Monday, October 18, 2004
- Reply at 15832: Jason BeDuhn [Tue Oct 26, 2004 12:09 am](John 8:58 -- Jason #20)
- Up to Rob #18
- Down to Rob #16
In this post, I will argue that an accurate understanding of the relation between the two clauses in John 8:58 (PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI and EGW EIMI) support classifying EIMI as a gnomic/static/broad-descriptive present.
I. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE TWO CLAUSES AND VERBS
In your first post, you agreed with me that there is a contrast implied between the eimi used of Jesus and the genesthai used of Abraham. This is an important point. My position is that this contrast sets John 8:58 apart from the class of PPA texts (as usually defined) and confirms that it belongs in the same category as the three controversial LXX texts discussed earlier. Let’s look at all four of these together:
Before [PRO TOU] I formed [PLASAI, aorist infinitive] you in the womb, I know [EPISTAMAI, present indicative] you. (Jer. 1:5).
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 (Prov. 8:23-25).
Before [PRO TOU; in some mss., PRIN] the mountains were brought into being [GENHQHNAI, aorist infinitive] and the earth and the world were formed [PLASQHNAI, aorist infinitive], even from everlasting to everlasting [APO TOU AIWNOS hEWS TOU AIWNOS], you are [SU EI, the second-person equivalent of EGW EIMI] (Ps. 89:2 [90:2 Eng.]).
Before [PRIN] Abraham came into being [GENESQAI], I am [EGW EIMI](John 8:58).
In all four of these texts, there is a striking contrast expressed between the subordinate aorist infinitive clauses and the present-tense verb main clause. God knows Jeremiah before he formed him; God begets wisdom before making the earth; God is before the mountains were brought into existence and the earth was formed; Jesus is before Abraham came into existence. These contrasts are either paradoxical (How can God know Jeremiah before he was conceived? How can the first-century Jesus exist before the patriarch Abraham? How can God beget wisdom before the beginning?) or they express an existence antecedent to creation itself, or both. There is also a verbal contrast between the aorist infinitives (made, etc.) and the present-tense GENNAi (begets) in Proverbs 8, a contrast underscoring the paradoxical statement that God begets wisdom before the beginning of creation.
The verbal contrasts are most pronounced in Psalm 89:2 and John 8:58; in both cases, the actual verbs themselves create a sharp contrast between brought or coming into being (GENHQHNAI or GENESQAI) and simply being (EI or EIMI). In short, the verbs in context express a contrast between *becoming* and *being*. Not every collocation of forms of GINOMAI and EINAI expresses such a contrast, of course. It is the way the two words are set off against each other in the sentence that produces the contrast. As I documented briefly in my book, biblical scholars across the theological spectrum have recognized this contrast in John 8:58; the list includes a virtual who’s who of New Testament Greek scholars who have written extensively on John, including Alford, Bultmann, Lenski, Robertson, and Westcott, to name but a few (_Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John_, 112-13).
In what grammarians usually list as PPA texts, on the other hand, the temporal indicator does not contrast with the present-tense verb at all, but rather gives it a context in which its meaning is clearer. The following examples are typical (not necessarily exhaustive):
· for three years I have been coming searching (Luke 13:7).
· all these years I have been serving you (Luke 15:29).
· knowing that he had been that way a long time already (John 5:6).
· I have been with you so long a time (John 14:9).
· you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:27).
· For Moses has had from ancient generations (Acts 15:21).
· Have you been thinking all this time (2 Cor. 12:19).
· from childhood you have known the sacred writings (2 Tim. 3:15).
· the devil has been sinning from the beginning (1 John 3:8).
To be fair, let’s expand this list to include some other texts that you have argued are PPAs in which another verb might, depending on how one analyzes the grammar, be considered part or all of the temporal marker:
· You are going a fourteenth day today waiting without food (Acts 27:33)
· For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things remain the same (2 Pet. 3:4).
· For I was Jobab before the Lord named me Job (TJob 2:1).
· For I have been...a friend of yours a long time, before I saw you (Dyscolos_ 615-16).
