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Thursday, June 09, 2005

RB18026 - Rob #39: The debate that will not die 

(RB18026) - [Thu Jun 9, 2005 4:28 am] (Rob #39: The debate that will not die)


Jason,

This is a very long and quite thorough response to your post #35. I have given a summary of the points covered here at the end of the post.


I. EIMI IN JOHN 8:58 AS ‘ABSOLUTE’

A. THE APPEAL TO AUTHORITY ACCUSATION -- AGAIN

You wrote:

In this section, you refer to handling EIMI in John 8:58 as an 'absolute' as "pervasive in Johannine scholarship." This takes us all the way back to the beginning of our discussion, and my contention that there are TRADITIONS of interpretation that this 'scholarship' participates in, conditioning their reading and creating unrecognized bias. That is why arguments from authority are worthless. Who are these scholars? How do their own beliefs shape how they read the text? Etc. Facts, not persons, are what count; accuracy, not numbers.


Maybe, if you keep accusing me of arguing from authority, despite what I actually said, someone will actually believe it. Is this your strategy? It may work with some people, but it’s not good reasoning.

As everyone who has actually followed the debate should know, I said that describing EIMI in John 8:58 as ‘absolute’ was “pervasive in Johannine scholarship,” not to prove that it was true (which would be a fallacious appeal to authority), but to show how utterly implausible it was for you to claim that Robertson made a “foolish assertion” when he said that it was absolute because nothing could be “more obvious on the page of the text in front of us” that “it is simply false to call eimi in any sense a predicate absolute.” It is theoretically possible for Robertson and all of these biblical scholars to be wrong on the same point, but it is utterly unbelievable that all of them missed something that could not be “more obvious on the page of the text in front of us.” I have explained this several times, making it difficult for me to believe that your misrepresentation of my point is not deliberate.

B. WHAT USAGE OF THE BE-VERB CAN BE ‘ABSOLUTE’?

You wrote:

You go on to say that you "explained what it meant" when others refer to it as 'absolute' in John 8:58. But Rob, your explanation involved using 'absolute' in the sense of lacking a noun, pronoun, or adjective complement -- in other words, a sense of absolute that would only apply to the be-verb in its copulative use.


However, earlier in the debate, you had this to say:

Notice that Kahn, whom you cite on the subject of "absolutes" in your post #36, likewise affirms that an absolute use of the Greek be-verb and a copulative use of it are mutually exclusive.... (p. 454)


You seem to be very confused. Earlier you claimed that a copulative use of the Greek be-verb cannot be absolute (in the sense defined by Kahn); now you claim that (also in the sense defined by Kahn) only a copulative use of the Greek be-verb can be absolute!

The fact is that the Greek be-verb can be ‘absolute’ as defined by Kahn and as used by most biblical scholars when used copulatively AND when used existentially. Here is a copulative example:

“Unless you believe that I am [he] (EGW EIMI), you will die in your sins” (John 8:28).


Here is an existential example:

“The one who approaches God must believe that he is (hOTI ESTIN)” (Heb. 11:6).


Here is another existential example:

“Before the mountains were formed…from age to age, you are (SU EI)” (Ps. 89:2 LXX).


In these existential examples, the Greek be-verb lacks a subject complement or other obligatory complement precisely because it is used to denote existence in what Kahn calls the “vital” nuance. Kahn identifies six “existential sentence types” using EIMI, the first of which is illustrated with the following sentence: hH GAR ET’ EISI, “They [your father and mother] are still alive” (239, translating EISI as “are alive”). He comments:

“Type I is an absolute construction of the verb with personal subjects. (By an absolute construction I mean that there is no nominal or locative predicate and no other complement such as the possessive dative, nor even an adverb of manner. An absolute construction may, however, admit adverbs of time.) This sentence type corresponds exactly with the vital nuance mentioned in [sections] 3-4; that is, in every sentence of this type, EIMI can be translated ‘am alive’.... In this type the construction of EIMI is ‘absolute’ in the sense just specified: namely, the verb takes no complement or modifier except for adverbs of time and duration (now, still, always). The form can be schematized as _N[pers] be_ (D[temp]), where the parenthesis indicates an optional component” (241).


Assuming we agree to understand EIMI in John 8:58 existentially, the applicable type of existential usage as classified by Kahn would be this ‘vital nuance,’ with the meaning “am alive.” (Although Kahn says that “in every sentence of this type, EIMI can be translated ‘am alive,’” he does not say that this precise wording ‘am alive’ is the only acceptable translation. Thus his words here should not be abused as an objection to the conventional rendering, nor of course as an objection to the NWT rendering.) And Kahn clearly says that this is an absolute construction, even when accompanied by “adverbs of time and duration.”

You wrote:

I have repeatedly tried to point out that if the dependent clause modifies the main verb IN ANY WAY then it shifts it toward the past, in other words, makes it a 'progressive present.' You have agreed that the particular construct of the dependent clause typically makes the action of verb antecedent to the action of clause, which amounts to saying that it does shift the main verb toward the past. Yet somehow, you keep it as a present tense. This simply makes no semantic sense. Period.


This line of argument ignores what I have said about the infinitive of antecedent time and its significance here and in the parallel passages in the LXX.


C. ROBERTSON REDUX

You wrote:


On Robertson, I said that one would 'naturally assume' that any meaning of 'absolute' you tried to foist off on his enigmatic statement that EIMI in John 8:58 is 'really absolute' would be derived from how Robertson uses 'absolute' elsewhere in his Grammar. You found it more natural, you say in your post #37, to supply a meaning of 'absolute' from OTHER WRITERS.


Let me remind our patient readers of what you had asserted:

Your reader would naturally assume that you derived that meaning from other things Robertson says about "absolute."


Since the above comment pertained to what my reader would assume, I answered by pointing out that a good reader would actually check my endnote:

“Maybe *you* would “naturally assume” that to be the case, but a better reader would have checked the endnote at the end of the sentence in which I defined what ‘absolute’ meant. There he or she would find that I explained that the major NT grammars (which of course would include Robertson) did not have a section specifically on absolute constructions, and that I cited in that endnote three representative secondary sources that offered a discussion of the absolute use of the verb (Appold, Barclay, and Brown).”


You asked:

Now since we have seen how widely varied the use of the term 'absolute' is, how is your method at all justified?


Um...because my method attributes to Robertson the word’s usual sense as applied to the Greek indicative be-verb in modern scholarship and avoids attributing to Robertson, as your method does, a foolish mistake. That is how my method is justified.

You wrote:

When we look at how Robertson himself uses 'absolute' applied to verbs, we see that for him it means a clause totally isolated from modification by the rest of the sentence (see 1092-1093, 1130-1132).


Except when he comments on EIMI in John 8:58, which is the only place where he uses the term ‘absolute’ with regard to an indicative verb (i.e., one that defines a main clause). Thus, you had stated earlier in the debate:

He uses it only in the context of discussing infinitives (1092-1093), and participles in subordinate clauses (1130-1132), and in both contexts he means merely "clauses that stand apart from the rest of the sentence" (1130). (Jason, p. 413)


This was incorrect, because, as I pointed out, he uses it in his comment on EIMI in John 8:58, which is neither an infinitive nor a participle but rather the indicative verb of a main clause, not a subordinate clause. Clearly, this is a different situation grammatically, especially when we are
talking about the be-verb. Since Robertson does not explain what he means by ‘absolute’ when applied to the indicative verb of a main clause, it is reasonable to impute to him the usual meaning of that term in this technical context.

You wrote:

And as I explained to you, this is the only meaning of 'absolute' that would make sense for Robertson to give as a reason for not considering EIMI in 8:58 a PPA. The sense of 'absolute' you tried to impose on Robertson does not in any way give a reason for not considering a verb a PPA.


Yes it does, and I explained what that reason was in my book and again for you in my post to which you are supposedly responding. Please go back and read it again.

You wrote:

Nor if Robertson thought that the term 'absolute' could still be used of verbs modified by temporal adverbs, as Kahn thinks, would he be able to say that by being 'absolute' EIMI cannot be a PPA, since obviously it is by temporal adverbial modification that PPAs are formed.


Kahn’s meaning is the same as the one I gave. The logic of this complex sentence of yours is very difficult to determine, but I will do the best I can. Your argument here, as best I understand it, is either fallacious or rests on a false premise. In order to show why, I am going to need to state
your argument formally in two different ways and then explain why each argument fails. (I apologize in advance if this seems tedious.) Let me begin
with the following definitions:

V = a present-tense Greek verb
T = a temporal adverbial modifier
A = absolute (according to stipulated definition)


Here is one way of construing the argument you seem to be making:

(1) If V is A, then V is not a PPA. (Premise from Robertson’s statement)
(2) If V is a PPA, then V has a T. (One way to construe your statement)
(3) V has a T. (Fact that you argue Robertson overlooked)
Therefore, V is not A. (Conclusion from above premises)

Here is the other way of construing it:

(1) If V is A, then V is not a PPA. (Premise from Robertson’s statement)
(2x) If V has a T, then V is a PPA. (Another way to construe your statement)
(3) V has a T. (Fact that you argue Robertson overlooked)
Therefore, V is not A. (Conclusion from above premises)


The difference in these two arguments is that in premise (2) you would be arguing that if the verb is a PPA then it has a temporal adverbial modifier, whereas in premise (2x) you would be arguing that if the verb has a temporal adverbial modifier then it is a PPA. I’m not sure which you meant to say, so to be safe I will consider both ways of understanding your argument.

Now, either way, something appears to be unstated in the argument, and as best I can determine it is an inference from (2) or (2x), together with (3), that V is a PPA. I say this because what you want to conclude is that V is not A, and in order to do that using the above premises you must show that V is a PPA (see premise [1]). In other words, either you are arguing as follows:

(1) If V is A, then V is not a PPA.
(2) If V is a PPA, then V has a T.
(3) V has a T.
(4) Therefore, V is a PPA. (Intermediate conclusion from [1] and [2])
Therefore, V is not A. (Conclusion from [1] and [4])


Or you are arguing in this way:

(1) If V is A, then V is not a PPA.
(2x) If V has a T, then V is a PPA.
(3) V has a T.
(4) Therefore, V is a PPA. (Intermediate conclusion from [1] and [2x])
Therefore, V is not A. (Conclusion from [1] and [4])


Given premises (1) and (4), the final conclusion that V is not A does follow. However, you need (4) to make this argument work, since without it you do not have adequate grounds for the conclusion.

