Saturday, October 23, 2004

JB15826-Jas #18: Proper understanding of broad-band presents 

(15826) Jason BeDuhn[Sat Oct 23, 2004 10:07 pm](John 8:58 -- Jason #18)
[Editor's note: Links to parts of Wallace's GGBB (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) ave been included to aid the reader in following the points. ]


Here I will reply to your post 16, which you indicated should be reviewed prior to post 15. In this post, you attempt to suggest that the flexibility of grammatical categories renders the distinction between the PPA and the gnomic present fluid enough to identify EIMI in John 8:58 as more likely a gnomic present than a PPA.

You begin by introducing one grammarian's overarching category of


which contains both PPAs and gnomic presents, as well as other usages. You fail to explain, however, what Wallace means by "broad-band," and "narrow-band." I am sure I am not alone in needing to have this distinction explained, and compared to the categorizations of other grammarians. For instance, he groups together the PPA (519-20), the iterative present (520-21), the customary or general present (521-22), and the gnomic present (523-25), while separating as "narrow-band" the progressive or descriptive present (518-19). You think this is a mistake on his part, and that the latter should be grouped with the rest. Dana & Mantey agree with you, if Wallace's "broad-band" category is equivalent to their "regular uses" class. Since I have Dana & Mantey at my disposal, and I don't have Wallace, I will go along with your modification of Wallace's category in line with Dana & Mantey.

You say:

"I think we both agree that grammarians can and do divide and subdivide the same pool of usages in various ways. I discussed this point at length specifically with regard to the PPA in my post #11. Some grammarians distinguish the descriptive present (which expresses a "narrower" band) from the progressive present, but Wallace chooses to "put both together for convenience' sake" (518 n. 14). We see here that even the distinction between narrow-band and broad-band uses of the present is more of a continuum than a dichotomy."

You have often criticized in this discussion the relative breadth of definition of the PPA in some grammarians compared to those whose view you prefer. So let me just note here how broadly you are casting the net around a wide variety of distinct uses of the present, many of which could not be accurately translated in the same way as one another.

You continue:
"Wallace defends one of his examples of the descriptive present, Acts 2:8 ("How is it that *we are hearing*"), against the suggestion that it is a PPA. He favors the descriptive over the PPA because of the lack of a past-time marker, while acknowledging that Brooks-Winbery dispute the necessity of such a marker (519 n. 15). Wallace notes that the PPA can be defined more or less "tightly," resulting in its being "relatively rare or fairly common" (519)."

But Acts 2:8 is cited by NONE of your grammars as a PPA, and has never been part of the pool of samples we have been considering. So I don't know who has suggested that it is a PPA, and Wallace's argument That it is not is well-grounded. So this is not a case of legitimate overlap of the PPA and the descriptive based in the sources we have agreed to use so far.

You continue:
"Wallace includes the "distributive present" in the category of the "iterative present," and notes that one could classify "several passages" as either iterative or customary (520), since the difference between these two usages "is mild" (521). He lumps the stative present together with the customary present "for convenience' sake" (521 n.20). "The stative present is more pronounced in its temporal restrictions than the customary present or the gnomic present"(522).

Here again, the differences between these usages can be matters of degree. Exegetes debate whether the present-tense verbs in certain texts are customary or gnomic presents (522, 524-25)."

Yes, there is a degree of overlap of all these uses, particularly since they are all translatable into English using the present tense, and they all involve verbal action that is modified by general or repeated conditions, not by temporal indicators of specific past or future events.

You conclude:
"The bottom line is that a variety of usages of the Greek present tense can be formally similar to one another. These include the PPA, the descriptive or progressive present, the iterative, customary, and stative presents, and the gnomic present."

You haven't effectively demonstrated that the PPA can be lumped together with these other uses of the Greek present. Just go back to your list of PPAs from your post 6 and try to start translating them as gnomics, etc. It can't be done without making nonsense of most of those sentences. It is only when the verse is speaking of God or Jesus that you think it should be read differently. Linguists would just look at this as bizarre, and I criticize it in my book. We also need to be clear on what you mean by "formally similar?" If you mean the verb has the same grammatical form, then of course the same grammatically present form can be used in distinct ways. If you just place the verbs side by side, you could never tell a gnomic from an iterative, from a progressive, from a PPA. You need to see the rest of the sentence and how it modifies the meaning and rendering of the verb. It seems you mean something more than the form taken by the verb, perhaps the "form" of the construction, of the syntax by which these usages are identified. If so, you will need to demonstrate that they have this same "form." In your post 7, you already offered a list of texts you considered "more closely parallel . . . than the PPA" to John 8:58, many of which were gnomic or customary or so forth; but I already reviewed those and pointed out the differences between the latter and John 8:58, while pointing out that a couple of your examples WERE PPAs. Dana & Mantey stress that "the general significance of the context" enters into "the resultant import of the present tense" in terms of these different uses (page 181), and that immediate syntactical context is precisely what you are negating in your reading of John 8:58. But besides all this, you are not really advancing an argument to merely say there are formal similarities among these uses, because the issue is not what makes them similar, but what distinguishes them, that is, how we can tell a PPA from a gnomic present. That will decide the issue. Please also note that Dana & Mantey do not regard the static present as part of the same class of "regular uses" as the others in your list.

