Saturday, April 23, 2005

RB17355 - Rob #36: More and more misrepresentations 

RB17355 - Robert Bowman [Sat Apr 23, 2005 12:14 am] (Rob #36: More and more misrepresentations)


In this post, I will reply to your last three posts (#31,#32,#33).. I apologize in advance for its length; I actually went through and cut quite a bit of material in an attempt to keep it to a single post.

You began your post #31 as follows:

You continue to compound your initial grammatical errors with new ones, taking us deeper into a twilight zone where normal rules of grammar do not apply, where EIMI or `be' are transitive verbs, where there can be "absolute" copulas with nothing coupled to the subject, where present tense action can occur before past events. This might make interesting science fiction, but it simply is beyond the fringe of any generally recognized principles of either Greek or English grammar, and there is no point in me continuing to debate where such fundamental rules of language are simply ignored. (p. 410)

At least one Jehovah's Witness on our list found this "masterful," and I would agree-it is masterful use of rhetoric to ridicule and caricature arguments you are increasingly forced to misrepresent in order to criticize them.


You wrote:

In your post #30 you say that you don't see any implication of `theological grammar' in your statements. I'm not sure how to help you see that when the same verb is rendered in ordinary temporal senses when the subject is something other than what you consider a divine being, but as signifying "a state or action that is constant, perpetual, or simply always so" when the subject is considered by you a divine being, that runs afoul of the "theological grammar" charge.

You have failed to provide a single counterexample of the same verb EIMI used in the same way with a non-divine subject, that is, with no complement (unless one counts an aorist infinitive clause with PRIN) and where the present-tense EIMI denotes existence prior to an actual event of past time (from the perspective of the speaker) marked by that aorist infinitive. Two of your big three examples from the LXX do not use the same verb (GENNAi in Prov. 8:23-25; EPISTAMAI in Jer. 1:5) and all three refer to the divine being of the Lord God and his wisdom (Prov. 8:23-25), knowledge (Jer. 1:5), and existence (Ps. 89:2 LXX). All three of these can plausibly be interpreted as expressing a constant, perpetual state that is always so. (That's stating the matter weakly; I think all three of them clearly should be so interpreted, and in context Psalm 89:2 *must* be.) Neither of the two extrabiblical examples you gave is an effective counterexample, either. Menander's _Dyscolos_ 615-16 has a subject complement ("friend"), an indirect object ("to you"), and a typical PPA adverbial marker (PALAI), with the aorist infinitive clause PRIN IDEIN easily interpreted as giving further definition to the adverb PALAI. This grammatical and semantic analysis, not theology, makes the difference. Testament of Job 2:1 has a subject complement (IWBAB), cannot be interpreted as a PPA, and therefore cannot serve as a nontheological example of this construction meaning what you claim it means in John 8:58 (existence from the past extending to the present). Further, my exegesis of John 8:58 does not rest on grammar alone but also considers the broader context, including the Old Testament allusions. So your accusation that I employ a question-begging "theological grammar" is false.

You tried this charge again in your post #32. I had refuted your claim that my analysis of Jesus' EGW EIMI sayings in John 8 is faulty because it overlooks John 9:9. You made no attempt to counter the points I made about John 9:9. Instead, you commented:

Oh, you mean the context supplies the reference of the implicit pronomial complement 'he'? The same is true in John 8:28, where the context supplies "Son of Man." Why do you accept a contextual reference in the case of the blind man, and ignore it in the case of Jesus in order to appeal to a reference in Isaiah? This differential grammar and semantics on your part is what I mean when I speak of theological grammar. (p. 426)

I don't ignore the context in the case of Jesus in John 8:28. Although the immediate reference is arguably to the Son of Man (as you point out), the language of John 8:24, 28 just as clearly alludes to Yahweh in Isaiah 43:10:


I think both are intended; and this conclusion rests on exegetical grounds, as I have explained, not on "theological grammar."


You wrote:

You, of course, understand none of this and think the simple present tense, in and of itself, signifies eternity, which is patently absurd. (p. 411)

I must be doing something right; you keep repeating assertions about what I think that are not only "patently absurd" but patently not what I think. I stated very clearly that the simple present tense "am" in and of itself does not signify eternity. In my post #30, to which you were responding, I wrote:

"If Jesus' entire statement had been merely EGW EIMI, we might have construed it to mean merely 'I exist' and that would indeed have seemed an oddly banal thing for Jesus to say in that context. But the adjunct dependent clause makes it clear that this statement is not a mere affirmation of existence but an affirmation of existence of an extraordinary kind." (p. 373)

In my next post, #31, I stated:

"...I agree that EGW EIMI in and of itself does not convey anything auspicious. As I keep pointing out, I have never said or suggested or implied otherwise" (p. 378).

