Sunday, October 17, 2004

RB15775-Rob #16 - the broad-band presents 

(15775) Robert Bowman[Sun Oct 17, 2004 11:04 pm](Rob #16 (read before #15): John 8:58 and the broad-band presents)


Evidently, I was distracted yesterday and inadvertently failed to send this post. It is now #16, but I should have sent it before #15. You need to read this post in order for the argument in #15 to make much sense.

In this post, I wish to relate EIMI in John 8:58 to classifications of the Greek present attested in the standard grammars (per your request, and in response especially to your post #8). I will approach these classifications first through Wallace's _Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics_, referring to other grammars to illustrate certain points along the way.


The relevant category of usage of the present tense in Wallace's analysis is that of "broad-band presents" (519), among which he includes the PPA (519-20), the iterative present (520-21), the customary or general present (521-22), and the gnomic present (523-25). As I shall explain below, we should also include the progressive or descriptive present (518-19), despite the fact that Wallace categorizes this usage as "narrow-band."

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. 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). 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).

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. 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. 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. 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.


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).

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). To put what Wallace says in other words, we can use the gnomic category to refer to present-tense verbs that express a general, "timeless" fact (the "proverbial" usage), or that express a state of affairs that obtains throughout the existence of the subject (from the beginning of creation where the subject is nature, and forever where the subject is deity). For the latter, 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.) Anyone who defines the gnomic present as referring only to proverbial expressions would not include occurrences where the verb expresses what is true at all times. Thus, some grammarians will operate with a narrower definition of the gnomic present than Wallace does.

I think this "at-all-times" gnomic usage is probably the usage that Dana and Mantey intended to denote as the "Static Present," though their examples are open to dispute:

"_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).

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. 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. 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). So I think that two of the three examples Dana and Mantey give are misplaced. Still, the category is a valid one. 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.

So, the Greek present tense can denote a static, perpetual, or unchanging state. We might call this a type of the "gnomic present," or a "static present," or even a broad form of the "descriptive present." It doesn't matter. What matters is that we recognize that such a usage, attested in the grammars, does occur. This gnomic/static/broad-descriptive present can be formally similar to the PPA in some cases, and which category we apply will depend to some extent on how broadly or narrowly we define the PPA and on how the elements of the sentence work together with the verb in context.

With the preceding information and perspective in mind, in post #15, already sent, and in a subsequent post, I will discuss certain aspects of the exegesis of John 8:58 that give strong support for classifying EIMI in John 8:58 as a gnomic/static/broad-descriptive present that denotes a perpetual or unchanging state of existence. My argument in this respect is not that the PPA category is irrelevant or in no way applicable, but that these other categories also are relevant and show that classifying EIMI in John 8:58 *exclusively* as a PPA *in the narrowest sense* will result in a less than complete understanding of the text.

In Christ's service,

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

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