The first way I have stated your argument is logically fallacious because (4) does not follow from (2) and (3). The fallacy here is the formal fallacy of affirming the consequent. I’m guessing that you can already see this, but in case you don’t, and for the benefit of those readers who don’t, I will explain. Let’s look at premise (2) again:

(2) If V is a PPA, then V has a T.


In logic the ‘if’ half of the statement is called the antecedent (here, ‘V is a PPA’) and the ‘then’ half of the statement is called the ‘consequent’ (here ‘V has a T’). It is a mistake in reasoning to argue that if the consequent is true, then the antecedent is true. Logically, this mistake
arises because one has the ‘if’ and ‘then’ parts of the argument turned around. The problem with such reasoning may be illustrated with the following silly example:

If the car is wet from the rain, then the car was parked outside.
The car was parked outside.
Therefore, the car is wet from the rain.


The mistake in this example argument is easy to understand: the car being parked outside was a necessary condition to getting wet from the rain, but parking outside does not guarantee that the car will be wet from rain. (It might not rain, after all.) But to infer from premises (2) and (3) that V is a PPA, one must make the same logical mistake as in this silly example. That is, one would have to argue as follows:

(2) If V is a PPA, then V has a T.
(3) V has a T.
(4) Therefore, V is a PPA.


Or, to put it in words:

If the verb is a PPA, then the verb has a temporal modifier. The verb has a temporal modifier. Therefore, the verb is a PPA.

Even though the premises all seem to be true, the argument is logically flawed and so won’t work. Having a temporal modifier is a necessary condition to the verb being a PPA (according to premise [2]) but not a sufficient condition; it does not guarantee (according to the premise) that
the verb will be a PPA. But what if we change premise (2) to premise (2x), “If V has a T, then V is a PPA”? Then the argument is logically valid but one of the premises is false:

(2x) If V has a T, then V is a PPA.
(3) V has a T.
(4) Therefore, V is a PPA. (Intermediate conclusion from [1] and [2x])


This argument is logically valid and so avoids the fallacy of the previous argument. Unfortunately for this version of your argument, premise (2x) is false. A temporal adverbial modifier does not guarantee that the main present-tense verb will be a PPA. Such a temporal adverbial modifier may be associated with a PPA, or even required for it, but the presence of a temporal adverbial modifier does not necessarily make the present-tense main verb a PPA. It has to be the right kind of present-tense main verb and the right kind of temporal adverbial modifier. And Robertson’s point in his comment on EIMI in John 8:58 is that it is the wrong kind of present-tense main verb. It is absolute. Furthermore, I would add that the T must be the
right sort of temporal adverbial modifier (Robertson does not address the question of whether it is or not in John 8:58). We can formulate a deductive argument to express Robertson’s point as follows:

(5) If V has a T *and* V is not A, then V is a PPA.
(6) However, V is A.
(7) Therefore, V is not a PPA.


Translation:

If EIMI has a temporal modifier and EIMI is not absolute, it is a PPA. However, EIMI is absolute. Therefore, EIMI is not a PPA.

As far as I can see, the only way you could challenge this argument would be to contend that if EIMI has a temporal adverbial modifier then it is not absolute. However, to make that claim would be to beg the question.

You concluded:

Therefore, I have reasonably and systematically determined what Robertson must have meant by his comment, and my conclusion that he made an error stands.


I hope that I have “reasonably and systematically” shown that your objection to understanding Robertson as I construed him fails, and therefore the argument for your conclusion that he made a foolish error has been refuted.

D. NO PPA WITH ABSOLUTE BE-VERBS


You wrote:

But I must further note that you are simply wrong when you claim that "not one of the other texts you have cited . . . has a form of EIMI used in an absolute construction." You incorrectly identify John 14:9, 15:27 and 1 John 2:9 as "adjectival complements," when they are in fact adverbial complements. "With you" in John 14:9 is an adverbial complement; so is "with me" in John 15:27; so is "in the darkness" in 1 John 2:9. These are all adverbial depictive complements, just like "Jill is in the study." This, too, is a very basic grammatical mistake on your part that has kept us tied up far too long.


I think you’re partly right here: these prepositional phrases are not properly called adjectival complements. They are, however, what Kahn called ‘locative predicates,’ which he says an absolute construction will lack. Therefore, the Greek be-verbs in the above three verses are not absolute, and my conclusion stands: other than Psalm 89:2 LXX and John 8:58, none of the texts that you have cited as examples of the PPA uses the Greek be-verb in an absolute construction.


II. “I HAVE BEEN” VERSUS “I AM”: AN UNNOTICED SIMILARITY

A. USING “AM” OR “HAVE BEEN” TO MEAN “EXISTS”

I had written:

“If ‘am’ cannot be used to express existence, then neither can ‘have been.’ (The same applies to the verb ‘was,’ which is the simple past tense form of ‘am.’) And this leads me to the observation that the NWT rendering, ‘I have been,’ would be just as faulty English in this respect as ‘I am.’ In fact, your proposed translation, ‘I have been (since) before Abraham came to be’ (_Truth in Translation_, 106; ‘...before Abraham was born,’ our debate, pp. 216, 418), would also have to be judged defective in this respect” (p. 472).


You replied:

Well, Rob, please read by book again, because I quite clearly say that the Living Bible translation ("I was in existence . . .") "comes out as the most accurate translation" (p. 111).


Excuse me, Jason, but please read my paragraph above again. In your book, you proposed your OWN translation of the verse: “I have been (since) before Abraham came to be.” After offering this translation, you commented, “That’s as close as we can get to what the Greek says in our own language if we pay attention to all parts of the sentence” (106). So my comment applies directly to your own translation of the verse, which you claimed was “as close as we can get to what the Greek says in our own language.” Yet that translation uses “have been” to express past existence (by your own explanation).

You wrote:

You forget that you are defending the traditional translation; I am not defending the NWT. In fact, I have faulted the NWT translation of John 8:58 for inverting the word order like the traditional translation does.


And that is exactly why in your book you ranked the NWT rendering second-best of the translations you surveyed, after the LB, which puts the clauses in the order you prefer (111). In your book you did not, as you seem to be intimating here, prefer the LB over the NWT because of the LB wording “was *in existence*.”

You wrote:

What I have praised the NWT for is getting the verbal tense right (which it actually renders more precisely that the LB does). The "I have been" translation is less than felicitous because modern English prefers "exist" for this meaning, and I have made use of the "I have been" translation only as the most lexical, "interlinear" preliminary rendering to make a point about the verbal tense unclouded by switching to a different English verb.


This is a new position on your part, Jason, found nowhere in your book. You advanced a preference for “exist” over “am” during the course of this debate, but it is nowhere in your book. In fact, even after insisting that the use of “am” for “exist” was unacceptable English, you continued to use the same translation of John 8:58 during this debate (except that you changed “came to be” to “was born”). Nor did you qualify this rendering as a ‘lexical,’ ‘interlinear,’ or ‘preliminary’ rendering during the debate. Frankly, that is a rather blatant revisionism of your use of this rendering. I have already quoted what you said about this translation in your book. Here is what you actually said during the debate:

Although it is challenging to get the full nuance of the original Greek into an English sentence, the closest rendering would be something like “I have been (since) before Abraham came to be.” You will find the full argument in my book. (p. 5)


My position on translation is that eimi should be translated with an expression conveying present continuance of past existence such as “have been.” (p. 10)


What is lost that is preciouse to you by translating it as "I have been since before Abraham was born"? (p. 12)


Later you did begin to suggest “have existed” as an alternative to “have been” but never suggested that there was anything defective with “have been”:

The translation should be "I have been" or "I have been in existence" or "I have existed." (p. 102)


In fact, you continued to quote the translation you gave in your book as if there was nothing wrong with it at all:

By offering parallel examples, I demonstrated that the grammar and syntax of the verse is properly translated as "I have been since before Abraham was born." Although none of the translations I compared gets this quite right, the Living Bible comes closest, the New World translation next closest, with the others too far from the meaning of the original Greek to be acceptable. (216)
This is a past progressive form of expression, perfectly ordinary and acceptable in Koine Greek, and is most accurately rendered by English "I have been," or "I have existed," or "I have been in existence." (p. 269)

But the infinitive of antecedent time applies to the dependent clause of John 8:58 ("before Abraham was born"), while the PPA applies to the main clause ("I have existed"). (p. 348)

Now how, in English, do we convey a state that pertains already antecedent to a past event and continues to the present? Do we use a simple present to do that? No. Do we use a simple past? No. We use a progressive form: "I have been, I have existed." (p. 360)

I would not object to this position, and we could conclude the debate with both of us holding defensible, though different views of the best translation of the verse:

Jason: "I have existed since before Abraham was born."

Rob: "Before Abraham was born, I am He." (p. 418)


You wrote:

I in fact do agree that "have been" as an existential statement is weak in modern English, and we should use "have existed" or "have been existing."


This is an utterly inadequate ‘cover story,’ Jason. The fact is that one of your main objections raised during this debate (but not in your book) to the conventional translation applies equally to the translation that you proposed in your book and defended during the debate. Now that I have
pointed this out, you are engaging in revisionism regarding your own past position in order to deny having made this mistake.

You wrote:

But such weaknesses of the be-verb aside, Rob, your claim that "have been" and "am" are equally fine or not in John 8:58 misses the more significant problem with the traditional translation, namely, the disharmony of verbal tenses that makes it a nonsense sentence in English. "Have been" solves this more serious defect, while still not being fully contemporary in expression. "Am" has both defects. You have never answered the problem of tense disharmony in the traditional translation.


My point about “have been” being simply another tense form of “am” is a separate point from the issue of the alleged “disharmony of verbal tenses” in the conventional translating using “am” which, you say, “makes it a nonsense sentence in English.”