But you knew this from the very beginning of the debate. Thus, in your opening post, you acknowledged that I had made this point years ago in my book:

Rob and I agree that "By itself, of course, the word eimi does not connote eternal preexistence" (114).... (p. 9)

Yet now you claim, in direct contradiction to your earlier acknowledgment and my recent statements, that I think the simple present tense EIMI in and of itself "signifies eternity." The more you repeat such flat-out falsehoods regarding my position, the worse you make your line of argument appear.

You asked:

Tell me how you can translate it so that any reader, coming to it without your knowledge and wisdom, would understand that the temporal significance of EIMI is other than the simple present tense. (p. 412)

Your question appears to be worded in a somewhat sarcastic way, although it is sometimes difficult to discern a person's tone from his writing. The rendering found in most English versions seems to convey the idea to a lot of folks:

"Before Abraham came into being, I am."

I'm pretty sure that most people reading this translation will get the idea that Jesus was not merely asserting that he existed at the time he was speaking. I know that when I was barely 17 years old and not yet a Christian, I realized that Jesus' statement as translated in the English versions available to me expressed some sort of omnitemporal or transtemporal existence. Ironically, at the time I tried to find some way around the obvious implications!



You wrote:

You don't even understand what "absolute" means. You state: "To say that EIMI is absolute is not to say that the dependent clause contributes nothing to our understanding of the temporal orientation or significance of EIMI." But that is PRECISELY what "absolute" means. Absolute means self-contained and unmodified in temporal orientation and significance.

I thought we had settled this question, but evidently I was mistaken. The term "absolute" as a grammatical term is capable of being understood in varying ways. Remember, I had explained that when biblical scholars say that EIMI is 'absolute' they mean that it lacks a subject complement. You had even commended me for "some good detective work" in explaining their usage (p. 259). Yet somehow, while continuing to maintain the same position, I've gone in your eyes from doing "some good detective work" on this point to not even understanding what "absolute" means. Perhaps the debate has simply gone on too long and you forgot!


You wrote:

Nowhere does Robertson use `absolute' in connection with a copulative verb, as you say he does. He uses it only in the context of discussing infinitives (1092-1093), and participles in subordinate clauses (1130-1132), and in both contexts he means merely "clauses that stand apart from the rest of the sentence" (1130). (p. 413)

You are partly right: Robertson never uses the term "absolute" to refer to a verb that *he identifies as* copulative. However, you are dead wrong when you say that he uses it only in discussing infinitives and participles. Perhaps you have forgotten the very statement in Robertson's grammar in question: the one in which he says that the indicative EIMI in John 8:58 "is really absolute" (Robertson, _Grammar_, 880)! You know - the one that you claim was a "foolish" statement on his part! How could you forget that?

Elsewhere Robertson indicates that although EIMI normally functions as a copula, "Sometimes it does express existence as a predicate like any other verb, as in EGW EIMI (Jo. 8:58) and hH QALASSA OUK ESTIN ETI (Rev. 21:1)" (Robertson, 394). He then adds, "But more commonly the real predicate is another word and EIMI merely serves as a connective or copula." So the explanation I gave in my book of Robertson's comment on page 880 of his Grammar will have to be amended or at least qualified: by "absolute" Robertson meant the use of a verb that normally has a "predicate" expressed with it (which for EIMI would be a *typically* copulative verb) without any such predicate expressed. (By "predicate" in association with EIMI,
remember, I mean a subject complement.) This is really what I meant when I used the expression "copulative verb"; I was well aware that EIMI could have a non-copulative usage. Perhaps there is an even better way of explaining what Robertson meant. However, clearly he had to mean something roughly along these lines when he referred to EIMI in John 8:58 as absolute. Your assertion that he only used the term with reference to infinitive and
participial verb forms betrays the fact that you had already dismissed his use of that term with reference to John 8:58.

As I said, by referring to EIMI as a "copulative verb" I meant simply that EIMI typically or usually has this function; I did not mean that a subject complement is always implied in every occurrence of the verb EIMI. Perhaps I could have been clearer on this point. In any case, having cleared up this misunderstanding, I trust you can now see that my reference to EIMI as a copulative verb did not commit me to supplying "the implied predicate complement," as you asserted (p. 413).


You had written:

Brown, Harner, and Ball all buy into the great "I AM" nonsense (that Jesus is invoking Exodus 3:14 even when he says things like "Hi, it's me," and "I'm the one you're looking for"), and this dictates their supposedly grammatical analysis.

I replied:

"Absolutely false. All three writers relate some or many of Jesus' EGW EIMI sayings in John to the 'I am' sayings of God in Isaiah. However, they nuance even this association, and they do not claim that Jesus is alluding to, let alone invoking, Exodus 3:14 in *any* of those sayings.... It might be a good idea to READ these scholars before accusing them of 'nonsense.'" (p. 368)

You pointed out that one of these scholars, Raymond Brown (as I had quoted him), distinguishes the absolute use of EGW EIMI with no predicate (John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19) from usages where a predicate is understood but not expressed. You then commented:

Most major translations of John 8:24, 8:28, and 13:19 translate them as belonging to Brown's category 2, that is, with an understood predicate complement. The exception in the NAB which has "I AM." As we agreed at the beginning of our discussion back in August, the use of "I AM" points to the erroneous idea that this is a name or designation of God in Exodus 3:14. Hence my conclusion that Brown and Harner "buy into the `I Am' nonsense." Because, you see, there is simply no such thing as EIMI used as a copula in an absolute construction without an implied complement. Such a thing would be incomprehensible as a sentence.

I didn't claim that Brown or Harner said that EIMI was "used as a copula in an absolute construction without an implied complement." I cited them as examples of scholars who agree with Robertson that EIMI in John 8:58 is "absolute." Their identification of EIMI as absolute in John 8:24, 28 does not preclude an English translation choosing to translate EGW EIMI in those texts as "I am (he)," as many do. It is a judgment call whether this is the better rendering, and context and associations with Old Testament texts (specifically those in Isaiah) have to be considered in making that judgment call. But for all your wiggling here, the fact remains that you misrepresented Brown, Harner, and Ball, because you didn't read them.


You wrote:

And here we get to the hub of the problem. There simply is no such thing as an absolute copula. A copula, Rob, copulates. You cannot have a copula without something on the other side of it, so to speak, explicitly or implicitly. Don't you understand this?

Again, a copulative verb can be used non-copulatively (as EIMI can be used existentially). It can also be used with no recognizable or discernible predicate expressed or implied, even though its usage appears to be copulative. This is how many exegetes understand John 8:24, because after
Jesus says, "unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins," his critics reply, "Who are you?" (v. 25). As I have explained before, their question presupposes that they understood EIMI in verse 24 copulatively, not existentially, but at the same time no specific predicate was expressed or implied that they could discern. Hence, in response to Jesus' words "I am," their question "Who are you?" was another way of saying, "You are *whom*?" They are in effect asking him to "fill in the blank" of his unpredicated or absolute "I am." As you pointed out, most English versions do smooth out the wording of verse 24 by adding "he" after "I am." This doesn't mean that in Greek EIMI isn't "absolute" in the sense typically used in these contexts. The addition "he" is justifiable, though, given the evident allusion to the Isaianic sayings of God, particularly Isaiah 43:10, which in Greek reads EGW EIMI but in Hebrew reads ANI HU ("I [am] he"). The point is that a lot is going on here; the matter is rather complex because the English translator has to take into account the Greek text itself, its allusion to a Greek translation of a Hebrew text, as well as how best to word the English rendering in order to balance readability with fidelity to the text.

You wrote:

Second is that these definitions involve transitive verbs, not intransitives, and the be-verb is an intransitive, so the definitions are not at all applicable to the case of John 8:58.

From my perspective, this isn't worth debating. I offered a clarification on the matter, you disputed that clarification at some length (pp. 415-17). I see no value in hashing this side issue out any further. You may ignore those quotations I gave from English reference works that referred to transitive verbs. My case works without them, since I went on to cite works by Greek scholars using the term "absolute" with reference to New Testament Greek texts.

I wrote:

"Let's get specific here. PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is clearly not a 'predicate' or 'complement' in the sense of a subject complement. It is neither an adjective phrase nor a noun phrase nor any equivalent (such as an articular participle). In this sense, EIMI is 'unpredicated' or 'absolute.'"

You replied:

What rubbish. This is like saying, "The be-verb is not a transitive verb; in this sense, it is not a verb." You are saying that the PRIN clause is not an adjectival or nominal complement, and "in this sense" it is not a complement. This is meaningless, because in another sense, in a valid sense, it is a complement. The "sense" which you are denying to PRIN only applies when the be-verb is a copula, not when it functions existentially. Only when the be-verb is a copula can it have an adjectival or nominal complement, and without one be `absolute.' But it cannot be really `absolute' and a copula at the same time, because to be a copula it must have at least an implied complement. (p. 417)

The problem here is that you are insisting that grammarians and exegetes conform their use of technical terms to your narrow dictates, rather than simply seeking to understand what they mean. It is quite common for scholars to use the term "absolute" (or the term "unpredicated") to describe the verb even if there is an adverbial associated with it. And what I said is precisely correct: if one defines 'absolute' to mean lacking a subject complement, then EIMI in John 8:58 is 'absolute.'


You wrote:

In my post #20, I had pointed out that you were using an English grammar to argue something about the Greek, and asked which language you were intending to make a point about. You reply, in your post #30, "I was making a point about the Greek." So, do I need to remind you that we agreed long ago that this is invalid? Or do those rules only apply to me? (p. 421; see also p. 415)

No, we never decided or agreed that this couldn't be allowed. Your quotation from my post #30 cuts me off in mid-sentence. I won't go over that entire portion of the post, but here's the whole sentence:

"I was making a point about the Greek, as I stated very clearly in a previous paragraph that you seem to have missed" (p. 372).

I encourage those interested in this point to go back and read my answer there.

As for your claim that we had an agreement not to use an English grammar to make a point about the Greek, no, we never had such an agreement. I'm guessing that you are referring to an exchange where I asked you for clarification because you were discussing the Greek text and citing an English grammar. In that particular instance, I found your discussion somewhat hard to follow and so asked for clarification (my post #5, p. 51). Again, I won't quote the whole thing here for sake of space. At no time did I fault you for using an English grammar to elucidate the use of certain technical terms in grammar that are used in discussing the Greek text. The confusion that I noted was that throughout the paragraph you kept referring to English ("The English be-verb... This fact of English... an English speaker") and quoted an English grammar, and yet ended with a reference to "the prin clause" in its relation "to eimi." So I simply asked for clarification and made a clarifying distinction of my own (distinguishing the grammatical structure of the Greek from the grammatical structure of the English translation, which may or may not be precisely the same). We never had any sort of agreement of the kind you describe. Nor would it have been prudent of me to agree not to use English grammar reference works to understand technical terms used in the grammatical analysis of multiple languages. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making that sort of use of a reference work.


Since you insist on dismissing the use of such terms as 'absolute' and 'unpredicated' by biblical scholars as supposedly tainted by their theological perspective, let me introduce a scholarly work that focuses on the be-verb in Greek and that is concerned entirely with extrabiblical
Greek. Charles Kahn's book _The Verb "Be" in Ancient Greek_ draws examples primarily from Homer and secondarily from other Greek writings, all of which predate the New Testament:

Kahn, Charles H. _The Verb "Be" in Ancient Greek_. Foundations of Language. Supplementary Series 16. The Verb "Be" and Its Synonyms: Philosophical and Grammatical Studies 6. Dordrecht and Boston : D. Reidel, 1973.

Kahn defines 'absolute' as follows:

"By an absolute construction I mean that there is no nominal or locative predicate and no other complement such as the possessive dative, nor even an adverb of manner. An absolute construction may, however, admit adverbs of time" (240).

Please notice that Kahn defines "an absolute construction" as one in which "there is no nominal or locative predicate and no other complement such as the possessive dative, nor even an adverb of manner," and that he then explicitly notes that such an "absolute construction" may have associated with it "adverbs of time." This definition agrees nicely with the usage of the term 'absolute' in biblical scholarship with regards to John 8:58.


You went on to argue that if I take EIMI in John 8:58 to be functioning 'copulatively' then I must either construe the subject complement to be "Abraham" (which of course is absurd, but is also grammatically and contextually out of the question) or supply the subject complement "he," as translators commonly do in John 8:24, 28. You commented:

If you would like to adopt this position, you may do so, and concede that the traditional translation is wrong. I would not object to this position, and we could conclude the debate with both of us holding defensible, though different views of the best translation of the verse:

Jason: "I have existed since before Abraham was born." Rob: "Before Abraham was born, I am He." (p. 418)

You suggest that if I took this route I would be abandoning the claim I set out to defend and so would "have lost this debate" (pp. 418, 427).

This argument is easily refuted. In English, a sentence in which the intended subject complement of the be verb is 'he' can express it or not, with the meaning unchanged:

Jason: "Are you Rob?"
Rob: "I am he."

Jason: "Are you Rob?"
Rob: "I am."

To anticipate a possible red herring, I am not claiming that either of these sentences is identical in grammar to John 8:58 (which is not an answer to the same sort of question). I am simply using them to illustrate the point that in English the subject complement 'he' can be expressed or implied with no difference in meaning.

Thus, I can defend the conventional translation and take the view that if one construes it as using "am" copulatively, the implied predicate 'he' can be understood even though it is not expressed. I do not have to agree to "abandon" the conventional translation in order to add "he" to the sentence. Moreover, since all I have ever claimed was that the conventional translation was *better* than the translations that render EIMI using a form of the past tense, I would in no sense "lose the debate" even if I agreed that those translations would be improved by adding "he." In other words, I can argue that the translations "I am" and "I am he" are both superior to the translations "I was" and "I have been."

By the way, you were five months and a couple hundred pages too late to be suggesting that I forfeit the debate by adding the word 'he' to the translation. I suggested that 'he' might be implicit in John 8:58 back in October in my post #17 (p. 201).

Finally, there is something quite odd about your suggestion that the translation "Before Abraham was born, I am He" is defensible. I see how it avoids your criticism that the clauses are in the wrong order. However, your other main criticism of the conventional translation is that it fails to coordinate the verbal tenses of the two clauses properly. I fail to see how this alternative translation avoids your criticism in a way that the conventional translation does not.


You quoted the following from my post #17:

"...if EIMI in John 8:58 has an existential function, then the adverbial is not an obligatory complement. If EGW EIMI means something like 'I exist,' then no complement is obligatory; the statement is meaningful without one."

You replied:

This would be fine, Rob, if we were speaking about a hypothetical absolute sentence - "I exist." - that by being given that way we are to understand is the whole sentence. But we are not dealing with a hypothetical sentence, but with an actual sentence that has more words in it. Doesn't the sentence in John 8:58 have more words in it, Rob? Sorry if it sounds like I'm talking to a fifth grader, but that's exactly how I feel. (pp. 418-19)

And I am accused of being the polemicist who will say anything to win a debate!

The words "I exist," like EGW EIMI, *can* be a whole, complete sentence, but they can also of course be part of a larger sentence, as EGW EIMI are in John 8:58. You know that, I know that, and you know that I know that. So knock off your outrageous attempt to fabricate this straw man version of me as if I were arguing as though I were ignorant of the fact that EGW EIMI does not constitute the entire sentence in John 8:58.

A part of a sentence can express a "meaningful statement" (that was how I worded it, please note) without *being* the whole sentence. In the sentence, "I lived in Alabama before moving to California," the words 'I lived in Alabama' (the main clause) are meaningful without the adverbial clause 'before moving to California.' That is, the words 'I lived in Alabama' express a meaningful statement and *could* function just fine as a sentence without the adverbial clause. In making this observation, I am not denying that the adverbial clause contributes something to our understanding of the main clause. In this instance, it tells us when the action of the verb in the main clause took place. However, it is simply a fact that the dependent clause 'before moving to California' is not a grammatically obligatory element of the sentence. It is, of course, 'needed' to convey the entirety of the meaning that the whole sentence expresses, but it is not 'needed' grammatically in order for the main clause to express a meaningful statement. It is this latter sense that is meant in grammar when describing the dependent clause as not being 'obligatory.'

You elaborated on your criticism, claiming that later in my post #30 I had given "the grammatical term 'existential' the meaning 'I exist' in an absolute form" (p. 419), by which you mean treating "I exist" as a complete sentence. However, I did no such thing. As I explained above, a main clause can have a certain meaning, and can be quoted as such, without it being the whole sentence. When I wrote, "If EGW EIMI means something like 'I exist,'" I was not saying or implying that either EGW EIMI or 'I exist' is a complete sentence. Nor did I "limit" the existential function to the simple 'I exist,' as though the words could mean no more than that. I was simply using the translation "I exist" for EGW EIMI to distinguish the existential interpretation explicitly from the non-existential, 'copulative' interpretation.


You wrote:

Third, although you speak here in terms of complements, at the end of your post #30 you speak as if there is an either/or between obligatory complements and adjuncts. You deliberately omit optional complements, which form an essential and integral part of the discussion on the pages of the Cambridge Grammar that you cite. This is to give a false impression about the possible relations of the dependent clause to the main one, artificially limiting the options in order to suggest that if it is not obligatory, it is not a complement but an adjunct. This is completely false

Your criticism is completely false. My comments in post #30 were more abbreviated on this point because I had already discussed the difference between optional complements and adjuncts thoroughly in a previous post (#17; see pp. 198-201). In fact, I was the one who first introduced the distinction between an optional complement and an adjunct into our discussion. I certainly did not "deliberately" omit anything. Had you merely said that I overlooked or missed something, I would have responded that you were merely mistaken. However, since you falsely asserted that I omitted something "deliberately" in order "to give a false impression," I think I am justified in saying that your comment was malicious.

You wrote:

*****BEGIN QUOTE FROM JASON (PP. 420, 421)*****
But once one concedes that the PRIN clause is a complement, not an adjunct, regardless of whether it is obligatory or optional you have recognized that what the sentence is conveying is not the mere fact of existence, but existence in relation to other conditions..

I cited from the Cambridge Grammar be-verb sentences closely parallel to John 8:58 that clearly illustrate the place of complements in them: `Jill is in her study' -- `in her study' is a complement, not an adjunct, because the statement is not that Jill exists, but that she presently exists in a particular place. `The meeting was on Monday' -- same comments. What the verb indicates is fundamentally different with or without its complement." (JB post #20)

Can you please defend the meaningfulness, as part of these sentences, of "Jill is" and "The meeting was"? Can you please explain to us how the speakers of these sentences were conveying, in an absolute sense, the existence of Jill and the meeting, rather than the specific temporal or spatial existence of Jill and the meeting? Do you agree that these are existential uses of their respective verbs? Are "in her study" and "on Monday" adjuncts or complements? Are they obligatory or optional?
*****END QUOTE FROM JASON (PP. 420, 421)*****

I have said numerous times now that EGW EIMI is not "conveying.the mere fact of existence," and that the PRIN clause makes this clear. However, that doesn't mean that EGW EIMI would be meaningless without the PRIN clause; it means that the full import of EGW EIMI would not be expressed without it.

It is a fact that one *can* in some instances say something like "Jill is," as in answer to certain questions, such as "Who is in the study?" In such a sentence there is an implicit complement that has already been expressed in the question and is therefore tacitly implied in the answer. So I agree that in the sentence "Jill is in the study" the prepositional phrase "in the study" is an obligatory complement. However, PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI EGW EIMI is not that sort of sentence. Here is a summation of my argument that the PRIN clause is not an obligatory complement:

"Either way, it is a mistake to understand PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI as an obligatory complement to EIMI. If EIMI functions existentially, then no complement can be obligatory because 'I exist' does not require a complement. If EIMI functions copulatively, it has an implied complement, 'he,' in keeping with the allusion to the Isaiah texts" (p. 201).

Your position (now) seems to be that PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is an optional complement rather than an obligatory complement. This would explain you chewing me out for supposedly limiting the choices to obligatory complement or adjunct. However, your usage here seems to differ from that of the _Cambridge Grammar of the English Language_ (which you introduced into the discussion). The _Grammar_ states that with optional predicatives, "there are grounds for saying that while resultatives are complements, the depictives are adjuncts" (262). Since the temporal dependent clause is (as you stated repeatedly) depictive, I can only conclude that it is better classified as an adjunct. Nevertheless, I don't think it matters to me how one classifies the dependent clause. Remember, in my post #17, after explaining that biblical scholars call EIMI in John 8:58 'absolute' in the sense of lacking a subject complement, I commented:

"One may construe the adverbial clause as a 'complement' in the broader sense without negating the observation that the verb EIMI is 'absolute' in the sense defined above" (p. 198).

So, although I still think my conclusion that the dependent clause is an adjunct was correct, my case for the traditional translation of John 8:58 simply doesn't depend on that conclusion.


The first sentence of your post #32 is as follows:

In your message #31, all of your discussion is in support of a reading that would make EIMI in John 8:58 a copula. (p. 424)

Since I expressly stated otherwise in my post #31, the above statement is just plain false. I think I will leave it at that and trust that those concerned about this point can go back and read that post for themselves.

You wrote:

Since you have not been able to prove that the idiom in question (the PPA) is not involved here, or that the grammar and syntax of the traditional English sentence is in any sense usual for English expression, I find absolutely no validity in your claim that "The conventional translation of EGW EIMI as 'I am' is therefore the least obtrusively interpretive English rendering on the market." It is quite obtrusive, in that it offends normal English expression.

You are equivocating here. The issue is which rendering is the most obtrusively INTERPRETIVE English rendering. Your claim that "it offends normal English expression," which is prima facie suspect given the number of English-speaking scholars who have translated it that way, is in any case irrelevant to the issue of which rendering is the more interpretive. This is because a translation is more interpretive the more its rendering narrows
the range of interpretive possibilities for the observant reader. I explained how this is so more than once, as for instance in the following comments:

"The traditional translation of John 8:58, 'I am,' retains the ambiguity of the original (is this an existential affirmation or an identity claim?) in a way that 'I was' or 'I have been' does not. Yet if one reads 'I am' existentially, one will come away *at least* with the same understanding that 'I have been' would convey (that Jesus is saying that he had existed since a time antecedent to Abraham)" (p. 380).

You wrote:

And if you were, as you have so disingenuously claimed, merely defending rendering a formally present tense noun as present tense, you could never suggest that "Jesus' statement means nothing more than that he was older than Abraham." (p. 424)

There you go again, baselessly accusing me of being disingenuous. There simply is no warrant for such an accusation.

I think your comment here is a bit confused. I did not suggest that "Jesus' statement means nothing more than that he was older than Abraham." I said that this is what is indicated by translations that render EIMI in John 8:58 using a form of the past tense:

"By the same token, those versions that translate EIMI in John 8:58 with a form of the past tense must be recognized as promoting a particular interpretation of Jesus' words that is at the very least open to question, namely, that Jesus' statement means nothing more than that he was older than Abraham" (p. 375).

Furthermore, and ironically, you are the one who is guilty here of confusing translation with interpretation. My point was that rendering a Greek present-tense verb with an English present-tense verb hardly needs any defense as a matter of translation choice; I can certainly make this point and still maintain that the *meaning* of the text when properly *interpreted* is something more than a simple affirmation of present existence or being older than Abraham.


In your post #33, you wrote:

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. (p. 428)

I can refute this whole line of justification for your failed criticism with one observation: I showed that you misunderstood me, not by resorting to other sentences from my post where I didn't have that misunderstanding, but by showing that you had misconstrued the very sentences that you quoted (see p. 396).

You wrote:

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 not framed the issue here correctly. The issue in this matter is whether it is plausible or probable for an infinitive of antecedent time to function as the temporal marker of a PPA. I maintain that it is not.

IX. MARK 9:21

The rest of your post #33 was devoted to Mark 9:21 and the two Exodus texts that you argued are examples of the PPA. Your criticisms of my handling of the Exodus texts (your post #33, pp. 430-31) is characteristically off-base and unfair, so I don't think I need to address those texts again. However, I will address your comments on Mark 9:21. Here is the sentence in Mark 9:21 again:

  • How much time (it) is since this has happened to him (interlinear)
  • "How long is it since this has happened to him?" (literal translation, compare ASV, Darby, KJV, Young's)
  • "How long has this been happening to him?" (so most contemporary versions)

The point at issue here is whether POSOS CRONOS or hWS TOUTO GEGONEN AUTWi is the temporal marker of the PPA. I asserted the former, you the latter. Your stated reason for rejecting POSOS CRONOS as the temporal marker is that it is the subject of the sentence. Although this verse is of tangential interest to our debate, you have made much of it, so I will comment on it more fully. Before I do, though, I wish to apologize for my comment previously that you had "missed the obvious." I think I was correct on the substantive issue, but I don't think I was justified in criticizing you as I did.

According to Robertson, hWS in Mark 9:21 means "since." He adds, "The examples in the N. T. are usually in the aorist or imperfect indicative as in Jo. 6:12, 16; Ac. 8:36 and chiefly refer to definite incidents" (Robertson, 974). In Mark 9:21, GEGONEN is perfect, and one might take it to refer to a 'definite incident' introduced by hWS meaning "since." Dana and Mantey also take it this way, and they translate the sentence, "How long is it since this happened to him?" (Dana and Mantey, 281). This translation understands the subject of the verb GEGONEN to be the condition suffered by the boy (namely, his demonic possession). Older versions, including the KJV and ASV, took the sentence in this way (see also Darby, Young's). However, most contemporary versions translate the sentence, "How long has this been happening to him?" (ESV, NASB, NKJV, NLT, NRSV). Evidently, these versions understand the subject of GEGONEN to be the set of phenomena mentioned in the preceding verse (the convulsions and other symptoms that the boy was experiencing). The father's answer, "From childhood," fits either understanding of the text. On the other hand, the tense of GEGONEN seems to fit the older rendering better. The NIV supports the older interpretation but is worded in more idiomatic English: "How long has he been like this?" I find it difficult to be dogmatic as to which way to construe GEGONEN is best. Tentatively, I suggest the following as a literal translation: "How long has it been since this happened to him?"

Our disagreement as to the 'temporal marker' may be resolved by noting that the main clause can stand on its own to express the question:

"How long has it been?"

In my view, POSOS CRONOS is a predicate nominative, i.e., a subject complement, not the subject of the sentence. It looks like the subject at first blush because it is nominative and comes first in the sentence, and no other subject noun is expressed. In actuality, though, the subject is "it" (implicit in the verb ESTIN). The confusion arises because the sentence is actually a question. To understand the grammatical relations in the question properly, it is helpful to convert it into a statement with the answer supplied:

Question: POSOS CRONOS ESTIN: "How long has it been?"
Converted to statement: "It has been a long time."
Answer: (ESTIN) EK PAIDIOQEN: "(It has been) from childhood."

In the expanded or full form of the answer, the subject is "it" and the predicate nominative POSOS CRONOS, "how long," has been replaced with a prepositional phrase, EK PAIDIOQEN, "from childhood," that specifies just "how long" it had been. Just as EK PAIDIOQEN functions predicatively as a temporal expression completing the implied ESTIN in the father's answer, POSOS CRONOS functions predicatively as a temporal expression completing ESTIN in Jesus' question. Since it functions predicatively as a temporal expression, it qualifies as a potential marker of a PPA. As I pointed out previously, the meaning and significance of POSOS CRONOS in the sentence is comparable to undisputed PPA temporal markers in other NT texts, "a long time already" (POLUN HDH CRONON, John 5:6) and "so long a time" (TOSOUTWi CRONWi, John 14:9). This is so, even though the grammatical form of POSOS CRONOS is nominative rather than accusative or dative.

We can include the dependent hWS clause and see the same grammatical relations:

"How long has it been since this happened to him?"
Converted to statement:
"It has been a long time since this happened to him."
"(It has been) from childhood (since this happened to him)."

We see here that the dependent clause hWS TOUTO GEGONEN AUTWi actually restates or elaborates on the question posed in the main clause. The dependent clause can be converted into a question that is synonymous with the question posed in the main clause: "Since when did this happen to him?" This question asks for the same information as the actual question of the main clause, "How long has it been?" Thus, rather than serving as the temporal marker of ESTIN as a PPA, the dependent clause further specifies the time period already expressed in the interrogative POSOS CRONOS.

You objected to identifying POSOS CRONOS as a PPA marker on the grounds that it doesn't refer to the past and could, in another context, refer to the future:

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?" (p. 429)

By this reasoning, "so long a time" (TOSOUTWi CRONWi) cannot function as a temporal marker for the PPA, and yet we have both agreed all along that it does so function in John 14:9. I think this is sufficient refutation of your objection. When such expressions are used with a present tense verb, in context it is clear that these expressions refer to past time. Therefore, I see no reason why POSOS CRONOS cannot function as a temporal marker of ESTIN as a PPA.

Lastly on Mark 9:21, the importance of this text to your argument is that you want to claim it to be clear proof that a dependent clause can function as the temporal marker of a PPA. If it is proof of such, it is hardly a clear or indisputable example, as best I can determine. I have expressed similar objections to most of the other examples you have marshaled. However, it is not at all crucial to my argument to deny that a dependent clause could ever function as the PPA temporal marker. Even if dependent clauses can perform this function (as for example I agreed that one might in Exodus 4:10, although that occurrence is also rather complex), it remains true that the type of dependent clause found in John 8:58, namely, an infinitive of antecedent time clause (PRIN + aorist infinitive) is not the right kind of dependent clause.


You closed your last post with the following comments:

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.... Theological interpretation and application must come after, not before. (pp. 431-32)

These comments, like so much that you have written in the last stretch of this debate, are based on misrepresentation and caricature of my position. I have never faulted you for being a stickler for grammar. I faulted you for treating the exegesis of a particular text as a matter of grammar *alone* instead of giving full justice to the fact that grammar, semantics, literary structure and style, thematic connections, and logical sequence all play a part in the communication of meaning. Moreover, by "the logic of the text" I clearly meant what I said; I was referring to the logical relations of the elements in the text, "the logic of the writer" (in this case of Psalm 89:2 LXX), not some "modern 'Christian logic'" that I am somehow trying to justify imposing on the text. There was nothing unclear about what I said in this regard; on this point, as on so many others, you have for whatever reason simply failed to come to terms with my argument.

In Christ's service,

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

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