Saturday, January 22, 2005

JB16651 - Jason #27: John 8:58 

(16651) Jason BeDuhn [Sat Jan 22, 2005 2:19 pm] (Bowman corrected on Gnomic: Jason #27)


Your post #26 continues your comments on my post #18. Once again I refer our readers to that post of mine, and will try not to duplicate here the arguments made there, all of which remain secure and valid after your comments, as far as I'm concerned.

I had remarked on the definition of the gnomic present which you extracted from Wallace, that it was "one of the worst characterizations of the gnomic present I have ever read." Now that you supply the whole section from Wallace, I can see that you left out of your original extract everything that would make it clear that he is seeking to distinguish two different applications of the gnomic. Because what you quoted gave the appearance that he was characterizing all gnomics in a way that he meant to only characterize a very special and rare use, I thought his definition badly phrased. Since most other grammars define gnomic in the "generic" or "customary" sense of something true not eternally but regularly (any time rather than all the time), I objected to how Wallace was presenting the category, although in those bits you quoted where he was speaking of the broader gnomic category, I was able to show how you were seemingly missing the regular rather than eternal character of time in the gnomic use. It
is now clear that you wish to invoke only the proposed "universal" subcategory of the gnomic.

Whatever the merits of Wallace's presentation on the gnomic, he doesn't identify John 8:58 as one, does he? Instead, he apparently offers only two hypothetical sentences: "The wind blows" and "God loves." I do not agree with you that Wallace means the first sentence to suggest that,
"'the wind' is always blowing *somewhere* on the earth; wind is a constant, continual phenomenon." Rather, it means that it is characteristic of wind to blow; blowing is part of the nature or a defining feature of wind. I think everyone can see how close this is to the generic or customary application of the gnomic. But let me leave that example behind, because I think our readers have seen enough wind from us.

Of course the second example is also only a hypothetical rather than actual sentence. You deal with this by the kindness of supplying what you regard as actual examples of what Wallace means from the Bible. Now here's the problem: in Wallace's hypothetical, "God loves," the statement can only be taken as aimed at the nature or character of God "universally," precisely because no conditioning circumstance qualifies the idea. So you are right about it, "that 'God loves' is an excellent example of the 'universal' type of gnomic present. The statement means that it is always true that God loves."

But what about actual Greek sentences? You give several:

"God is [ESTIN] love" (1 John 4:8, 16)."

This does indeed make a statement about the nature or character of the subject, in the typical Greek fashion of subject + copula + predicate noun. The simple copula is atemporal in such constructs. In other words, if I substitute another subject, such as "A kiss is love," we would agree that what is being said is that it is of the nature of a kiss to have a loving quality. This is gnomic because the statement presents it as true generally, any time. "This is my body" would be another actual example of this construct from the Bible. Atemporality is not the same as eternality. The idea that atemporality should be converted into eternality comes from your theological concepts about the subject of the sentence, rather than from the grammar of the sentence, which does not provide so much specificity. The statement MAY be true eternally, but that is interpretation, not translation. Obviously, since "is" is used here as a copula, it does not provide a parallel to John 8:58.

You go on to cite:
"God loves [AGAPA] a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7)
"He loves charity and justice" (Ps. 33:5 [32:5 Gk.]).
"For the Lord loves justice" (Ps. 37:28 [36:28 Gk.]).
"For the Lord loves mercy and truth" (Ps. 84:11 [84:12 Heb.; 83:12 Gk.]).
"The Lord looses the fetters;
The Lord gives wisdom to the blind;
The Lord sets up the broken down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord preserves the strangers..." (Ps. 146:7-8 [145:7-8 Gk.]).

Of course, these all employ transitive verbs with objects, so are not grammatically parallel to John 8:58. As you yourself recognize, these are really classic gnomics. They state God's feelings whenever the condition occurs, whenever there is a cheerful give, or whenever there are acts of charity, justice, mercy, and truth, or they state what God habitually does. The same is true of:
"The Spirit searches [ERAUNA] all things" (1 Cor. 2:10). "God is [ESTIN] not tempted by evil, and he tempts [PEIRAZEI] no one" (James 1:13).

Grammatically, the first clause of the James example is a close parallel to that quoted from 1 John above: subject + copula + predicate adjective, so nothing like John 8:58.

You then cite:
"The Most High dwells [KATOIKEI] not in places made by human hands" (Acts 7:48; also 17:24).

But why don't you quote alongside of this Acts 4:16 "All those who dwell [KATOIKOUSIN] in Jerusalem," or 19:17 "All the Jews and Greeks who dwell [KATOUKOUSIN] in Ephesus"? Grammatically these are all simple presents. You CAN take your example as gnomic in the sense of atemporally expressing what is characteristic of God, but this is equally true of the "New heavens and new earth" in which righteousness "dwells [KATOIKEI]" (2 Peter 3:13) -- and they do not even exist yet at the time the statement is made. So atemporal because the usage is not concerned with WHEN, but with WHAT -- but you cannot leap from that to eternally true on the basis of the grammar and syntax. Similarly atemporal is the statement:

"God knows [GINWSKEI] all things" (1 John 3:20).

So let's cut to the chase. You would like "I am" to belong in this "universal" category of the gnomic, and then we can quibble about the difference between atemporal characterizations of the subject and eternal ones. But we can't even get there, for the simple reason that EGW EIMI does not appear absolutely or in isolation so that we would be brought to read it as gnomic. It exists in a syntactical relation to the dependent clause which is determinative of the significance of EIMI. Until you succeed in prying EGW EIMI apart from the rest of the sentence in John 8:58, you have no other argument to make. This is really the deal breaker for us in this discussion, because you keep wanting to read EGW EIMI apart from the PRIN complement, even though you admit that they are part of the same sentence. You just can't do that in Greek grammar and syntax.

Even if we were, strictly for the sake of argument, to isolate the EGW EIMI, your universal gnomic "I exist" sentence would mean simply that it is in the nature of the speaker to exist. I can think of few more superfluous claims in any language. What you keep forgetting is that the only thing that makes us give any temporal quality to this verb other than the simple present value is its modification by the "before Abraham" clause. So your efforts to keep reading the verb in isolation from that clause only defeat your interpretive goals. This relates to another point which those who read this verse in English fall prey to, and that is thinking that the stress in this sentence is on the "I am." Actually, in Greek, the last position in the sentence is precisely the unstressed position for a verb. The dependent clause is preposed here to emphasize it; that's what is supposed to be stressed in the statement, the "before Abraham"(!).

In my post #18, I had written:
"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."

To this you reply:
"[Y]ou deny that "knew" is gnomic in the sentence, "God knew me before I was born." Well, given this English sentence, obviously "knew" cannot be a gnomic present because it is not a present-tense verb. . . What, though, of the sentence, "God knows me before I am born"? This sentence is grammatically parallel to your first example."

But Rob, we do not have this sentence in the Bible. So obviously you can make up anything, but let's stick to the evidence at hand.

You say:
"In "God knows me before I am born" . . . the 'before' clause indicates a specific PAST event, namely, the birth of the speaker."

Not in English, Rob. You simply don't say "before I AM born" with a past meaning in English. You are constructing a fictional grammar. And you seem to just skip over the point that when the event is unique, and not repeated, that is not what we have been calling "gnomic."

I had pointed out your repeated commitment of the fallacy of "postulating a distinct theological grammar." To this you object that it is legitimate to "not base my interpretation of John 8:58 solely on the grammatical features of the text in the abstract but in relation to the immediate context in John 8 and the associations that Jesus' statement evokes in its Jewish theological context."

Absolutely. But Rob, if you can't see that what you are talking about is interpretation, not translation, then I can't help you.

YOu had claimed that Dana & Mantey "use this term 'static present' to refer to a usage of the present that is formally similar or analogous to the PPA," to which I objected, "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." My criticism stands. You had misconstrued their references to examples of the PPA and on that basis argued that the PPA overlaps with their static category. Now you say the basis for your argument was their remark "This use is practically the present of duration applied to a verb of being" (Dana and Mantey, 186). But this is quite different than "formally similar or analogous," the wording you chose, and you will recall that I questioned the ambiguity of your phrasing. The "analogy" they make is between how a present tense carries a sense of "progress" in its "regular uses" (which include the PPA), and that these run parallel to non-progressive "special uses" where "the root idea is not so evidently patent" (184). My criticism was that their "static" category was classified among the latter, and their comment which you now stress is not meant to suggest overlap of the two uses. Rather, the reason why the "static" is "static," and therefore does NOT have a progressive quality, is that it lacks temporal specificity. Please review their examples. "You bear witness" (John 15:27); "The one who commits sin is from the devil" (1 John 3:8). The latter is fairly much just a classic gnomic use. The first is atemporal, in that the verb doesn't carry specific temporal
reference. I have no idea how Dana & Mantey can say these verbs have a "perpetual" value to them. I don't think that is a very good choice of expression. "Abiding" might have been better. They certainly don't mean "perpetual" in teh sense of "eternal," as their examples make clear. What they must mean, given where the "static" falls in their system, is that it is a "state" whose temporal aspect is not in view, rather than something that is temporally fixed, and so happening in reference to time.

Your difficulty in accepting my identification of the verbs to which Dana & Mantey are referring in their examples of the "static" (which, as you will recall was a solution to the troubling appearance of them contradictorily citing the same verb under distinct usages) comes from their poor word choice "perpetual," and your inclination to read this as "eternal." But once you consider what "static" means, and where this category is placed in Dana & Mantey's breakdown of the uses of the present, it becomes clear that they mean atemporal, where the verb is not meant to provide temporal information, but something that just is (to coin a phrase) without concern for when it is. If, when you look at the clauses where they apparently invoke the static, you don't think their definition and distinction of the static holds up, you are only agreeing with me, since from the very beginning I contended that they were getting a bit carried away in mutiplying supposedly distinct uses.

Dana & Mantey's third example (2 Peter 3:4) has been treated at length before by me, explaining why it cannot possibly have a "perpetual" significance. I had pointed out that, "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"(!)."

To this you reply:
"Indeed! That is exactly what Peter is representing the scoffers as saying!"

There you go again, Rob, blithely ignoring the presence of a modifying dependent clause, "from when the ancestors fell asleep," which is crucial in the context to establishing the meaning that from then until now this is the "state" of things: as they were from the beginning of creation. They might be implying that things will go on that way, but the grammar of the sentence only states what has been the case from then until now. So once again, your interpretation invades your translation. But you want to use this verse as a particularly good example for arguing how it is and should be translated using a present tense English form, despite the temporal modification of the "since" clauses. I would contend it is a bad example, not because the underlying Greek is different than that of John 8:58, but due to the idiomatic interchangeability in English of "remains" and "has remained." That is, both "The song remains the same," and "The song has remained the same" have the same meaning in English, because this English verb has a progressive quality in its root meaning. The same is not true of the be-verb, and that is why you have to choose one form or the other, depending on indications in the underlying Greek of whether the be-ing is punctiliar (or atemporal) or progressive.

In any case, I accept that we agree to disagree on all this, and I am satisfied with the arguments I have made.

best wishes,
Jason B.

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