You continue:
"As I argued previously, one can define the PPA more or less broadly. The more broadly it is defined, the more it will overlap the other broad-band categories."

You will need to demonstrate such overlap, and then show it applies to John 8:58. The latter verse fits PRECISELY the conditions of a PPA, in that it is temporally modified by another grammatical element of the sentence to extend its formal present tense into a semantic range that takes in the past. Do you dispute that EIMI is temporally modified in John 8:58? Think carefully before you answer, because it has serious consequences for your position. The usages you are comparing it to and saying it overlaps with are not temporally modified in the same way, because their modifying element refers to recurring action or continuous states. Abraham being born is quite obviously neither a recurring action or a continuous state.

You continue:
"In pointing out ways in which a particular present-tense verb, such as EIMI in John 8:58, corresponds to other broad-band categories of usage, I am not attempting to "push the PPA out of consideration," as you have alleged more than once. I said in my 1989 book, and I have said again in this discussion, that if one defines the PPA in the broadest sense, EIMI in John 8:58 legitimately fits such a broad definition of the PPA.

Then please acknowledge, which you have never done, that the LB and NW rendering of John 8:58 is a grammatically acceptable and justified translation of the verse. Once you acknowledge that, then the debate over translation is largely over, because as I have pointed out, you are really arguing for an interpretation, and your linguistic arguments fail to defend the traditional translation of the verse as either accurate with regard to the Greek or coherent as an English sentence. But once again I must challenge your assertion that the PPA must be defined "in the broadest sense" to include John 8:58. This is false. The broadest sense of the PPA would include sentences with NO temporal indicator at all, but read as PPAs because of the general literary context (such as Acts 26:31). John 8:58 has such a temporal indicator in the same sentence and in a relationship of complementarity to the verb, which is a closer relationship to the verb than that held by several of the adverbs or adverbial phrases in other PPA examples. I have already demonstrated that your assignment of the grammars to various degrees of support for a "narrower" sense to the PPA is largely flawed. So EIMI in John 8:58 is a PPA in a widely accepted, average sense of the category.

You continue:
"By the same token, though, EIMI in John 8:58 also fits some of the other broad-band categories of usage of the Greek present tense, depending on how *they* are defined."

You then introduce the "other broad-band categories" which you think John 8:58 fits, namely:


First, the gnomic present. You say: "Here is Wallace's description of the gnomic present:

"The present tense may be used to make a statement of a general, TIMELESS fact. 'It does not state that something _is_ happening, but that something _does_ happen.' The action or state continues WITHOUT TIME LIMITS. The verb is used 'in proverbial statements or general maxims about what occurs AT _ALL_ TIMES.' ... the _gnomic_ present refers to a general, TIMELESS fact.... There are two predominant situations in which the gnomic present occurs. The _first_ includes instances that depict _deity or nature as the subject of the action_. Statements such as 'the wind blows' or 'God loves' fit this category. SUCH GNOMIC PRESENTS ARE TRUE _ALL_ THE TIME" (Wallace, _Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics_, 521, 523, capitalized emphasis added)."

This is one of the worst characterizations of the gnomic present I have ever read, which raises the question why you are taking Wallace as your authority on this. Precisely those phrase you highlight -- i.e., the ones you want to use as the basis for your argument – are poor conveyances of the sense of time in gnomic uses, as you yourself recognize when you say:

"the term "timeless" might be confusing, since actually what is meant is a state or action that obtains at *all* times. (Perhaps we might use the term "omnitemporal," which means pertaining at all times, to distinguish this subcategory from the "timeless" or proverbial subcategory.)"

But even your correction is confusing because you distinguish the omnitemporal from the proverbial, which are the same thing. Your own confusion is seen also when you say:

"Obviously, one must qualify this "timeless" usage as relatively timeless in the case of nature, though not in the case of deity (particularly in the biblical context)."

You are here committing the fallacy of postulating a distinct theological grammar, that the semantic significance of grammar and syntax is different in theological discourse than in non-theological discourse. This is the foundation of the circularity inherent in modern Christian reading of the Bible. It views the Bible as insufficient to convey its meaning in its chosen language of communication, which was not any sort of special theological grammar, but the regular and ordinary grammar of the Greek of the time. You show this by returning to the confusing aspect of Wallace's language that you elsewhere correct, and accepting "timeless" as "eternal" when you have indicated that you know gnomic presents are not characterized as "timeless" in that sense. So you contradict yourself and so confuse the argument.

To better clarify things, let me pull Wallace's remarks apart (I am relying on your quotes, since I don't have Wallace):
"The present tense may be used to make a statement of a general, timeless fact. 'It does not state that something _is_ happening, but that something _does_ happen.' "

You chose to emphasize the word "timeless" in the above quote. You should have highlighted "general," that is, a fact that applies in all cases. That's what the gnomic does. As Moule says (Idiom Book, 8): "Gnomic Present -- i.e., that used in . . . a maxim or generalization. This is equivalent to the English frequentative Present: `a good tree [always] bears good fruit'." Notice from Moule's example that neither good trees nor good fruit are timeless things, but every time there is a good tree, it bears good fruit. So this makes the gnomic very similar to the customary, as you have said, and nothing like what pertains in John 8:58. Going back to Wallace: "It does not state that something _is_ happening, but that something _does_ happen." Do you understand what this means? You want this to apply to Jesus in John 8:58. If it did, then Jesus' meaning would be not that he is currently in existence, but that whenever he does exist, it is before Abraham was born. Which I guess would mean that he is not in existence at the time he says it, because that's not before Abraham was born. Hey, there's one of your paradoxes! Or, more likely, Just nonsense.

The next part of your quote from Wallace:
"The action or state continues without time limits."

Wallace has been careless here. In `a good tree bears good fruit,' the action of bearing does not "continue without time limits," but rather recurs at distinct times, but every time.
"The verb is used 'in proverbial statements or general maxims about what occurs at _all_ times.' ... the _gnomic_ present refers to a general, timeless fact...."
"At all timeS" plural, that is, every single distinct time, not continuously throughout time. You have misunderstood this. To continue with Wallace:
"There are two predominant situations in which the gnomic present occurs. The _first_ includes instances that depict _deity or nature as the subject of the action_. Statements such as 'the wind blows' or 'God loves' fit this category. Such gnomic presents are true _all_ the time."
Because the examples he gives are limited to characterizations, that is, statements about the nature of the thing, they give a false impression about all gnomic statements. `The wind blows' is a bad example because wind and blowing are the same thing. If you said "The air blows," then you can see that this is a gnomic present and true, but not continuously true. Take a common poetic gnomism:
`Roses are red, violets are blue.'
This is true ALL the time, that is, whenever there are roses, they are red. Roses themselves are not timeless things, but whenever they occur it is in association with red coloring, and so it is part of their nature to be red. Going back to deity, it is a gnomic present to say "God knows what you need before you ask for it." But it is not a gnomic present to say "God knew me before I was born." Both of these sentences have "before" clauses. In the first case, the "before" clause refers to an action that occurs repeatedly, at any time, past, present, or future, thus making the action of the main verb repeated "omnitemporally," at each occurrence of the circumstance referred to in the "before" clause, and hence gnomic. In the second case, the "before" clause indicates a specific PAST event, and so the main verb is not extended over multiple, customary occasions, and hence is not gnomic.

Next, the static present. You cite Dana & Mantey on the `static present,' although they do not consider the gnomic and static as within the same class of usage, and although you say:
"I think that two of the three examples Dana and Mantey give are misplaced. Still, the category is a valid one."
Amazing, two out of three examples are no good, in your opinion, yet you want to declare the category valid! That's some rock solid basis for an argument, Rob. Incidentally, I agree with you that the examples are misplaced.

"_The Static Present_. The present tense may be used to represent a condition which is assumed AS PERPETUALLY EXISTING, or to be ever taken for granted as a fact.... 2 Pt. 3:4...Jn. 15:27; 1 Jn. 3:8.... The idea of progress in a verb of action finds its natural counterpart in an idea of PERPETUAL STATE IN A VERB OF BEING. This use is practically THE PRESENT OF DURATION APPLIED TO A VERB OF BEING" (Dana and Mantey, 186, capitalized emphasis added)."

