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Friday, October 08, 2004

JB15736- Rob #11: Narrow/Broad Definitions of PPA 

(15736) Jason BeDuhn [Fri Oct 8, 2004 1:40 pm](Re: John 8:58 - Rob #11: Narrow and Broad Definitions of the PPA) [Jason #11]


Dear Rob,

Welcome back to the discussion. We agree that we should base our arguments on established Greek grammar, and not introduce novel grammatical categories that are untested in the academic forum. That's the level playing field. We also agree that grammarians use different degrees of specificity and "hair-splitting" in their writing, that individual categories are defined more or less narrowly as the case may be. That is why it is a good idea to use, as you have, a spectrum of grammars to get an overview of the field. Now, where do we go from here? I think your comparison of Luke 18:12 with Luke 13:7 nicely demonstrates that there is a bit of overlap between sub-categories of the present Greek verb. The use of the Greek verb will not break exactly along the lines of the English verb. You are quite right to point out that the action in Luke 13:7 is customary and punctiliar, not continuous, and in this regard is close in meaning to Luke 18:12, even though in English we translate the two verbs differently: "I fast" vs. "I have been coming." We cannot translate the latter as "I am coming" in English, because the time indications in the rest of the sentence make it a PPA, as you say. Of course, in 18:12 one could translate "I have been fasting twice a week," because the statement does refer to practice in the past and continuing up to the present. But while this is possible, I agree that normally we would translate such a statement as "I fast" as a customary present. So you are interested in this contextual expression of past time that determines in the minds of most grammarians, the use of a PPA. You wish to establish a rule of thumb for the relation of a more or less broad understanding of the PPA to the inclusion of John 8:58 within that category.

As I read your attempt to do so, the words of the Great Communicator came to mind: "There you go again!"

First of all, there is the problem of assigning arbitrary point scales to each factor of comparison: factors 1 and 2 get 6-point scales, factor 3 gets a 3-point scale, factors 4 and 5 get 1-point scales. Second, you introduce as factors things that some grammarians are not interested, such as commenting on how a Greek grammatical form is to be translated. Otherwise, the general problem is taking a quantitative approach to things that may be no more than a given grammarian's habits of expression, such as including "state" with "action" when talking about verbs, or being in the habit of using the cautionary "usually, often, etc." But the latter I suppose cannot be helped, since your goal is to identify (quantitatively or not) which grammars are more specific, more specifying in their treatment, and which are less. The further problem you run into, however, is that some of these grammars are huge and expansive in their treatment of every matter, and others quite thin and terse. So this is an editorial factor that, if not taken into consideration, skews any measure of specificity.

But even if somehow we hurdle all these arbitrary and subjective factors in your analysis, we still run smack up against a repetition of past mistakes of characterizing your material. Under factor 1 you say: "I assign 6 points if the grammar specifies that the marker is an adverb or phrase . . . The result is that Goodwin, Greenlee, Dana/Mantey, and Brooks/Winbery score 6." Oh really? Let's see:


Goodwin: "often used with expressions denoting past time."
Greenlee: "requires a specific phrase expressing the past aspect"
Dana/Mantey: "generally associated with an adverb of time"
Brooks/Winbery: "an adverb of time is often used ...
but a verb alone is sometimes sufficient"



So you are wrong to give Goodwin a 6 -- it should be a 2. Greenlee says "a specific phrase," pretty clearly in the broadest possible sense, but I will give this one to you. Brooks/Winbery should be a 5 at most by your point system Dana/Mantey are the only clearly legitimate 6 here.

And so forth, throughout your quantifying exercise. Now, we've been over this ground before, and things got a little testy between us on things such as this. So do you expect me to say nothing about this? Maybe just 'oops'? Rob, I've labored over this paragraph of my response much longer than the rest of it. Let me ask you, how do you account for these "mistakes"? As you know, I have pointed out before how your tally of the evidence has repeatedly been, not in my opinion, but objectively inaccurate, as is the case above. I don't want to go backward, but how do we go forward if you are going to keep doing things like this? I don't want to go through all your quantifications checking for this kind of inaccuracy. That's not the level of discussion I was hoping for. This repeated problem raises questions about your arguments being made in good faith. I can't help it, but it does. You obviously are a person of great passion for your beliefs, but should I then assume that you just get "carried away" in defending what you consider crucial to those beliefs (even though I have said from the beginning that the best way to translate John 8:58 does not in itself mean that the belief you connect to it must be abandoned)? This may just be a case where the twain cannot meet on a "level playing field," because you are an apologist whose single purpose is to win arguments by any means, to defend your faith at any cost. I am an academic, whose single purpose is to get to the truth a matter, however much I like or dislike that truth, however much or little it serves me personally. So, naturally, you "build arguments," and everything is raw material for and in service of those arguments. I analyze data, and put a premium on identifying, characterizing, and incorporating it into accurate representations of history, of texts, of what-have-you. So I don't know how we're going to get past this, because I can respect what you do as part of the phenomenon of religion, but I can't as part of the field on which I play (to keep using this metaphor), where people hold each other to a level of integrity in the use of evidence. I've said enough; let's move on to the conclusions you seek to reach.

1. "The narrower the definition of the PPA, the more circumscribed or limited its application." This is a tautology, and we can agree on it.

2. "Those grammars that offer the broadest definitions of the PPA (with no reference at all to past-time expressions as marking the PPA) say nothing about how to translate the PPA into English." I do not find this significant, but merely an editorial characteristic of their interest and brevity of treatment.

3. "Three of the four grammars that list John 8:58 as an example of the PPA also happen to be the three grammars giving the broadest descriptions of the PPA." Okay.

4. "Those grammars that specify adverbial past-time expressions as required markers of the PPA characteristically also state that the PPA verb is properly translated using an English past-tense form." The only grammars that say that such expressions are "required" are Greenlee and Fanning (as you yourself note under factor 2). Of these two, only Fanning discusses proper translation. You think that the requirement is "unstated but clearly implied" in Smyth, McKay, Goodwin, Jannaris, & Burton. I concur. Of these five grammars, only three (Smyth, Jannaris, and Burton) comment on how to translate the verb. Several other grammars that do not specify adverbial past-time markers as required, and so are counted as less specific in defining the PPA by you, also remark on using past-tense forms in translating the verb. So the connection you try to make in this conclusion between greater specificity of definition and greater specificity of translation does not hold up. Some of the grammars that more narrowly define the PPA say nothing about how to translate it; some of those with broader definitions do; and overall I think to comment or not on translation is an editorial decision independent of the definition of the PPA.

5. "These grammars (the same set as listed under 4 above) do not cite John 8:58 as an example of the PPA. . . What we can say is that their omission of John 8:58 is consistent with their narrow definition of PPA as a present-tense verb that is accompanied by an adverbial expression that denotes duration or continuation from some past time and that must be translated into English using a past-tense form." But McKay, one of the set above, does cite it as an example. Furthermore, when it comes to what these grammars specify as the determining factor, we get some pretty broad characterizations (Greenlee: "a specific phrase"; Fanning: "an adverbial phrase or other time-indication"; Smyth: "a definite or indefinite expression of past time"; McKay: "an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implication"; Goodwin: "expressions denoting past time"). Moreover, indication that a PPA should be translated using a past-tense form is common even among those with what you consider broader definitions of the PPA, e.g., Brooks/Winbery, Young, Wallace. So you have not established any direct correlation between narrow definition of the PPA, specificity of how to translate, and omission of John 8:58 as an example. These three things are all independent variables in your source grammars.


6. "The more broadly we define the PPA, the more likely John 8:58 is to be seen as a PPA, but then the less we can say with certainty about how John 8:58 should be translated, etc." As pointed out above, you have not demonstrated these connections. Your use of broad and narrow does not correspond to what these grammars actually do. The inclusion of grammars that have no interest in commenting on translation is a methodological flaw. Grammars that use quite broad language in referring to the modifying element are just as likely to be specific about translating the verb with a past-tense form as are grammars that give more narrow characterizations of the modifying element.

So I do not see the discussion advanced by this failed effort to establish some sort of significant correlation between what are distinct and independent variables in what the grammars choose to discuss and how they discuss it. What we do have in all these grammars is a very well defined use of the Greek present that well fits the case of John 8:58, to my satisfaction better than any alternative usage. But you promise to introduce a new suggestion in your nest post, and I look forward to that.

Let me conclude by agreeing with you that we probably should not put too much weight on grammarians referring to action "beginning" or "commencing" in the past in the PPA. They are necessarily speaking in the broadest terms of what verbs generally do. This is clear in the fact that Greek EIMI is the verb in question in several examples of the PPA they cite (John 8:58; John 14:9; John 15:27; 1 John 2:9), and the be-verb is by definition stative rather than active -- it does not refer to action at all, does not indicate anything specific about the beginning or commencement of the state of being, but at most may specify when (in the past, present, or future) one could be said to be in a state of existence. This of course allows you to say that the use of the be-verb in John 8:58 does not include or envision anything about beginning to be or commencing to be. That is certainly true. One cannot claim that, even translated as a PPA, John 8:58 describes or refers to a beginning or commencement of being. That is why I have been saying all along that you can interpret this verse as you do without denying the verbal quality at work here. So that returns us to the question of what you are laboring to prove here, and the answer must be that the verse itself, by not referring to commencement of being, necessarily refers to an eternal non-commencement of being. You can't get that from the grammar. Because to do so you would have to make the case that either the be-verb itself consistently implies eternal existence (which, of course, would be nonsense), or that some other modifying element in the verse indicates such an eternal non-commencement of being. Unfortunately, all you have to work with is the adverbial clause, "before Abraham was born." So you will need to focus your argument on something in that clause that establishes your reading.

best wishes,
Jason B.

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