Sunday, October 17, 2004

RB15773-Rob #15: PRIN + aorist inf clause 

(15773) Robert Bowman[Sun Oct 17, 2004 8:12 am] (Rob #15: The PRIN ("before") + aorist infinitive clause)


In this long post, I will focus on the clause PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI in John 8:58. This post will respond to much of your criticism in your post #8. I will argue that PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is an instance of the construction "infinitive of antecedent time" and as such indicates that the main verb EIMI expresses a state antecedent to the event that the infinitive denotes (without denying that the state continues to the time of speaking). Further, I will argue that the present tense main verb in such sentences often fits one of the categories of broad-band presents, especially the gnomic, customary, and descriptive presents.


Several grammars refer to the construction using PRIN followed by the aorist infinitive as the infinitive of antecedent time. For example, Young says:

"Antecedent time means that the action of the main verb takes place before the action expressed by the infinitive. To convey this idea, 'before' is used at the beginning of the adverbial clause. Antecedent time may be expressed with PRO TOU + infinitive (nine times in the New Testament), PRIN + infinitive (eight times), or PRIN H + infinitive (three times). Aorist infinitives are used despite the fact that the action of the infinitive follows that of the verb" (166).

Young mentions John 8:58 specifically as an example (166).

Wallace discusses the same construction, though he prefers to call it "the infinitive of subsequent time" because the action of the infinitive is subsequent to that of the main verb (Wallace, 596). As long as we are clear, it doesn't matter which nomenclature we use. In this construction, the action or state expressed by the main verb is antecedent and that of the infinitive is subsequent in relation to each other.

In addition to the 20 occurrences of this construction in the NT, it occurs 92 times in the LXX (including Apocryphal books). These 112 occurrences in biblical Greek accompany controlling or main verbs in the present (16), imperfect (10), aorist (60), perfect (4), and future (19) tenses, and in 3 instances with no main verb expressed. About half of the occurrences use PRO TOU (55), and half use either PRIN (33) or PRIN H (24). Here is a complete table of these 112 occurrences. I have made a good-faith effort to compile this information as accurately as possible. However, given the large number of texts, I welcome corrections to any inadvertent mistakes here. Texts with an asterisk (*) are the only texts to my knowledge where the antecedent time significance might be under dispute.


With Present Tense Main Verb (16): PRO TOU: Deut. 31:21; Job 8:12; Ps. 89:2 (Eng., 90:2)*; Prov. 8:23-25 (4x)*; Jer. 1:5a*; Ps. of Sol. 14:8; Matt. 6:8; John 13:19; with PRIN (H): Ex. 1:19; Prov. 18:13; Is. 46:10; Mal. 3:22 (Eng., 4:5); Sirach 11:8; 14:13; 18:19; John 8:58*

With Imperfect Main Verb (10): PRO TOU: Gen. 13:10; 24:15, 45; Ezek.
16:56-57 (note: the main verb might be the present-tense EI which follows); Hag. 2:15-16; John 17:5; Gal. 2:12; 3:23; with PRIN (H): 1 Sam. 2:15; Is. 23:7

With Aorist Main Verb (60): PRO TOU: Gen. 2:5 (2x); 11:4; 19:4; 27:10, 33; 36:31; 37:18; 41:50; 48:5; 50:16; Ex. 12:34; Lev. 14:36; Josh. 3:1; Judg. 14:18; Ruth 3:14; 2 Chron. 33:19; Judith 16:24; Tobit 10:11 (S); 11:7 (S); 14:15b; Ps. 38:14 (Eng., 39:13); 118:67 (Eng., 119:67); 128:6 (Eng., 129:6); Prov. 30:7; Job 10:20-21; Zeph. 2:1-2 (3x); Is. 42:9; 44:7; Jer. 13:16; Luke 2:21; 22:15; John 1:48; Acts 23:15; PRIN (H): Gen. 27:4; Num. 11:33; Josh. 2:8; 2 Kings 2:9; 6:32; Is. 48:5; 66:7; Ezek. 33:22; Tobit 2:4; 3:8; 4:2; 8:20; 14:15a; 1 Macc. 10:4; 2 Macc. 8:14; 13:13; 4 Macc. 5:6; 9:27; Wisdom 2:8; Sirach 18:21, 23; 19:17; 48:25; 51:13; John 4:49; Matt. 1:18; Acts 7:2

