Saturday, February 12, 2005

RB17006 - Rob #27: Antecedent time vs. duration to the present, and the PPA 

(RB17006) Robert Bowman [Sat, 12 Feb 2005 10:58] (Rob #27: Antecedent time vs. duration to the present, and the PPA)


Thank you for understanding the delay in my posting due to the sickness that afflicted my family and me throughout much of January. In this post I will begin replying to your long post #19 of October 24 (found on pages 236-51 of the debate document located in the Files section for the Evangelical and JW Theologies Group). That post was a reply to my post #15, in which I
discussed the role of the clause PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI in John 8:58. In this post, I will focus on the first five or so pages of your post (pp. 236-40). In these pages you critique my claim that this "infinitive of antecedent time" clause is incompatible with understanding EIMI as a PPA in the usual way it is defined.


You wrote:

In your book, you claimed that John 8:58 "does not quite belong" to the PPA "category of usage" (105). You gave as your reason for this claim your observation (which has nothing to do with the definition of the PPA, but is rather just an accident of your sample) that supposedly all other recognized PPAs in the NT involve a distinct beginning of the verbal action -- "all of these expressions refer to a period of time beginning at some point (whether specified or not) in the past and continuing up to the time of the speaker" (109-110) -- while there was no such beginning implied in John 8:58. Of course, this is just begging the question, since you assume what you claim to conclude. You postulate a beginning to the verbal action "whether specified or not" (that is, without anything in the original Greek referencing a beginning to the action) for other PPAs while arbitrarily ruling it out for John 8:58, which you can only do because it is not specified there. Such a circular argument is without merit. I pointed out in my post 1 that many of your other examples, like John 8:58, do not "contain an _expression that alludes to a beginning point in time. They are all durative expressions that leave the beginning of the action out of consideration" (I cited Luke 2:48; Luke 15:29; John 5:6; John 14:9; 2 Corinthians 12:19; and 1 John 2:9 from the list of recognized PPAs you had offered in your book).

I have a few points to make in response to the above criticism.

(1) First of all, it is far from clear that the definition of the PPA does not refer to the action or state expressed by the PPA verb as having a beginning. I have already shown in my post #11 that a majority of the grammars include some reference to the action or state as having a beginning. I wrote there, "Nine of the 15 grammars in the survey state that the PPA expresses an action (or a state) that began in the past" (p. 133), and I listed the following quotations:

I went on to nuance the point, suggesting the possibility "that the grammars use the word 'began' (or 'commenced') not because they are asserting that all PPA verbs must convey a beginning but simply because most states or actions do in fact have a beginning" (pp. 133-34). Nevertheless, this suggestion is just that, a suggestion; it's difficult to be sure what the individual grammarians who used this wording intended. It's possible that some of the grammarians would agree that a beginning is implicit in the PPA while others would not.

Keep in mind that when I published the book sixteen years ago, JWs were actually arguing that this wording (in Winer, especially, since he also cited John 8:58 as an example) confirms that Jesus' existence denoted by EIMI had a beginning. This was the context in which I discussed the matter in my book (see _Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John_, 105).

(2) 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.

(3) You make somewhat conflicting, if not directly contradictory, criticisms of the evidence I gave for the temporal qualifying _expression implying a beginning of the action or state. On the one hand, you claim that this is "just an accident of [my] sample," which presupposes that what I said did at least apply to the sample I gave. On the other hand, in the same sentence you qualify my claim as only "supposedly" so and later in the paragraph assert that I "postulate a beginning" in those instances "without anything in the original Greek" to support it. This discrepancy in your argument may be the result of an overly convoluted sentence, but at any rate I have two apparently incompatible criticisms to answer here. Let me answer both. 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:

This includes the eleven examples I gave in my 1989 book, plus Acts 27:33 and 1 Corinthians 15:6 (which appeared in grammars published after my book). Of the 17 NT examples cited in the grammars I have surveyed, the above excludes only Luke 2:48, which is textually suspect, grammatically debatable, and has no temporal marker at all; Acts 26:31, which is disputed as a PPA (Winer indicates no, BDF says yes) and also has no temporal marker at all; 2 Corinthians 12:9, which we both agree is mistakenly cited as a PPA; and John 8:58, the text in question.

Please note that I do not have to "postulate" a beginning for the actions or states denoted by the present-tense verbs in these texts. In most of the texts, that the actions or states had a beginning is self-evident from the qualifying temporal language ("all these years," "from the beginning," and the like). 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. I find it interesting to note that most translations render the verb in both texts with an English present tense. (In fact, *all* of the English versions I have surveyed, including the NWT, do so; I say "most" only because there are too many to check them all.) 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. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul says that most of those who saw Jesus after his resurrection "remain until now"; in this context the action of the verb clearly begins with their sightings of the risen Jesus. In 1 John 2:9, 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. In both texts, the _expression hEWS ARTI clearly expresses duration from some time in the past up to the present. So, your second criticism is apparently without any merit at all.

I think you were confusing two issues: whether the text *specified* a *particular* point in time for the beginning (of a datable or measurable time), and whether the text implied some limited duration for the state or action, some beginning, "whether specified or not," as I clearly noted in my book. With regard to the first issue, of course in most cases the text does not quantify the duration or date the beginning with any specificity (it does a few times, but not usually). But I never claimed otherwise and in fact went out of my way to qualify my remarks to exclude such a misunderstanding. With regard to the second issue, this is my claim, and the texts bear me out. Of the six texts you say that you cited as examples of PPA texts with no indication of a beginning (Luke 2:48; Luke 15:29; John 5:6; John 14:9; 2 Corinthians 12:19; and 1 John 2:9), the only one I definitely excluded from the PPA category is Luke 2:48. The other examples you cite all are consistent with my point, using qualifying expressions like "all these years," "a long time already," "so long a time," and "all this time." One could argue for partial exceptions in 1 Corinthians 15:6 and 1 John 2:9, which have "until now," and which just about everyone seems to translate in English using the present tense. I have not excluded 1 Corinthians 15:6 or 1 John 2:9 from the category of the PPA, but they could be regarded as lying on the fringes or outer perimeter of that category (depending, as I have said many times, on how narrowly or broadly one defines the PPA). Assuming that you will want to include them, in both of these texts the verb clearly expresses duration from some time in the past up to the present, which is the crucial point.

Your first criticism has at least some possible plausibility to it; a sample of a dozen or so texts is not overwhelming, and even a much larger sample would leave some wiggle room. But if most (one need not claim all) of the other NT examples of the PPA have a marker of this sort that clearly qualifies the present-tense verb as having a temporal duration, then the exegete is justified, at the very least, in questioning or disputing the identification of John 8:58 as a PPA when such a qualification is lacking. And again, it is not merely that John 8:58 lacks the same kind of qualifying temporal language as these other texts, but that the temporal language it does have is of a sort incompatible with the PPA as typically defined.

(4) You claim that I am guilty of "arbitrarily ruling...out" a beginning "for John 8:58," and that I "can only do [so] because it is not specified there." 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.


You wrote:

I pointed out that the distinction between modifying the verb with a "from" or "until" clause or phrase, and modifying it with a "before" clause or phrase was not grammatically significant. No grammar has ever defined or distinguished the PPA by such an arbitrary distinction, for the simple reason that "before" clauses and phrases as much require a PPA rendering of the verb as "from" and "until" clauses and phrases to make sensible sentences. Having been refuted in your claim as it was expressed in your book, you now attempt to mount the same claim of a distinction based on identifying what sort of clause is involved in John 8:58.

The distinction is not arbitrary, and I do not agree that you ever refuted the argument as I had presented it in my book. The idea of the PPA is that the verb expresses an action (or state) that began some time in the past and continues up to the present. This grammatical usage is understood to express an ongoing action or state from the past into the present. *All* 15 of the
grammars that I surveyed make this point. Note the following language in the grammars:

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. I have not had to abandon the argument at all; I have simply augmented its presentation with a considerably more thorough review of the evidence supporting it.

You wrote that

no one has ever said an "infinitive of antecedent time" cannot be used to create a PPA. (p. 237)

That is a fallacious argument from silence. 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. I don't need a grammarian to say this explicitly in order for my observation to be justified. If "the action of the main verb takes place BEFORE the action expressed by the infinitive," as Young says (Richard A. Young, _Intermediate New Testament Greek_, 166, emphasis added), then the main verb is not being used to express or denote action taking place AFTER the action expressed by the infinitive.

You continued:

These are artificial and arbitrary distinctions of your own invention (you admitted in your book that they are "new") designed specifically to exclude John 8:58 from its proper reading as a PPA, and I have since shown how several other "before"-clause modified sentences are PPAs. I know you regarded this as a significant discovery and it's hard to let go of such things. But you must because it is indefensible.

There you go again. What I said in my book was that one specific point was "somewhat new" (_Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John_, 110). The qualification "somewhat," which you omitted, reflects the fuller qualification I had made on the previous page: The point "has not before been specifically stated by grammarians with reference to John 8:58, but is based on the usual definition of the PPA as given by such grammarians as Robertson, Burton, Dana and Mantey, and others" (109). I had not seen anyone else connect the dots as I had when I wrote my book. Later I discovered Young's definition of the infinitive of antecedent time, which makes the point (he even cites John 8:58 as an example) even though he does not refer in that context to the PPA. Your alleged counterexamples using "before" clauses are all disputable counterexamples, as I have shown.


