Friday, March 11, 2005

RB17260 - Rob #35: Antecedent time, LXX parallels, and the meaning of EIMI in John 8:58 

(RB17260) - Robert Bowman [Fri Mar 11, 2005 8:52 pm] (Rob #35: Antecedent time, LXX parallels, and the meaning of EIMI in John 8:58)


This post is in response to your post #29, which was a reply to my post #27, and your post #30, which was a reply to my posts #28-29. Thus, the three sections of this post correspond to my posts #27-29.


You began post #29 as follows:

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. (348)

You then elaborate on this criticism, noting my reference to "the incompatibility of antecedent time and the PPA" and you reiterate:

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.

This critique is absurdly off the mark. The contrast I drew in my post #27 was between a present-tense indicative main verb associated with an expression denoting duration from the past into the present (the PPA) and a present-tense indicative main verb associated with the infinitive of antecedent time. Your attempt to portray me as confusedly arguing that the infinitive GENESQAI cannot be a PPA is sophisticated obfuscation, nothing more. To support this criticism, you quote from two widely separated paragraphs of my post. Here is the first of those paragraphs:

"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" (p. 323).

By "(b) a verb that expresses an action or state antecedent to some time in the past" I was referring to the present-tense indicative verb EIMI (as I said *explicitly* in the *very next sentence*), not to the aorist infinitive GENESQAI. The aorist infinitive does not express the antecedent action or state; it marks the present indicative verb associated with it as expressing an antecedent action or state. If you genuinely misunderstood this, you completely failed to come to terms with my argument. The "basic confusion about what [I] am arguing" is on your end.

Here is the second statement you quoted, put in its context (p. 327):

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.

In context, when I said that "an infinitive of antecedent time simply doesn't fit what we mean by a PPA," I clearly meant that it did not fit as the kind of temporal marker associated with a PPA. I certainly did not mean that the infinitive could not itself BE the PPA. I was replying to your
argument from silence about no one ever saying that such an infinitive could not "be used to create a PPA." Even in this paragraph I refer twice to "the main verb" in association with the infinitive of antecedent time, so that it is quite clear that it is the main verb that I am saying is not a PPA in such a construction.

You wrote:

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. (349)

I would not object to translating John 8:58, "Before Abraham comes into being, I am"; such a translation would meet your criticisms part way, though I doubt you would consider it acceptable. You continued:

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.

Again, although the conventional translation is not elegant modern English, I think it is acceptable in a formal equivalency translation, like the usual translation of Psalm 89:2, "Before the mountains were formed.you are."

You wrote:

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 the main verb had been in the past tense, it would have simply meant that Jesus existed before Abraham, without (of course) denying that he still existed at the time of Jesus' speaking. I will return to this point in my response to your post #30.

I had observed "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." You commented:

But of course it is completely arbitrary for you to make a subjective "observation" that something "does not look like" something else. (350)

Since I specified what it was about such a construction that "does not look like" a PPA, and why, my argument was not subjective as you claim.

You offered some fairly lengthy comments on the infinitive of antecedent time based on Smyth's grammar. Your comments focused on Smyth's three example sentences illustrating the use of PRIN:

"I was doing this until Socrates arrived."
"I was not doing this until (or before) Socrates arrived."
"I was doing this before Socrates arrived."

You claim that I construe John 8:58 as parallel to the first sentence:

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 (350).

However, you are mistaken on more than one count. First, I do not construe John 8:58 as parallel to Smyth's first sentence. Second, I do not (for the umpteenth time) claim that the state of Jesus' existence in John 8:58 "is limited to the time antecedent to" the time marked by the infinitive. I simply claim that the verb EIMI in that construction *expresses* existence antecedent to the time marked by the infinitive, without implying that such existence is "limited" to that antecedent time.

Oh, and by the way, the main verb "was doing" in all three of Smyth's example sentences is imperfect (EPOIOUN), not present tense.

I had written:

"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" (324).

You commented:

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.

By "limited duration" I meant exactly what I meant in my book, namely, that the state or action had been enduring for a limited period of time at the time the statement was made. You are twisting what I said yet again.

You wrote:

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." (351)

First, I must point out that I did *not* concede that some of my examples do not convey that the verbal action or state were of limited duration in having some beginning. What I said was that this was not "immediately obvious" in two of the examples. The sentence preceding your quote from my post states it this way: "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)" (324). The limited duration and beginning of the action or state may be implied or otherwise evident even if the sentence does not have qualifying temporal language that makes this "self-evident" or "immediately obvious."

Second, your ellipsis omits a sentence that makes a point of some significance with regard to those two texts:

"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.)" (324)

In other words, if these two texts are PPAs, they exemplify the point that a PPA need not always be translated with an English past tense verb. Conversely, if a PPA must always be translated with an English past tense verb, then these two texts are evidently not PPAs.

You made no attempt to rebut the above point. Nor did you make any attempt to refute the point that a beginning is evident in 1 Corinthians 15:6. You did attempt to refute that point with regard to 1 John 2:9, writing:

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. (351-52)

Suppose for the sake of argument I grant your point, though we would need to sharpen it to the claim that we don't know that John thought a human being's existence had a beginning. Then I can simply say that 1 John 2:9, if it is a PPA, is an unusual one if it is taken to refer to a state that had no beginning. Or, I can say that 1 John 2:9 might not even be a PPA, at least in the usual sense, since all of the English translations I checked render the verb with the English present tense. So, your objection, even if granted, proves nothing. On the other hand, your objection is refuted in John 8:58, the very verse that is the focus of this debate. Abraham, who is understood in context to have been a human being, albeit a great or even the greatest human being from a Jewish perspective, is said to have had a beginning: "before Abraham came into being [GENESQAI]." This saying of Jesus is, of course, reported in the Gospel of John, authored by the same person who gave us 1 John. John reports that John (the Baptist) acknowledged that his origin, like that of other human beings, was "of the earth," whereas Jesus was "from above" and "from heaven" and was therefore "above all" (John 3:31). In these statements, and others implicitly in his writings (e.g., John 1:15), we can see that John affirmed a traditional Jewish anthropology.

I had written:

"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" (325-26).

You quoted everything in that paragraph except the first sentence, and then replied:

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. (352)

This opening comment, and what follows, ignores what it was that you had claimed and that I was refuting, namely, your claim that I ruled out a beginning in John 8:58 "arbitrarily" on no other grounds than that "it is not specified there."

You wrote:

(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.

I have responded to the relevant arguments in those posts.

You continued:

(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.

And I reply: (1) If Jesus had merely been claiming to have been alive in contrast to the dead Abraham, well, any of his listeners could have made *that* claim! You are here engaged in "interpretation," as you so often criticize me for doing, with the difference being that your interpretation is without merit. The only way to make your point work would be to broaden
it further to a contrast between Abraham, who "came into being" and died, and Jesus, who before and after simply *is* or *lives* (EGW EIMI). But broadening the contrast in this way in effect admits that EIMI connotes beginningless (as well as endless) existence or life. (2) The final position in a Greek sentence is per se not emphatic syntactically, but there is in this instance a clear *semantic* emphasis due to the clear contrast between GENESQAI and EIMI.

Regarding Jesus' allusion to the "I am" sayings of God in Isaiah, you commented:

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. (352-53)

As I have explained in a previous post, the allusion to the Isaianic "I am" sayings of God does contribute to the question of the best translation of EGW EIMI in John 8:58, in that the best translation will make it possible to recognize that allusion, and "I have been" fails miserably in this regard whereas "I am" does quite well.

You wrote:

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. (353)

Well, I see nothing wrong with the parts of my argument, and I don't see them as fitting your characterization of "may-bes" or "could-bes" or the like. I didn't argue that John 8:58 "may be" a predicate absolute, that there "could be" a contrast between GENESQAI and EIMI, or that there might "arguably be" an allusion to Old Testament "I am" sayings of God! So you have caricatured my argument once again.

Speaking of caricatures of my arguments, you had badly caricatured my argument as running along the following lines:

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. !!!! (237)

I pointed out (p. 328) that a better enumeration of my argument would look something like the following:

  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).

Now, it would have been nice if you had acknowledged the fact that you had badly caricatured my argument. You didn't. Instead, you tried to refute the above argument by critiquing two of the premises:

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? (353)

What objections you did raise to the second point were peripheral or irrelevant, and I have answered them earlier in this post. With regard to my fifth point, your objection is, once again, a fallacious argument from silence. Every grammarian and exegete who interprets EIMI to connote eternal existence supports my point. These scholars include Greek scholars Milligan
and Moulton, Westcott, Robertson (see, e.g., his _Word Pictures_), and Young (p. 166), numerous biblical commentators, and even unorthodox commentators like Bultmann and Davey.

As an aside, you made the comment regarding Colossians 1:17 that "its temporal reading as a PPA has a lot to be said for it" (353). Let's look at how various English versions translate AUTOS ESTIN PRO PANTWN in Colossians 1:17:

"he is before all things" (KJV; NKJV; ASV; NASB; ESV; NIV; NRSV; many others)
"He himself is before all things" (NET Bible)
"he is before all" (Douay-Rheims; Darby)
"he is before all [other] things" (NWT)

Even the NWT, despite its controversial addition of "other," agrees with the other versions in translating ESTIN as "is". Of the numerous versions I checked, only the NLT, which is a (generally excellent) paraphrase, does otherwise, and it reads, "He existed before everything else began."

If we construe ESTIN here as a PPA, and translate it as you would indicate from your handling of John 8:58, we would not render it as the NLT did. Instead, we would have to translate it something like, "he has been since before all things." Well, feel free to go out on that limb and knock yourself out, but the meaning would still be the same. After all, if the Son (the subject here, see vv. 13-14) has been since before all things, then he has *always* existed. We know this because in context "all things" are things God created; Paul draws a line between the all things that were created and the Son, through and for whom those all things were created and
who ESTIN PRO all things. In any case, the conventional rendering of Colossians 1:17 is quite defensible and seems best in context.

You closed, oddly, with an entirely irrelevant, though legitimate, example of the PPA not mentioned in the grammars (What? What happened to your argument from silence?). Mark 9:21 ("How long has this been happening to him?") is indeed a PPA. More curious still, you misidentified the temporal marker in this instance. Here is the sentence:


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"). 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.


I now turn to your post #30, which in turn was your reply to my posts #28 and #29. In this section I will focus on your reply to my post #28. You began:

In your post #28, you wish to continue to dispute the PPA reading of three LXX sentences (Prov. 8:23-24; Jer. 1:5; Ps. 89:2), even though two of them are recognized by Winer as PPAs closely comparable to John 8:58, in that they are both clausally-modified as is John 8:58. I am quite content to stand on the arguments I have made, and to stand with Winer on theidentification of Jer. 1:5 and Ps. 89:2 as PPAs. (355)

For the sake of argument, I could agree to "stand with Winer" in that his definition of the PPA (assuming that "commenced" is not pressed) is so broad as to allow for the conventional English translation of John 8:58 as well as the traditional Christian interpretation of that verse. His comparison of John 8:58 with two texts that speak of God's knowledge and existence (and
that are usually translated using a present-tense verb in English) will appear quite compatible with the view that in John 8:58 EIMI connotes beginningless existence or life and not only that Jesus was older than Abraham.

Regarding your attempt to support your understanding of Proverbs 8:23-25 as a PPA using the Dana and Mantey grammar, you wrote:

I did a little Rob-like experiment of making a case based on existing recognized uses of the present, but you have not accepted that argument.

Are you saying that your argument was a good one, like arguments I have made from the grammars? That doesn't seem likely to be your meaning. Are you saying that it was an argument that you presented with all seriousness but that you now recognize was a bad argument, supposedly like a bad argument I have made from the grammars? Or are you saying you knew all along it wasn't a good argument, although you didn't say so at the time (and still aren't saying so clearly)? It's hard to tell what you are saying. My conclusion: The above is a bit of sleight-of-hand rhetoric that you used to avoid making any clear statement at all or responding in a substantive way to the significant points I made in my critique of your argument.

To recap, those significant points were that (1) the categories of usage to which you appealed from Dana and Mantey are normally (i.e., with the exception of a small category of verbs) translated in English with the present tense; (2) your handling of the perfective present yielded no plausible support for a PPA interpretation of GENNAi in Proverbs 8:23-25; and (3) you still have not presented a more cogent exegesis of that passage than the one I offered (pp. 331-36, with the conclusion stated on pp. 334-36).

In a peculiar twist, you then argued that although you agree that EIMI in John 8:58 is not an historical present, GENNAi in Proverbs 8:23-25 might be one, and you cited ESTIN in Revelation 21:1 as a parallel example (pp. 355-56). I don't think this is a particularly good argument, but if you're dropping Proverbs 8:23-25 as a PPA and now categorizing it as an historical present, we can leave that part of our debate behind us!

With regard to Jeremiah 1:5, I see nothing in your comments (pp. 356-57) requiring a substantive response. You ignored the first case of misrepresentation I addressed (pp. 336-37) and tried to deflect the second case of misrepresentation (pp. 337-38) by addressing only select bits of my comments. You appear to have conceded my next two points, which were that
one cannot assume a one-to-one correspondence between the Hebrew text and the LXX translation and that the Hebrew word in Jeremiah 1:5 is often translated in the present tense (p. 339). You did not address my response to your incoherent accusation of eisegesis or my statement that in Jeremiah 1:5 God's knowledge of Jeremiah is "temporally unbounded" (p. 340).

On Psalm 89:2 LXX, you had objected to my exegesis on the grounds that the third line is not grammatically parallel to the first two lines, and I had replied that the three lines exhibit a semantic "progression backward in time from the creation of the mountains back to the creation of the earth and the world and finally back to the everlasting past. The three lines do not need to be grammatically parallel for that progression to be evident" (p. 31). You replied:

Here once again, you are allowing the logic of your construal overwhelm the grammar. You interpret AIWNOS hEWS TOU AIWNOS as a period of time broader than, and encompassing the previous periods mentioned. The APO TOU is against you, because it is quite explicitly "from, since," that is, progressive time forward from the previous "before" clauses. The switch from PRO to APO signals a shift of direction in the time under consideration. If the writer wanted to convey what you mean, he could have employed a different, non-contrastive construct, such as an EN or DIA phrase.

You are the very first person I have ever encountered that suggested that the period of time denoted by APO TOU AIWNOS hEWS TOU AIWNOS is actually circumscribed or limited by the preceding clauses about the mountains and the world. In this case I think I will have to say that you are allowing your overly fussy construal of the grammar to overwhelm the logic of the
text. There is nothing in Psalm 89:2 LXX that I can see, even after your explanation, that would indicate that APO refers to a time after the events of the preceding two lines (which seems to be your meaning).

You had written:

I maintain that the first two joined clauses represent a "before" statement, that is, an Infinitive of antecedent time construction that marks the event(s) before which God existed, and that the third line, the APO TOU phrase, represents a marker of durative time "and from age to age" of God's continued existence since "before . . ." So this verse is more explicit in its modifying elements than we see in other PPAs with "before" clauses, in which the "since" element is implicit in the modifier; here it is made explicit. (247)

Note that in the above comments, you say that "the third line, the APO TOU phrase, represents a marker of durative time 'and from age to age' of God's continued existence since 'before . . .'" Since "a marker of durative time.of.continued existence since" some past time would seem to be a clear definition of the temporal marker of the PPA, I commented:

"In the above statement, you appear to be claiming that the phrase APO TOU AIWNOS hEWS TOU AIWNOS is the qualifying element that marks the present-tense verb EI as a PPA" (341).

You complained:

In other words, if you had taken the care to read all of what I said, there would be no way for you to make the mistake of thinking I was saying the APO TOU is what made the PPA. Something's a bit off with your much-vaunted "contextual" reading here, Rob.... Quite clearly, you have not understood me. (358)

I'd take this criticism with some seriousness if you had actually commented on your statement, which I have quoted again for you above, in which you seemed to say that the APO phrase marked the present-tense verb as a PPA. As it stands, my "misunderstanding" seems quite understandable.

You had written:

But your resort to "existence at all times" is rooted in your misunderstanding of the gnomic or customary present, which I have already explained does not refer in itself to eternality, but only that something is the case whenever and wherever the specified circumstance occurs. Your interpretation cannot be read into the grammatical forms, but must be read out of them, which you can do. Why is this not satisfactory to you? (pp. 247-48)

I replied:

"Your criticism here is utterly beside the point. I have not advocated translating EI as 'exist at all times' or 'exist eternally.' If I had advocated such a translation, your criticism might have some merit. But I have merely advocated translating EI with the simple present 'are'" (343).

You ignored the point I was making in response to your unwarranted criticism, quoted only the last sentence, and then commented:

Obviously, this would be a non-sequiter in English. The only way to use it here would be to jettison the two "before" clauses as belonging to a separate sentence. You would need to do the same thing with the "before" clause in John 8:58. Since the translations you are defending do not take this drastic stp in either case, you have not offered a sound argument in support of your position. (359)

You have been doing this over and over in our debate, especially in your January and February posts. You forget or ignore the point you originally made and refuse to acknowledge that I have effectively refuted it. You then take something I said out of that context that you think you can criticize on its own. This might be effective for those who aren't following the debate closely, but I will call you on it as often as I can.

As for the point you make here, what we have seen is that you have to accuse translators throughout the English-speaking world and over the past many centuries of mistranslating not only John 8:58, but also Psalm 89:2 LXX, apparently also 1 Corinthians 15:6 and 1 John 2:9, and perhaps Colossians 1:17 as well. There is nothing "obvious" about your position. The conventional translations of these texts work just fine, and in neither Psalm 89:2 nor John 8:58 (nor Colossians 1:17!) require excising the 'before' clauses.


Turning to your comments on my post #29, you quote the following sentence from that post:

"I have never 'argued that the aorist *limits* the time of the main verb to before the event of the infinitive,' in such a way that the state is 'lockedout' from continuing after that event" (346).

