of the young.
Yes, they do. And they correct any novice in English if they utter a sentence such as "Before Abraham was born, I am." You know it, and I know it. This is "Yoda English," if I may borrow a phrase from a correspondent, and is put into Yoda's mouth in the Star Wars movies precisely to make him quaintly alien.
The third "anomaly," namely, the use of unusual capitalization--"I AM" or "I Am"--applies to only a few English versions. Moreover, in this case one can hardly blame the KJV, since it does not employ such unusual capitalization at John 8:58. I agree that the versions using such capitalization have tipped their hand; or, to put it more neutrally, they have made their understanding of the text more explicit.
So we have agreed that they are erroneous translations. The next question, then, which I have asked before, is what other basis is there for the "unusual" and "rare" (if you like) word order of those translations that are more careful not to "tip their hands"? I do not know for a fact that the KJV translators adhered to the interpretation that connects John 8:58 to Exodus 3:14. They could simply have been, as they often were, leaning a bit too heavily on the Vulgate.
You cite me as saying:
If we were serious about translating the _cogito_ today, we would render it, "I think, therefore I exist."
Here, I must confess that I am unclear as to what you mean by "its classical form." Are you referring to the Latin or to the conventional English translation? It would seem that you must mean the English translation, but I may be mistaken. If you do mean the English translation, then you seem to be suggesting that the translation "I think, therefore I am" was acceptable English centuries ago but is no longer good English. I am unsure if English has changed in this respect since, say, 1700.
Sure it has. Haven't you read Shakespeare lately?
If we move forward to the contemporary period, I think we can find examples of the "be" verb without an expressed complement that cannot qualify as mere "artifacts." The famous Beatles' song, "Let It Be," which features a line that ends with those words, comes to mind. Should the line have been better expressed in English with the words, "Let it exist"?
(1) It's an imperative clause, not an indicative one; (2) it's poetry, not prose, and has the wording it does to blur the boundary between the idea "Let it come to be" or "Let it exist" and "Leave it alone," if, as a life-long Beatle fan, I understand the song correctly. But I don't want to claim any special "insider" status. ;) For both reasons, it does not help us with the kind of English sentence we see in John 8:58.
You next pointed out the qualified language of the Cambridge Grammar: "almost always," "relatively unusual." If you've read the Cambridge Grammar, you know how revolutionary it is in the direction of descriptive, not prescriptive analysis of the language, how it accepts what people do as the grammar of the language, despite its violation of many of the "rules" you and I were taught as kids (rules that our publishers still adhere to, I may add), and how the authors phrase all of their descriptions of what we used to call the rules of the language in this qualified, cautious manner.
I would be happy with an assessment of the wording of the traditional translation of John 8:58 that described it as unusual or even odd.
Good. We agree. Then the burden is on you to give a strong reason for adopting wording that is "unusual or even odd" here.
You seem to add a tentative reason:
The reason I could accept such an assessment is that I think the wording of the original text is also unusual. In the end, how we resolve the issue of the propriety of the English rendering depends on how we understand the original language text. You think that the Greek wording of John follows a perfectly normal Greek idiom. I do not, and that is the root of our real difference over this text.
Yes it is, because there is nothing at all unusual or abnormal about the Greek here. Please be precise: what is it that you consider out of the ordinary for Greek grammar here?
You note that at the end of a paragraph on English grammar, I refer back to the Greek of John 8:58. I am sorry if this confused you. I have gotten so use to the shorthand of "the prin clause" and "eimi" that I simply reverted to these labels to refer to the two parts of the sentence. My point was about the English sentence.
So since we now agree that the English word order commonly found in translations of John 8:58 would require unusual justification, we can move on to probing what that justification might be, presumably in the Greek. I think it would also be helpful for you to answer the question from my previous post as to what specific meaning you find in "Before Abraham was born, I am," that is not present in "I have existed since before Abraham was born." I will then, of course, expect you to demonstrate that that meaning is the only valid one for the Greek of John 8:58.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
- In Response to 15522: Jason BeDuhn [Thu Aug 19, 2004 3:11 pm] (Re: John 8:58 - Rob #5: Word order (cont.)) [Jason #6A]
- Up to Rob #6
- Down to Rob #4
Thank you for your latest contribution to our discussion. Some of the issues you raise take us beyond the matter of English word order; I will postpone these for a later post.
I am gratified that my previous post was sufficiently probing that it elicited such effort on your part to clarify your argument concerning the word order of traditional renderings of John 8:58.
You are right that the study of grammar is descriptive, though we must not ignore the prescriptive dimension of how language is learned. To the best of my knowledge, in all languages and throughout recorded history, parents and teachers have corrected the grammar of the young. When we study how people actually use language, though, our concern is descriptive, not prescriptive. I think this observation cuts both ways, as I hope to explain in a later post.
I recognize that you did fault traditional versions at John 8:58 for the cumulative effect that you perceived in their “inverted word order” combined with their rendering of EIMI with “am.” However, if such “inversion” is not itself bad English, as you had claimed, it cannot be a valid part of a cumulative complaint against the versions exhibiting that word order. You argue that most versions are faulty in two respects and that it is that combination of the two faults that suggest bias. Well, if one of these faults is not really a fault, the argument based on the combination of the two “faults” is unsound.
The third “anomaly,” namely, the use of unusual capitalization—“I AM” or “I Am”—applies to only a few English versions. Moreover, in this case one can hardly blame the KJV, since it does not employ such unusual capitalization at John 8:58. I agree that the versions using such capitalization have tipped their hand; or, to put it more neutrally, they have made their understanding of the text more explicit. But one of the problems with your argument, from a polemical standpoint, is that you seem to allow your strong disapproval of these modern, explicitly worded renderings to “feed back” to the more traditional rendering “I am.” I would suggest reviewing the chapter of your book with this concern in mind.
If I understand you correctly, you agree with me that subordinate predicative clauses often can stand before the main verb in normal English, but you maintain that they cannot do so when the main verb is a form of the “be” verb:
…this general flexibility of placement of a subordinated predicate complement is not found in connection with the English be-verb.
There are two main steps in your newly clarified argument. First, you argue that the “be” verb in English, unlike most other verbs, requires a predicate complement:
When in modern English we wish to make an existential statement independent of all complement, we abandon the be-verb and resort to some other existential verb, such as "exist."
Second, you argue that when we use the “be” verb with a predicate complement, that complement follows the “be” verb rather than preceding it. The only exceptions are irrelevant to John (e.g., the locative “Here I am” or relative clauses such as “which you are”).
I think the first step of your argument is open to question. You note that in English we usually translate Descartes’ famous statement, _cogito ergo sum_, as “I think, therefore I am.” However, you regard this translation as “its classical form” that we retain “as an historical artifact,” just as we preserve Shakespeare in its original Elizabethan English. If we were serious about translating the _cogito_ today, we would render it, “I think, therefore I exist.” Here, I must confess that I am unclear as to what you mean by “its classical form.” Are you referring to the Latin or to the conventional English translation? It would seem that you must mean the English translation, but I may be mistaken. If you do mean the English translation, then you seem to be suggesting that the translation “I think, therefore I am” was acceptable English centuries ago but is no longer good English. I am unsure if English has changed in this respect since, say, 1700.
If we move forward to the contemporary period, I think we can find examples of the “be” verb without an expressed complement that cannot qualify as mere “artifacts.” The famous Beatles’ song, “Let It Be,” which features a line that ends with those words, comes to mind. Should the line have been better expressed in English with the words, “Let it exist”?
You quoted _The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language_ as stating,
“Most obviously, the verb be almost always requires an internal complement” (222). “Almost always” is not the same as “absolutely always.”
On your second point, you quote _The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language_ again as stating, “the preposing construction . . . is relatively unusual” for a complement. Well, “relatively unusual” is not the same as “bad English.”
Remember, your earlier claim was that these translations of John 8:58 “are not English sentences,” that they are “not English” or are “bad English,” and that the translations are so bad in this respect as to be “UNREADABLE.” In order to justify your conclusion (that the translations are theologically biased), you need to show that the English is unreadable to the point where it is not English at all. The more moderate statements of the _Cambridge Grammar_ that such constructions are “relatively unusual” or that the “be” verb “almost always requires an internal complement” won’t do.
I would be happy with an assessment of the wording of the traditional translation of John 8:58 that described it as unusual or even odd. The reason I could accept such an assessment is that I think the wording of the original text is also unusual. In the end, how we resolve the issue of the propriety of the English rendering depends on how we understand the original language text. You think that the Greek wording of John follows a perfectly normal Greek idiom. I do not, and that is the root of our real difference over this text.
Your comments on the difference between an “adjunct” subordinate temporal clause and an “obligatory” or “complementary” subordinate temporal clause are interesting. Throughout most of the long paragraph explaining this difference, you seem to be referring to English. At the end, though, you seem to be referring to the Greek. Picking up the paragraph about half way through, you wrote:
. . . The English be-verb does not, of course, take a direct object, but requires a predicate noun or adjective when it is used as a copula, or a DEPICTIVE COMPLEMENT such as an adverb when used existentially. This fact of English is stated, for example, in R. Huddleston & G. K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002), on page 222: "Most obviously, the verb be almost always requires an internal complement." For example, one can say "Jill is in her study" but not "Jill is." One can say "The meeting was on Monday" but not "The meeting was." For the apparently intended meaning of the two unacceptable statements just given, an English speaker resorts to some other existential verb: "Jill exists." "The meeting occurred." The verb "to be" is not employed in modern English in this uncomplemented existential function. The authors of the Cambridge Grammar state that "only a small number of verbs (or verbal idioms) take complements of temporal location; clear examples include: i. be . . ." (page 694). This is precisely the case with John 8:58, where the prin clause is, I think, an obligatory temporal complement to eimi.
Perhaps you can see my confusion. The second to last sentence is a quotation from a “grammar of the English language”; the last sentence, immediately following, is an assertion that “this is precisely the case” in the *Greek* text of John . I think we need to distinguish two issues here: whether the PRIN clause is “an obligatory temporal complement” to EIMI (and if so, what that means), and whether in English we should translate the sentence to reflect the same grammatical structure as in the Greek.