You quote me as saying:

"Further, I will argue that the present tense main verb in such sentences often fits one of the categories of broad-band presents, especially thegnomic, customary, and descriptive presents."

You then comment:

You don't need to argue it, because we have already agreed that many of the examples of this construct, that you supplied in your post 7, are gnomic, customary, descriptive, etc. So how does this advance your argument regarding John 8:58? If you mean this as an argument for identifying EIMI in John 8:58 as "gnomic" rather than a PPA, it is a fallacious one, as can be seen by making it explicit: 1. John 8:58 involves an infinitive of antecedent time. 2. Some sentences involving an infinitive of antecedent time contain gnomic, customary, or descriptive presents. 3. Ergo John 8:58 contains a gnomic, customary, or descriptive present. !!!! (p. 237)

You quote me as saying that the present-tense verb in such cases "often" fits a class of uses other than the PPA and then speculate that I am arguing that because "some sentences" of this type fit one of those uses then John 8:58 fits one of those uses. I apologize for spoiling your fun (and it looks like you had fun constructing this straw-man argument), but my argument was
nothing of the sort. A better representation of my argument would run along the following lines:

  1. John 8:58 involves an infinitive of antecedent time.
  2. The definition of the infinitive of antecedent time is incompatible with the PPA as usually defined.
  3. Few if any of the 16 occurrences with a present-tense main verb of an infinitive of antecedent time could conceivably be classified as a PPA as usually defined. Besides John 8:58, only three such texts in the LXX speaking of God's wisdom, knowledge, or existence have ever been so classified. One of these (Prov. 8:25) cannot be a PPA, and the other two (Ps. 89:2; Jer. 1:5) are disputable examples of the PPA.
  4. On the other hand, most of the present-tense main verbs associated with an infinitive of antecedent time fit into such categories as the gnomic, customary, or broad-band descriptive usage.
  5. The use of EIMI in John 8:58 as usually interpreted fits something like the (non-proverbial) gnomic or broad-band descriptive category.
  6. Therefore, John 8:58 is better categorized as using the present tense in something like the (non-proverbial) gnomic or broad-band descriptive usage than the PPA (as usually defined).

The above argument doesn't look nearly as silly as your straw-man version of my argument.

You wrote:

If the event or action of the aorist infinitive is itself a recurring action or state, then we are dealing with a gnomic, customary, or iterative main verb (procedurals come to mind as an example: "Bend your knees before you start your swing"). If the event or action of the aorist infinitive is an event of past time, then we have a PPA, because "the denotative meaning of the main verb pertains to a time prior to that event or action." There is simply no way around this, try as you might. (p. 238)

This is a peculiar argument. If the main verb denotes an action or state PRIOR TO AN EVENT OF THE PAST, then it does not denote an action or state in its CONTINUANCE UP TO THE PRESENT. Those are two different denotative uses of the verb. I could say, "There is simply no way around this, try as you might."

You wrote:

Moreover, your understanding of the antecedent function of the Infinitive of antecedent time is flawed, because it ignores the difference between such clauses when they refer to customary or procedural or anticipated events, and when they refer to specific past events.

No, my argument doesn't ignore those differences. I pointed out that there are two different kinds of gnomic presents, and that the descriptive present has also been understood in a broad-band way as well as a narrow-band way. I have never claimed that John 8:58 uses the present tense in the exact same way as, say, Proverbs 18:13. Rather, I have argued that the usage in John 8:58 is more like what we find in Proverbs 8:23-25 and Psalm 89:2 (LXX).

By the way, I wish to clear up a misunderstanding. Regarding Deuteronomy 31:21 LXX, I had commented:

"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."

In response, you claimed that my use of "already" shows that I am "still stuck on the mistaken understanding" that OIDA expresses a timeless knowledge that God possessed even before a "particular event of the past," whereas the event "is actually an event of the future" (p. 239). You are reading more into my use of the word "already" than is there. I understand that in this verse God was referring to an event in the immediate future (the Israelites' entrance into the Promised Land). My point is that God was asserting that "he already knew" how the Israelites would behave even before they went into the land.

You wrote:

Review from your many examples of the Infinitive of antecedent time the many cases where the main verb is imperfect or aorist. These are not gnomic or static constructions. These literally place the action of the main verb BEFORE the past event of the "before" clause. Now think through the implications of this if you really believe the "before" clause does precisely the same thing in John 8:58. It would confine Jesus' existence to before Abraham was born, which, since he is speaking long after that event, is a non-sequiter. (p. 238)

Again, since I did not claim that John 8:58 is "precisely" like these texts in which the main verb is not a present-tense verb, your criticism is completely unsound; it proceeds from a false premise.

In my next post, I will continue my response to your post #19, once again revisiting the three LXX texts that use the infinitive of antecedent time and that you classify as examples of the PPA.

In Christ's service,
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
Online: http://www.biblicalapologetics.net

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