Monday, August 30, 2004

JB15555-Rob #7: The PPA and Temporal Clauses with PRIN or PRO 

(15555) Robert Bowman [Mon Aug 30, 2004 1:06 pm] (John 8:58 - Rob #7: The PPA and Temporal Clauses with PRIN or PRO)


In this post I will comment on texts that more closely parallel John 8:58 grammatically than the PPA texts. In the texts surveyed here, the main clause has a present indicative verb and is qualified by a subordinate clause with an aorist infinitive introduced by PRIN, PRIN H, or PRO TOU. I will first consider all of the biblical texts in this category, and I will then address the two extrabiblical examples you cited.


In my research, I have found eleven texts in the canonical books of the Bible that parallel the grammar and syntax of John 8:58 (LXX: Ex. 1:19; Deut. 31:21; Job 8:12; Ps. 89:2 [90:2 Eng.]; Prov. 8:25; 18:13; Is. 46:10; Jer. 1:5; Mal. 3:22 [4:5 Eng.]; NT: Matt. 6:8; 13:19).

It turns out that not one of these eleven biblical texts is a PPA. In all of them, the main verb expresses an action, event, or state of being antecedent to the point in time specified in the PRIN/PRO clause. If that main verb denotes an action or state of being that continues after the point in time specified in the PRIN/PRO clause, it does so timelessly or eternally.

These eleven texts, I hasten to make clear, do not all use the present tense verb in the same way as John 8:58. In some of them, the verb is an iterative present (Ex. 1:19 LXX; probably Is. 46:10 LXX). One is a customary present (Job 8:12 LXX), another is a gnomic present (Prov. 18:13), another is a futuristic present (Mal. 3:22 LXX), and another is a conative or tendential present (John 13:19). The other five, in my estimation, are all instances of an unusual use of the present that I call the eternal present (Deut. 31:21 LXX; Ps. 89:2; LXX; Prov. 8:25 LXX; Jer. 1:5; Matt. 6:8). I expect you to challenge my judgment as to what use of the present each of these texts exhibits here or there. However, I think the evidence shows that *none* of these texts as a PPA.

Let’s look at each of these texts in canonical order. For details on the different uses of the present tense, see almost any standard Greek grammar; I have used terms found in Wallace’s _Greek Grammar beyond the Basics_, 513-39.

Exodus 1:19 LXX:

“…for they give birth [TIKTOUSIN] before [PRIN H] the midwives get [EISELQEIN, aorist infinitive] to them.”

Here TIKTOUSIN is probably to be construed as an *iterative present*. The speaker is saying that repeatedly the Hebrew women (of that general period) give birth before the midwives can arrive to assist.

Deut. 31:21 LXX:

“…for I know [OIDA, perfect indicative used as present] their wickedness which they do [POIOUSIN, present indicative] here this day, before [PRO TOU] I have brought [EISAGAGEIN, aorist infinitive] them….”

Of the standard classifications of uses of the present, the only one that comes close is the *gnomic present*, which expresses “a general, timeless fact” (Wallace, _Greek Grammar beyond the Basics_, 523). However, the gnomic present does not relate its timeless truth to a specific event in the past, and need not be durative. We seem to have here either an unusual subcategory of the gnomic present or a different category of use. It expresses a state of affairs that is timelessly true, that is, a state that has always been true, even before a particular event of the past to which that state of affairs is related. The sense is that God simply and always knows what wickedness these (and other) people will do, even before they do it. I will call this unusual usage the *eternal present*.

Job 8:12 LXX:

“…does not any herb wither [XHPAINETAI, present passive indicative] before [PRO TOU] it has received moisture [PIEIN, aorist infinitive]?”

The question in context appears to express rhetorically (and hyperbolically) a recurring situation of concern, in which case the verb is to be construed as a *customary present*. Job is complaining that life is bad—even herbs with their roots are drying up before they can get water.

Psalm 89:2 LXX (90:2 Eng.):

“Before [PRO TOU; in some mss., PRIN] the mountains were brought into existence [GENHQHNAI, aorist infinitive] and the earth and the world were formed [PLASQHNAI, aorist infinitive], even from everlasting to everlasting [APO TOU AIWNOS hEWS TOU AIWNOS], you are [SU EI, the second-person equivalent of EGW EIMI].”

This is one of the two LXX texts that Winer compared John 8:58. The present indicative EI here is clearly an *eternal present*. The phrase “even from everlasting to everlasting” makes this connotation rather explicit. Note the progression in the text:

Before the mountains were brought into existence,

And the earth and the world were formed,

Even from everlasting to everlasting,

You are.

Each successive clause or phrase widens the temporal scope of God’s existence, from the rise of the mountains to the antecedent formation of the earth and the world to the omnitemporal passing of the ages. This progression eliminates any supposed ambiguity as to whether “from the age to the age” expresses omnitemporal (everlasting) existence. It also proves that the climactic present tense verb EI expresses some kind of transtemporal existence: God is literally “ageless.” It is a mistake to circumscribe the temporal force of EI to that typical of the PPA, a state continuing from the past into the present, since to limit it in this way would ignore the literary feature of the poetic progression and would not take into account the future-oriented hEWS TOU AIWNOS.

However, the verb EI is qualified not only by that phrase but also by the subordinate PRO/PRIN clause. The force of EI is the same in relation to both that subordinate clause and the shorter adverbial phrase. Thus, this text illustrates the fact that the present indicative qualified by such a PRO/PRIN + aorist infinitive clause can be construed as an everlasting present.

Prov. 8:25 LXX:

“…before [PRO TOU] the mountains were settled [EDRASQHNAI, aorist infinitive passive], and before [PRO] all hills, he begets [GENNAi, present indicative] me.”

Given the highly controversial status of this text (as part of Proverbs 8:22-31), agreement on the significance of the present tense here may be difficult to reach. Since wisdom’s “begetting” by the Lord cannot be a repeated or temporally ongoing event, we may set aside the iterative, customary, and PPA uses of the present. Since the begetting does not take place at the time of writing, we must eliminate the “punctiliar” and descriptive presents. The conative (“about to be”) and futuristic (“will be”) uses are clearly out. Again, this isn’t a “timeless truth” in the sense of a maxim or general principle. This leaves the historical present and the eternal present. If GENNAi is an historical present, it is a highly unusual one in many respects, though I am not sure that it can be ruled out absolutely. (The odds of an historical present in a translation of a bit of Hebrew poetry would seem to be extremely minute.) The eternal present has some merit to it, especially if verse 23 is understood (as I think it should) to be saying that wisdom was established before time (PRO TOU AIWNOS). In addition, the similarity between this text and Psalm 89:2 LXX supports the *eternal present* view. The main evidence against this reading of the Greek is the use of EKTISEN (“made”) in verse 22. It seems that any way we construe the verb GENNAi will have to recognize its use as part of a highly poetic passage.

Proverbs 18:13 LXX:

“He who answers [APOKRINETAI, present indicative middle] a matter before [PRIN] hearing it [AKOUSAI, aorist infinitive]….”

This is clearly a *gnomic present*. The sense is that giving an answer before one clearly hears and understands the question results in one’s embarrassment. The proverb asserts this observation as a general, timeless truth (typical of proverbs).

Isaiah 46:10 LXX:

“…declaring [ANANGELLWN, present active participle] beforehand the last things before [PRIN] they come to be [GENESQAI, aorist infinitive]….”

Although ANANGELLWN is a participle rather than an indicative, the grammar appears to be sufficiently akin to the other examples to warrant including this text on the list. The present participle may be construed either as an iterative present (the Lord repeatedly announces through his prophets beforehand what will happen before it does) or as an eternal present (the Lord decrees from everlasting what will happen before it does). In my estimation, the *iterative present* is somewhat more likely here.

Jeremiah 1:5 LXX:

“Before [PRO TOU] I formed [PLASAI, aorist infinitive] you in the womb, I know [EPISTAMAI, present indicative] you; and before [PRO TOU] you came [EXELQEIN, aorist infinitive] from your mother’s womb, I consecrated [hEGIAKA, perfect indicative] you; I appointed [TEQEIKA, perfect indicative] you as a prophet to the nations.”

This is the other LXX text that Winer compared to John 8:58. In view of the perfect tense verbs “consecrated” and “appointed” that parallel the first line, it would be a mistake to translate that first line “I have been knowing you since before I formed you in the womb” (as if EPISTAMAI were a PPA). The sense of the whole statement is that God has *always* known what he planned for Jeremiah to do. His consecration or appointment was not a contingency choice but God’s intention for him all along. Thus, the best classification of EPISTAMAI in this context is the *eternal present*.

Malachi 3:22 LXX (3:23 MT; 4:5 Eng.):

“And behold, I am sending [APOSTELLW, present indicative] to you Elijah the prophet before [PRIN] the great and terrible day of the Lord comes [ELQEIN, aorist infinitive].”

This is actually a *futuristic present*; the sense is that God will send this Elijah figure before the eschatological day of the Lord.

Matthew 6:8:

“…for your Father knows [OIDEN, perfect indicative with present meaning] what you need before [PRO TOU] you ask [AITHSAI, aorist infinitive] Him.”

Since the asking can occur at any time, the verb “knows” (OIDEN) can be construed as a *general present* (whenever you ask, it is the case that God already knows). On the other hand, since the point of the text is that God already knows what one needs whether or not one asks, it seems likely that this is another *eternal present*.

John 13:19:

“From now on [AP’ ARTI] I am telling [LEGW, present indicative] you before [PRO TOU] it comes to be [GENESQAI]….”

Thematically this statement recalls Isaiah 46:10 (see above) and similar statements in Isaiah. Grammatically, LEGW appears to be a kind of conative present, more specifically the *tendential present* (Wallace, _Greek Grammar beyond the Basics_, 533-34). The sense of the text is, “I am going to start telling you right now, before it happens….”

To review so far: The evidence shows that none of these 11 biblical texts is a PPA. The only ones ever classified as a PPA, to my knowledge, are Psalm 90:2 and Jeremiah 1:5. However, I have shown that we should classify both of those texts as examples of the eternal present. In any case, at the very least, one can no longer argue that texts following this grammatical pattern *must* be assigned the category PPA. Beyond any reasonable doubt, nine of the eleven texts simply cannot be PPAs. Therefore, we now know that it is quite possible that John 8:58 is not a PPA—and I would argue that the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that it is not.


In your opening post, you cited two extrabiblical texts that you said showed that EIMI qualified by a subordinate clause using PRIN “often has a past meaning.” Let us look at those two texts.

In Menander’s play _Dyscolos_ 615-16, Sostratos says to Gorgias:


I am for fully be (imp.) to you a long time friend before to see (aor.)

We may translate these lines as follows:

“For I have been—be fully [sure]—a friend of yours a long time, [even] before I saw you.”

I agree that EIMI is a PPA here. However, what qualifies it as a PPA is not the subordinate clause PRIN IDEIN but the adverb of time PALAI. This particular adverb is often associated with the PPA (as in 2 Cor. 12:19), especially in older, classical Greek literature (William Watson Goodwin, _Greek Grammar_, rev. Charles Burton Gulick [Waltham, Mass.: Blaisdell, 1958], 268; Herbert Weir Smyth, _Greek Grammar_, rev. Gordon M. Messing [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959], 423).

In the Testament of Job, Job says:


I for am Iobab before to name me the Lord Job

We may translate this statement as follows:

“For I was Jobab before the Lord named me Job.”

Whatever the verb EIMI is here, it is not a PPA. In a PPA, as I showed in my previous post, the state or action of the verb continues from the past into the present. But Job is not saying that he has continued to be Jobab even after the Lord named him Job. Rather, Job is saying that he used to go by the name Jobab before the Lord named him Job. The next sentence makes this clear: “When I used to be called (EKALOUMHN, imperfect participle) Jobab…” (see also 12:17).

This is the third statement in a short space in which Job begins with the words, EGW GAR EIMI (“for I am…”):

“For I am your father Job” (1:5).

“For I am of the sons of Esau the brother of Jacob” (1:6).

“For I am Jobab before the Lord named me Job” (2:1).

There are different ways of interpreting this evidence. It is possible that the Greek version represented here assimilated the opening words of 2:1 to the previous affirmations. Possible support for this suggestion comes from the textual variants for this verse. Another version reads, “I was [EIMHN, a variant form of the imperfect HMHN] a very rich man living in the East in the land of Uz, and before the Lord called me Job, I was called (EKALOUMHN, imperfect tense) Jobab.” It is difficult even to be certain whether the book was originally written in Greek (many scholars now think so). The extant manuscripts include four medieval Greek manuscripts, an Old Slavonic version, and an incomplete Coptic text. The variants may thus be explained either as the result of the assimilation just suggested or as the product of different translations from a different language.

If we accept EGW GAR EIMI IWBAB in 2:1 as correct, one possible classification of the verb EIMI is that of historical present. This verse does begin Job’s “story” proper, and so an historical present would not be out of place contextually. On the other hand, the use of EIMI as an historical present would be unusual. It would be helpful to know whether the Testament of Job uses historical presents elsewhere; unfortunately, I have not had the time to investigate this question.

However we understand Testament of Job 2:1, though, it cannot be a PPA.

Finally, I should point out that in neither of these texts is the verb EIMI absolute. That is, in both texts a complement follows EIMI: “For I have been…A FRIEND”; “For I was JOBAB.” The only examples I have seen so far of sentences in which the main verb is EIMI with no complement expressed and that has a subordinate clause of the type PRIN or PRO plus an aorist infinitive are Psalm 89:2 LXX and John 8:58. These two texts are also similar in their use of the emphatic pronoun (SU or EGW, the emphatic and even dramatic position of SU EI or EGW EIMI at the end of the sentence, and the use of the same verb in the subordinate PRIN clause (GENEQHNAI is simply the passive form of GENESQAI).

The whole matter of whether EIMI is “absolute” and whether the text expresses or implies a complement deserves separate treatment. I will deal with this topic in a separate post.

In Christ's service,

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

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