However, as quoted above, late in the debate you suggested that an alternative, defensible translation of the verse would be “Before Abraham was born, I am He” (p. 418). In reply, I pointed out the following:

“Finally, there is something quite odd about your suggestion that the translation ‘Before Abraham was born, I am He’ is defensible. I see how it avoids your criticism that the clauses are in the wrong order. However, your other main criticism of the conventional translation is that it fails to coordinate the verbal tenses of the two clauses properly. I fail to see how this alternative translation avoids your criticism in a way that the conventional translation does not” (p. 442).


Unless I missed it, you never responded to the above comment. Furthermore, I have given additional answers to your allegation of verbal disharmony in the conventional translation. In any case, my point about “have been” stands; indeed, you have essentially conceded the point without acknowledging that it calls into question your own translation of the verse as presented both in your book and for most of this debate.

Finally, I think everyone here will be fascinated to notice that you failed even to mention the evidence I presented from two contemporary English dictionaries for the legitimate modern use of the English be-verb to express existence (pp. 472-73). Thus, your objection to “am” on the grounds that modern English requires “exists” has been refuted.


B. “AM” AND “HAVE BEEN” AND THE ORDER OF THE CLAUSES

In my previous post, I presented a methodical argument to show that in English a dependent temporal clause may appear before or after the main clause, and therefore your claim that the conventional translation of John 8:58 places the clauses in an ungrammatical order is mistaken.

I began by quoting several of the texts you have cited as PPA texts, writing them out with the temporal adverbial marker of the PPA before the main verb and after it, as in the following example:

Jeremiah 1:5 LXX
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
“I knew you before I formed you in the womb.”


I did the same with several other such texts (Luke 13:7; Luke 15:29; John 5:6; Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 12:19; 2 Timothy 3:15; 2 Peter 3:4; 1 John 3:8). Then, noting your point from early in the debate that flexibility of word order does not apply to the English be-verb, I did the same with all of the putative PPA texts that use the English be-verb (Ex. 4:10; 21:36; John 14:9; 15:27; 1 John 2:9; Menander, _Dyscolos_ 615-16), finishing with the following example:

Testament of Job 2:1:
“For before the Lord named me Job, I was Jobab.”
“For I was Jobab before the Lord named me Job.”


I then commented:

“Where English truly does exhibit a lack of flexibility in word order in relation to the be-verb is when the be-verb is used as a linking verb or copula. Thus, using the above examples, the following sentences would obviously be ungrammatical.”


I then rewrote the above texts that use the English be-verb, preposing the obligatory complement that in English must follow the be-verb, as in the following example:

Testament of Job 2:1:
“For before the Lord named me Job, JOBAB I was.”


I then commented:

“All of these sentences are ungrammatical because the subject or adjectival complement improperly precedes rather than follows the verb. The position of the temporal adverbial is *not*, however, ungrammatical. Testament of Job 2:1, which you introduced into the discussion, nicely illustrates the point: placing ‘before the Lord named me Jobab’ before the verb ‘was’ is not ungrammatical, but placing ‘Jobab’ before ‘was’ clearly is ungrammatical. Thus, your correspondent’s description (which you endorsed) of the conventional translation of John 8:58 as ‘Yoda English’ is incorrect (p. 53).... Your mistake is in thinking that the dependent clause has the same sort of grammatical function as ‘Jobab’ in Testament of Job 2:1, whereas of course the grammatical function of the dependent clause ‘before Abraham came into being’ is instead identical to the grammatical function of the dependent clause ‘before the Lord named me Jobab.’”

I have reviewed the entire argument up this point before noting your criticisms because it is important to see the argument as a whole and the conclusion reached above. Your criticisms simply do not engage the argument in a serious way or even take any notice of the conclusion. You pointed out that the examples that don’t use the be-verb “are distinctly different than John 8:58” and that “the verbs are not ‘absolute’ in your [Rob’s] terms.” Of course, I had already made these observations myself. You also pointed out that “they are nearly all transitive verbs with objects” and observed that in English “the object of the verb gets priority over every other element of the predicate, and so displaces dependent clauses and phrases from a position immediately following the verb.” You make the same point with regard to the subject complement of a be-verb similarly displacing the adverbial. But the issue that you had raised, and that I was answering, was not whether such clauses and phrases must follow “immediately” after the verb; the issue was whether they must always follow after the verb *rather than preceding it*. To be consistent with your earlier position, you should maintain that when a transitive verb has both an object and a dependent clause associated with it (such as a temporal adverbial clause), the order must be verb—object—dependent clause. All I needed to show, which I did show, was that such dependent clauses may appear before or after the main verb in good, acceptable English.

The closest you came to addressing my argument was to say that in texts using an intransitive verb, such as 1 John 3:8, you think that “the dependent clause following the main verb is more usual in English. The version with the adverbial phrase preposed is awkward.” I can live with this kinder, gentler claim, as it frees translators to depart from what is “more usual.” As a matter of style, I think sometimes it may be better to put the adverbial after the main verb; I will even agree that this is the case in 1 John 3:8. In my opinion, this is more likely to be the case with a phrase than with a dependent clause, but in any case it is a matter of style, not of “broken syntax” or “Yoda English.”

You wrote:


You once again discuss "am" in John 8:58 as if it is a copula, and an "absolute" one at that, continuing to ignore the point that that is not how the traditional translation treats it.


No, I was showing that your criticism of the traditional translation (that “am” needs a missing complement) applies equally to the translation “I have been” in the NWT *and* (let me remind you again) the translation you proposed in your book and earlier in this debate. Thus, what I said was the following:

*****BEGIN QUOTE FROM ROB*****
The fact is that such a complement is lacking both in the NWT rendering of
John 8:58 and in the rendering you have proposed:

“Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”
“I have been (since) before Abraham was born.”

Moving “I have been” to the front of the sentence does not change the fact
that “(since) before Abraham was born” does not function as the obligatory
complement required if “have been” is understood to function as a copula or
linking verb.
*****END QUOTE FROM ROB*****

Next, I presented three groups of sentences to illustrate further the point that an unpredicated use of “am” or “have been” that does not express existence is “problematic” in English regardless of where the adverbial is positioned in the sentence. What these sentences need to be unproblematic is a predicate, whether a subject complement, locative predicate, or the like; the adverbial does not fulfill this grammatical function. Thus, “I am today” is just as problematic as “Today I am”; what these sentences need to be formally complete is a predicate, such as “at home,” to follow the verb. And I illustrated the point that sentences using “have been” in this way are equally problematic as those using “am” in this way.

You claimed to find all this “particularly amusing”:

What you don't seem to realize is that you offer as "problematic" in each case a sentence exactly parallel in form to the traditional translation of John 8:58.


Yes, actually, I do realize that, and I realized it when I offered those examples. What you obviously realize but wish to gloss over was the point of the exercise: to show that sentences exactly parallel in form to the translation of John 8:58 that you championed in your book and for much of this debate are equally ‘problematic.’ That you got the point is evident from the fact that next to the ‘problematic’ sentence “I am today,” you commented, “compare my rough translation.” As I have shown, in your book you presented that translation not as “rough” but “as close as we can get to what the Greek says in our own language” (_Truth in Translation_, 106).

Furthermore, my use of the word ‘problematic’ was quite deliberate and carefully selected, because I was not arguing that these sentences are necessarily ungrammatical. I described these sentences as “formally incomplete” and noted that they could be acceptable sentences in informal speech.

C. THE USE OF “AM” TO EXPRESS EXISTENCE

You wrote:

This substantiates the quote you cited from me about the English be-verb's current status in the language, which is such that it does not normally appear uncomplemented. That is why I prefer, and have always preferred, using "exist" instead for conveying the meaning of John 8:58.


More revisionism: the translation you offered in your book and for much of this debate as the best we can do in English does not use “exist” at all. And as I noted earlier, you have chosen to ignore the evidence I presented from two modern English dictionaries that the English be-verb can be used to express existence and in such instances can be uncomplemented, even appearing at the very end of the sentence.

I had written:

“Now, what about the existential use of the English be-verb? You asserted that even when it is used existentially, the English be-verb requires an explicit or implicit complement. This is an odd assertion, given your other claim that the English be-verb in modern English cannot be used existentially.”


You replied:

You have misunderstood me. The English be-verb is still used existentially when certain kinds of depictive complements are present. Remember "Jill is in the study"? That's an existential. So are John 14:9, 15:27, and 1 John 2:9. What I have said is that the English be-verb no longer is favored for absolute existential statements. You seem to be still having trouble with the definition of an existential.


We have both used the word ‘existential’ in the narrower sense of expressing existence without the use of such complements as “in the study.” I accept your clarification of what you meant.

I had written:

“When either ‘have been’ or ‘am’ is used existentially, there is nothing formally incomplete or ungrammatical about the verb occurring in a sentence without such an obligatory complement following it. The be-verb can come at the very end of the sentence when it is not functioning as a linking verb or copula. There is nothing grammatically wrong with such a sentence.”


You replied:

Oh really? Well look again, Rob, at your examples above:

"Today I am."
"For almost a year Jason has been."
"Since the beginning of 2001, I have been."

These sentences are not just "problematic" and ungrammatical when we know them to be defective copulas. They are problematic and ungrammatical just as they are, as apparent existentials. We simply do not talk or write that way in modern English, do we Rob?


What makes the above examples unworkable in modern English is that the be-verb in each case doesn’t look like an existential in the context of the sentence as a whole. This problem doesn’t apply to sentences in which the be-verb in the context of the whole sentence clearly expresses existence, such as in the following well-known examples:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question.”
“I think, therefore I am.”
“Before Abraham came to be, I am.”


The absolute use of “am” to express existence in the conventional translation of John 8:58 works as acceptable English because the immediate contrast between “am” and “came to be” (or alternate renderings of GENESQAI, such as “was” or “was born”) makes it clear that “am” is being so used. In this respect it may be one of the best and most felicitous examples of this usage in English literature! This is sufficient explanation for the fact that so many English Bible translators and other English-speaking scholars have evidently found nothing objectionable in using “am” to express existence in the English translation of John 8:58.


III. ON HARNER AND BROWN

You wrote:

On this subject, you simply have not understood what I mean by "the I AM nonsense," despite my careful explanation of what I mean. So let me say it one more time. The "I AM" nonsense is ANY notion that "I AM" serves in the Bible as a name of God, whether in Exodus, Isaiah, or John.


Let’s review what you actually said that provoked my criticism:

Brown, Harner, and Ball all buy into the great "I AM" nonsense (that Jesus is invoking Exodus 3:14 even when he says things like "Hi, it's me," and "I'm the one you're looking for"), and this dictates their supposedly grammatical analysis. (p. 257)


Most major translations of John 8:24, 8:28, and 13:19 translate them as belonging to Brown's category 2, that is, with an understood predicate complement. The exception in the NAB which has "I AM." As we agreed at the beginning of our discussion back in August, the use of "I AM" points to the erroneous idea that this is a name or designation of God in Exodus 3:14. Hence my conclusion that Brown and Harner "buy into the `I Am' nonsense." (p. 414)


Note that you claimed my association of Brown et al. with "the `I AM' nonsense" to be "absolutely false." As everyone knows who has read my book and followed our debate, I was referring to the idea that "I AM" is a name of God, introduced to Moses in Exod. 3:14, and extractable as an invocation of that name from sentences where the pronoun and verb otherwise serve normal grammatical functions. (p. 465)


My criticism focused on two aspects of your original statement quoted above from page 257 of our debate. The first was your claim that Brown, Harner, and Ball all claim that Jesus was invoking Exodus 3:14. The second was your claim that these three scholars all make this claim even about texts where Jesus is really only saying “Hi, it’s me” and “I’m the one you’re looking for.” I showed that these three scholars do not claim that Jesus was invoking Exodus 3:14 in ANY of the Gospel EGW EIMI sayings, and certainly not in John 6:20 (the text that you say means merely “Hi, it’s me”). I also showed that these same scholars all see the Johannine EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus as echoing the divine EGW EIMI sayings of God in Isaiah and that in fact they barely even mention Exodus 3:14. These are legitimate criticisms, whatever else you may have said, or meant, that I did not address.

You wrote:

It is the mistake of extracting "I" and "am" from a sentence in which the subject and verb serve their normal function in relation to other elements of the sentence, and treating it as if it is a name, whose extraction, of course, collapses the sentence into an ungrammatical pile. In my book I connect this mistake to Exodus 3:14 (p. 107-108) AND TO ISAIAH (p. 111), on which I comment, "Yet obviously the 'I am' is not a name or a title."


It is still the case that these three scholars never understand Jesus in the Gospel of John to be “invoking Exodus 3:14.” As to your criticism that “I am” in these Johannine sayings cannot be treated “as if it is a name” because doing so “collapses the sentence into an ungrammatical pile,” you are misunderstanding what they mean when they refer to “I am” in these texts as a ‘divine name.’ They do not mean this syntactically or grammatically, as if one could substitute ‘Fred’ in place of ‘I am’ when translating these verses and get a meaningful (if different!) statement. I am referring, of course, to your criticism of Brown (et. al.) as meaning that ‘I am’ functions grammatically like ‘Fred’ in the following sentences (p. 466):

8:24: "Unless you come to believe that Fred, you will surely die in your sins."
8:28: "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that Fred."
8:58: "Before Abraham even came into existence, Fred."
13:19: "When it does happen, you may believe that Fred."


This is cute, but it caricatures what Brown and others mean when they talk about the ‘divine name’ in relation to the Johannine EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus. They understand Jesus’ EGW EIMI sayings in John to echo the language of the Isaiah EGW EIMI sayings, which in rabbinical Judaism came to be understood as expressing a variant of the divine name. But these scholars are not ignoring or denying the more prosaic grammatical functions of the pronoun and verb.

Consider, for example, Brown’s comments on John 6:20 in his appendix on EGW EIMI:

“The disciples in the boat are frightened because they see someone coming to them on the water. Jesus assures them, ‘_Egô eimi_; do not be afraid.’ Here the expression may simply mean, ‘It is I, i.e., someone you know, and not a supernatural being or a ghost.’ We shall point out, however, that divine theophanies in the OT often have this formula: Do not be afraid, I am the God of your ancestors. As we have said in the COMMENT on [sect.] 21, in vi 20 John may well be giving us an epiphany scene, and thus playing on both the ordinary and sacral use of _egô eimi_” (Brown, 533-34).


This observation of a fairly prosaic and more profound sense of the words EGW EIMI is characteristic of how Brown, as well as Harner and Ball, understand the Johannine EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus. Thus, immediately after the above comments on John 6:20, Brown offers a similar observation on John 18:5:

“The soldiers and police who have come to the garden across the Kidron to arrest Jesus announce that they are seeking Jesus, and Jesus answers, ‘_Egô eimi_.’ This means, ‘I am he’; but the fact that those who hear it fall to the ground when he answers suggests a form of theophany which leaves men prostrate in fear before God. Once again John seems to be playing on a two-fold use of _egô eimi_” (Brown, 534).


Please notice that these are the two passages to which you were referring when you alleged that Brown, Harner, and Ball claim “that Jesus is invoking Exodus 3:14 even when he says things like ‘Hi, it’s me,’ and ‘I’m the one you’re looking for’” (p. 257). Thus, your claim that these scholars
associate these EGW EIMI sayings with Exodus 3:14, or with the ‘divine name’ in any context, in such a way as to run roughshod over the grammatical function of the pronoun and verb in these sentences is simply false.

You wrote:

Nor when we have the book you reference right in front of us, should you claim that Brown "barely mentions" Exodus 3:14 when, as you now acknowledge, he devotes a whole paragraph to it.


How can you imagine that you can get away with this falsehood? I quoted the whole paragraph for you (see above, p. 483, omitting only five words in a parenthetical reference) and so anyone can see that your statement is false. Exodus 3:14 gets three sentences in Brown’s appendix, taking up a total of 86 words, at the end of a 10-sentence paragraph of 264 words total (Brown, 536). Thus, Brown “devotes” exactly one-third of a paragraph, not a whole paragraph, to Exodus 3:14.


IV. _TRUTH IN TRANSLATION_ AND THE LITERATURE ON JOHN 8:58

You wrote:

First of all, as anyone can see who has read my book, I kept notes to an absolute bare minimum. I wrote the book from my own knowledge and experience, and do not cite authorities for observations that anyone can make of the biblical text.


That is irrelevant to my point, which was that your argument exhibits “one-sided, partisan scholarship,” in that it depends heavily on the argumentation of a few sources hostile to the orthodox understanding of the verse and includes no attempt to introduce your readers to a balanced understanding of biblical scholarship pertaining to your subject. This point is not about the *quantity* of your references but their *quality*.

You wrote:

My citation of references is actually IN MY TEXT, not in my notes (i.e., the social science method), a fact that you misleading omit to mention.


There was nothing misleading about my comments, since I drew attention to your citations of Brachter and Smyth in the body of the chapter, thus making it clear that you made citations in the text of the chapter as well as in the notes.

You wrote:

Likewise, my bibliography only serves to give full entries for works actually cited in the book, and is not meant to represent my reading on the subjects.


My comments pertained to the sources that you cited and with which you actually interacted in your chapter, not with what you might or might not have read. The only partial exception was my comment that your bibliography cites Harner’s study on the “I am” sayings even though you don’t cite it in the chapter on John 8:58, so it isn’t clear if you actually consulted it or not (I haven’t yet checked to see if it’s mentioned in any of the other chapters, though that seems unlikely).

Somehow you claim that a list of the notes I mentioned disproves my claim that you appear to have been “entirely dependent on one secondary source regarding John 8:58,” namely, Greg Stafford’s book _Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended_. You offer the following list:

McKay 1996 (twice)
McKay 1994
Stafford (thrice)
Orlinsky and Bratcher
Freed


Listing them this way is misleading because it ignores the evidence I provided linking your citations of McKay and Freed to Stafford. Your reference to Freed even admits your dependence on Stafford for *that* reference. I also showed that you appeared to be dependent on Stafford for your use of McKay. The only other source in the above list is Orlinsky and Bratcher, and this source is not about John 8:58 at all but is cited to make a general point about translation (as I pointed out, by the way). Likewise, the following three secondary sources that you listed as cited in the body of the chapter are general reference works, not studies examining John 8:58:

Bratcher
Smyth
Orlinsky and Bratcher


Again, please note that I carefully qualified my statement by saying that it appeared that you were “entirely dependent on one secondary source REGARDING JOHN 8:58” (emphasis added). Thus, you missed (or glossed over) the point when you complained:

Now what was it you said
"entirely dependent on one secondary source"?


By omitting the words “regarding John 8:58,” you avoided the point I was clearly making. As I also put it:

“Thus, the secondary literature cited in your chapter on John 8:58 *that actually deals directly with that verse* consists of a book by a Jehovah’s Witness (Stafford) and works by two scholars (Freed and McKay) cited by that Jehovah’s Witness” (484, emphasis added).


That analysis remains untouched by your protestations.


V. REVIEW

Since this is a long post, I will offer a brief review of the points made here, followed by some closing comments.

(1) EIMI as absolute

(a) You again falsely claimed that I was arguing from authority when I pointed out that referring to EIMI as absolute was “pervasive in Johannine scholarship.” In fact, as I have explained several times, I was simply refuting your claim that Robertson’s calling it absolute was foolish to the point of denying what could not be more obvious.

(b) Against your claim that only a copulative use of the Greek be-verb can be absolute, I showed that this claim contradicts your earlier position and that the Greek be-verb can be absolute when used copulatively (e.g., John 8:28) or existentially (Heb. 11:6; Ps. 89:2 LXX). Kahn clearly affirms that an existential use of the verb in the ‘vital nuance’ (as in John 8:58) is absolute.

(c) I attribute to Robertson the word’s usual sense as applied to the Greek be-verb in modern scholarship and thereby avoid attributing to Robertson, as your method does, a foolish mistake. Elsewhere, when Robertson refers to a verb as absolute, he is talking about infinitives and participles in dependent clauses, not an indicative verb in the main clause. Hence in the case of his comment about EIMI it is most reasonable to understand him to be using the term ‘absolute’ in the same way as Kahn and most biblical scholars in this context. You claimed that if Robertson did use the term in this way he could not have denied that EIMI was a PPA on that account, since Kahn allows absolute verbs to be modified by temporal adverbials and the PPA is formed with such adverbials. I showed this argument, depending on exactly what you meant by it, either to be fallacious or to rest on a false premise.

(d) Although I should not have called prepositional phrases that function as locative predicates ‘adjectival complements,’ the fact remains that the be-verbs with these locative predicates are not absolute. Hence, my conclusion stands that of all of the texts you have identified as PPAs, the only ones with an absolute be-verb are Psalm 89:2 LXX and John 8:58.


(2) “I have been” versus “I am”

(a) In your book, you proposed your own translation of the verse: “I have been (since) before Abraham came to be.” You claimed that this translation is “as close as we can get to what the Greek says in our own language” (_Truth in Translation_, 106). However, in the debate you criticized the conventional translation for using “am” to express existence, a usage you argued has become unacceptable in modern English. After making that criticism, you continued to present the translation of John 8:58 advocated in your book as the way the verse “is properly translated”; “none of the translations” that you compared “gets this quite right,” you said, although “the Living Bible comes closest” (p. 216). So I pointed out that your own
translation also uses a form of the English be-verb to express existence, since “have been” is simply another tense form of “am.” Thus, if you are right about “am,” the rendering you favored is also defective for the same reason. In reply, you resorted to some desperate revisionism: you objected that you were not defending the NWT (ignoring the fact that your own proposed translation is in the relevant respect identical); you pointed out that in your book you gave the Living Bible the highest marks for its translation of John 8:58 (yes, among the versions you compared, but note your statement quoted above that the Living Bible merely came closest to getting it right); you claimed that you used the “I have been” translation “only as the most lexical, ‘interlinear’ preliminary rendering” (contradicting your claim that this is how the verse “is properly translated”); and later you even claimed that you “have always preferred” to use “exist” in John 8:58 (despite the fact that “exist” is missing from your own proposed translation in both your book and the first half of this debate). You also failed even to mention the evidence I presented from two contemporary English dictionaries for the legitimate modern use of the English be-verb to express existence (pp. 472-73), refuting your objection to “am” on the grounds that modern English requires “exists.”

(b) I had shown that in English one may position a temporal adverbial (and specifically a temporal adverbial dependent clause) before the main clause without the sentence becoming ungrammatical. What cannot be preposed before the main verb in English is the obligatory complement, such as subject complement or locative predicate, which must follow after the verb and is formally required for the English be-verb when used existentially (in the ‘vital’ sense). Your objections failed to address the actual argument or even take notice of the conclusion, which was that “have been” also is formally incomplete if not followed by such a complement, even if it is followed by an adverbial clause, as in your preferred translation of John 8:58.

(c) You argued that sentences like “Today I am” or “Since the beginning of 2001, I have been” are ungrammatical in modern English even if the be-verbs are “apparent existentials.” I replied that in these sentences the be-verb doesn’t look like an existential in the context of the sentence as a whole. In other sentences, though, the be-verb clearly does express existence, as in “I think, therefore I am” and “Before Abraham came to be, I am.” The existential force of “am” in John 8:58 is especially clear because of the verbal contrast with “came to be” (or the equivalent), which is why most English-speaking scholars have not faulted the grammar of the conventional rendering.

(3) Harner and Brown

You had written previously:

Brown, Harner, and Ball all buy into the great "I AM" nonsense (that Jesus is invoking Exodus 3:14 even when he says things like "Hi, it's me," and "I'm the one you're looking for"), and this dictates their supposedly grammatical analysis. (p. 257)


In response, I showed that these three scholars do not claim that Jesus was invoking Exodus 3:14 in ANY of the Gospel EGW EIMI sayings, and certainly not in John 6:20 (the text that you say means merely “Hi, it’s me”). I also showed that these same scholars all see the EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus as echoing the EGW EIMI sayings of God in Isaiah and that in fact they barely even mention Exodus 3:14. I concluded that you should not have accused these scholars of nonsense without reading them first.

To rebut this criticism, you first claimed that I had misunderstood your criticism, and that by “the ‘I AM’ nonsense’ you meant any treatment of ‘I AM’ “in the Bible as a name of God, whether in Exodus, Isaiah, of John.” I replied by showing that my characterization of your argument was correct.

Second, you argued that when these scholars treat EGW EIMI “as if it is a name” it “collapses the sentence into an ungrammatical pile,” treating EGW EIMI as a noun (like ‘Fred’) instead of a pronoun and verb. I explained that your criticism misunderstands their position; they are not saying that EGW EIMI functions grammatically like a noun in the EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus. I proved your characterization to be a misunderstanding by quoting Brown’s comments on John 6:20 and 18:5, where in both cases he treats EGW EIMI as having a “two-fold use”: they function both as prosaic statements (“It is I,” 6:20; “I am he,” 18:5) and as theophanic revelations echoing the words of God in Isaiah.

Third, you disputed my claim that Brown “barely mentions” Exodus 3:14, asserting that Brown “devotes a whole paragraph” to it. I pointed out that in fact Brown devotes exactly one-third of a paragraph to Exodus 3:14.

(4) _Truth in Translation_ and the literature on John 8:58

I had argued that the treatment of John 8:58 in your book exhibits “one-sided, partisan scholarship,” in that it depends heavily on the argumentation of a few sources hostile to the orthodox understanding of the verse and includes no attempt to introduce your readers to a balanced understanding of biblical scholarship pertaining to your subject. Specifically, I showed that “the secondary literature cited in your chapter on John 8:58 that actually deals directly with that verse consists of a book by a Jehovah’s Witness (Stafford) and works by two scholars (Freed and McKay) cited by that Jehovah’s Witness.” You objected that this analysis overlooks the citations in the body of the chapter, and you tried to broaden the list of relevant sources to include those that do not deal directly with John 8:58. Neither of these tactics overturns my analysis or the conclusion of “one-sided, partisan scholarship.”

Please note that I don’t dispute that you are a scholar or that what you produced may be characterized as scholarship. However, I have marshaled good support for my assessment of your scholarship as extremely one-sided and biased. I have deliberately held back expressing that assessment until the end of this debate because I had a responsibility to address your arguments first, however one-sided you may have been in presenting them. You will not agree with my rebuttal to your arguments, of course, but I invite those interested to read my post #38 for a complete review of the debate. I have responded thoroughly to your arguments and shown that you have not been able to meet the burden of proof that your position legitimately bears. Having argued to that conclusion, I believe I am justified in pointing out that your argumentation is not only inadequate to support your position, but exhibits telling evidence of bias. No doubt it is unintentional: “That’s the tricky thing about bias, it sneaks in and interferes with your work without your knowledge of it” (_Truth in Translation_, 167).

In Christ's service,

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
Online: http://www.biblicalapologetics.net

Sunday, June 05, 2005

JB17980 - Jason#35:Final clarifications 

JB17980 - [Sun Jun 5, 2005 11:08 pm] (Jason #35: Final clarifications)


Rob,

I noted that in addition to your closing summary (which as I have said I will not reciprocate) you posted a separate message in which you considered yourself to be saying something "fresh and instructive." Since the whole point of our exchange is for our audience to see what we both say on every particular, I think I am obliged to reply to anything supposedly new, and also clarify where you have apparently misunderstood my position. As for your choice of "just a few select
issues" from my previous post, I simply direct our readers to compare what I asked and said there to what you chose to answer, and what you chose not to answer.


1. EIMI IN JOHN 8:58 AS 'ABSOLUTE'

In this section, you refer to handling EIMI in John 8:58 as an 'absolute' as "pervasive in Johannine scholarship." This takes us all the way back to the beginning of our discussion, and my contention that there are TRADITIONS of interpretation that this 'scholarship' participates in, conditioning their reading and creating unrecognized bias. That is why arguments from authority are worthless. Who are these scholars? How do their own beliefs shape how they read the text? Etc. Facts, not persons, are what count; accuracy, not numbers.

You go on to say that you "explained what it meant" when others refer to it as 'absolute' in John 8:58. But Rob, your explanation involved using 'absolute' in the sense of lacking a noun, pronoun, or adjective complement -- in other words, a sense of absolute that would only apply to the be-verb in its copulative use. If that is indeed what this vast Johannine scholarship means when it refers to EIMI in 8:58 as 'absolute,' then this scholarship has been ignored by the Bible
translators, who do not translate it as they do other copulative uses of the be-verb lacking explicit noun, pronoun, or adjective complements even in the immediate context of John 8. You have not responded to this contrast in any way though I have pointed it out several times. Treating EIMI in John 8:58 as a copula, besides being a very poor position, is not a defense of the traditional translation.

You go on to say that I am caricaturing your position when I say that it completely dissociates the main verb from the dependent clause. I say that, Rob, only because you insist that the main verb has a present tense meaning. I have repeatedly tried to point out that if the dependent clause modifies the main verb IN ANY WAY then it shifts it toward the past, in other words, makes it a 'progressive present.' You have agreed that the particular construct of the dependent clause typically makes the action of verb antecedent to the action of clause, which amounts to saying that it does shift the main verb toward the past. Yet somehow, you keep it as a present tense. This simply makes no semantic sense. Period.

On Robertson, I said that one would 'naturally assume' that any meaning of 'absolute' you tried to foist off on his enigmatic statement that EIMI in John 8:58 is 'really absolute' would be derived from how Robertson uses 'absolute' elsewhere in his Grammar. You found it more natural, you say in your post #37, to supply a meaning of 'absolute' from OTHER WRITERS. Now since we have seen how widely varied the use of the term 'absolute' is, how is your method at all justified? When we look at how Robertson himself uses 'absolute' applied to verbs, we see that for him it means a clause totally isolated from modification by the rest of the sentence (see 1092-1093, 1130-1132). And as I explained to you, this is the only meaning of 'absolute' that would make sense for Robertson to give as a reason for not considering EIMI in 8:58 a PPA. The sense of 'absolute' you tried to impose on Robertson does not in any way give a reason for not
considering a verb a PPA. Nor if Robertson thought that the term 'absolute' could still be used of verbs modified by temporal adverbs, as Kahn thinks, would he be able to say that by being 'absolute' EIMI cannot be a PPA, since obviously it is by temporal adverbial modification that PPAs are formed. Therefore, I have reasonably and systematically determined what Robertson must have meant by his comment, and my conclusion that he made an error stands.

You go on to say that, other than Psalm 89:2 LXX, none of the texts I have discussed as PPAs parallel to John 8:58 is an absolute construction in your terms, that is, lacking a noun, pronoun, or adjective complement to the verb. But Rob, the presence of such a complement makes absolutely no difference in the formation of a PPA. The PPA is an adverbial modification of the verb, not a nominal or adjectival modification. I have made this point repeatedly, and you even quote it back in this section, but you don't seem to grasp it.

But I must further note that you are simply wrong when you claim that "not one of the other texts you have cited . . . has a form of EIMI used in an absolute construction." You incorrectly identify John 14:9, 15:27 and 1 John 2:9 as "adjectival complements," when they are in fact adverbial complements. "With you" in John 14:9 is an adverbial complement; so is "with me" in John 15:27; so is "in the darkness" in 1 John 2:9. These are all adverbial depictive complements, just like "Jill is in the study." This, too, is a very basic grammatical mistake on your part that has kept us tied up far too long.

You continue to claim that, "the dependent clause PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is not the usual sort of PPA temporal marker expressing extension from the past into the present." I have shown repeatedly that dependent clauses often serve as the temporal marker of PPAs, and you have acknowledged at least one example of this. Other examples you have tried to dispute, and we can leave that to our readers to judge. But here you go on to say, yet again, that the PRIN clause marks "a point in the past to which the state expressed by the absolute EIMI is
denotatively antecedent." So let me just point out again that if the verb is denotatively antecedent to a past event, then it is in the past, and there is one and only one use of the present form of the verb so denotatively modified to the past, namely the PPA. Otherwise, you have semantic collapse and a grammatically broken sentence.


2. "I HAVE BEEN" VERSUS "I AM": AN UNNOTICED SIMILARITY

In this section, you say that both my rendering and yours are either equally correct English or equally incorrect.

Rob:
"If `am' cannot be used to express existence," you write, "then neither can `have been.' . . . And this leads me to the observation that the NWT rendering, 'I have been,' would be just as faulty English in this respect as 'I am.' In fact, your proposed translation, 'I have been (since) before Abraham came to be' (_Truth in Translation_, 106; '…before Abraham was born,' our debate, pp. 216, 418), would also have to be judged defective in this respect."


Well, Rob, please read by book again, because I quite clearly say that the Living Bible translation ("I was in existence . . .") "comes out as the most accurate translation" (p. 111). You forget that you are defending the traditional translation; I am not defending the NWT. In fact, I have faulted the NWT translation of John 8:58 for inverting the word order like the traditional translation does. What I have praised the NWT for is getting the verbal tense right (which it
actually renders more precisely that the LB does). The "I have been" translation is less than felicitous because modern English prefers "exist" for this meaning, and I have made use of the "I have been" translation only as the most lexical, "interlinear" preliminary rendering to make a point about the verbal tense unclouded by switching to a different English verb.

I in fact do agree that "have been" as an existential statement is weak in modern English, and we should use "have existed" or "have been existing."

You say:

"On a related point, your claim that the conventional translation is poor English because it leaves "am" hanging without a complement actually applies equally to your proposed translation. You have argued that reversing the clauses, that is, having the dependent clause follow the main clause ("I have been" followed by "since before Abraham was born"), is essential to "comprehensible, good quality English" (_Truth in Translation_, 107, and several times in thisdebate). . . . However, . . . reversing the clauses does nothing to keep "have been" from `hanging' grammatically."


I think you have not paid sufficient attention to how dependent English is on word order for meaning. Obviously, by "hanging" I meant at the end of the sentence. Putting the dependent clause after the verb clearly does not leave the verb "hanging." Nevertheless, it is true that since the be-verb has so far disappeared from use as a simple existential in modern English, there is a less than felicitous quality to "have been" as there is for "am," in that a modern English reader sees the be-verb primarily as a copula or an auxiliary verb, or in some way leading to a complement of a certain kind, and expects something more to the verbal sense here. And that is why the best translation would use "exist" or something like it.

But such weaknesses of the be-verb aside, Rob, your claim that "have been" and "am" are equally fine or not in John 8:58 misses the more significant problem with the traditional translation, namely, the disharmony of verbal tenses that makes it a nonsense sentence in
English. "Have been" solves this more serious defect, while still not being fully contemporary in expression. "Am" has both defects. You have never answered the problem of tense disharmony in the traditional translation.

You go on to cite a set of PPAs where "we can translate the verse with the temporal marker of the PPA before or after the main verb and the sentence will be acceptable English in either case."

Now, Rob, I need hardly point out to you that almost all of these examples are distinctly different than John 8:58. One of these differences, in fact, you have repeatedly, and just earlier in this message, said was very significant, namely, they have nouns or pronouns in their predicates. So the verbs are not 'absolute' in your terms. But in fact, Rob, they are nearly all transitive verbs with objects. Now what happens in English (and let's be clear that we are only talking about conventions of English here, where different rules of word order apply than in Greek) is that the object of the verb gets priority over every other element of the predicate, and so displaces dependent clauses and phrases from a position immediately following the verb. This has nothing to do with the handling of depictive complements with an intransitive verb, where such preposing of the dependent clause would result in "Yoda English": "In the study Jill is."

The only exception to this is 1 John 3:8, where an intransitive verb is used in English as in Greek. Here I would only contend that the dependent clause following the main verb is more usual in English. The version with the adverbial phrase preposed is awkward. (2 Peter 3:4 also involves what is technically an instransitive verb, but the changes worked on the structure of the original Greek in your English translation are so pervasive that discussion of this sentence as an example here would be fruitless).

A similar problem arises in your citation of examples using the be-verb, where again the presence of a subject complement, as in the case of objects with transitive verbs, gets priority and displaces the adverbial. The only exceptions in this set are those with TWO adverbial modifications, one locative and the other temporal (John 14:9; John 15:27; 1 John 2:9) where English gives the locative priority as more closely bound to the function of the be-verb, with
the temporal shifted to secondary, and therefore flexible place.

Please note again that you incorrectly identify the locative adverbial complements in the above three examples as examples of "adjectival complement." They are adverbials, in both Greek and English.

You once again discuss "am" in John 8:58 as if it is a copula, and an "absolute" one at that, continuing to ignore the point that that is not how the traditional translation treats it. But what happens next is particularly amusing, since you offer a series of examples of "okay" and "problematic" sentences to illustrate what is acceptable and unacceptable in English uses of the be-verb. What you don't seem to realize is that you offer as "problematic" in each case a sentence exactly parallel in form to the traditional translation of John 8:58. I note the parallel form in brackets beside your examples labelled "(problematic)."

> "I am at home today." (okay)
> "Today I am at home." (okay)
> "I am today." (problematic) [compare my rough translation]
> "Today I am." (problematic) [compare traditional translation]
>
> "Jason has been a member of this group for almost a year." (okay)
> "For almost a year Jason has been a member of this group." (okay)
> "Jason has been for almost a year." (problematic) [mine]
> "For almost a year Jason has been." (problematic) [traditional]
>
> "I have been in California since the beginning of 2001." (okay)
> "Since the beginning of 2001, I have been in California." (okay)
> "I have been since the beginning of 2001." (problematic) [mine]
> "Since the beginning of 2001, I have been." (problematic) [trad.]


You comment:
"In each group of sentences, the first two sentences are both grammatically "okay" regardless of where the adverbial is placed in the sentence. The third and fourth sentences in each group are "problematic" because the sentences are formally incomplete: they are missing the obligatory complement that normally should follow the linking verb. This is just as true of the sentences in which the be-verb precedes the adverbial as it is of the sentences that end with the be-verb."


So, Rob, by your own comparison, you have declared "problematic" the rendering of the be-verb in this fashion, that is as an "absolute" copula, regardless of tense. Your last example in each set is a sentence in which the be-verb appears alone in a sentence with an adverbial, just as in John 8:58. I agree, of course, that this is problematic. So we agree on that. I also agree that even with the adverbial following the verb, the be-verb does not really work. That is because, as I have said, "there is no such thing as an absolute copula." You now seem to agree that this is so. Therefore, as I said in my last post, your whole discussion of John 8:58 as if it is a copula is utterly irrelevent. This substantiates the quote you cited from me about the English be-verb's current status in the language, which is such that it does not normally appear uncomplemented. That is why I prefer, and have always preferred, using "exist" instead for conveying the meaning of John 8:58.

You go on, however, to say:

"Now, what about the existential use of the English be-verb? You asserted that even when it is used existentially, the English be-verb requires an explicit or implicit complement. This is an odd assertion, given your other claim that the English be-verb in modern English cannot be used existentially."


You have misunderstood me. The English be-verb is still used existentially when certain kinds of depictive complements are present. Remember "Jill is in the study"? That's an existential. So are John 14:9, 15:27, and 1 John 2:9. What I have said is that the English be-verb no longer is favored for absolute existential statements. You seem to be still having trouble with the definition of an existential.

You then add:
"In any case, I see no evidence to support your assertion. When either "have been" or "am" is used existentially, there is nothing formally incomplete or ungrammatical about the verb occurring in a sentence without such an obligatory complement following it. The be-verb can come at the very end of the sentence when it is not functioning as a linking verb or copula. There is nothing grammatically wrong with such a sentence."


Oh really? Well look again, Rob, at your examples above:


These sentences are not just "problematic" and ungrammatical when we know them to be defective copulas. They are problematic and ungrammatical just as they are, as apparent existentials. We simply do not talk or write that way in modern English, do we Rob?


3. ON HARNER AND BROWN

On this subject, you simply have not understood what I mean by "the I AM nonsense," despite my careful explanation of what I mean. So let me say it one more time. The "I AM" nonsense is ANY notion that "I AM" serves in the Bible as a name of God, whether in Exodus, Isaiah, or John. It is the mistake of extracting "I" and "am" from a sentence in which the subject and verb serve their normal function in relation to other elements of the sentence, and treating it as if it is a name, whose extraction, of course, collapses the sentence into an ungrammatical pile. In my book I connect this mistake to Exodus 3:14 (p. 107-108) AND TO ISAIAH (p. 111), on which I comment, "Yet obviously the 'I am' is not a name or a title." You certainly know that what God says through Isaiah is ANI HU, "I (am) he," where there is no verb present at all. The Greek translators of the LXX rendered this Hebrew idiom into a corresponding Greek idiom meaning the same thing, "I am he." Only in Greek the idiom is written EGW EIMI rather than ANI HU. In each respective language a different element of the statement is left implicit. This Greek idiom is employed throughout John, but it is not considered to be present in John 8:58 by any major translation. I stated nine months ago, and you concurred, that the use of the all-capitalized "I AM" signals subscription to the idea that I have been calling the "I AM nonsense." Both Harner and Brown employ this all-capitalized term, and Brown goes into considerable detail about how "I AM" could have come to be regarded as a divine title, involving, if you have read Brown with comprehension, the influence of the existential emphasis of God's identity in Exodus 3:14 on the idiomatic Greek rendering of the "I am he" statements in Isaiah (Notice that according to Brown's hypothesis, this is a development that occurs in the medium of Greek.). So my representation of where Harner and Brown stand on what I mean by the expression "I AM nonsense" is fair and accurate, and you should not have tried to foist a different meaning on the expression because, unlike Robertson, I am still alive to contradict you. Nor when we have the book you reference right in front of us, should you claim that Brown "barely mentions" Exodus 3:14 when, as you now acknowledge, he devotes a whole paragraph to it. Let's just breakdown Brown's six page discussion of EGW EIMI. John's usage gets two and a half pages. The background to John's usage gets two and a half pages. And the Synoptic usage gets one page. Any discussion of Exodus, of course, would fall into the two and a half pages of "background." But in that section, actually only a page and a half is on the Old Testament background. That is a very reduced discussion, and still Exodus 3:14 has a key place, as I explained and you have now quoted.

Now let me refer back to Brown's hypothesis that "I AM" came to be construed as a title in the Greek medium. Let's be absolutely clear on this. You have consistently referred throughout this debate not just to what John wrote, but what Jesus said. You have discussed John 8:58 as a conscious quotation or invocation by Jesus of the language of "I am" from the Old Testament. Rob, there is no "I am" language in the Old Testament as Jesus knew it. Jesus knew and quoted Isaiah in Hebrew or Aramaic, not in Greek. If he was quoting those passages, he wold have said "I am he," not "I am." Now if you want to say that John, working in the Greek medium, came up a new existential rather than identification meaning of the Isaiah passages, based on the pun
created by the Greek idi om for "I am he" (that is, that he took the idiom hyper-literally in order to make it mean something else than the idiomatic usage), and imposed that on what Jesus said in a way that Jesus never said or meant it, you go right ahead. I happen to think that John faithfully rendered into Greek what he heard Jesus had said on that occasion, that he "had been in existence since before Abraham was born."


4. _TRUTH IN TRANSLATION_ AND THE LITERATURE ON JOHN 8:58

Finally, you take what can only be characterized as a pot-shot at the references in my book. Here again, you should have thought twice about claiming to accurately represent something where both the book and the author are present to check your claims.

First of all, as anyone can see who has read my book, I kept notes to an absolute bare minimum. I wrote the book from my own knowledge and experience, and do not cite authorities for observations that anyone can make of the biblical text. My citation of references is actually IN MY TEXT, not in my notes (i.e., the social science method), a fact that you misleading omit to mention. I only used notes to make specific additional comments that I felt did not need to be in the body of the text, and sidebars on what one of the few other writers who takes my position on this subject says fit there. Likewise, my bibliography only serves to give full entries for works actually cited in the book, and is not meant to represent my reading on the subjects. So the very premise of your criticism is wrong and egregiously misleading.

Second, you claim:
"It appears from the eight endnotes of that chapter (p. 112) that you are entirely dependent on one secondary source regarding John 8:58. That secondary source is Greg Stafford's book _Jehovah's Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics_, 2ded."


As I just said, my notes are not the place to check my dependence, such as it is, on secondary sources, but rather what works are cited in the body of my text and in my bibliography -- and this involves only those sources whom I wanted to specifically quote or cite. But if we do look at those notes you mention, look what turns up:


If we turn to my text, where I actually cite the secondary sources for the chapter, we find:


Now what was it you said -- "entirely dependent on one secondary source"? And how did you characterize my remark about your "consistent pattern" of misrepresentation -- "bravado"? It takes no bravado to point out again and again that you have some sort of serious problem either comprehending or communicating accurately what you read. Now since you go on to actually note most of the other sources I cite either in the notes or in my text (although you miss one), it is not in the details but the overall representation that something goes wrong, where you employ your own "bravado" to state an absolute falsehood, trying to subsume the contrary facts to your
misleading characterization. It is indeed a sad and pathetic note on which to end, but it is a fairly representative issue for the experience of this debate as a whole. You have displayed all the tools of "that kind" of apologist, and I think it fair to say that you are an accomplished debator. But I am afraid the lack of substance in your position shows through.

Jason B.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

RB17936 - Rob #38: A review of the debate 

(RB17936) [Thu Jun 2, 2005 6:16 am] (Rob #38: A review of the debate)
Jason,

In this post, I offer a review of our debate, despite your judgment that doing so is unnecessary and "would be simply an exercise in trying to control the reading of what has gone before." Not only are closing statements conventional elements of a debate, but in a debate that has gone
on for ten months and nearly 500 pages some sort of summation is virtually a necessity. I make no apology for the fact that this review will reflect my own viewpoint, though I have endeavored to represent your arguments fairly.


A. THE POSITIONS TAKEN

1. Jason BeDuhn's Position

Your position, articulated earlier in your book _Truth in Translation_ and elaborated in your posts in this debate, is that the conventional English translation of John 8:58 is definitely, flat-out wrong and indeed evidence of theological bias on the part of the translators. You based this assessment primarily on two factors.

  1. You allege that the conventional translation fails to represent the Greek text adequately in its use of the present-tense verb EIMI as a 'present of past action in progress' (PPA). Such a usage of the present tense should, you argued, be rendered into English using a form of the past tense, such as "I have been," rather than the conventional rendering "I am."
  2. You allege that the conventional translation is grammatically poor English in three respects: the tenses of the two verbs are not properly coordinated (since, you argue, it is ungrammatical to say "Before such-and-such *happened*, I *am*"), the word "am" in modern English is not used to express existence, and the clauses are in the wrong order (that is, you argue that the dependent clause should follow the main verb). You argued that the above two factors, taken together, constitute evidence of theological bias because the same translators do not make these errors in other places.
  3. You also made note of the use of all capitals in a few translations (i.e., "I AM"), reflecting the view that Jesus' words echoed the words of God in Exodus 3:14, as further evidence or confirmation of such theological bias.

2. Rob Bowman's Position

My position, articulated earlier in my book _Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John_ and elaborated in my posts in this debate, is that the conventional English translation of John 8:58 is at least an acceptable, legitimate translation and is not the result of theological
bias. I acknowledged that renderings in such versions as the Living Bible ("I was in existence before Abraham was ever born!"), which do not take a formal-equivalency approach to translation, may be legitimate because they make readability a higher priority than precisely or fully expressing the original meaning. However, I argued that in a formal-equivalency translation the conventional rendering "I am" (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, etc.) is superior to that found, for example, in the New World Translation (NWT, "I have been"). I based this assessment on a cumulative argument consisting of five major considerations: the conventional translation

  1. is the most literal ("am" is the customary rendering of the present-tense EIMI),
  2. more faithfully expresses the pointed contrast in Jesus' statement between Abraham's coming into being (GENESQAI) and Jesus' own unbounded existence (EIMI),
  3. retains the "I am" wording found in other EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John,
  4. accommodates the ambiguity of the original as to whether EGW EIMI means "I am [existing]" or "I am [he]," and
  5. enables the reader to notice the association or allusion in this and other Johannine EGW EIMI sayings to the "I am" sayings of God in Isaiah.

The view that you espouse is of relatively recent vintage (roughly a century old). It is still distinctly in the minority in biblical scholarship. Moreover, it is the more dogmatic claim: you claim that the conventional translation is definitely wrong and clearly biased, so that even so renowned a Greek scholar as A. T. Robertson is "foolish" for supporting that translation, whereas I claim only that the conventional translation is better than the rendering you favor. For these reasons, I assigned the burden of proof to you.

I also addressed the three criticisms you made of the conventional translation:

  1. In response to your argument concerning EIMI as a PPA, I argued that this is far from certain, that if it is a PPA it is an unusual sort, and that a PPA need not always be translated using a form of the past tense.
  2. In response to your argument that the conventional translation is ungrammatical English, I pointed to other examples of such renderings of biblical texts, showed that the translation you favor shares some of the same 'defects,' and presented arguments backed up from English dictionaries and other reference works to show that your criteria for grammatical propriety were unfounded.
  3. In response to your criticism of those translations that have "I AM" or similar capitalization, I noted that this is not the case with most English versions (including the KJV), so these orthographic variations cannot count as evidence of theological bias in the conventional rendering of John 8:58.

Since a case can be made for the superiority of the conventional rendering and your objections to it are answerable, I conclude that your position falls short of meeting its burden of proof.


B. THE PRIMARY ISSUES

Our debate focused on three issues pertaining to the translation of John 8:58: the grammar of the Greek sentence; the order of clauses in the English
translation; and whether EIMI should be translated "am" or "have been."

1. The grammar of the Greek sentence PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI EGW EIMI

a. Is EIMI a PPA? The function of the PRIN clause

Various aspects of the grammar of John 8:58 dominated our debate. You argued that EIMI in this sentence is a straightforward and unambiguous example of the PPA, meaning that EIMI is qualified by the dependent clause so as to denote existence from some time before Abraham's coming into being forward to the time of Jesus' speaking. In support you argued that the dependent clause functioned in the same way as other noncontroversial examples of the past-time temporal markers of the PPA.

I argued that EIMI in this sentence, if it is a PPA at all, is a highly unusual one. In my view the dependent clause, an infinitive of antecedent time (PRIN + aorist infinitive), clearly qualifies the main verb (EIMI) to denote existence antecedent to the event specified in the dependent clause
(Abraham's birth), rather than denoting existence since some time prior to that event and continuing to the time of speaking. This understanding of the infinitive of antecedent time was documented from recent Greek grammars (Young, Wallace) and confirmed by an exhaustive analysis of the 112 occurrences of the construction in biblical Greek. Because Jesus is speaking centuries after Abraham, though, the statement connotes existence both before and after Abraham. Grammatically, this usage is either a highly unusual type of PPA (broadly defined) or something akin to a universal (non-proverbial) gnomic present (as defined by Wallace), expressing a state that is always or perpetually so.

b. Old Testament grammatical parallels

The only texts in biblical Greek that are grammatically parallel in some respects (a present tense main verb qualified by an aorist infinitive dependent clause beginning with PRIN or PRO) are three verses in the Septuagint (LXX), all three of which you argued are also examples of the
PPA. I argued that one of these certainly cannot be a PPA (Prov. 8:23-25, where GENNAi cannot denote begetting continuing from the past to the present), one is debatable (Jer. 1:5), and one clearly denotes unbounded existence and not merely existence from the past to the present (Ps. 89:2 LXX). All three of these texts speak of God, specifically of his wisdom (Prov. 8), his knowledge (Jer. 1:5), and his existence (Ps. 89:2 LXX). Semantically Psalm 89:2 LXX is closest to John 8:58 (it also has the contrast between becoming, GENHQHNAI, and being, EI) and so supports understanding EIMI in John 8:58 as connoting boundless existence.

c. EIMI as 'absolute'

Another grammatical feature that Psalm 89:2 LXX has in common with John 8:58 is that the present-tense be-verb is 'absolute,' meaning that there is no subject or adjectival complement expressed (and none evident or clearly implied in the context). In both texts an adverbial clause precedes the main clause, but the main clause includes no 'predicate' to complement the verb (i.e., no subject complement, no locative prepositional phrase, or the like). We disagreed on the meaning of the term 'absolute.' You argued that if EIMI in John 8:58 were absolute this would mean that the main clause EGW EIMI was standing alone as a complete sentence, which would leave the dependent clause PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI hanging. I used the term in the same way as the many biblical scholars who have described EIMI as absolute, as explained above: EIMI has no subject complement or other such expression completing or complementing the verb. This is evidently what Robertson meant when he said that EIMI in John 8:58 is absolute. I also cited Charles Kahn, a scholar whose interests lie outside the New Testament, and who uses a similar definition in his major treatise on the be-verb in ancient Greek. All of the major scholarly studies in recent decades on Jesus' EGW EIMI sayings, including those by Brown, Harner, Ball, and Williams, make the same point about EIMI. The dependent clause, I argued, is probably to be categorized as an adjunct rather than a complement (obligatory or optional), but in any case it is not a 'predicate' in the sense of a subject complement or similar grammatical unit. This is significant, because, as I explained in my book 16 years ago, the absolute EIMI does not denote "an action or ongoing event, nor even an ongoing specific condition," such as are described by PPA verbs. Known examples of the PPA using EIMI or another form of that verb always use it as a linking verb, or copula, to describe an ongoing action or specific condition. The only known candidate for a PPA using the absolute EIMI is Psalm 89:2 LXX (implicitly identified as such by Winer), and this example supports the conventional understanding of John 8:58 as a divine affirmation of unbounded existence.

2. Whether the clauses are improperly ordered in the conventional English translation of John 8:58

You argued that 'preposing' the dependent clause "before Abraham came into being" in front of the main clause (whether translated "I am" or "I have been") is blatantly ungrammatical. You argued that in English the be-verb must be followed by some sort of complement (with certain exceptions of no relevance to John 8:58), and in John 8:58 that complement must be the clause "before Abraham came into being."

In response, I gave examples from both older and contemporary English writers of sentences in which the be-verb stands at the very end of the sentence. I showed that the be-verb cannot have this last position (formally) when it functions as a linking verb or copula, but that it can
have this last position when it functions existentially, that is, when it expresses a state of being or existing ("I think, therefore I am"; "Pooh just is"). You tried to relegate this usage to archaic English, but my "Pooh" example shows otherwise. Furthermore, in my last post I also cited
_The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language_ (2000) and the _Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary_ in support of this usage as legitimate in modern English. Both of these works under 'be' have another usage that they do identify as archaic, but not this usage. I also showed that the dependent clause "before Abraham came into being" in English is not the obligatory complement that must follow the English be-verb (when used as a copula) but is an adverbial that can stand before or after the verb. The element that cannot appear before the be-verb is the obligatory complement, the predicate that is linked or copulated to the subject by the be-verb. Thus, in the sentence, "Before the Lord named me Job, I was Jobab" (Testament of Job 2:1), the dependent clause "before the Lord named me Job" (which is grammatically identical in function to "before Abraham came into being" in John 8:58) is perfectly fine where it is. What would make that sentence ungrammatical would be to put "Job," the subject complement, before the verb, as in "Before the Lord named me Job, Jobab I was" (what has been called "Yoda English").

There is another type of sentence ending with the be-verb, in which that verb has an implied predicate (subject complement), typically in response to a question of identity ("I am [he]"). You agreed that the main clause could stand last in the sentence only if that predicate was expressed ("Before Abraham came into being, I am he"). I replied that the predicate ("he") need not be expressed (giving examples) and that translating "I am" retains in English an ambiguity in the Greek as to whether EIMI expresses a state of being or a statement of identity.

3. Whether EIMI in John 8:58 should be translated "am" or "have been"

a. Translating "am" or "have been" and the PPA

You argued that EIMI in John 8:58 should be translated "have been" because it is a PPA, and PPAs should be translated using a form of the progressive past tense to express extension from the past to the present. In response, I argued that it is unlikely that EIMI should be classified as a PPA, at least in a narrow sense (see point #1 above), and that in any case a PPA need not always be translated using a form of the past tense.

b. Translating "am" with an existential meaning

You argued that "am" in modern English is normally not used to express existence, so that the conventional translation "I am" should really be replaced with "I exist" (or "existed," see point a. above). I pointed out that "have been" is just the present perfect tense of "am," so that if "am"
cannot be used existentially, neither can "have been." However, as explained earlier in this post, I also showed that "am" can indeed be used in modern English to express existence.

c. "I am" in John and in Old Testament sayings of God

I also argued that a translation of John 8:58, in addition to taking into account the grammar of the sentence, should also take into account its relation to other EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John as well as the EGW EIMI sayings of God in Isaiah to which those Johannine sayings evidently allude. The translation "I am" is to be preferred because it enables the English reader to perceive these Johannine parallels and Isaianic allusions.

You had three main objections to the above argument. First, you argued that the grammatical form of the Johannine EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus varies, even in John 8, with some expressing predicates ("I am the light of the world," 8:12) and others implying a predicate ("I am he," 8:24, 28), while in John 8:58 EIMI is used existentially. I responded that these grammatical variations do not negate the connections among these sayings as profound self-revelatory statements of religious and even divine claims.

Second, you argued that drawing such connections with other EGW EIMI sayings is absurd in light of the formerly blind man's EGW EIMI saying in John 9:9. In response I reminded you that my argument is that Jesus' EGW EIMI sayings in John share thematic connections; John 9:9 has a different speaker on a different occasion answering a specific question unrelated to those themes and making no allusions to divine EGW EIMI sayings in the Old Testament.

Third, in reference to translating John 8:58 in light of the Isaianic EGW EIMI sayings, you objected that doing so confuses translation with interpretation. I replied by pointing out that in your own book _Truth in Translation_ you acknowledge that the Old Testament scriptures "form an essential context for understanding the expression of the New Testament," so that "the exact nuance of a phrase of argument in the New Testament may depend on this background knowledge" (xviii). Thus, considering the "background knowledge" of the divine EGW EIMI sayings in Isaiah is quite proper in considering how best to translate Jesus' EGW EIMI sayings, including John 8:58.

4. Conclusion: Whether the conventional translation is theologically biased

You attempt to make a case for theological bias in the conventional translation of John 8:58 by arguing that it is not only a bad rendering but that the same versions don't make the same mistakes when translating other verses. The first two errors that you claim these versions make in John 8:58 are misreading the Greek grammar (point #1 above) and grammatically flawed English (#2). I have shown that both of these criticisms are very much disputable. I have also shown, contrary to your argument for bias, that the same versions actually do sometimes render alleged PPA verbs in other texts using the English present tense (e.g., Ps. 89:2 LXX; 2 Pet. 3:4). I also showed that the NWT places the clauses in John 8:58 in the same order as the conventional versions, and that your explanation (the translators were unduly influenced by the conventional translation tradition) was implausible (they were, after all, abandoning that tradition in this very verse). The third error you charged to the traditional rendering was the imposition of a connection between John 8:58 and Old Testament sayings of God, specifically Exodus 3:14. The Exodus 3:14 connection is made explicit only in a very few contemporary versions; the simple "I am" rendering in the KJV, NASB, and many other versions cannot be accused of this error, if an error it be. In my view, though, one good reason for translating the text with "I am" is that the text's association with other "I am" sayings of God in the Old Testament, notably in Isaiah, will be more evident to the English reader. This is not evidence of theological bias, but of taking into account the religious and literary context of the saying, something you said in your book was important, as documented above. Thus, your entire set of arguments for religious or theological bias in the conventional rendering of John 8:58 fails.

Thank you for participating in this long and difficult debate.

In Christ's service,

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
Online: http://www.biblicalapologetics.net

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