Thursday, March 31, 2005

JB17307 - Jason #33: Grammar must rule over whim 

Jason BeDuhn [Thu Mar 31, 2005 8:44 am] (Jason #33: Grammar must rule over whim)


For the sake of wrapping things up, I will let the record stand on my past criticisms of your argument and your objections to those criticisms. Readers can best judge that aspect of the debate for themselves. Here I will confine myself to a couple of reiterative points about the specific grammatical constructs we have debating in relation to John 8:58, as well as respond to your readings of the three new PPAs I introduced in January in the hope of clarifying how a PPA works, and why EIMI in John 8:58 is a PPA.

In your book, you acknowledge that a PPA reading of John 8:58 is possible. Your argument consists in seeking not to refute it, but to make it less probable than some other reading that could be construed as justifying the traditional translation. Neither in your book nor in our 400+ pages of debate have you settled on one particular reading, and neither of your readings justify the traditional translation. Therefore, I maintain, you have lost this debate.

In your post #35, you spend several pages seeking to deny that you have been confusing the distinct parts of the sentence involved in the infinitive of antecedent time and in the progressive present, without acknowledging that because they do involve distinct parts of the sentence, they are not an either/or choice, and so, contrary to what you have argued, they can both appear in the same sentence. It is irrelevant that you can cite sentences from your post where you accurately state the respective formation of the infinitive of antecedent time and of the progressive present (you seem to keep wanting me to quote back your entire previous post, which is scarcely efficient for the progress of the debate). The fact remains that in the crucial passages, where you conclude that the infinitive of antecedent time and the progressive present are mutually exclusive, you are guilty of such confusion, and that is why I quoted back to you those specific passages. If you want to prove that you are not guilty of such confusion, then you must acknowledge that it is perfectly possible for an infinitive of antecedent time to appear in the same sentence with a PPA. This is true, whether you acknowledge it or not.

You have gone to great lengths in this debate to question the formation of a PPA by means of an adverbial clause. Although you wish to avoid the obvious fallacy of outright denying it, you have sought to relegate such constructs to only the most loosely defined fringe of grammatical discussion of the subject, and you have rejected every example of a clausally-modified PPA listed in the grammars, either trying to ascribe their modification to something in the sentence other than the adverbial clause, or simply rejecting them outright when you cannot bend them to your position. This has been an egregious error on your part that you must now come to terms with, as I will show.

In your post #35, referring to my post #29, you write:
"You closed, oddly, with an entirely irrelevant, though legitimate, example of the PPA not mentioned in the grammars . . . Mark 9:21 ("How long has this been happening to him?") is indeed a PPA.

Note that you have acknowledged that Mark 9:21 is a legitimate example of a PPA. As for it being "entirely irrelevant," we shall see that you missed the boat.

You continue:
"More curious still, you misidentified the temporal marker in this instance. Here is the sentence: POSOS CRONOS ESTIN hWS TOUTO GEGONEN AUTWi. The temporal marker of the PPA verb ESTIN in the above sentence is not hWS TOUTO GEGONEN AUTWi, as you claimed (p.354), but the temporal expression POSOS CRONOS ("how much time," i.e.,"how long")."

You are quite wrong about that, Rob. POSOS CRONOS is the SUBJECT of the sentence, not an adverbial phrase. As usual, your decision to correct me simply entangles you in more and more error. You continue:

"This temporal marker is similar to those found in other instances of the PPA, such as `a long time already (POLUN HDH CRONON)' (John 5:6) and `so long a time (TOSOUTWi CRONWi MEQ' hUMWN)' (John 14:9). All I can figure is that you were so eager to establish a precedent for `clausally-modified PPAs' that you missed the obvious here."

Your parallels are not apt, and your added comment typically self-damaging. In both of these examples, the phrase in question is not the subject of the sentence, and actually functions as an
adverbial. POSOS CRONOS is not an adverbial, but the subject of the sentence. I would think it was fairly obvious that POSOS CRONOS is the subject, and not the adverbial, but you never can tell what someone might miss, no matter how obvious.

Nor can POSOS CRONOS possibly form a PPA, since it does not contain any past reference. The pronoun POSOS, of course, appears with the regular present tense as well as the future tense verb (e.g., Mt 7:11, Lk 11:13, Rom 11:24, Heb 9:14). And although we happen not to have any other example of POSOS CRONOS in the NT, it is very easy to recognize that such a phrase could be used with a present or future tense without any temporal conflict:
"How long a time will it be before these things come to pass?"

So, since you have acknowledged that Mark 9:21 is a PPA, and now see that POSOS CRONOS cannot be the modifying element that makes it a PPA, we come together to the inevitable conclusion that Mark 9:21 is yet another example, in addition to those cited in your grammars that we have discussed before, of a clausally-modified PPA. We then see that far from being "entirely irrelevant," this example confirms once and for all that PPAs are regularly formed by adverbial clauses, that you have been wrong to deny what the grammars affirm, and that your effort to undermine the PPA reading of John 8:58 has failed. So much for your argument from Greek grammar.

I had come across two other PPAs in the OT by laborious effort (how I wish I had known Stafford had already found them!). The first was Exodus 4:10: "Lord, I have not been fit (OUCH hIKANOS EIMI) before (PRO) yesterday or before the third day [i.e., in the past]."

