Re: John 17:19: question about perfect--& about "holy"

Carl W. Conrad (
Sun, 1 Sep 1996 06:24:07 -0500

At 9:42 PM -0500 8/31/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>I realized that my previous question hinged on the meaning of the perfect, and
>looked through my grammars...but am still somewhat confused. The traditional
>grammars say that the perfect expresses a completed act with continuing
>Young's grammar questions this, saying that the perfect may point to something
>past (Matt. 19:8), present (Matt. 27.43), possibly future (Matt. 20:23; John
>5:24; Jas. 5:2-3), omnitemporal (Rom. 7:2) or timeless (John 3:18), and
>that we view it as static aspect, where the idea is a condition or state of
>If I understand this correctly, then I've landed back in the tense vs. aspect
>debate. Does John 17:19 imply making and keeping holy, or only making
>holy? Does
>this depend on the school of grammar you follow?
>I have been made confused and continue to be confused.

I rather think that the grammars do state such matters regarding perfect
tense in a confusing way and one that confounds the relationship between
tense and aspect. I'd say that the fundamental point emphasized by perfect
tense-form of the participle hHGIASMENOI in John 17:19 is the state of
completeness achieved by the sanctification process indicated by the verb
root. I'd translate it as "fully sanctified" and construe it adjectivally
(as predicate word) with the main verb WSIN, which in this context, as
present subjunctive in a hINA purpose clause, indicative of Jesus' intent
in his self-sanctification, that the disciplies should CONTINUE to be in
that state of "full sanctification." Let me repeat the Greek and my
suggested version:

"And for their sake I hallow myself, so that they too may continue to
be fully hallowed by truth."

Of course one might want to insist that this (hHGIASMENOI WSIN) is,
technically speaking, a perfect subjunctive passive--but as it's not
indicative in any case, it is clear that the participle is not so much part
of a periphrastic tense as it is the predicate word to a subjunctive 3d
plural of EIMI. Jonathan's original question (or one of them) was: How can
this phrasing mean both "be sanctified" and "be kept sanctified." My answer
would be that the first sense resides within the aspect of the participle
indicating the state in which Jesus wishes the disciples to be, and that
the second sense resides in the subjunctive WSIN, which emphasizes the
continuation of that state on into the future.

One final matter about this passage that concerns me is the English word
which we use to convey hAGIAZW. I have used "sanctify" and "hallow" above
out of regard for tradition and in order to avoid confounding problems of
grammar with problems of lexicology, but I have to express a personal
discomfort (too mild a word) with these English terms. I can remember as a
child reciting, "Hallowed be Thy name" and not having a clue as to what it
meant. When I got into Greek and finally saw the aorist passive imperative
of hAGIASQHTW TO ONOMA SOU, it began to make sense only as I gained some
notion of the root meanings of hAZOMAI and hAGIOS. I think that our
Latinized "sanctify" and our old English "hallow" are loaded with
misleading connotations from several generations of unthinking droning
repetition. This may just be a nagging and unjustified feeling of my own,
but can't we do better for hAGIAZW at the end of the 20th century? And if
so, how? Perhaps even simply, "make holy," although one is still required
to contemplate the meaning of the word "holy" as "utterly removed from
profane use and experience, distinct and absolute in worth and purity."
That's inadequate, to be sure, and maybe I am alone in seeing a problem
here, but I can't help but feel that there are dimensions of "das Heilige"
that Rudolf Otto nicely delineated and to which our traditional English
language is not really adequate.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR