Re: Dan Wallace's Grammar

Don Wilkins (
Sat, 11 Jan 1997 05:56:06 -0500 (EST)

At 6:04 AM 1/10/97, Alan M Feuerbacher wrote:
. . .
>Following Rod Decker's advice, here is the gist of a question we
>would like resolved:
>In _Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics_ Daniel B. Wallace argues against
>the idea that in John 8:58, the phrase "ego eimi" is a "historical
>present" (p. 530-1). To do this, Wallace discusses an article by
>Dennis Light and says that Light's argument has several flaws, among
>which are:
> (3) If this is a historical present, it is apparently the only
> historical present in the NT that is in other than the third
> person.
>I argued that Wallace failed to mention John 14:9 in the NT, and
>passages like Genesis 31:38, 41 in the LXX, which from all references
>I've seen are indisputable uses of "eimi" as a historical present.
>I would think that a scholar like Wallace would know these passages
>far better than an amateur such as myself. But since Wallace's
>argument number (3) implies by omission that such passages do not
>exist, he is failing to present information that shows that his
>argument is incorrect. I argued that such an omission is deliberate
>and unscholarly.
>I invite comments about this. I would also invite comments on any
>other arguments in the material Walt forwarded.

My usual apologies for any redundancies. I try to avoid involvement in
discussions of such passages because I sense that there is no way to prove
a position to the satisfaction of opponents, and life is so short. In this
particular situation, I feel compelled first to join others in saying that
I know Dan personally and have the highest regard for his integrity, though
I do not agree with him on every point of grammar. I also do not have a
copy of his grammar, which is entirely mea culpa because I have already
overspent my book allowance, and thus I have to rely for now on what I hear
from those who have read him.
Now then, I seriously doubt that Dan is wrong on his "argument 3" above,
but if I understand him correctly (a big "if" without having read the
grammar first-hand), I would say that the argument seems irrelevant because
the absence of a first-person historical present is surely more a matter of
accident than a consequence of the grammatical concept itself. Speakers use
the historical present in regard to themselves all the time (a
second-person h.p. would seem unlikely, though). However, I can infer from
Alan Feuerbacher's comments above only that he does not understand the
concept of a historical present, nor the demands of logic. I think someone
has said in the recent past that Dan limits historical presents to
narrative, and this is indeed a decisive factor in identifying the
phenomenon. Moreover, at some point in the narrative there has to be a
subtle transition from the past to present tense, and the case of John 8:58
is anything but, where we have a dependent clause ("before...") with the
past tense connected to a present-tense main clause. In fact, I can only
imagine someone with a theological agenda attempting to argue otherwise.
The historical present does not stretch the present into the past; it
momentarily transforms the past into the present, and it works just because
we understand that the action being described is in fact a past historical
event rather than one going on in the present.
Finally, the other passages mentioned (John 14:9; Gen. 31:38, 41) all
appear equally bogus as examples of the historical present, because they
all have the same structure and grammatical implications as John 8:58.
Alan Feuerbacher's complaint that Wallace is ignoring the facts is a bad
case of begging the question, because it depends upon our acceptance of his
view of the passages in question as opposed to Wallace's. To have any basis
for argument at all, Feuerbacher needs to find a few *ordinary*,
non-controversial examples of first- or second-person historical presents,
which (at least for the first person) could very well exist in relevant
non-biblical literature, though I wouldn't bet against Dan as to his
conclusions about the Bible itself. To insist that Wallace's "omission" is
deliberate and unscholarly is even more fallacious than the grammatical
basis of Feuerbacher's complaint, and downright insulting. Do yourself a
favor, Alan, and--if you haven't already--take it all back before the dust

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside