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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

JB17163 - Jason #29: False either/or opposition of infinitive and indicative 

(JB17163) Jason BeDuhn [Wed Feb 23, 2005 4:52 pm] (False either/or opposition of infinitive and indicative -- Jason #29)


Rob,

In your post #27 you reveal a basic confusion about what you are arguing. You pose the infinitive of antecedent time and the PPA as an either/or choice, decision, or interpretation about John 8:58. But the infinitive of antecedent time applies to the dependent clause of John 8:58 ("before Abraham was born"), while the PPA applies to the main clause ("I have existed"). Since these two categories of analysis apply to different parts of the sentence, and to different verbs in the sentence, it is simply false to suggest that the existence of one precludes the existence of another.

You make this false either/or opposition, for example, in titling a whole section of your discussion "The incompatibility of antecedent time and the PPA," when you say " If a PPA expresses a state or action from the past into the present, then an infinitive of antecedent time
simply doesn't fit what we mean by a PPA," and when you say:

"You have (unintentionally, no doubt) missed the larger point by isolating this question of whether the PPA is defined as necessarily involving a beginning of its action or state. That larger point is the contrast between (a) a verb that expresses duration subsequent to some event or time in the past up to the present and (b) a verb that expresses an action or state antecedent to some time in the past. My contention is that EIMI in John 8:58 fits the latter description, not the former one, thus excluding it from the PPA as typically (or narrowly) defined. This is the key point in the exegetical debate, as far as I am concerned, with reference to the proper translation of John 8:58."


You can see here that you have falsely made the infinitive of antecedent time something about the main verb, "a verb that expresses an action or state antecedent to some time in the past," rather than something about the infinitive. You say that "an infinitive of antecedent time simply doesn't fit what we mean by a PPA" – exactly, because the infinitive of antecedent time is an INFINITIVE construction, and the PPA is an INDICATIVE construction. Now in John 8:58, we have only one infinitive, and that is GENESTHAI, and we have only one indicative, and that is EIMI. You have taken a section of the grammars about infinitives and used it as if it was about indicatives. When Young cites John 8:58 as an example of the infinitive of antecedent time construction, he is simply commenting on the "before" clause, and its infinitive verb, not on the main clause, and its indicative verb. While it is true that the infinitive modifies the indicative, it simply does not modify it in the restrictive way you would like it to, as I will show.

If you review examples of the infinitive of antecedent time, for example those listed by Robertson, page 1091, you can see, as Robertson himself notes, that in such constructions it is not the infinitive that provides the temporal setting of antecedence, rather it is the main verb to which the infinitive is dependent, that does that. So in some of the examples the temporal setting is in the past because the main verb is in the past; in some examples the temporal setting is the future because the main verb in the future. In other words, the exact aspect of antecedence fluctuates depending on the dictates of the main verb. The infinitive is more or less temporally neutral. You can see that the infinitive construct does not limit or dictate in any way what sort of main verb can be employed with it; and the meaning of the sentence is formed by harmonizing the antecedence of the dependent clause with the verbal tense of the main verb.

Now in John 8:58, the main verb is formally in the present. Recognizing that the infinitive used in the dependent clause is temporally neutral, one could translate the sentence as a straightforward present-tense: "I exist before Abraham is born." You have suggested something like this for one of the LXX examples we have been discussing. But what we find in the main English translations of the Bible, the ones you are defending, is a mixing of tenses that is not acceptable English. This is what I criticized in my book. The dependent clause is put into a past tense, because we know that the event to which it refers is in the past. That in itself is fine. But you can't do that and at the same time leave the main clause in the simple present tense, because there is a relation of antecedence involved, so the two verbs need to be brought into semantic harmony, a harmony that such mixed tenses breaks. It is when we give due weight to the past nature of the antecedent events, which is perfectly legitimate, that the idiomatic nature of the present tense of the main verb comes to the foreground. If John meant to convey simple, limited antecedence in relation to a past event, he would have to have put the main verb in a past tense. Instead, he uses the present tense in a PPA construction to indicate progressive action or state.

If you reject this progressive sense of the main verb, and insist that the infinitive restricts what the main verb can mean, then you would end up with "I existed before Abraham was born," grammar be damned. But, of course, you want and need the main verb to be in the present tense; so your whole argument insisting on the restricted nature of antecedence does works against your own purposes, your "larger point." Of course it is false of you to say that I have "missed the larger point." You yourself quote, at the beginning of your post #29, one of my responses to this larger point, showing how your attempt at limiting antecedence to a boundary behind the wall of the infinitive event completely destroys not only the meaning John 8:58 has, but even the meaning YOU want it to have. You can scarcely claim to have missed that set of comments, since you quote it back to me.

You review the character of the PPA to be progressive from the past to the present of the statement, which hardly needs repeating since no one is disputing it, and then say: "Now, it is hardly arbitrary to notice that using a present-tense Greek verb to denote an action or state that is "qualified" in the sentence by an expression beginning with the word "before" (PRO or PRIN) in reference to a past time or event simply does not look like a usage intended to do any of the above. This observation, which I made in my book, has never been refuted."

But of course it is completely arbitrary for you to make a subjective "observation" that something "does not look like" something else. You are bypassing the grammars which you claim to use, several of which include John 8:58 as an example of a PPA and none of which place the EIMI in that verse as an example of any other verbal usage, falsely opposing the infinitive of antecedent time to the PPA, which no grammar does, confusing the verbs referred to by the two categories (the one to the finite verb, the other to the infinitive), and simply offering, "I don't see it that way." There is nothing more arbitrary than that.

Smyth's grammar differentiates two distinct uses of the infinitive with PRIN, distinguished by whether the main clause is affirmative or negative. If it is a negative, then PRIN signifies "until" and has a more restrictive temporal significance, even a conditional quality, of antecedence than is the case when the clause is affirmative, as in John 8:58, where it means "before." In the latter case, "the clause with PRIN simply adds a closer definition of the time" (2433). Smyth adds that, "PRIN is used with the aorist or (less often) with the imperfect indicative only when PRIN is equivalent to hEWS until" (2434). This, of course, is different from the infinitive constructions. "When PRIN must be rendered by before, it takes the infinitive" (2434). Smyth then gives three examples of different uses:

  1. Negative main clause: "I was not doing this until (or before) Socrates arrived." Here the time of the negated action is restricted to before, whereas the implied positive action begins some unspecified time after, the arrival of Socrates.
  2. Affirmative main clause, with indicative dependent verb: "I was doing this until Socrates arrived." Here the affirmative action is limited to the time antecedent to Socrates' arrival. THIS IS HOW YOU CLAIM JOHN 8:58 IS TO BE READ. But this employs an indicative dependent verb, not an infinitive, and so is not parallel to John 8:58.
  3. Affirmative main clause, with infinitive dependent verb: "I was doing this before Socrates arrived." Grammatically, this is the same form of sentence found in John 8:58. Note that it "simply adds a closer definition of time" than there would be if the main clause stood alone. It does not restrict the action to the time before Socrates' arrival, but informs the reader that the action had already commenced before that arrival, with no implied termination of action at the time of his arrival, and, of course, no specification of a beginning of the action.

What this comparison shows is that the use of the infinitive of antecedent time, in its affirmative form (as in John 8:58) has no necessary limitation of the action of the main verb to the time before, but only indicates that the action or state was already the case before.

Note, too, that in the example "I was doing this before Socrates arrived," nothing is said about the beginning of the verbal action. Now suppose we know that the speaker is Plato. You would say that we know that Plato is a mortal, and therefore whatever action he was performing must implicitly have a beginning. But suppose the speaker is Christ. You would say that there is no necessary beginning of an action performed by Christ. So you see that your reading depends on theology, not on grammar, because in the one case you say the grammar implies one thing, and in another you say the very same grammar implies something else. This is utterly illegitimate.

I had criticized your false claim that all PPAs involve a distinct beginning of the verbal action. Even in your book, you recognized that the grammars often speak of the verbal action "beginning" simply as a figure of speech, given that verbal actions usually start sometime, and as part of the grammars expressing the nature of the PPA as carrying the action forward. In other words, they have to say that the verbal action 'begins' in the past in order to let us know that a simple present does not adequately convey the meaning of the PPA.

In your post #27, you reiterate, in a slightly more careful manner than before, your assertion that, "With reference to genuine NT example texts of the PPA cited in the NT grammars(leaving aside John 8:58 for sake of argument), all of them have a temporal marker that implies that the action or state expressed by the PPA verb is a temporal one of some limited duration." You go on to again list the sample you mean.

Of course, by changing how you express your point to "some limited duration," you are no longer talking about them all referring "to a period of time beginning at some point" (see your book, pages 109-110). And no one is disputing that all PPAs are limited in their duration at the present end, that is, by the time when the statement is made. This says nothing about when the action may or may not have begun. Even you concede that some of these examples (note the contrast to your reference to "all of them" above) do not in fact refer or convey a beginning of the verbal action: "The only texts of those cited above where the qualifying temporal language does not make this immediately obvious are 1 Corinthians 15:6 and 1 John 2:9, where `until now' (hEWS ARTI in both texts) in and of itself gives no hint as to how long that is. . . . Even this expression hEWS ARTI, though it gives no indication by itself of the length of time involved, connotes a temporal duration that in context clearly has a beginning."

What you are doing is reading your assumptions, your own theological and anthropological constructs, into what the individual verses are talking about, and from that extrapolating an implicit beginning to the verbal action. Whatever that is (I call it eisegesis), it is not based in the grammar, and it assumes too much even about the intellectual context of the biblical writers. For example, in regard to 1 John 2:9, you say, "the false Christian who professes to be in the light and yet hates his brother 'is in the darkness until now'; this state of darkness in context obtained from the beginning of the false brother's life." You do not know, for a fact, that that is the case. You do not know that that is John's concept of the beginning of individual human existence, whether or not he believes in pre-existence of the soul, whether he has an emanationary psychology, how deeply his dualism runs, not to mention the simple issue of whether any beginning is in view to this dwelling in darkness, which may regress infinitely into the past awaiting the light of Christ. All along I have been making the point that your theology and your Christology are dictating your translational positions. You simply
posit no beginning for Christ's existence, while positing a beginning of existence for everyone and everything else that may be talked about. Thus you presume what you claim to conclude from John 8:58 – an obvious circularity. Whether or not your theology and ontology are correct, reading them into the text, rather than out of it is illegitimate. Whether or not we buy into a cosmology that says that everything has a beginning, many of your examples simply have no reference to a specific beginning in time. And one of those that does specify a beginning, 1 John 3:8, provide no more and no less than what the broadest literary context of John does for Christ (John 1:1), i.e., existence "from the beginning" (compare "in the beginning"). To go further in differentiating one reference to a beginning from another is theology, not exegesis. John 8:58 shares with many of your examples no reference to a beginning of the action at all.

You continue to say things like,
"This criticism rather badly misrepresents my argument. It treats my point about the lack of any implied beginning in isolation rather than as part of the larger point, as I have noted, about the difference between temporal language that marks the verb as expressing duration from the past to the present and temporal language that marks the verb as expressing an antecedent action or state. Your criticism further isolates this specific point from the larger argument that takes notice of (a) the predicate absolute use of EIMI, (b) the clear contrast in the sentence between GENESQAI and EIMI, and (c) the evident allusion to Old Testament "I am" sayings of God, especially those in Isaiah."


Now Rob, it is simply impossible to respond to or criticize all of your points at the same time. I must assess them one by one, and I have addressed each of these three points, in greater or lesser detail.

(a) On EIMI as a predicate absolute, please keep reading my past posts, which have argued in detail how utterly absurd such an identification is.
(b) The supposed "contrast" of the two verbs comes down to no more than this:
  1. since Christ is speaking of his ongoing existence, not his origin (as one who is "the living one" as opposed to "the dead"), he could not use the same verb as is used of Abraham;
  2. the EIMI is not in the emphatic position, the PRIN is – hence the contrast rests on "before," while the use of the present form of EIMI preserves the progressive meaning from simple antecedence.
( c) As I have argued in my book and in considerable detail in my post #4, the vast majority of "I am" statements piled up into this argument simply evaporate under close scrutiny. What you are left with is a tough choice, on whether you want to line up Jesus' copulative "I am (he)" statements with the ANI HU / EGW EIMI statements made by God in the OT (of which Exod. 3:14 is NOT one), or you want to line up the existential "I exist" of John 8:58 with those statements. The latter choice has certain problems, since the possible existential reading of the OT statements requires the mediation of the Greek of the LXX. But I went so far in my book as to say that it is possible that Jesus is invoking this language with reference to himself. Such an invocation does nothing to solve the translational issue of normal English word order and verb tense harmony, nor does it in and of itself settle any interpretive issues because it remains open to interpretation in what way he means to invoke this language. The abiding existence of Christ, quite clear from an accurate translation of John 8:58, lines up perfectly with the emphasis of similar statements in the OT, as I said in my book.


So if the parts and steps of your argument are not valid, or fail to establish anything towards building your argument, your argument as a whole is not valid. You want to add up a series of `may-bes', `could-bes', `arguably-bes', `for-the-sake-of-argument-bes' into a final `definitely is'! I can understand your frustration that I won't let you do that.

In regard to your attempt to identify John 8:58 as a "gnomic-like broad-band present" (whatever that is supposed to be), you outline a six-step argument you think you have made. But neither the second step ("The definition of the infinitive of antecedent time is incompatible with the PPA as usually defined") nor the fifth step ("The use of EIMI in John 8:58 as usually interpreted fits something like the (non-proverbial) gnomic or broad-band descriptive category") is valid, and therefore your argument as a whole is invalid. I have further demonstrated the invalidity of the second point above. As to the fifth point, I note your language "something like." Please list for us every grammar that has cited John 8:58 as a gnomic present. You don't have any? Then how can you possibly make this claim? What, then, does "usually interpreted" mean, and are you talking about grammar or theology? You have completely ignored my earlier demonstration that gnomic does not mean what you think it means. I have pointed out that for all your criticism of supposedly broad and loose definitions of the PPA, you are offering an extremely vague and broad category in which you prefer to place John 8:58, one that you build up by including things like the descriptive present, which has no temporal quality whatsoever beyond the simple present of the time of speech (such as the hierarchical reading of Col. 1:17, although its temporal reading as a PPA has a lot to be said for it), and so in no way supportive of your case for an `eternal' sense to Christ's words in John 8:58.

Even if we go this far with you, and for the sake of being supportive of you accept something as vague as "something-like" the gnomic for John 8:58, what we arrive at is "I exist before Abraham IS born." But that is not the translation you are defending, where the tenses are mixed in an illegitimate and, ahem, distinctly non-gnomic manner, which is what I criticized in my book. What these translations acknowledge is that the reference of the dependent clause is not a general or recurring event, but a particular past event at the time Jesus is speaking, and so semantically a singular past event that strips away any "transtemporal" or gnomic quality to the statement. But in making the necessary correction to the sense of the dependent
clause, they go astray in not accordingly modifying the tense of the main clause.

In my book, and in my post #4, I had offered two examples besides John 8:58 of NT PPAs involving forms of the verb EIMI (John 14:9 and 15:27). These were chosen because they use EIMI in the first person singular form, exactly as in John 8:58, and occur in John, so provide evidence for how the author employed this verbal form. They also served well because most major translations render their PPA quality accurately, which allowed me to show how anomalous was the rendering of John 8:58 in these same translations. While accepting these as PPAs, you have tried to downplay their value since they are modified by a temporal phrase rather than a temporal clause, which is what we see in John 8:58. You have tried various ways to defy the grammars that cite the EIMI of John 8:58 as a PPA. You have ignored that some grammars cite John 8:58 side-by-side with my comparative examples as PPAs (Turner, Winer, BDF). You have tried to argue away the other clausally-modified PPAs cited in the grammars. In all of these efforts you have failed.

Of course, there are other clausally-modified PPAs in the NT besides the ones that happened to be cited in the grammars, even ones employing a present form of the verb EIMI. For example:

Mk. 9:21: "And he asked his father, `How much time has it been (ESTIN) that this has happened to him?'"


Here the temporal modification is made by the dependent clause HWS TOUTO GEGONEN AUTWi. Note the PPA sense: the action has been occurring in the past up to the time of the question. The PPA sense is accurately rendered by all major translations except the KJV:



In my next message, I will reply to your posts #28-29.

Best wishes,
Jason B.

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