Editor's Note: Here is the full quote. What was omitted in the elipsis is
highlighed in red.

(5) The Static Present. The present tense may be used to represent a condition which is assumed as perpetually existing, or to be ever taken for granted as a fact.

All things remain as they were from the beginning of creation
2 Pt. 3:4.
See also: Jn. 15:27; 1 Jn. 3:8.

While this use rare, is nevertheless fully significant of the genius of the tense. The idea of progress in a verb of action finds its natural counterpart in an idea of perpetual state in a verb of being. This use is practically the present of duration applied a verb of being.

You comment:
"I should have noticed this before when commenting on Dana and Mantey's seemingly dubious classification of 2 Peter 3:4 and 1 John 3:8. They use this term "static present" to refer to a usage of the present that is formally similar or analogous to the PPA (which they call "the present of duration") with a verb of being that expresses a "perpetual state." Not all uses of EIMI or other forms of the being-verb would express such a state, of course."

THEY do not consider this usage "formally similar or analogous to the PPA," YOU do. They put it in a completely different class, one in which the progressive character of the present tense is not prominent. You assume they assign what others consider a PPA to the `static' category, and that is why you conclude what you do. But this turns out to be not true of two out of three examples, and the third is just a misunderstanding on their part (see below).

You say:
"I still do not understand why Dana and Mantey listed John 15:27 as both a present of duration (PPA) and a static present. But I agree with them that the present tense can express a static, perpetual, or unchanging state of being."

I can explain this for you. Dana & Mantey explicitly cite "Ye have been with me from the beginning" under the "present of duration" (PPA). Under the "static present" they do not indicate to which part of the verse they are referring; they simply say "See also: Jn.15:27."
Now when we look at the verse, we see that there are TWO clauses. The aforementioned, which they explicitly identify as a PPA, and "you bear witness," which I think is evidently what they mean to refer to as a "static present." So it turns out that there is no contradiction in Dana & Mantey on this verse, they simply cite one part under the PPA and another part under the static present. However, I think this usage here is basically the same as the descriptive present.

You add:

"1 John 3:8 also does not seem a particularly good example of a static present, even according to Dana and Mantey's definition ("sins" is not a verb of being)."

Here again, I think you are looking at a different clause than Dana & Mantey are. Based on how they define the static present, I would think they are referring to the first half of the verse: "The one Who commits sin IS from the devil." As for the `static' here, it is indistinguishable from the gnomic, in that it is not really a `perpetual state,' but rather something that holds true in every case where there is a person who sins. So I really think their `static' is a false category. The second clause in this verse is a PPA: "From the beginning the devil has been sinning." Notice how the temporal modification makes one formally present verb a PPA, and the absence of such a temporal modification makes the present a `static' or gnomic. By Dana & Mantey's definition, you could not have a "static" verb if it was temporally modified, because then it would not be a perpetual state. That is why I think they are just wrong about 2 Peter 3:4; by separating it from the rest of the sentence they have skewed its meaning.

You say:
"Their example of 2 Peter 3:4 fits pretty well with Wallace's reference to a usage of the gnomic present to denote a "timeless fact" of nature, though he applies the gnomic present to actions and not only states of being (note, "action or state"). The hypothetical objector in 2 Peter 3:4 is asserting that everything remains just as it has been from the beginning of creation. Whether we translate this as if it were a PPA (as some translations, such as the NLT, do) or as a static or gnomic present (as many translations do, such as the KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, and NRSV), the meaning in this text is essentially the same.
False. If 2 Peter 3:4 involved a gnomic (or "static") present, then it would be saying that all things have AND WILL remain the same from the beginning of creation. Because as a "timeless fact" it is ALWAYS TRUE. "All things [always] remain the same"(!).

So, as you can see, you have misunderstood in what sense gnomic presents are "timeless," and you have not even attempted to demonstrate any overlap whatsoever between gnomic presents and PPAs (or with John 8:58 for that matter). Gnomics are modified in such a way that the action or state of the verb applies generally, whenever the conditions or event described in the sentence occurs. PPAs are modified in such a way that the action or state of the verb persists from an indicated past time up to the present. As for "static" presents, you haven't even been looking at the right verbs Dana & Mantey identify as statics, so one can hardly give any credit to your attempt to associate them with gnomics or PPAs (an association with which Dana and Mantey do not agree); and again you make no attempt to show how they would work in John 8:58 without fracturing the syntax of the sentence.

best wishes,
Jason B.

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