You offer in place of my rendering the following translation:
"I am not fit, before yesterday or the day before, or from when you began to speak to your servant; I am weak of speech and slow of tongue."

What sort of gibberish is this? Here you demonstrate exactly what is wrong with your grasp of English grammar and syntax. "I am not fit before yesterday or the day before, etc." is not an English sentence, because you cannot use the present tense in an expression of a state or action in the past. This precisely shows why your argument about John 8:58 is worthless, because you have no interest in adhering to normal English usage, and are willing to violate it in making your defense. Your attempt to sneak a comma in after "fit" does not succeed in obscuring the fact that both the adverbial phrase and the adverbial clause are past references, and so it is not possible to construe the main verb as a simple present; it must be a PPA. You translate the main clause independently, leaving the adverbials dangling with no connection to it. So to what do they refer, since obviously they cannot refer to Moses' present unfitness? You arbitrarily and fallaciously bisect this sentence just as you do John 8:58. You have consistently sought to divorce the main verb, in Greek and in English, from its temporal adverb. But since Greek tense forms do not have a one-to-one correspondence with English tense forms, temporal adverbs are absolutely essential to determining what English tense appropriately conveys the meaning of the Greek. And in English, the harmony of the verbal tense to the referred time of the state or action is mandatory.

You yourself abandon your initial fallacious translation and admit a PPA semantics to this sentence:

"Thus, if we want to convey the full sense in our translation, we might render it as follows: `I was not fit previously, nor am I [or, `have I been'] fit since you began to speak to your servant.'"

You are exactly right in saying so. But of course, we have a much more succinct way "to convey the full sense," namely, "I have not been fit . . ." Isn't that so? Isn't the full sense you acknowledge precisely how the PPA is defined, and precisely what the English past progressive meant to convey?

You continue:
"Note that your translation, `I have not been fit before yesterday or before the third day,' is not grammatically normal English (something that you consider very important in a translation!). In English, one would not say, `I have not been fit before yesterday,' but rather `I was not fit before yesterday.' You might, then, decide that it would be better translated, `I have not been fit since before yesterday.' I would have no objection to such a translation as a way of smoothing out the sentence in English . . ."

Again, I agree completely. Good English expression in such a case really requires us to add the "since," just as I have proposed for John 8:58. You continue:

"I would have no objection to such a translation as a way of smoothing out the sentence in English , but only because of the rest of the sentence, not because of the temporal phrases with PRO. It is the final temporal phrase, `since you began to speak to your servant,' that might be construed as marking the verb EIMI as a PPA. Again, though, I think EIMI is temporally qualified in two different ways in this complex sentence."

I simply note that here you identify an adverbial CLAUSE (not a `phrase' as you call it) as the likely modifier of the verb to make a PPA, something you have refused to acknowledge any example of up until now. But of course the main verb would still be a PPA if the sentence had only the PRO phrase.

My second OT example was Exodus 21:36:
"But if it is known of the bull that it has been a gorer (hOTI KERATISTHS ESTI) before (PRO) yesterday and before the third day [i.e., in the past] . . ."

To this you reply:

"We might translate the sentence like this: `But if the bull is known to be a gorer previous to the incident, and if those knowing it warn its master and yet he failed to restrain it....'"

This, of course, is paraphrase. You continue:

"I think this is a far better translation than something like this:
`But if the bull is known to have been a gorer since before the incident' (which, again, is how you would actually need to translate it if you want to construe the verb as a PPA)."

Once again, I thank you for confirming the need in English of "since" to make a smooth PPA with a "before" phrase or clause. This controverts your initial objections to the introduction of "since" to my renderings of the PPA in 8:58.

It has been rather amusing to me that you have faulted me for being a stickler about grammar. God forbid that we should be very careful and precise about the actual grammar of the Bible! Regarding my position on Psalm 89:2 (LXX), you say: "you are allowing your overly fussy construal of the grammar to overwhelm the logic of the text" (!). Whose logic would that be, Rob? My point in my book, and from the beginning of our discussion, has been that modern logic, even modern `Christian' logic, is not necessarily the logic of the writers of the Bible or of its original audience. Rather than assume we know what they meant, I argue, we should pay very close attention to what they actually wrote, and build any understanding of the Bible out of that, rather than imposing our own beliefs and tendencies of thought onto the Bible. Sometimes the grammar is not as unambiguous as we would like. So, for example, I must acknowledge that EIMI could be functioning as a copula in 8:58, as it seems to be in proximate verses of John. But we would then have to translate as such, supplying the implicit predicate pronoun. It cannot be both an existential and a copula. The existential reading is still, in my opinion, the more probable one, the one an ancient reader is more likely to have seen or heard, given the rest of the predicate. The copulative reading is more contrived, and yet, as a possible reading, cannot be ruled out. In either case, the traditional English translation cannot be saved, no matter how many great men of the past have followed it. Their authority must yield to grammatical facts, and to the purpose of translation, which is to convey to the reader exactly what the original meant as it was written, no more and no less. Theological interpretation and application must come after, not before.

Best wishes,
Jason B.

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