Re: Santa Clause and the perfect tense . . .

Carl W. Conrad (
Mon, 18 Nov 1996 06:04:10 -0600

At 1:26 AM -0600 11/18/96, Tom Launder wrote:
> . . .
>So. . . all this to ask for some help in understanding the significance
>of the perfect tense in passages like John 5:24.
>"Most assuredly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in Him
>who sent me has eternal life, and shall not come into judgement, but HAS
>PASSED from death to life."
>I have become hesitant to emphasize the perfect tense, but doesn't this
>passage ooze exegetical honey? How do I approach this in preaching?
>Can I really emphasize the siginificance of the perfect tense, or should
>I be cautious and mention it as an aside?

There's nothing wrong with your understanding of the perfect tense here--so
the meaning of the Greek text is not in question. As for the exegetical
honey--yes, it's there,and there are other passages in John's gospel that
also suggest that eternal life begins with the beginning of
faith-commitment to Jesus. On the other hand, the entire NT is replete with
alternative halves of a paradoxical affirmation: rebirth, resurrection,
newness of life (whichever terminology you prefer to use) has ALREADY BEGUN
for believers--that is the REALIZED eschatological perspective; but on the
other hand, the consummation, fulfilment, total fruition of the transition
has NOT YET happened but awaits some future terminal event--that is the
FUTURISTIC eschatological perspective. I'm inclined to think that John's
gospel has more passages emphasizing the realized perspective than most
other NT documents, but even in John the futuristic perspective is present.
You need go no further in John's gospel than the verse immediately
following the one you've cited: 5:25: AMHN AMHN LEGW hUMIN hOTI ERXETAI
KAI hOI AKOUSANTES ZHSOUSIN. Now there is considerable ambivalence and
enigma to Johannine language; this is not the time or place to argue the
whole eschatological doctrine of John's gospel,but I do think that both the
ALREADY and the NOT-YET perspectives are to be found there and elsewhere
also in the NT. One interesting instance of tense usage is Rom 8:24 THi GAR
ELPIDI ESWQHMEN. The verb "save" is aorist and certainly appears here to
refer to a past event, yet the ELPIDI points to a fulfilment of that
salvation yet to come, as does the entire context of this passage in Romans
8 with its powerful development of what was already a traditional
eschatological metaphor likening the process of salvation to childbirth. So
I would say: there's no hiding from a congregation what the text of John
5:24 plainly says with its perfect tense -- but I think that no single
verse can be understood apart from its larger context, and I really think
that the paradox of a salvation already having come but yet to be
consummated in the future permeates the whole NT corpus. I hope that
doesn't stir up a can of theological worms, but I don't think that the text
of John 5:24 can be dealt with honestly without pointing to this paradox.

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