Monday, August 30, 2004

RB15554-Rob #6: The PPA and Adverbial Phrases 

(15554) Robert Bowman [Mon Aug 30, 2004 12:57 pm] (John 8:58 - Rob #6: The PPA and Adverbial Phrases)


In this post, I will begin commenting on the question of EIMI in John 8:58 as a present of past action in progress (PPA). I will start by reviewing what Greek grammar textbooks say about the PPA, surveying all of the NT texts cited as examples of the PPA and then addressing the issue of the role of adverbial phrases in the PPA. See the end of this post for a bibliography of Greek grammar textbooks cited. References are to page numbers rather than sections unless otherwise indicated.


A. What the Greek Grammars Say about the PPA

Let me begin by setting out what Greek grammars say about the PPA.

B. Analysis of What the Greek Grammars Say about the PPA

Some summary observations are in order.

First, almost all of these grammars note that the action or state that the verb expresses is “still in progress at the time of speaking” (Burton). The action or state “still continues” (Winer), is “still in progress” (Burton; Robertson; Turner; Fanning), “continues into the present” (Dana and Mantey; Young), is “continued in the present” (Smyth), is “continuing until the present” and so “still is” (Brooks and Winbery), is “continuing into the present” (Greenlee), is “continuing to the present time” (McKay), and “continues in the present” (Fanning again; Wallace). Only Goodwin, Jannaris, and BDF do not make this explicit.

Second, most of these grammars state that an adverbial expression modifies the present-tense verb. These are described as “expressions denoting past time” (Goodwin), “adverbial expressions denoting past time” (Jannaris), “an adverbial expression denoting duration and referring to past time” (Burton), “an adverb of time (or adjunct)” (Robertson), “an adverb of time” (Dana and Mantey; Brooks and Winbery), “a definite or indefinite expression of past time” (Smyth), “a temporal expression [that] indicates the intended period of the past” (BDF), “a specific phrase expressing the past aspect” (Greenlee), “an adverbial phrase or other time-indication” (Fanning), “an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implications” (McKay), and “some sort of temporal indicator, such as an adverbial phrase” (Wallace). Of those who offer any description of the PPA beyond a title, only Winer, Turner, and Young fail to mention this temporal adverbial expression.

Third, we should note the somewhat varying assessments that these grammars give as to how often these adverbials accompany a PPA verb. Goodwin, Jannaris, Burton, Smyth, and McKay all say that the PPA occurs when such adverbials accompany the verb. (By “often” Goodwin and Jannaris mean that the PPA usage often occurs, not that it often has such adverbials associated with it.) Greenlee says that such an adverbial is “required” and Fanning states that the PPA “always includes” such an adverbial. BDF defines the PPA as having such an adverbial, but then cites one text, Acts 26:31, as an exception. Robertson and Wallace say that such an adverbial “usually” occurs; Dana and Mantey say “generally.” Brooks and Winbery say that such an adverbial occurs “often” but not always; again, they cite only one exception (2 Cor. 12:9).

In short, eight grammars (Goodwin, Jannaris, Burton, Smyth, BDF, Greenlee, Fanning, and McKay) regard the use of such an adverbial as part of the definition of the PPA (with one, BDF, noting one apparent exception), while four grammars state that the PPA “usually,” “generally,” or “often” has such an adverbial accompanying it. It would seem from this review that clear-cut examples of the PPA will have such an adverbial. We can investigate whether the PPA ever occurs without such an adverbial on a case-by-case basis.

Finally, by an “adverbial expression” of past time most of these grammars evidently mean an adverb or adverbial phrase. Three mention “an adverb of time” and two (Fanning and Wallace) mention “an adverbial phrase.” Robertson says “an adverb of time (or adjunct).” Here “adjunct” evidently means a phrase or group of words that are not strictly necessary for the sentence or clause to be complete. Most of the examples that the grammars cite, as we will see, have such adjuncts or adverbial phrases. The only grammars that evidently include whole clauses are BDF and McKay (and only because they count John 8:58 as a PPA).


At this point, I will quote the relevant portions of the NT texts that NT Greek grammars have cited as examples of the PPA, including John 8:58 for now. I am listing every example that I have seen listed in the grammars, regardless of whether I agree that the verb is a PPA. The verbs that these grammars identify as PPAs are marked with asterisks; the Greek words of the (real or alleged) qualifying adverbial expressions, as well as some of the verbs, are in all capitals. Following each verse, I have placed in brackets the references in the grammars supporting each, and any dissenting comments.

A. The PPA Example Texts Cited in the Grammars

“Look, your father and I have been searching* (EZHTOUMEN; alt., ZHTOUMEN) with great anxiety (ODUNWMENOI) for you” (Luke 2:48). [Turner, 62; Moule, 8; Robertson, 879, says “descriptive present”]

“Look, for three years (TRIA ETH AF’ hOU) I have been coming* searching for* fruit” (Luke 13:7). [Burton, 10; Robertson, 879; BDF, 168; Turner, 62; Moule, 8; Dana & Mantey, 183; Brooks and Winbery, 77; Fanning, 217; McKay, 41]

“Look, all these years (TOSAUTA ETH) I have been serving* you” (Luke 15:29). [Burton, 10; BDF, 168; Turner, 62; Moule, 8; Greenlee, 49; Brooks and Winbery, 77; Fanning, 217; Young, 111; McKay, 41]

“Jesus, seeing him lying there, and knowing that he had been* (ECEI) that way a long time already (POLUN HDH CRONON)…” (John 5:6). [Jannaris sect. 1834; Burton, 10; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Moule, 8; Brooks and Winbery, 77; Fanning, 217]

“Before Abraham came into existence (PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI), I am*” (John 8:58). [Winer, 334 (who says to compare Jer. 1:5; Ps. 89:2 LXX); BDF, 168; Turner, 62; McKay, 42; Robertson, 880, says EIMI is “really absolute”; Wallace, 531 n. 46, says this is not “convincing”]

“I have been* (EIMI) with you so long a time (TOSOUTWi CRONWi MEQ’ hUMWN)” (John 14:9). [Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Young, 111; Greenlee, 49; Fanning, 217; McKay, 41]

“And you testify, because you have been* (EIMI) with me from the beginning (AP’ ARCHS MET’ EMOU)” (John 15:27). [Winer, 334; BDF, 168; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Dana & Mantey, 183 (but cf. 186, “static present”); Brooks and Winbery, 77; Fanning, 218; Young, 111]

“For Moses has had* (ECEI) from ancient generations (EK GENEWN ARCAIWN) in every city those who preach him” (Acts 15:21). [Burton, 10; Turner, 62; Moule, 8; Fanning, 218]

“This man has been doing (PRASSEI) nothing worthy of death or imprisonment” (Acts 26:31). [BDF, 168, “without temporal designation (referring to Paul’s whole way of life, especially his Christianity)”; Turner, 62, who says “his manner of life still continues”; but cf. Winer, 334, “the reference is not to Paul’s previous life, but to his conduct generally, _this man…does nothing bad_.”]

“You are going* a fourteenth day today (TESSARESKAIDEKATHN SHMERON hHMERAN) without food, living in suspense, and have eaten nothing” (Acts 27:33). [Fanning, 218; Wallace, 520]

“Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain* until now (hEWS ARTI), though some have died” (1 Cor. 15:6). [Wallace, 520, says this is a “possible” instance]

“My grace is sufficient (ARKEI) for you, for power is perfected (TELEITAI) in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). [Dana & Mantey, 183 (could be misprint for 12:19); Brooks and Winbery, 77; Robertson, 879, says “descriptive present”; Fanning, 217 n. 30, says these verbs “are better understood as gnomic presents”]

“Have you been thinking* all this time (PALAI) that we have been defending* ourselves to you?” (2 Cor. 12:19). [BDF, 168; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62]

“…and that from childhood (APO BREFOUS) you have known* (OIDA) the sacred writings…” (2 Tim. 3:15). [Burton, 10; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Moule, 8]

“For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have remained* the same from the beginning of creation (AP’ ARCHS KTISEWS)” (2 Pet. 3:4). [Winer, 334; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Fanning, 218; but Dana & Mantey, 186, call it “static present”]

“The one saying he is in the light and yet hating his brother is* (ESTIN) in the darkness up to now (hEWS ARTI)” (1 John 2:9). [Robertson, 879; Turner, 62]

“…the devil has been sinning* from the beginning (AP’ ARCHS)” (1 John 3:8). [Winer, 334; Robertson, 879; Turner, 62; Fanning, 218; Young, 111; but Dana & Mantey, 186, call it “static present”]

B. Why These Grammars Omit John 2:9 and Similar Texts

I need to make one comment about this list, before proceeding further. In your first post, Jason, you wrote:

“A PPA verb does not even need such a modifying clause, for example in Luke 2:48 listed by Rob, or John 2:9 not included in his list (and there are many others).”

