Friday, March 11, 2005

RB17259 - Rob #34: PPA and other broad-band presents 

(RB17259) Rob Bowman [Fri Mar 11, 2005 8:49 pm] (Rob #34: PPA and other broad-band presents)


In this post I respond to your posts #25-28. These posts reviewed ground covered more than once and were for the most part quite cursory responses to my posts #24-26. Therefore, my replies can be comparatively brief.


You begin this post by taking issue with the following statement from my post #24:

"* There is no consensus in the Greek grammars that would put beyond controversy the claim that John 8:58 is a clear example of a PPA."

Although you try to show this statement is "disputable," the fact remains that by your own count two grammars expressly exclude John 8:58 from the ranks of the PPA while four expressly include it (pp. 309-10). That observation alone confirms my assertion as true.

A number of the most renowned English-speaking Greek scholars in modern times have translated John 8:58 in the traditional way, again showing that one cannot claim a consensus of experts in the field in support of translating it as a PPA with a form of the English past tense. I have already mentioned A. T. Robertson and Daniel Wallace. You asked me to supply some context for Wallace's statement on John 8:58; certainly I can. On pages 530-31, Wallace critiques the Jehovah's Witness claim (which Wallace found in a 1971 article) that EIMI in John 8:58 is an historical present. At the end of his critique of that view, he adds a footnote in which he states:

"More nuanced is the view that EIMI is a present tense extending from the past (so McKay, _New Syntax_, 42). However, John 8:58 lacks sufficient parallels to be convincing" (531 n. 42).

One would have liked a more in-depth comment on the question, but the fact remains that Wallace does not agree with McKay.

Let me give you some other examples. Consider William Milligan and William F. Moulton, two of the leading Greek scholars at the end of the nineteenth century. Moulton translated Winer's Grammar into English, was the youngest member of the translation committee for the English Revised Version, and co-produced a New Testament concordance. In their _Commentary on the Gospel of St. John_ (T & T Clark, 1898), they state:

"In the clearest possible manner Jesus declares, not only His existence before Abraham, but also the essential distinction between His being and that of any man. Man is born, man passes through successive periods of time: of Himself, in regard alike to past, present, and future, Jesus says 'I am'" (111).

Please note that Milligan and Moulton, on the same page, caution that there are difficulties with associating Jesus' statement with Exodus 3:14.

Another great Greek scholar of the late nineteenth century was B. F. Westcott, the co-editor of the first truly modern critical edition of the Greek New Testament. In his book _The Gospel according to St. John_ (Eerdmans, reprint of 1881 ed.), regarding "I am," he comments:

"The phrase marks a timeless existence. In this connexion 'I was' would have expressed simple priority. Thus there is in the phrase the contrast between the created and the uncreated, the temporal and the eternal" (140).

From the late nineteenth century to the present time, then, several of the most famous and widely respected Greek scholars have construed John 8:58 not as a PPA but as an assertion of eternal existence, and they have translated it "I am." This is not a fallacious appeal to authority since the issue I am addressing is solely whether a consensus exists among experts in Greek that John 8:58 is a PPA. That clearly is not the case.

You wrote:

Now I have criticized in detail problems with your various numerations and scorings of where the grammars fall on the question of the PPA. It was you, not I, who introduced such statistical arguments into the discussion. Now, however, you claim:

"I was not in the least attempting to determine whether a majority of the grammars favored a broad or a narrow definition. I was not attempting to argue for a narrow definition as opposed to a broad one on the grounds that a majority of grammars employed a narrow definition."

Well, then I must apologize on behalf of all of us, or nearly all of us, who thought that counting which grammars you saw as favoring your view versus those you thought could be seen to be in line with mine, was a method of argument on your part. I can't imagine what we were thinking.

This attempt to claim that everyone or nearly everyone following the discussion saw my argument in the way that you did is empty rhetoric. The fact is that neither you nor I know what most of the other people observing the debate thought about this matter. Your sarcasm aside, the truth is that my argument was not that some grammars favor my view while other grammars favor yours. Here you are responding to my explicit denial that this was my claim, and you continue to assert that it was! Nor did I argue that most of the grammars favor a narrow way of defining the PPA. Had I actually said as much, I would think that you would remind me and all those following the debate where. Instead, you resort to the debater's rhetorical trick of appealing to the audience's supposed knowledge of the truth of your claim. That won't fly here, where the debate is written and anyone can turn directly to the portion of the debate in question to see for themselves exactly what it is I really did say. Indeed, in my post #24 to which you were responding, I told you where you could find the specific conclusions or which I was arguing (pp. 169-70) and I repeated them for you (pp. 288-89). Although you quoted three of those points in your post (pp. 310-11), you continue to misrepresent my argument. No wonder this debate is fast approaching four hundred pages in length!

I won't repeat the entirety of those points again. To put the matter very succinctly, my argument was that grammars that identify John 8:58 as a PPA generally employ a relatively broad definition of the PPA while grammars that specify that a PPA must be translated in English with a past tense generally employ a relatively narrow definition of the PPA. I carefully qualified this comparison, noting McKay in particular as an anomaly with regard to the above generalization. My conclusion was that a survey of the grammars does not support your claim that if John 8:58 is a PPA it must be translated in English using a past tense. Again, though, read the points on pages 169-70 and repeated on pages 288-89 for the complete text stating what I was claiming to show with my statistical survey of the grammars.

You wrote:

First, you have dismissed as a supposed "straw man" (and therefore avoided answering) my point that whether a grammar happens to remark on how to translate a form is a completely independent variable from what you term "broad" or "narrow" definition or any other thing you score. It has more to do with whether a grammar is written primarily with translators in mind or primarily for those who are studying materials in Greek without thought of producing a translation.

The "straw man" that I criticized was your misrepresenting me as arguing for an "exclusive correlation" between narrowness of definition and stipulation of how to translate the PPA (288). I explained that I did not argue for an "exclusive correlation" but rather for a statistically significant correlation. Specifically, I pointed out "that the three grammars that have the broadest definition of the PPA 'happen' to say nothing at all about how to translate it, while four of the five grammars that specify to translate the PPA using an English past tense 'happen' to sit at the narrow end of the spectrum of definitions of the PPA" (288).

Your claim that whether a grammar states how to translate the PPA depends on whether the grammar was "written primarily with translators in mind" is a bald assertion, so far as I can see, unsupported by any evidence. To show that it has some factual basis, you would need to cite evidence showing that Winer, Turner, and BDF were not written with translators in mind while Jannaris, Dana/Mantey, Burton, and Fanning were written primarily as aids for translators. Good luck! The fact is that some of these grammars fit your speculation while others do not. Dana and Mantey, for example, explicitly state in their preface that their purpose was to supply a grammar for "the average Greek student rather than the technical Greek scholar," designed for "class-room use" (iii). Their purpose was to give students "a working knowledge of the Greek language" (vii), toward the end that such students may access "the deep mines of religious truth and inspiration which lie imbedded in the original text" (xi). Clearly, the Dana/Mantey grammar does not fit your generalization. On the other hand, Burton does fit, since he states that his work "is designed to assist English-speaking students in the task of translating the Greek New Testament into English forms of thought and expression" (Burton, v). On the other side, Turner, whom you speculate was not written with translators in mind, says, "I have designed volume III [the one in question] specially for three classes of reader: first, the teacher with an interest in exegesis, or the Bible translator." (Turner, 1; the other two classes of reader are textual critics and comparative philologists). So Turner flatly contradicts your generalization.

You wrote:

Second, you avoid any comment on the fact that those who do comment on translation assume a past rendering as the norm, which clearly puts your position against the tide.

This is just plain false. In fact, I showed that your claim here that those grammars assume a past rendering as the norm is itself false. I pointed out that "some say or imply that the proper translation is always in the past tense; and others say that the past tense is normally, usually, or often the right translation."


Your post #26 was a reply to my post #25, on broad-band presents. In that post, I had written:

"On the broader definitions of the PPA, any present-tense verb that expresses a state that obtained in the past and continues to obtain in the present is a PPA. But not all such verbs are justifiably translated using an English past tense verb. The sentence hO QEOS AGAPH ESTIN fits this definition, because what it says that God 'is' obtained in the past and continues in the present, but it would be unjustifiable to translate this sentence 'God has been love.'"

You replied:

Who has ever defined the PPA as you do here? Who has ever cited 1 John 4:8 as a PPA? You are creating a straw man here.

You're kidding, right? Who ever defined the PPA as I do here? Don't you remember Winer's definition of the PPA: "the verb indicates a state which commenced at an earlier period but still continues"? Unless you wish to press "commenced" to mean that all PPAs expressly refer to states as having a beginning (you have said more than once that you do not), what I said is a very close paraphrase of Winer's definition.

No one to my knowledge has ever cited 1 John 4:8 as a PPA, and of course I never said anyone did. I simply said that according to the broadest possible definition (essentially what we find in Winer), 1 John 4:8 could be described as a PPA.

I wrote:

"I am arguing for a translation of the text that preserves the connections between this and other sayings of Jesus utilizing the unpredicated EGW EIMI. I am arguing for a translation of the text that conveys the Old Testament allusions of this and other EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus, especially those in Isaiah."

You replied:

In other words, you are arguing for an interpretation, a hypothesized doctrinal connection between passages, while bisecting the sentence right in front of you into unrelated segments. This is scarcely a legitimate procedure in translation.

I have thoroughly refuted the claim that I bisect the sentence into unrelated segments and need say nothing about it here. With regard to your first claim, as I have pointed out repeatedly, all good translation takes note of such literary associations and connections. You yourself state in
your book _Truth in Translation_ that translations should take into account the author's "historical and cultural environment" and the "images and ideas available in his or her world" (xvi). You elaborated later: "The books of the New Testament belong to a larger literary context that includes early Jewish and Christian traditions of writing. The Jewish scriptures (the Christian Old Testament), for example, form an essential context for understanding the expression of the New Testament.... The exact nuance of a phrase of argument in the New Testament may depend on this background knowledge" (xviii). Moreover, in your book you endorse the specific association that you now disparage as "a hypothesized doctrinal connection." In your chapter on John 8:58, you acknowledge with respect to certain divine "I am" sayings in Isaiah that "Jesus appropriates this kind of language for himself in the Gospel of John" (111). By using the "background knowledge" of the Isaianic EGW EIMI sayings as one factor (not the only one!) in assessing the merits of competing translations of John 8:58, I am simply taking your statements above seriously. In this particular case, I apparently take those statements more seriously than you do.

I wrote:

"And while obviousness can be a matter of some subjectivity and disagreement (calling into question your own statement), I think it fair to say that it would be quite a stretch to argue that 'I am' is not at least *an* obvious choice for translating EGW EIMI."

You replied:

There you go again, dissing poor old Abraham. Rob, please pay attention: the rest of the sentence!

Jason, you are the one who is not paying attention. I was referring to EGW EIMI in John 8:58, not merely to EGW EIMI in isolation.

You wrote:

So now, if as appears obvious by you continually falling back to it, you are saying that EGW EIMI is a self-standing, independent, absolute clause, then you MUST do two things:

Before commenting on those two things, let me just point out that according to the usual grammatical terminology, EGW EIMI *is* an "independent clause." This is Grammar 101.

But let's look at your two horns of a supposed dilemma:

(1) accept that the verb here is a simple present, with no temporal modification, and so no reference to "eternality" -- Jesus is simply saying "I exist" at the moment. Great news!

No, this is not an option. Construing EGW EIMI as an independent clause (as of course it definitely is) does not mean construing it with no regard to the rest of the sentence. The verb EIMI stands in contrast to GENESQAI and connotes, in this context, a beginningless existence in contrast to the coming-into-existence of Abraham.

(2) find an alternative way to complete the syntax of the "before" clause, which you will have to combine with the previous clause, I suppose: "Truly, truly, I have been saying (LEGW as a PPA) to you since before Abraham was born, 'I exist.'" Hey, Rob, that's not bad. You might like that. Think about it. It's still not what the traditional translation has done.

I construe you to be facetious here, but in any case, I will simply comment that such a way of construing the sentence is clearly wrong.

Finally with regard to your post #26, I cannot resist pointing out that you neglected to comment on the following very telling paragraph from my post

"In the very next paragraph of your book after the one from which I just quoted, you wrote: 'If the translation given is at least within the realm of possibility for the meaning of the Greek, we must grant that fact and not be too hard on the translators for preferring one possible meaning over another. But if they stretch beyond that rather generous range and reach for the truly novel, rare, or unlikely sense of the Greek, we must be very suspicious of their motives' (xvi). Yet you violate this 'generous' allowance for translators to choose 'one possible meaning over another' not only in your chapter on John 8:58, but several times in your book. Thus, somehow we are to gather that 'worship' is a 'truly novel, rare, or unlikely sense of the Greek' word PROSKUNEW-when it is applied to Christ (chapter 4); 'God' is likewise a tendentious rendering of the Greek word QEOS in John 1:1c (chapter 11); and of course 'am' is just plain wrong as a rendering of EIMI in John 8:58 (chapter 10). Forgive me, but this is brazen" (294).

Those comments still stand.


Toward the beginning of your post #27, you wrote:

Whatever the merits of Wallace's presentation on the gnomic, he doesn't identify John 8:58 as one, does he?

That's an argument from silence. All I proposed was that his "universal" subcategory of the gnomic might reasonably be applied to John 8:58.

Regarding the statement, "God is [ESTIN] love" (1 John 4:8, 16), you wrote:

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.

The difference between the above two statements is that "a kiss" is generic, whereas "God" is specific. However, I agree with you that this sentence form expresses a statement about the nature or character of the subject.

You wrote:

The statment MAY be true eternally, but that is interpretation, not translation.

As I have pointed out before, I have not proposed translating John 8:58 "I am eternal" or "I eternally am." So your point is legitimate but not relevant.

I also agree with you that many of the biblical examples I quoted can be understood as generic gnomics. As you noted, I said so myself, especially with regard to a text such as Psalm 146:7-8. However, I don't think this category will adequately encompass all of those statements. "The Spirit searches [ERAUNA] all things" (1 Cor. 2:10), for example, explicitly applies the action of the verb universally ("all things"). I also disagree with your view that the statement "God knows [GINWSKEI] all things" (1 John 3:20) is "atemporal"; the sense seems rather clearly to be omnitemporal. On the other hand, I think you had a good point about Acts 7:48, where "the Most High dwells" can, as you argued, be construed as a simple present.

You wrote:

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.

This seems to be the main criticism you keep expressing about my view. Again, I don't read EGW EIMI apart from the PRIN clause; I simply read the PRIN clause in relation to the main clause in a different way than you do.

You wrote:

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.

As I have explained, such "interpretation" is a proper and necessary component of the process of translation. In your opening comments on translation in your book _Truth in Translation_, you said as much yourself, as I have documented. You also agreed with me in principle on this point in your post #2 (pp. 24-25).

There are enough difficulties in Dana and Mantey's discussion of the "static present" (especially the difficulty of matching their examples with their description of that usage) that I think our attempts to sort them out are yielding diminishing returns. For sake of time I will simply let stand what we have said on that subject.


In this brief post, you asked:

Do you mean to argue that the PPA so overlaps with the "universal" gnomic and the "static" that to say that EIMI in John 8:58 can be construed as a PPA is necessarily to leave open its consrual as one of these other two categories of use? Or do you mean to argue that EIMI in John 8:58 is one of these other two categories of use and NOT a PPA?

The answer is that neither of these is my argument. My argument is that the PPA is formally similar enough to the universal gnomic, static, and other broad-band presents that a text that in some ways looks like a PPA text might be better construed as a different type of broad-band present. In other words, in some cases which use of the present most exactly fits the text may be a judgment call.

In Christ's service,

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
Online: http://www.biblicalapologetics.net

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