The closest thing we get in any of these texts to a contrast at all similar to those considered above is the statement in _Dyscolos, For I have been a friend before I saw you. In this case, though, there is no semantic contrast between the two verbs, but rather the surprising affirmation of friendship prior to sight. As I explained earlier, the relevance of this text to our discussion is complicated by the presence of a common PPA marker in the sentence prior to the subordinate clause. One could argue that this poetic line in Menander amounts to saying that the speaker has *always* been his friend always in the relative sense appropriate to its context, of course.
The contrasts in the three LXX texts and in John 8:58 all tend to confirm the understanding that the present-tense verb expresses a state or action that is constant, perpetual, or simply always so:
Before Jeremiah has been born, God *knows* him. Before God has made the earth and before the mountains have been settled, God *begets* wisdom. Before the mountains have been brought into existence and before the earth and world have been formed, God *is.* Before Abraham came into being, Christ *is.*
II. EIMI IN JOHN 8:58 AS ABSOLUTE
In your first post, you wrote:
Rob goes on to maintain that eimi in John 8:58 is a predicate absolute (111). He bases himself on A. T. Robertson, whose remark that eimi in the verse as really absolute, that is, without a complement in the sentence, is one of the rare foolish assertions Robertson makes. If this were the case, then what does one do with the prin clause? This is the problem with most translations of this passage. If I am stands by itself as some absolute statement by Jesus, then before Abraham came to be is not a part of the same sentence. But it is not a complete sentence in itself, so it must be part of the I am sentence and, of course, it forms part of the predicate of that sentence, as the adverbial clause modifying the am. Thus it is simply false to call eimi in any sense a predicate absolute. I really can’t imagine anything more obvious on the page of the text in front of us than that.
When a relatively unknown scholar of ancient religion (sorry) opines that one of the greatest Greek grammarians in history has missed something in Greek grammar that could not be more obvious, the prudent thing to do is to *be skeptical*. I would have no problem whatsoever with you claiming to have noticed something that escaped Robertson’s attention. We all have the opportunity to build on the work of those who went before us. I do have a problem with you claiming that Robertson’s statement was foolish because it overlooks something that could not be more obvious on the page of the text in front of us.
A. BIBLICAL SCHOLARS AND _EIMI_ AS ABSOLUTE
Let’s review what some biblical scholars have said about this question. I will begin by quoting just two short comments from the many recent scholarly studies on John.
Tom Thatcher, in a recent dissertation published by the Society of Biblical Literature, describes the EGW EIMI sayings at John 8:24, 28, 58 as unpredicated. See Tom Thatcher, _The Riddles of Jesus in John: A Study in Tradition and Folklore_, SBLMS 53 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000), 241, 246.
Andrew T. Lincoln, a New Testament scholar with many years in the field, in a recent work on the Gospel of John, wrote: This final saying [John 8:58] clearly contains an absolute use of I am. See Andrew T. Lincoln, _Truth on Trial: The Lawsuit Motif in John’s Gospel_ (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2000), 94.
I could multiply examples like these effortlessly and almost endlessly, but these illustrate the point that _bona fide_ academic scholars writing rigorous works of scholarship describe EIMI in John 8:58 as absolute or unpredicated. It is difficult to believe that all of these scholars missed something that could not have been more obvious on the page of the text in front of us.
Let me move on to quote at more length from Johannine scholars who have given the specific matter more sustained attention. I begin with Raymond Brown, without a doubt the premier Roman Catholic New Testament scholar of the twentieth century (though not, in his biblical interpretation, particularly conservative). He stated, Grammatically we may distinguish three types of use of EGW EIMI:
(1) The absolute use with no predicate.
Brown cites John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19 as examples.
(2) The use where a predicate may be understood even though it is not expressed.
(3) The use with a predicate nominative.
Brown cites John 6:20 and 18:5 as examples, while noting that in both cases John’s wording may have a double entendre, both implying a predicate (It is I or I am he) and as absolute.
Here Brown cites the usual Johannine examples (John 6:35; 8:12; etc.). He also notes texts on the borderline of this group (e.g., John 8:18, 23). In these texts, the complement is an articular participle (8:18), which functionally is also a predicate nominative, and a prepositional phrase (from those above, 8:23). [Raymond E. Brown, _The Gospel According to John_, Anchor Bible Commentaries (New York: Doubleday, 1966), 1:533-534.]