I would be interested to know how you think we should translate the following Greek text:
“Before (PRO) the mountains were brought into being (GENHQHNAI) and the earth and the inhabited world were formed, even from age to age, you are (SU EI)” (Ps. 89:2 LXX).
I do hope to start posting soon on the exegesis of John 8:58 itself, and in particular on the question of the PPA.
In Christ's service,
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
Monday, August 16, 2004
No, Jason and I are not finished yet. Thank you for your patience. I hope to
post another message in the next day or so.
In Christ's service,
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
- In Response to 15333: Robert Bowman [Fri Aug 6, 2004 6:01 pm] (John 8:58 - Rob #4: general considerations (cont.))
- Up to Jason #6B
- Down to Jason #4
The conclusion to be reached on this line of argument, then, is that assessing any position is not a matter of who but of what. Any resort to "so-and-so says so" is a resort to authority, rather than evidence and demonstration. You and I may occasionally lapse into whipping out our favorite big name scholars, but ultimately the issues can only be settled by the preponderence of evidence.
To any two people committed to the ideal of objective and neutral research, the designation of one as "insider" and the other as "outsider" would presumably not add a shred of relevant information. So this whole line of discussion you introduced seems a bit of a red herring. The so-called "insider" brings nothing inherently different to an inquiry than an "outsider" if they are both committed to the same standards of evidence and demonstration. That is why I am puzzled by this line of your argument, and why I have to assume that by "insider" you do not mean simply someone who personally has a particular belief that is bracketed in the research process, but rather someone whose research and conclusions are explicitly produced within, and bounded by, a public proclamation of faith. All that I have tried to point out is that such a position (position, not person) is, by definition, the product of historical forces and traditions that have placed the contemporary believer at a considerable distance from the state of things two thousand years ago. And someone who approaches two thousand year old material while publicly avowing that he or she sees no possibility of finding anything outside the bounds of a particular contemporary understanding of the faith cannot be considered to be committed to the ideal of objective and neutral research. That's their choice, and perfectly fine in itself, but has nothing to do with how we determine the better of two positions on translation.
Perhaps we should check to see if we are even interested in the same thing in a Bible translation. Something like the TEV (Good News Bible) was pretty clearly put together to be a carrier of a contemporary Christian faith, not a communicator of the original meaning of the biblical text. That, too, is a kind of translation that fills a certain niche and serves certain goals. That might suit a certain segment of Bible readership. But in my experience those Christians passionately interested in reading the Bible are exercizing a kind of private "Protestant" revolt (even among Catholics) to have their faith "direct" from the earliest Christian tradition, as much as possible unmediated by the intervening history of dogmatic developments. So my "bias" for history referred to in my book happens to coincide with the interest of many modern Christians not just to find new meaning in their sacred scripture (and so continue the process of dogmatic development step by tiny step) but to have that newly discovered meaning be in some way related to what the scripture did and could have meant two thousand years ago.
And I do maintain in my book, and wonder if you agree, that translation depends on certain basic secular skills in language and the referential meaning of that language within a particular historical and cultural situatedness. Despite the fact that some translation projects have limited their participants to people who are committed not to reach a conclusion contrary to certain dogmas, I am unaware of claims that a particular translation is directly inspired in a way that other translations are not. If that is the case with individual translations, then it holds equally true of traditions of translation within a faith community, which have more to do with the strength of tradition and trends of interpretation than they do with issues of accuracy. That being the case, the debate over more or less accurate translations must again fall to evidence equally within the skills of "insiders" and "outsiders." And all translations must be placed on an equal playing-field of assessment. "Mainstream," "non-mainstream," "orthodox," "unorthodox" are all designations of the subsequent history of dogma -- an area that I don't think is what we have agreed to discuss here.
At least we can agree that there is no dogmatic reading of John 8:58. It has been utilized for, and integrated into, various dogmas. But that use does not in turn dictate what the verse in itself says. I have already stated that an accurate translation of the verse does not preclude its integration into a dogma along the lines you have advocated (eternal preexistence Christology), just as it does not preclude integration into an alternative dogma (limited preexistence Christology). You and I agree that one interpretation of the verse -- one that has shaped a commonly found English rendering -- that could be seen as wieghing against one of the two dogmatic integrations is not really valid (that is, a direct quote of Exodus 3:14 is not involved here). Nevertheless, you have so far maintained a fondness for the rendering of the verse that I have argued is actually dependent on this invalid interpretation of the verse. So I expect our discussion to now move on to the fine points of meaning of the verb, and what we both feel is found or lost in various renderings of it. My argument to date has been simply this (and you will see that it is a kind of burden of proof claim): if such Greek constructions are typically and usually translated without a dangling be-verb at the end of the sentence and with suitable tense complementary between the main verb and its dependent clause, then one must explain why it should be translated differently here. And "differently" takes two forms: differently than any given translation typically handles such Greek, and differently than contemporary standard English normally expresses itself.