Imperfect tense and εἰμί

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Mike Baber
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Imperfect tense and εἰμί

Post by Mike Baber » June 24th, 2011, 8:59 am

Does the imperfect tense apply to the copula εἰμί just as it does to any other Greek verb?

Is there something unique to εἰμί and how it is to be understood when conjugated in the imperfect tense?

Am I correct in understanding that εἰμί cannot be conjugated in an aorist tense (i.e, it does not exist)?
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cwconrad
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Re: Imperfect tense and εἰμί

Post by cwconrad » June 24th, 2011, 9:16 am

Mike Baber wrote:Does the imperfect tense apply to the copula εἰμί just as it does to any other Greek verb?

Is there something unique to εἰμί and how it is to be understood when conjugated in the imperfect tense?

Am I correct in understanding that εἰμί cannot be conjugated in an aorist tense (i.e, it does not exist)?
εἰμί is indeed unique among verbs in that it has only three tense-aspect forms: present, imperfect, and future.
There is indeed no aorist of εἰμί; it is commonly said that γενέσθαι functions as the aorist for it, but γενέσθαι
indicates emergence into being rather than ongoing existence or eventuality The major work of the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides is an exploration in verse of his understanding of all the implications of the usage of the verb εἰμί.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Mike Baber
Posts: 97
Joined: May 30th, 2011, 11:25 pm
Location: Texas

Re: Imperfect tense and εἰμί

Post by Mike Baber » June 24th, 2011, 9:55 am

How relevant to Koine Greek do you believe Parmenides' work is?
And, could you post the name of it and any English translations, if possible?

One of the reasons for my question is John 1:1..."and the Word was God." If someone said that "was" (ἦν) indicated that Jesus was God but no longer is, or that "was" does not infer anything about Jesus still being God, is that a grammatically valid argument? I don't think so, but I need a defensible argument based on Greek grammar.

Thanks Carl!
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cwconrad
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Re: Imperfect tense and εἰμί

Post by cwconrad » June 24th, 2011, 10:18 am

Mike Baber wrote:How relevant to Koine Greek do you believe Parmenides' work is?
And, could you post the name of it and any English translations, if possible?

One of the reasons for my question is John 1:1..."and the Word was God." If someone said that "was" (ἦν) indicated that Jesus was God but no longer is, or that "was" does not infer anything about Jesus still being God, is that a grammatically valid argument? I don't think so, but I need a defensible argument based on Greek grammar.
It's hard to argue that the Greek philosophical tradition is not a part of the background of the Johannine prologue, but it is also hard to assess -- and you will find a whole range of speculation -- exactly which Hebraic and which Greek influences weighed most heavily in the formulation of it. Nevertheless, my reason for citing Parmenides was not to suggest that he's a major factor in the shaping of Johannine thought so much as to point to awareness of the special character of the verb εἰμί among the Greeks, an awareness also well-attested in the later Platonic dialogues.

So far as the grammar is concerned, the imperfect tense does not imply anything about what was or was not true before or after the temporal point indicated (ἐν ἀρχῇ); it simply affirms that this proposition holds true with regard to that time -- the beginning. It is somewhat perilous to attempt to draw inferences from what a text does not say.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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