Philip Harner takes a similar approach in his influential little study, _The I Am of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Johannine Usage and Thought_, Facet Books (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970). Harner (37-48) distinguishes between unambiguously absolute EGW EIMI sayings that have no predicate expressed or implied (8:58; 13:19) and predicateless EGW EIMI sayings that can be taken as having double meanings, one with a predicate implied and one that is absolute (4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28; 18:5, 8).
Next, let’s consider David Mark Ball’s doctoral dissertation, _I Am In John’s Gospel: Literary Function, Background and Theological Implications_, JSNTSup 124 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996). He distinguishes between Predicated and Unpredicated I Am Sayings (162) and devotes considerable attention to analyzing these forms (162-76). He notes that the division of the EGW EIMI sayings into those with an image (the bread of life, the good shepherd, the light of the world, etc.) and those without is too simplistic. Ball proposes to categorize the sayings strictly in terms of their form and then to consider whether there is a correlation between function and form (168). He divides the EGW EIMI sayings without an image into three main categories of form:
- Those sayings combined with the definite article and a present participle (4:26; 8:18) (168).
- Those sayings which are grammatically absolute and in which the words EGW EIMI stand alone (8:58; 6:20; 18:4-8) (168).
- Those sayings which are grammatically absolute and which stand in a hOTI clause to express future fulfillment (8:24, 28; 13:19) (169).
Ball notes that the second and third categories of I am are grammatically absolute (whether a predicate can be implied from the context or not) (169). Lest one suppose that Ball somehow missed the subordinate clause in John 8:58 that precedes EGW EIMI, Ball writes: In 8.58 EGW EIMI is in formal contrast to the verb GENESQAI, while in 6.20 and 18.5, 6, 8 the words stand as a phrase in their own right (170).
The last scholarly study I will review briefly in this short survey is a Cambridge doctoral dissertation: Catrin H. Williams, _I am He: The Meaning and Interpretation of _Ann Jewish and Early Christian Literature_, WUNT 2/113 (Tn: Mohr Siebeck, 1999). Williams distinguishes between I am sayings that are bipartite in form and those that are tripartite in form (i.e., of the form I am such-and-such), and clearly identifies John 8:58 and other Johannine texts (6:20; 8:24, 28; 13:19) as bipartite (255; see also 309).
It stretches credulity to the breaking point to believe that doctoral students working at institutions like Sheffield and Cambridge, whose dissertations were accepted for publication by the most reputable academic publishers, all could be so foolish and miss something in the text that could not have been more obvious. If they missed something that you caught, it must have been subtle indeed. More likely, you are misunderstanding practically every New Testament scholar on the planet who has commented on the matter when they say that EIMI in John 8:58 is absolute or unpredicated.
B. Defining Absolute and Related Terms
At this point, then, it might be helpful to get some definitions of absolute as a technical term in grammar. For this purpose, I turn to some standard reference works regarding English language and grammar for technical definitions of absolute and related grammatical terms, although I am discussing the Greek verb, not the English translation (a point to which I will return below). The _American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language_ (4th ed., 2000), gives the following definitions:
- a. Of, relating to, or being a word, phrase, or construction that is isolated syntactically from the rest of a sentence, as _the referee having finally arrived_ in _The referee having finally arrived, the game began_.
- b. Of, relating to, or being a transitive verb when its object is implied but not stated. For example, _inspires_ in _We have a teacher who inspires_ is an absolute verb.
- c. Of, relating to, or being an adjective or pronoun that stands alone when the noun it modifies is being implied but not stated. For example, in _Theirs were the best_, _theirs_ is an absolute pronoun and _best_ is an absolute adjective. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=absolute
Clearly, the applicable definition here is (b), according to which a verb is absolute if it is a transitive verb with no object expressed.
Similarly, _The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar_ by Sylvia Chalker and Edmund Weiner (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994) gives the following definition for absolute:
*4* (In older usage.) Designating an adjective or verb when standing outside certain usual constructions or syntactic relationships, as.... _(b)_ designating a normally transitive verb used intransitively (e.g., _Have you eaten_) (p. 4).
This definition is similar to the _American Heritage Dictionary_ definition, but not exactly the same: any verb that is normally transitive but is used intransitively is absolute, whether an object is implied or not.
The be verb normally takes what are called complements noun phrases, adjectives, or equivalent expressions that further identify or describe the subject of the verb: I am Rob, She is a girl, You were right, and the like. It appears that biblical scholars describe the be verb as absolute if it lacks such complements. Notice that Brown lists three categories: no predicate expressed or implied, no predicate expressed though one may be implied, and a predicate nominative. Ball adds articular participles, which function as substantives and therefore take the same place as nouns. When they refer to EIMI in John 8:58 (and other texts) as absolute or unpredicated, what they mean is that the verb does not have any predicate nominative word or expression functioning as a subject complement. In an absolute use of the verb, there is no complement answering the question what in relation to the subject and verb: I am (what)
It is possible, of course, to describe PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI as predicative and even (arguably) as a complement. _The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar_ observes: In some older grammar, _predicate_ rather than _predicative_ is used to describe an adjective, noun, or pronoun when such a word is predicated of the subject, i.e. is used in predicative position (307). In keeping with this definition, biblical scholars often describe EIMI as absolute or more specifically as a predicate absolute because it lacks a predicate according to this older usage. The _Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar_ adds, In modern terminology such a word functioning after a linking verb is said to be a _subject complement_ or possibly a _predicative complement_ (ibid.).
Likewise, the word complement has a narrower and a broader usage. The same reference work under complement gives two definitions:
*1* One of the five elements of clause structure, along with Subject, Verb, Object, and Adverbial. Typically complements of this type complete the verb _be_ or another linking verb, and are either adjective phrases or noun phrases....
*2* More widely, any element needed to complete an adjective, preposition, verb, or noun.... The complement of a verb, in this wider sense, is a very unspecific term, and can include not only complements in sense (1), but also adverbials, objects, non-finite verbs, and entire sentence predicates apart from the verb itself (76, 77).
Notice that adverbials are in a separate category from complements according to the narrower definition, though counted as complements in the wider sense.
Let’s get specific here. PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is clearly not a predicate or complement in the sense of a subject complement. It is neither an adjective phrase nor a noun phrase nor any equivalent (such as an articular participle). In this sense, EIMI is unpredicated or absolute. As Catrin Williams puts it, EGW EIMI in John 8:58 is bipartite rather than tripartite in form. Moreover, no predicate or subject complement is clearly implied in John 8:58 (as there would be, for example, if EGW EIMI were the answer to a question like Are you Jesus?). So, whether one understands absolute to mean simply unpredicated (no predicate expressed) or that no predicate is expressed or implied, EIMI in John 8:58 is absolute in the sense that biblical scholars conventionally mean by that term.
So, when you wrote, Thus it is simply false to call eimi in any sense a predicate absolute, the words in any sense turn out to be indefensible. There is a recognized sense, documented in academic reference works of the highest caliber, in which EIMI is a predicate absolute. It is true, of course, that PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is not a complete sentence in itself and is an adverbial clause. But this has nothing to do with the meaning of the term predicate absolute as biblical scholars use it. That the clause is not a complete sentence is especially irrelevant. In John 8:24, unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins, the words unless you believe that clearly are not a complete sentence, but that fact is irrelevant in determining whether I am is absolute in the grammatical sense that biblical scholars mean.
C. Is PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI a Complement to EIMI?
Let me go a bit further. One may construe the adverbial clause as a complement in the broader sense without negating the observation that the verb EIMI is absolute in the sense defined above. However, it is at least open to question whether PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is a complement even in that broader sense. Recall that _The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar_ defines a complement in the wider sense as an element needed to complete the verb. If the adverbial clause is a complement in this sense, it is not, as I understand you to have said, because the adverbial clause needs the main clause, but because the main clause needs the adverbial clause. If the adverbial clause is not needed to complete the main clause, then the adverbial clause may be an adjunct, not a complement.
The _Cambridge Grammar of the English Language_ (which we have had occasion to quote in earlier posts) offers an even more nuanced analysis of complements and adjuncts. It distinguishes obligatory complements (e.g., She perused _the report_) from optional complements (e.g., She read _the report_) and adjuncts (e.g., She left _because she was ill_) (221). In other words, if the predicative is obligatory (one cannot say She perused), it *must* be a complement; if the predicative is optional, it may be either a complement or an adjunct. The _Grammar_ goes on to suggest that with optional predicatives, there are grounds for saying that while resultatives are complements, the depictives are adjuncts (262). A resultative is a predicative that specifies the result of the action of the verb, as in The pond froze _solid_. A depictive is a predicative that specifies a description of the conditions of the action of the verb, as in He died _young_ (261).
At this point I need to return to some comments you made in your post #4.
The English be-verb does not, of course, take a direct object, but requires a predicate noun or adjective when it is used as a copula, or a DEPICTIVE COMPLEMENT such as an adverb when used existentially. This fact of English is stated, for example, in R. Huddleston & G. K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002), on page 222: "Most obviously, the verb be almost always requires an internal complement." For example, one can say "Jill is in her study" but not "Jill is." One can say "The meeting was on Monday" but not "The meeting was." For the apparently intended meaning of the two unacceptable statements just given, an English speaker resorts to some other existential verb: "Jill exists." "The meeting occurred." The verb "to be" is not employed in modern English in this uncomplemented existential function. The authors of the Cambridge Grammar state that "only a small number of verbs (or verbal idioms) take complements of temporal location; clear examples include: i. be . . ." (page 694). This is precisely the case with John 8:58, where the prin clause is, I think, an obligatory temporal complement to eimi.
In my reply (my post #5), I wrote:
The second to last sentence is a quotation from a grammar of the English language; the last sentence, immediately following, is an assertion that this is precisely the case in the *Greek* text of John 8:58. I think we need to distinguish two issues here: whether the PRIN clause is an obligatory temporal complement to EIMI (and if so, what that means), and whether in English we should translate the sentence to reflect the same grammatical structure as in the Greek.
You replied (in what in my accounting was your post #6A, since you had two posts labeled #6):
I have gotten so use to the shorthand of "the prin clause" and "eimi" that I simply reverted to these labels to refer to the two parts of the sentence. My point was about the English sentence.
I have gone through this in order to make something clear: When biblical scholars speak of John 8:58 as a predicate absolute, absolute, or unpredicated, they are referring to the Greek text, not necessarily to the English translation. It may be that in good idiomatic English am in an English Bible at John 8:58 would require an obligatory complement. On these grounds, you argue that in good idiomatic English before Abraham came into being needs to be treated as an obligatory temporal complement to am and should therefore follow am in the sentence. I am not addressing that argument at present. Rather, I am focusing on the Greek sentence and the role of the adverbial clause in that Greek sentence.
Now, there are two ways of construing John 8:58 in relation to these grammatical issues. First, we may construe EIMI existentially as expressing existence. In support of this exegesis, we may refer to the sharp contrast between GENESQAI and EIMI, already discussed. The meaning of EGW EIMI (however we translate it) would then be something like I exist. You favored this understanding (and assumed that I agreed) in your post #4:
"We agree that in John 8:58 the be-verb is not a copula, but has an existential function."
Assuming this is correct, if EIMI in John 8:58 has an existential function, then the adverbial is not an obligatory complement. If EGW EIMI means something like I exist, then no complement is obligatory; the statement is meaningful without one. Again, it seems you had things turned around as to what makes a complement obligatory. Thus, immediately after the above sentence, you wrote:
One of the points we are seeking to resolve is whether it is a predicate absolute or occurs with a dependent depictive complement. I have argued that it cannot be a predicate absolute, since "before Abraham was born" must form part of the sentence.
I am not clear on whether you meant that before Abraham was born cannot stand on its own (as you said elsewhere in the same post, already quoted above) or that it is needed to complement I am. As I have explained, while it is true that before Abraham was born cannot stand on its own, that is not a test of a complement. What you call a dependent depictive complement, according to the _Cambridge Grammar_, is technically an adjunct, not a complement (262). I am bracketing for now the question of the best translation of EIMI in John 8:58. It is clear enough that if EIMI is existential in John 8:58, then PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is, according to the definitions of the _Cambridge Grammar_ (221, 261-62), an adjunct. It is optional rather than obligatory and depictive rather than resultative.
Let me put it this way. In biblical Greek, EIMI normally functions as a copula and either takes or implies (from the context) some sort of complement. If EIMI in John 8:58 is not a copula but instead denotes existence, then it does not need a complement and is, according to the technical grammatical definition, absolute. In this respect, its being absolute corresponds with the dictionary definitions of an absolute verb as a normally transitive verb that is used intransitively.
Second, it is possible to construe EIMI in John 8:58 as a copula with its predicate nominative or subject complement unexpressed. This is not an impossible position. In its support is the evidence that EGW EIMI in John 8:58 recalls similar EGW EIMI sayings in the Book of Isaiah, where EGW EIMI translates the Hebrew _ani hu I [am] he In your book (_Truth in Translation_, 111) you mentioned two of the Isaiah texts to which Jesus statement in John 8:58 is a likely allusion (Is. 41:4; 46:4). Regarding Isaiah 46:4, you wrote that God declares his ongoing existence in reference to the aging of his audience (111). This is a plausible reading, especially of the Greek version on its own. However, in light of the underlying Hebrew as well as the immediate context even in the Greek version, it is also plausible, and I think more precise, to understand EGW EIMI in this text and in the other Isaianic EGW EIMI texts to mean, I am [he].
Who has done and made these things? He has called it who called it from the first generations. I, God, the first and to all futurity, I am [he] (Is. 41:4).
Here God tells Israel that he is the one who has done these things, who called it from the beginning; from first to last, he is the one (Heb., I [am] he; Gk., I am [he]).
Hear me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of Israel, the ones borne from the womb and trained from infancy to old age: I am [he], and until you have grown old, I am [he]; I bear you, I made and I will relieve, I will carry and save you (Is. 46:3-4).
Here God tells Israel that he is the one who brought them to life, who disciplined them throughout their years; even when they are old, he will still be their parent, putting up with them, carrying them and getting them out of trouble. In this context the repeated I am [he] also fits well and corresponds to the Hebrew I [am] he.
Likewise, it is possible to understand John 8:58 to mean, Before Abraham came into being, I am [he], alluding to these statements of God in Isaiah. The context of John 8 has already set up the reader to pick up this allusion, since John 8:24, 28 unmistakably allude to another EGW EIMI (and _ani hu saying in Isaiah 43:10.
If this reading of John 8:58 is correct, EIMI is once again absolute in the sense that no predicate is expressed with it. The predicate he would not be directly implied in the overt context of John but would be indirectly implicit through the allusions to the Isaianic sayings.
Either way, it is a mistake to understand PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI as an obligatory complement to EIMI. If EIMI functions existentially, then no complement can be obligatory because I exist does not require a complement. If EIMI functions copulatively, it has an implied complement, he, in keeping with the allusion to the Isaiah texts.
Thus, even in the wider sense of the term, it appears that PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is not a complement. As I explained earlier, we can describe EIMI as absolute or unpredicated in the sense that it appears in the sentence with no predicate nominative, no subject complement, expressed or implied. But we can also describe EIMI as absolute in an even more stringent sense as taking no complements at all, because PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is evidently an adjunct, not a complement.
D. Conclusion: EIMI as Absolute and the PPA
Let us return now to Robertson’s statement in his _Grammar_, at the end of his discussion of the PPA, when he excludes John 8:58 from that category with the observation that EIMI there is really absolute (879-80). His point evidently is that PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is not the complement of EIMI, and therefore we should not construe PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI as a PPA temporal marker.
Now, I have agreed that we can view John 8:58 as a PPA if we broaden the definition a Winer and Turner, dropping any reference to temporal markers or conclusions as to the proper translation of the present-tense verb. (I am rather frankly disagreeing with McKay’s analysis.) If we do so, we will have to take into consideration several facts. These facts are (1) that EIMI is absolute, (2) that the sentence contrasts EIMI with GENESQAI, (3) that PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is properly speaking not an expression denoting duration from the past up to the present but an expression of antecedent time, and (4) that the saying alludes to God’s EGW EIMI (in Hebrew, ani hu sayings in Isaiah. In other words, we will have to conclude that John 8:58 lies on the outer, fuzzy boundary of the PPA, even very broadly defined. Our exegesis of the sentence will take the above four facts into account much more adequately if we construe EIMI as fitting the gnomic/static/broad-descriptive type of present-tense usage. At the very least, this perspective on the significance of the present-tense EIMI is important to a complete, accurate understanding of the sentence and its meaning.
In Christ's service,
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics