John 8:58--perfective or imperfective?

Ron Henzel (
Mon, 19 Aug 1996 15:32:17 CST6CDT

Mitchell recently wrote:

> There are two significant flaws in this statement that I do not think
> proper to let go unanswered.
> First, >> <eimi> in John 8:58 canNOT POSSIBLY be a use of the
> "perfective
> present," <<
> Who is arguing for the use of "The Perfective Present" at John 8:58?
> Certainly not the NWT Committee!

Well, Mitchell -- as long as you asked -- YOU were the one who argued
for the use of "The Perfective Present" at John 8:58! If you'll
recall, you argued for it in your original message included in
B-Greek-Digest on August 7 (Vol. 1., No. 321). But in case you don't
remember, here's a direct quote from your argument justifying the
NWT's translation of <ego eimi> as "I have been":

> So what did Jesus mean when he said "Ego Eimi" in reference to "Before
> Abraham came into existence?" Many references show this simply to be
> the greek grammar of the present perfective. In other words, an action
> that started in the past AND CONTINUES TO THE PRESENT. This is the
> reason for the present tense. There are several scriptures in the
> N.T. that have this same type of grammar.

Why, even your own email clearly shows that it was you who insisted
upon citing <ego eimi> in John 8:58 as an example of the "perfective
present." At the time I read this, I chose to ignore your erroneous
definition of "perfective," i.e., "an action that started in the past
and continues to the present." That is not the proper definition,
but rather a "perfective" is "an action that was *completed* in the
past with results in the present" (see Robertson, p. 823; but it
seems from what you wrote today that you have since discovered your

But you raised so many other issues back then, I let that one slide.
Perhaps I shouldn't have. It's obvious that it's very important to
Watchtower theology that Jesus's existence *started* in the past.
You simply picked the wrong tense to describe such an idea. You even
sought to buttress your point with citations from Winer, Moulton and
Dana and Mantey (only Winer's specifically mentioned the "perfective
present," but your reason for citing all of them was clear in the
context -- you were trying to establish that John 8:58 was an example
of it). Now it seems that you've found other grammars which say
different things, and you need to backpeddle.

So you enlighten us with the new things you've found:

> The Perfective Present is NOT the same as the Extension from the
> Past idiom (aka the Present of Past Action Still in Progress). The
> Perfective Present emphasizes that THE RESULTS of a past action are
> still continuing.

I have no problem here. But most first year Greek textbooks and
classes cover the fact that the perfect is not merely "past action
with present results, but *completed* past action with present
results." This is one good reason why John 8:58 cannot possibly be
an example of the "perfective present," because there's no way that
Jesus's *existence* can be thought of as having been completed in the
past with results in the present.

But now you're making my case for me. In fact, your next several
lines of text continue to reaffirm what I had said before in order to
rebut *your* position -- only now you're acting as though you never
held to that position.

Then you come to these words:

> Jesus was alive in Abraham's day and was STILL ALIVE when he spoke
> his words. The best translation offered in ENGLISH for this is with

Only if we assume that that was *all* Jesus meant to communicate! He
*could* have meant to communicate eternal existence (as some other
contributors to B-Greek-Digest have also pointed out), rather than
mere pre-existence. <Ego eimi> is ideally suited to such an idea in
this context. In fact, I can't think of any better and more concise
way that Jesus *could* have stated the fact of His own eternal
existence, can you?

But then, a little later, you get back into the issue of the
"perfective present":

> This quote of the "perfective present" sounds like something in an
> anti-JW Greek pop book.

Uh, actually, Mitchell, I found it in your original message ...

> I realize that you may have read this from someone else you trust,

No, make no mistake about it: I read it from you!

> but I hope the above comments are beneficial and enriching in
> response.

Yes, they have been beneficial -- to my previous point, that is.

Listen, Mitchell, is it really fair to beat me over the head with
your mistakes? At least admit that you were wrong. Don't try to get
me to take the fall!

But now, because you can no longer use the "perfective present" to
justify "I have been" in John 8:58, you head off in a different
search for justification when you write:

> In "Verbal Aspect" (p.107), Porter states "... tense-forms in Greek
> are not primarily time-based, but ... they are aspectually based." He
> offers three aspects: Perfective, imperfective, and stative. Our John
> 8:58 EIMI aspect is imperfective.

Are you now going to argue for the translation of <ego eimi> as "I
was" in order to reflect the imperfective? Where will this end?

And why do you now deny that the "perfective present" was ever an
issue when it was you yourself who raised it? In fact, you justified
the NWT's rendering "I have been" of <ego eimi> as a specific
*example* of the "perfective present!" Why are you blaming me for
the fact that you have now changed your mind?

sola (scriptura + gratia + fide) = solus Christus,

-- Ron Henzel