I will comment on Luke 2:48 later. However, regarding John 2:9 (not to be confused with 1 John 2:9), I should point out that Winer (335) expressly excludes from the PPA texts using the present tense in place of a past tense where this is the result of mixing direct and indirect discourse. The lead example Winer gives is John 2:9, though he lists quite a number of other examples. Likewise, Robertson in his comment on this verse in _Word Pictures in the New Testament_ states that POQEN ESTIN expresses an “indirect question retaining present indicative.” Moreover, I have not found a single grammar that lists John 2:9 in this category. I will therefore follow Winer here and exclude 1 John 2:9 and other texts fitting this category from the list of possible PPAs.

B. Undisputed Examples of the PPA

The grammars in the survey above list 17 NT references as examples of the PPA. Of these, 11 are uncontested (Luke 13:7; 15:29; John 5:6; 14:9; 15:27; Acts 15:21; 27:33; 1 Cor. 15:6 [which one writer, Wallace, lists as “possible”]; 2 Cor. 12:19; 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 John 2:9). In each of these 11 uncontested examples of the PPA, the present-tense main verb is modified by a temporal adverb or adverbial phrase:

“for three years” (Luke 13:7)

“so many years” (Luke 15:29)

“a long time” (John 5:6)

“so long a time” (John 14:9)

“from the beginning” (John 15:27)

“from ancient generations” (Acts 15:21)

“a fourteenth day today” (Acts 27:33)

“until now” (1 Cor. 15:6)

“all this time” (2 Cor. 12:19)

“from infancy” (2 Tim. 3:15)

“up to right now” (1 John 2:9)

Two of the contested examples also have such an adverbial phrase:

“from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4)

“from the beginning” (1 John 3:8)

Dana and Mantey classify these two texts as “static presents,” but it is difficult to see why. If we include these two texts, as we probably should, 13 of the 17 texts listed in the grammars as examples of the PPA have such a temporal adverb or adverbial phrase modifying the main verb. Of these 13 texts, 11 are undisputed examples.

C. Disputed Examples (Excluding John 8:58 for Now)

Of the remaining 3 example texts that are disputed (excluding John 8:58 for now), *none* of them has a temporal adverb or adverbial phrase modifying the main verb (Luke 2:48; John 8:58; Acts 26:31; 2 Cor. 12:9). In other words, of the 16 examples besides John 8:58 listed in the grammars, 13 have temporal adverbials and are almost always acknowledged as PPAs, whereas the other 3 that do not have a temporal adverbial are all disputed as examples of the PPA. These data, at the very least, support the position that where a temporal adverbial word or phrase is lacking, the burden of proof is on the one who would argue that the present-tense verb is a PPA.

For a simple overview of how the grammars line up on these 17 texts, see the short paper “Greek Grammars and the PPA,” located in the Files section of this discussion group:


Let’s look at the other three disputed examples of the PPA.

1. Luke 2:48

Two grammars (those by Turner and Moule) classified the present tense verb ZHTOUMEN as a PPA. As noted above, though, A. T. Robertson classified ZHTOUMEN in Luke 2:48 under the heading “descriptive present” rather than a PPA (p. 879). The descriptive present expresses a “durative action” in “present time.” There is a very good reason to dispute Turner and Moule’s classification of ZHTOUMEN: The action clearly is not still in progress at the time of speaking. Mary and Joseph have found Jesus, and after finding him, Mary makes this statement. For this reason alone, we should not classify the verb as a PPA.

We could translate Mary’s statement as follows: “Your father and I are going crazy looking for you!” As I pointed out in _Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John_, Mary’s statement is an emotional outburst, so the above translation probably captures the sense and tone of her statement quite accurately.

In addition, I should note that the preferred reading is EZHTOUMEN, which is imperfect, not present tense. The NA and UBS texts accept this reading; my 4th edition of the UBSGNT does not even mention the present-tense form as an alternate reading. (The Westcott-Hort text did have ZHTOUMEN.) In his _Word Pictures in the New Testament_, Robertson accepts the reading EZHTOUMEN: “Imperfect tense describing the long drawn out search for three days.”

Given the dubious textual basis for the present-tense reading, the fact that the action of the verb is not still in progress at the time of speaking, the sense of Mary’s statement as a whole, and the lack of any temporal adverbial expression, it is best not to count Luke 2:48 as an instance of the PPA.

2. Acts 26:31

As noted previously, two grammars classify Acts 26:31 as a PPA. BDF states here that the verb appears “without temporal designation (referring to Paul’s whole way of life, especially his Christianity)” (p. 168). The reference in BDF to the lack of a “temporal designation” is an acknowledgment that such a temporal expression is at least customary with the PPA. Turner also classifies Acts 26:31 as a PPA, saying, “his manner of life still continues” (p. 62). However, Winer comments: “the reference is not to Paul’s previous life, but to his conduct generally, _this man…does nothing bad_” (p. 334). In other words, Winer actually describes the verb as what Robertson calls a descriptive present or, perhaps somewhat more precisely, what Wallace calls a customary or general present (Wallace, 521-22). The actual explanation of the statement offered in BDF also agrees with this classification. Therefore, I conclude that Acts 26:31 is not a reliable example of the PPA.