With Perfect Main Verb (4): PRO TOU: Jer. 1:5b; PRIN (H): Sirach 23:20; Sus. 1:35; John 14:29

With Future Main Verb (19): PRO TOU: Gen. 27:7; 45:28; 2 Macc. 7:7*; Ps. 57:10 (Eng., 58:9); PRIN (H): 1 Sam. 9:13; Judith 7:14; Is. 7:15, 16; 8:4; 28:4, 24; 65:24; Joel 3:4 (Eng., 2:31); Matt. 26:34, 75; Mark 14:30, 72; Luke 22:61; Acts 2:20

With No Main Verb Expressed (3): PRO TOU: Ps. 26:1 (Eng., 27:1); PRIN: 1 Sam. 3:3, 7


As best I can see, none of the 57 examples using PRIN or PRIN H is subject to any dispute as an instance of antecedent time unless John 8:58 is the lone exception. This includes seven examples from the LXX in which the main verb is in the present tense (Ex. 1:19; Prov. 18:13; Is. 46:10; Mal. 3:22 [Eng., 4:5]; Sirach 11:8; 14:13; 18:19). Of the 55 examples using PRO TOU, the only instances that might be subject to any significant dispute are three of the LXX occurrences accompanying a main verb in the present tense. We have already discussed these texts (Ps. 89:2 [Eng., 90:2]; Prov. 8:25; Jer. 1:5a). Five other examples of the construction with PRO TOU and a present-tense main verb indisputably fit the antecedent-time sense (Deut. 31:21; Job 8:12; Psalm of Solomon 14:8; Matt. 6:8; John 13:19).

(I am aware of only one other text where one might dispute the antecedent-time reading. In 2 Maccabees 7:7, a man's attackers "were asking 'if you will eat before [your] body is punished limb by limb.'" One could interpret the sense of this challenge as "will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb" [NRSV]. Still, the way the text expresses this idea uses antecedent time: the attackers are giving the man a chance to eat before they carry out their threat.)

Statistically, we are justified in presuming unless proven otherwise that in any biblical text with a clause of the form PRO TOU or PRIN (H) followed by an aorist infinitive, the main or controlling verb expresses a state or action antecedent to that denoted by the aorist infinitive. (The state or action may continue after the event or action denoted by the aorist infinitive, but the denotative meaning of the main verb pertains to a time prior to that event or action.) In 108 of the 112 occurrences (96%) of this construction in biblical Greek, this presumption appears to be beyond any reasonable dispute. Even when the main verb is in the present tense, 12 of the 16 occurrences (75%) indisputably fit the infinitive of antecedent time sense. Thus, the burden of proof rests on the view that in a particular text this construction does not have the antecedent-time sense.


Before considering the disputable texts, I will review the undisputed examples occurring with a present-tense main verb. I will also review the classification of the present-tense verbs in these texts, using standard categories from the Greek grammars as discussed in the previous post.

Exodus 1:19 LXX: "...for they give birth [TIKTOUSIN] before [PRIN H] the midwives get [EISELQEIN, aorist infinitive] to them." As explained in a previous post, TIKTOUSIN here is an iterative (or customary) present, denoting that the Israelite women were repeatedly or regularly giving birth before the midwives could get to them.

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...." I would classify OIDA here as a descriptive or general present. The Lord was asserting that he already knew at that time what wicked things the Israelites were doing.

Job 8:12 LXX: "...does not any herb wither [XHPAINETAI, present passive indicative] before [PRO TOU] it has received moisture [PIEIN, aorist
infinitive]?" We should probably classify XHPAINETAI as a customary present. The complaint is that things are going so badly that one could speak of herbs withering before getting their needed moisture as a typical occurrence.

Proverbs 18:13 LXX: "He who answers [APOKRINETAI, present indicative middle] a matter before [PRIN] hearing it [AKOUSAI, aorist infinitive]...." The verb APOKRINETAI is without question a gnomic present. It is a timeless or general truth that responding in ignorance will result in one's embarrassment.

Isaiah 46:10 LXX: "...declaring [ANANGELLWN, present active participle]beforehand the last things before [PRIN] they come to be [GENESQAI, aorist infinitive]...." We may classify ANANGELLWN as an iterative or customary present. The sentence asserts that one of the things that the Lord does, that the false gods do not, is to declare what things will happen before they occur.

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]." APOSTELLW is actually a futuristic present (on this usage, see Wallace, _Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics_, 535-36).

Sirach 11:8: "Do not answer before you listen" (PRIN H AKOUSAI [aorist infinitive] MH APOKRINOU [present imperative]). As you pointed out in your very first post in this discussion, the use of a negation reverses the temporal order of the main verb and aorist infinitive. The meaning here is that one should answer after one listens rather than before. We may still call the construction the infinitive of antecedent time as long as we understand the semantics of the negation. The present-tense APOKRINOU is, of course, a gnomic present.

Sirach 14:13: "Do (POIEI, present imperative) good to friends before you die (PRIN SE TELEUTHSAI, aorist infinitive)." POIEI is another gnomic present.

Sirach 18:19: "Before you speak (PRIN H LALHSAI, aorist infinitive), learn (MANQANE, present imperative)." MANQANE is yet another gnomic present.

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." We may classify OIDEN as a general or descriptive present.

John 13:19: "From now on [AP' ARTI] I am telling [LEGW, present indicative] you before [PRO TOU] it comes to be [GENESQAI]...." We might classify LEGW as a tendential present, as I suggested in an earlier post: Jesus is saying that he is about to start telling them things ahead of time. On the other hand, in context it appears that Jesus is already starting to do just that, so perhaps we might classify LEGW as a "mostly futuristic" or "ingressive-futuristic" present, which describes "an event _begun_ in the present time, but completed in the future" (Wallace, 537). Jesus is telling them things ahead of time, starting from right then.

Of these 11 occurrences of the infinitive of antecedent time construction, in 9 instances the main or controlling present-tense verb is a broad-band present. The only exceptions are the 2 futuristic uses (Mal. 3:22 LXX; John 13:19). Of the rest, 4 are gnomic, 3 are customary (or iterative/customary), and 2 are descriptive or general.

III. Infinitive of Antecedent Time with the Present Tense: Disputed LXX Examples

I turn now to the three LXX occurrences of this construction where there might be some dispute about the antecedent-time sense.

A. Proverbs 8:23-25

In an earlier post I quoted verse 25 alone, but that was a mistake. We really should consider verses 23-25 together:

"Before the [PRO TOU] age he established [EQEMELIWSEN] me in the beginning, before [PRO TOU] he made [POIHSAI] the earth, and [KAI] before [PRO TOU] he made [POIHSAI] the depths, before [PRO TOU] the fountains of water went forth [PROELQEIN], before [PRO TOU] the mountains were settled [EDRASQHNAI], and [DE] before [PRO] all hills,
he begets [GENNAi] me."

The emphasis in this text is definitely on the temporal priority of wisdom to the physical world: the word PRO appears six times, four times in the antecedent-time construction PRO TOU followed by an aorist infinitive. The first line quoted above sets the temporal framework of antecedent time explicitly, with PRO TOU introducing a phrase, PRO TOU AIONWS, that places wisdom as established before the time of creation. The reader continuing from that first line can only understand lines 2-6 as expressing the idea of wisdom's existence antecedent to the earth, the depths, the breaking forth of the waters and the settling of the mountains. Line 7 is the climax: before God established wisdom in the beginning, before he made the earth and brought it into its familiar form of depths and fountains, mountains and hills, God "begets" wisdom.

It is reasonable to look for some explanation for the use of the present-tense GENNAi where the same stanza earlier uses the aorist EQEMELIWSEN in the same context. However, the PPA (in its usual middle-of-the-road or narrow definition) would seem not to fit. One reason the PPA does not fit is the meaning of "begetting." In reference to this point, you made the following comment:

Our disinclination to read this as a PPA is based solely on the CONTENT of the verb, not the grammar or syntax of the sentence. We think of the action of begetting as punctiliar, happening at one particular moment, and so we are inclined, as you note, to read this as a historical present. I agree with you that this is possible, but weak.... But the PPA is more ready to hand: "He has begotten me." ...The reason why the present is used as a PPA here is that the existence of the speaker is ongoing. I alluded to this special existential/identity function of the PPA before.

The "content" or sense of a verb can legitimately rule out certain usages, as the grammars repeatedly show. Thus, the term "begets" could be a sufficient reason to rule out construing the verb here as a PPA. The sense of other words in the sentence also tends to direct our understanding toward one way of construing the verb rather than another. For example, we only know that "before Abraham came into being" refers to a past event because we know that Abraham lived and died in the past. (The fact that the very same kind of clause can refer to a *future* event, as in Malachi 3:22 LXX, proves that the content is relevant to classifying usage.)

However, I do not appeal to the semantics of the verb "begets" alone. I also would point out that read as part of their long sentence (which takes several lines), the PRO TOU clauses can hardly be understood any other way than as denoting events that wisdom antedated. To make the PPA classification fit, you had to invoke the notion of a "special existential/identity function of the PPA," which in your post #10 you agreed to drop. Yet I see no way to make the PPA classification work here without it, *unless* one broadens the PPA so far that it would apply to virtually any broad-band present-tense verb. Again, in principle I do not object to using very broad definitions of the PPA as long as we do not then overreach by interpreting all such verbs as if we were really using a very narrow definition. Naturally, that which was begotten before a certain event in the past and is speaking about itself in the present existed from a time prior to that event and continued to exist up to the time of speaking. In that loose sense GENNAi could be classified as a PPA. But we should not overlook the fact that wisdom says something more than that in Proverbs 8:23-25. What it says is that God "begets" it before creation.

Moreover, for the existential/identity function to have any explanatory power with reference to the present-tense verb GENNAi, we must be able to explain why the other indicative verb in these lines is aorist rather than present. The same thing (wisdom) that God "begat" (if that is the right word) long ago and that still exists, God also "established" long ago and it still exists. Why would an existential/identity function be appropriate for "begets" but not for "establishes"?

The historical present explanation also does not seem to be workable. You agreed that it was weak, but commented parenthetically:

(although I don't understand your reasoning that "the odds of an historical present in a translation of a bit of Hebrew poetry would seem to be extremely minute"; this is a narrative section of the poem, surrounded by past tenseverbs).

To the best of my knowledge, historical presents are normally found in *prose* narratives, not poetic "narratives." Moreover, the historical present is a phenomenon associated with a fresh, original telling of a narrative; for that reason, I would not expect to find them in translations. I haven't researched the LXX to see if it uses historical presents in any significant number, so it is possible that I am mistaken here; I would welcome information either confirming or refuting my take on this matter.

If GENNAi is not a PPA or an historical present, what is it? Why does the text shift from the aorist "established" to the present "begets"? My own suggestion is that the verb tense shifts because the text is shifting metaphors and perspectives. The wisdom that the book exhorts people to pursue is intrinsic to the created order, in that God established wisdom in the very beginning of creation as inherent in the structure or order of the world. To express this idea, the LXX translators employ aorist verbs for "created" (v. 22) and "established" (v. 23). Wisdom, we might put it, was created right into the warp and woof of the world. The metaphor of begetting or procreating, which emerges explicitly in the passage in verse 25, views wisdom in another way as (speaking still metaphorically) the offspring of God, as a kind of extension of his own nature. Paradoxically, God "begets" wisdom before the beginning, even before he established wisdom in its role in creation. The smoothest, paradox-free way of construing these lines is that God is always wise and everything he does is and always has been an expression of wisdom. But the LXX wording *is* paradoxical: it says that God *does* (not "did") something ("begets"), which we naturally think of as a temporal act, "before" the very beginning of creation. I see no plausible way around the conclusion that the LXX translation of Proverbs 8:23-25 construes God's "begetting" of wisdom as either (minimally) omnitemporal or (more likely) transtemporal (i.e., eternal). If I am correct, we should classify GENNAi as a gnomic/static/broad-descriptive present. The semantically odd assertion that God "begets" wisdom before the very beginning of creation is a way of saying that God is always wise, or that wisdom "issues" forth from God at all times and does so even antecedent to creation.

B. Jeremiah 1:5a LXX

Before commenting on Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 90:2, I wish to respond to the following statement from your post #8:

You state at the beginning of your post #7 that "not one of these eleven biblical texts is a PPA," while several pages later conceding that two of them(Psalm 90:2 and Jeremiah 1:5) are usually "classified as a PPA."

Jason, here is what I said "several pages later":

"The only ones ever classified as a PPA, to my knowledge, are Psalm 90:2 and Jeremiah 1:5."

Please note, I did not say "usually." Nor did I say anything that you could plausibly construe as the functional equivalent of "usually." To the contrary, I said that these were the "only ones EVER classified as a PPA." The word "ever" implies, if anything, that they are "usually" NOT so classified. To be specific, of the 17 grammars I surveyed, only ONE-Winer-mentions these two LXX texts in the context of the PPA, and then only as LXX parallels to our controversial John 8:58. Not only did I not say that grammarians usually classify these two texts as PPAs, had I said such a thing it would be false.

I must say that I am at a loss to understand how you came to misconstrue me in this way.

In your post #8, you wrote:

Jeremiah 1:5 is also quite clearly a PPA, and is usually translated that way in English Bibles. It should be, "I have known you since before I formed you in thewomb, etc."

Of course, most English Bibles are translations based primarily on the Hebrew text, not on the Greek Septuagint. As for how English Bibles usually translate this line of Jeremiah 1:5, I am not aware of a single one that translates it as you say it "should be" translated. Compare the following translations:

Only one of these eleven versions puts the clauses in what you consider the correct order, none of them translates the main verb as a PPA ("I have known"), and none of them construes "before" as "since before."

You wrote:
May I also point out that in your previous post you stated that of the 15 grammars you surveyed, "The only grammars that evidently include whole clauses [among examples of PPAs] are BDF and McKay (and only because they count John 8:58 as a PPA)." In my last post, I showed how this summation was not accurate, but I failed to note that it also deliberately ignored Winer's citation of Psalm 90:2 and Jeremiah 1:15 as PPAs comparable to John 8:58 (which you noted but failed to include in your summation).
The words you placed in brackets do not accurately represent my thought. No doubt I could have worded myself more clearly. If I were to put some words in brackets there to clarify my thought, the sentence would read as follows:

"The only grammars that evidently include whole clauses [when they refer to expressions of past time] are BDF and McKay (and only because they count John 8:58 as a PPA)." In other words, I was referring in that sentence only to those grammars that actually say anything at all about a past-time expression as marking the PPA. Your statement that I "deliberately ignored Winer's citation," then, is false both in that Winer is irrelevant to the point I was making and in that I was not "deliberately" ignoring him. Why you would imagine that I would acknowledge that two grammars include whole clauses but "deliberately ignore" athird is a mystery to me.

You wrote:
In the second part of the sentence, the perfect verbs "consecrated" and "appointed" refer to acts at one point of time. The perfect tense signifies completed action of the past. But the present tense is used in the first part of the sentence because the action of the verb (God's knowing) was not a punctiliar past event, but a familiarity that was in place "before" and continues to thepresent of God's speaking. Hence, a classic PPA.

I don't dispute that what you say is a possible, and plausible, reading of the text. I certainly agree that if one defines the PPA as broadly as Winer did, then there is no difficulty in tagging "know" in Jeremiah 1:5 as a PPA. It is true, as you say, that we may infer from the text that God knew Jeremiah in the past before his birth and continues to know Jeremiah in the present (at the time of speaking). The statement that God "knows" Jeremiah applies in the past and in the present. If this is all that we mean by the PPA, then we can label "know" in Jeremiah 1:5 a PPA. But the point in Jeremiah 1:5 is not *limited* to the observation that God has known Jeremiah since sometime prior to his birth and has continued to know him up to or at the moment of speaking. Rather, the statement expresses a startling assertion that derives its force from the fact that "before you were born" expresses *antecedent time*: God "knows" Jeremiah even before Jeremiah was born! God's knowledge of Jeremiah does not depend on Jeremiah's concrete existence but anticipates it. The sense is that God's knowledge of Jeremiah is unbounded by the necessary causal order of our own experience, in which something must happen before we can know it. No: Before Jeremiah is even born, God already knows him.

This usage of the present tense also seems to fit nicely the gnomic/static/broad-descriptive usage. God's knowing Jeremiah is a perpetual, temporally unbounded knowing, as starkly expressed by saying that God knows him even before he is born.

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

The last time round that I discussed this verse, I pointed out that it exhibited a progression as follows:

Before the mountains were brought into existence,
And the earth and the world were formed,
Even from everlasting to everlasting,
You are.

In your response, you took exception to the translation "even from everlasting to everlasting" for the third line:

The translation you use is not particularly close to the Greek; "even from everlasting to everlasting" is particularly tendentious. There is nothing at all in the Greek behind "even," which is added in this translation to heighten the supposed "progression" of the imagery. "Everlasting" is based on "the age," and I have discussed the ambiguity of this expression in my post on this passage.

I take the first sentence above to insinuate that there is more wrong with my translation beyond the line that you say "is particularly tendentious." So let's look at the whole verse:

PRO TOU (before the) ORH (mountains) GENHQHNAI (were brought into existence {aorist passive infinitive of GINOMAI, to become, to come into existence) "Before the mountains were brought into existence"

KAI (and) PLASQHNAI (were formed [aorist passive infinitive of PLASSW, to mold, to form]) THN GHN KAI THN OIKOUMENHN (the earth and the world [or, inhabited earth, mankind]) "And the earth and the world were formed"

KAI (even [UBS dictionary: and, also, but, even]) APO TOU (from the) AIWNOS (everlasting [UBS dictionary: age, world, eternity]) hEWS TOU (to the) AIWNOS "Even from everlasting to everlasting" SU (you [singular]) EI (are [2d person singular of EIMI]). "You are."

As best I can determine, my translation of lines 1 and 2 are unimpeachable. You don't agree with my translation of line 4 because you favor viewing it as a PPA. However, it would be absurd to claim that the translation "you are" for SU EI is "not particularly close to the Greek." Wouldn't it?

This leaves line 3. As I pointed out in my post #13, your claim that "there is nothing at all in the Greek behind 'even'" is an embarrassing mistake, since behind "even" is the Greek word KAI. Note my reference to the UBS Greek-English dictionary, which lists "even" as one of the translations of KAI. Since a progression is evident from lines 1 to 3 with or without KAI, the rendering "even" for KAI fits the context quite well.

The most elemental rendering of the word AIWNOS is "age," but translations often use "world" or "eternity" or (as I did) "everlasting" to render AIWNOS depending on context. Again, note that "eternity" is one of the translations listed in the UBS dictionary. (I would be happy to substitute "eternity" in place of "everlasting"!) Moreover, I gave contextual, exegetical evidence supporting the translation "everlasting" here:

"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."

I should add, though, that it would not overturn my interpretation of the verse to translate AIWNOS as "age" (as I did in the above-quoted comment). Even (!) with that translation, line 3 would express a more comprehensive temporal perspective on God's existence than the first two lines, and that we can plausibly understand only as meaning that God's existence has no beginning or end.

I conclude that your claim that my translation of Psalm 89:2 LXX is "not particularly close to the Greek" is false.

You wrote:

The addition of this phrase, "even from everlasting to everlasting" (or, "from age to age") is what suggests to you an "eternal" character to the present tense verb. Note that it is the CONTENT of this phrase, not the grammar employed in the sentence, that leads to your interpretation.

Actually, I appeal to both the content of that line and the grammar of the whole verse in support of my interpretation. You wrote:

As I pointed out in my post on this passage, there is no such additional phrase in John 8:58, and this verse is a closer parallel to John 8:58 if we remove this additional phrase, leaving only a PRO TOU/PRIN clause with a present tense main verb. When we do that, the action of the verb is a classic PPA, with existence predicated "before" certain other past events and continuing to the present time of the statement.

If we omit the third line, the verse predicates existence of God "before" certain past events, by saying not that God "existed" before creation but that he "exists" before creation. That God continued to exist after creation and up to the time of the statement is implied, of course, but that is not the precise denotation of the verb in this context. Rather, in its grammatical and semantic setting in this verse, EI denotes simple existence, an existence at all times, contrasted specifically with the origins of the ancient mountains, the earth and the world. The third line confirms this interpretation rather than being the sole basis for it. Thus, while the PPA classification can apply in a broad sense to Psalm 89:2, the gnomic/static/broad-descriptive classification more fully brings out the precise sense of the verb in this context.

You wrote:

I also pointed out that the presence of the PRO TOU/PRIN clause dominates the sentence and demands a PPA translation of it; otherwise, the clause is left awkwardly dangling. You can say either "You exist from age to age" or "You have existed from age to age." But while you can say "You existed before the mountains came to be" or "You have existed since before the mountains came to be," you cannot say "You exist before the mountain came to be." To use a present tense in English as in the latter example, you have to change the sentence into something more closely resembling the gnomic/iterative/customary form: "You exist before the mountains COME to be." There you have something you might call an "eternal present." Otherwise, it's a PPA, like John 8:58.

I actually think that your suggestion as to how to use a present tense in the English translation has merit. I certainly would have no problem with translating Psalm 89:2 LXX as follows:

Before the mountains are brought into being,
And the earth and the world are formed,
Even from everlasting to everlasting,
You are.

Likewise (to anticipate), I think it might be fine to translate John 8:58, "Before Abraham comes into being, I am." We don't normally translate verses like these in this way, because we generally render the aorist infinitives with past-time forms ("were formed," "came into being"). So there is a trade-off involved. (Trade-offs in translation are inevitable.) Perhaps we could use a perfect form in English to render the infinitives, for example:

"Before Abraham has come into being, I am."

In any case, supposing that we have difficulty agreeing on the best translation in English, I believe you have shown that it is possible to construe these present-tense Greek verbs as fitting broadly into the gnomic/static/broad-descriptive category of usage.

In Psalm 89:2 LXX, I prefer translating the lines of the text in the same order as they appear in the Greek, due to the progression they exhibit, and especially because the text is patently poetic. But in a freer, more idiomatic English translation that puts more weight on ease of reading in English than on retaining the full nuance of the original, I could live with a translation that reverses the order of the lines, like the following:

"You are [or, "exist"] from everlasting to everlasting [or, "from age to age"], [before] the earth and the world are formed, and before the mountains are brought into being."

This translation has the merit of retaining the progression, though in reverse order. I do think it is not as good as the usual translation, but it is acceptable.


A. Testament of Job 2:1

The same antecedent-time construction we have seen throughout the Bible is evident in the Testament of Job 2:1, which you quoted:

"For I was (EIMI) Jobab before (PRIN H) the Lord named (ONOMASAI) me Job."

As I explained in a prior post, the meaning of the text is not that Job was and continued to be Jobab from before the Lord named him Job, as a middle-of-the-road or narrow definition of the PPA would indicate. Perhaps we could construe the text to mean something like this: "For I am the one who was called Jobab before the Lord named me Job." The antecedent-time construction (PRIN H + infinitive) indicates that the state expressed by the present-tense EIMI here (the state of being Jobab) is a state that applied in the past, antecedent to the Lord's action of naming him Job.

Again, I agree that the person called Job (and formerly called Jobab) existed in the past (before his name change) and continued to exist up to or at the time of speaking. In this broad sense I do not exclude the PPA classification from consideration here.

B. Menander, _Dyscolos_ 615-16

We disagreed somewhat about the grammatical exegesis of the line in Menander _Dyscolos_ (615-16). Sostratos says to Gorgias:

EIMI GAR AKRIBWS ISQI SOI PALAI FILOS PRIN IDEIN I am for fully be (imp.) to you a long time friend before to see (aor.)

I translated these lines as follows:

"For I have been-be fully [sure]-a friend of yours a long time, [even] before I saw you."
I commented that what marks the present-tense verb as a PPA here is the adverb PALAI, not the clause PRIN IDEIN. You replied:

This is a deduction from your (disproved) claim that adverbial clauses are not part of the PPA construction. If you remove the adverb PALAI from the sentence, you still have a sentence that would still be translated as a PPA: "I have been friend of yours since before I saw you." It could not be a simple present, "I am a friend of yours since before I saw you," for that would be a non-sequiter. And if the statement was meant as a simple past, "I was a friend of your before I saw you," a past tense verb would be used. Hence your fixation on PALAI is eside the point.

I hold no illusions about changing your mind, but let me try to explain my reasoning. We both *know* that PALAI is a common marker for the PPA (as defined narrowly or in a middle-of-the-road way), especially in classical Greek (Goodwin, 268; Smyth, 423; cf. the note in Burton, 10). That a clause like the PRIN clauses of John 8:58 and this line in Menander functions as a marker of the PPA is something we do *not* both know; it is, in fact, in dispute. In order to establish that such a clause, when expressing past time, would signal that the present-tense main verb is a PPA, we would need examples where that clause unambiguously performs that function. A sentence in which such a clause sits alongside a word like PALAI simply does not qualify as such an example. You assert, "If you remove the adverb PALAI from the sentence, you still have a sentence that would still be translated as a PPA." But this assertion begs the question; we cannot tell, from this example, that such a sentence would be written, or that if it were written the present-tense verb would be a PPA (in the narrow sense).

As it stands, the clause PRIN IDEIN does not flag the present-tense verb EIMI as a PPA because the adverb PALAI, which precedes the clause in question, has already done so. If we read the sentence linearly, PALAI qualifies EIMI as a PPA, and then PRIN IDEIN qualifies or expands on what PALAI means (A long time-before I saw you!).


In biblical Greek, we find well over a hundred occurrences of the construction PRO TOU or PRIN followed by the aorist infinitive. Nearly all of these (96%) indisputably use the construction to indicate that the state or action of the main verb obtained at a time antecedent to the event that the aorist infinitive expresses. Bracketing John 8:58 for the time being, the remaining three disputed examples are all LXX texts that speak of God's existence (Ps. 89:2), wisdom (Prov. 8:25), and knowledge (Jer. 1:5a). In context, we can comfortably construe the present-tense verbs in each of these three texts as a broad-band present of the gnomic/static/broad-descriptive kind (which also applies to several of the other present-tense verbs where the construction is indisputable). In each text, the present tense expresses a state that *is* antecedent to a past event. The sense in these texts is that God always or perpetually exists or is wise or knows. Recognizing this sense in these texts does not mean excluding the PPA, broadly defined, from application to these texts. Rather, it means that if we classify these texts as PPAs, we should not view this classification as excluding the fact that the state or action of the present-tense verb is in their contexts perpetual or everlasting.

As for translating this construction, I am not aware of a single instance, in the 20 occurrences of the construction in New Testament Greek, in which any of the standard English Bibles translates PRIN or PRO TOU "since before." Nor am I aware of any English translations of the Septuagint that render it that way in any of its 92 occurrences in the Septuagint. It is possible that there may be some examples out there, but I do not know of any. This goes for the four biblical Greek texts that you have argued are examples of the PPA (Ps. 89:2 LXX; Prov. 8:25; Jer. 1:5; John 8:58). I illustrated the point above in my list of English Bible translations of Jeremiah 1:5a. I know of only one biblical scholar (besides you) who has published on the subject who argues we should translate it that way in John 8:58 (McKay). It may be possible that all of the translators responsible for all of these English Bibles made a mistake in all of these texts. However, it is not possible that the translators deviated from their usual practice when they came to render the clause PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI in John 8:58 because of theological bias. The evidence shows that when they translated this clause, it was business as usual.

In Christ's service,

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

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