You then reply (359):

Oh no? Not only did you before I said that you did, but afterwards, in your post #27, you say:

"If 'the action of the main verb takes place BEFORE the action expressed by the infinitive' (. . . Young . . . emphasis added), then the main verb is not being used to express or denote action taking place AFTER the action expressed by the infinitive." (your emphasis)

"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." (your emphasis)

So you can see that I am hardly putting words into your mouth. Your whole argument for the Infinitive of antecedent time not allowing a progressive verbal sense (which strangely, as I pointed out, would be the only verbal sense not allowed, while every other tense and use is), amounts precisely to this. The problem is that you cannot or will not recognize that that is the
case. Don't you understand the meaning of your own words or the consequences of your own arguments?

I really can't tell if you are being deliberately obtuse or just don't understand the point I was making. Here is the full paragraph from which you quoted only the first sentence above:

"No, I have never 'argued that the aorist *limits* the time of the main verb to before the event of the infinitive,' in such a way that the state is 'locked out' from continuing after that event. I have argued that the main verb in these constructions *denotes* a state antecedent to the main verb. That the state continues after the event denoted by the aorist infinitive is implicit from the context (e.g., Jesus obviously exists when he speaks the words of John 8:58), but the denotative *sense* is that the state obtains antecedent to the event; in turn, the *meaning* (in context) is that the state is unbounded with respect to the event of the past denoted by the aorist infinitive" (346-47).

The material you quoted from me that you thought proved your understanding of my position to be accurate is perfectly consistent with my explanation here. I speak there of what the main verb expresses or denotes about the action or state, not about whether that action or state actually continues. I *do* understand my own words; the most charitable thing I can say for you
is that it is possible you do not understand them.

You wrote:

Second, you are wrong to say that the context implies that "the state continues" even though by the grammar "the state obtains antecedent to the event." The fact that Jesus is now speaking a sentence that denotes that the state of his existence obtains antecedent to the event of Abraham's birth in no way establishes continuation of existence. If you are going to ignore the present value of the main verb, and force into a strictly antecedent value, then Jesus could just as well be speaking of reincarnation. That is, the implication could as easily be read as juxtaposing past and present existence, rather than implying continuous existence. (360)

First, I am not ignoring the present value of the main verb; I am construing it as denoting antecedent existence but connoting in context omnitemporal existence. Second, your speculation that Jesus' wording might (on my exegesis) be construed to imply or fit with Jesus being reincarnated would fall outside the worldview spectrum of conceivable explanations in John's
religious context. Moreover, reincarnationists do not believe that persons exist, stop existing for a period of time, and then resume existing; they believe that the spirit or soul or something of the person exists continually through the series of reincarnations. Thus, even a reincarnationist trying to fit Jesus' statement into his own worldview would not come up with the explanation you suggest.

You concluded:

Third, what you are saying here is that John 8:58 is semantically a PPA, even if you will not agree that it is grammatically so. Note your own words" "a state antecedent . . . continues." Now, as a principle of translation, are you not bound to provide an English sentence that accurately renders the meaning of the Greek. Wherever you think you are deriving that meaning, whether from a strict reading of the grammar, or from its modification by its immediate context, that is what you are obliged to do. Now how, in English, do we convey a state that pertains already antecedent to a past event and continues to the present? Do we use a simple present to do that? No. Do we use a simple past? No. We use a progressive form: "I have been, I have existed." Isn't that so?

I have *always*, beginning with my book sixteen years ago, agreed that in a broad sense of the PPA the verb EIMI might be construed as one, in that it connotes existence/life in the past that continues into the present. This is nothing new. How do we convey this in English? It depends on a combination of factors, all of which must be taken into account. The grammar is only one
factor. When we consider the relation of this saying to other EGW EIMI sayings of Jesus, especially those in 8:24, 28, the allusions to EGW EIMI sayings of God in the LXX, and the intentional contrast between EIMI and GENESQAI with its implication of omnitemporal or transtemporal existence and life for the speaker, "I am" appears to be the best translation overall, even if it is grammatically somewhat archaic or odd by some purists' standards.


I have now, I think, replied to all of your posts. You have not had an opportunity to reply to my most recent posts, #30-35, and you may wish to do so. I am attempting to wind my side down (my six posts #30-35 were in response to ten of your posts, #20-22, 24-30) since we have gone back and forth over the whole terrain of the debate a few times now (and we've already exceeded that 400-page mark!). However, you have the option of responding to my most recent posts, if you wish. When we are both ready to conclude our debate, I suggest we each agree to offer one final closing post at about the same time and then open the discussion to the list members. Let me know what you decide.

In Christ's service,

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

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