3. Second Corinthians 12:9

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient [ARKEI] for you, for power is perfected [TELEITAI] in weakness.’” (NASB) Brooks and Winbery clearly think this is an example of the PPA. Dana and Mantey also give this reference, although it is just possible that they meant 2 Corinthians 12:19, an undisputed example of the PPA. Robertson classifies 2 Corinthians 12:9 as another “descriptive present.” Fanning states that the two verbs “are better understood as gnomic presents.” Wallace says that this example “is debatable.”

An exegesis of the text leads me to conclude that the two verbs in 2 Corinthians 12:19 are not valid examples of the PPA. Most English translations render the first verb, ARKEI, in the simple present tense, “is sufficient.” Nothing in the context suggests that we should construe this verb as a PPA, which would then mean something like, “My grace has been and continues to be sufficient for you.” The problem with such a rendering is not that it is impossible but that it is overreaching, unwarranted, and inferior to a much better interpretation. The most likely force of the verb in this context is, as Fanning notes, *gnomic*—that is, expressing a general principle or maxim. This is a common use of the present (see, e.g., Wallace, 523-25). In this instance, the text is saying that the grace of Christ is always sufficient for Paul (and for us). A more dynamic translation might be, “My grace is all you need” (e.g., the NLT has “My gracious favor is all you need”). Christ is not making an historical observation about the sufficiency of his grace for Paul in the past up to the point of his speaking; he is stating a principle on which Paul is to maintain his faith or confidence in Christ despite his suffering.

The second verb, TELEITAI, is a present passive form, and thus literally translated “is perfected” or “is made perfect.” To construe it to be a PPA would mean understanding it to mean something like “has been and is continuing to be perfected.” Such an interpretation, again, would err by turning Christ’s statement from a statement of principle into a historical assertion. What Christ was telling Paul was that Christ most completely expresses his power in our lives when we are at our weakest. We should therefore construe this verb also as gnomic.

I conclude, then, that 2 Corinthians 12:9 is almost certainly not a valid example of the PPA.

D. Review of Undisputed and Disputed Examples

What do we have, then? We have 13 undisputed or reasonably clear examples of the PPA in the NT, all of which have a temporal adverb or adverbial phrase modifying the present-tense verb. Three other disputed examples of the PPA, each of which is classified as a PPA by only two grammar textbooks, lack such a temporal adverbial, and each of them can be just as well explained, and even better explained, as something other than a PPA.

This leaves us with John 8:58, another disputed example, which does not have a temporal adverbial word or phrase modifying the verb. Rather, it has a temporal subordinate clause with its own verb, PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI. Might it be that a temporal subordinate clause can create the conditions under which a present-tense verb functions as a PPA? The best way to answer this question is to compare John 8:58 to other texts in which we find the same pattern. I will do this in my next post.


Here are the grammars I include in this survey (listed in chronological order):

Winer, G. B. _A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek_, trans. W. F. Moulton. 3d rev. ed.; 9th Eng. ed. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1882.

Goodwin, William Watson. _Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb_. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1890.

Jannaris, A. N. _An Historical Greek Grammar Chiefly of the Attic Dialect_. New York: Macmillan, 1897.

Burton, Ernest De Witt. _Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek_. 3d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1900. Reprint, Minneapolis: Kregel, 1976.

Robertson, A. T. _A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research_. Rev. ed. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931.

Dana, H. E., and Julius R. Mantey. _A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament_. Prentice-Hall, 1957.

Smyth, Herbert Weir. _Greek Grammar_. Rev. by Gordon M. Messing. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959.

Moule, C. F. D. _An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek_. 2d ed. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959.

Blass, F., and A. Debrunner. _A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature_, trans. Robert W. Funk. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961. [cited as BDF]

Turner, Nigel. _Syntax_. Volume III, _A Grammar of New Testament Greek_, by James Hope Moulton. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1963.

Brooks, James A., and Carlton L. Winbery. _Syntax of New Testament Greek_. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1979.

Greenlee, J. Harold. _A Concise Exegetical Grammar of New Testament Greek_. 5th rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

Fanning, Buist M. _Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek_. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Young, Richard A. _Intermediate New Testament Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach_. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994.

McKay, K. L. _A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek_. New York: Peter Lang, 1994.

Wallace, Daniel B. _Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament_. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

In Christ's service,

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

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