Re: Perfects

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Sep 06 1996 - 15:38:08 EDT

At 12:22 PM -0500 9/6/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>I'm feeling a little slow today...but working through this should be good
>practice for me. I'll try to work out the implications of your examples.
>Please feel free to correct me bluntly -- I only learn by making mistakes.
>Warning: this message contains much speculation by a "little Greek", who takes
>no responsibility for any heresies or confusion spawned by taking it too
>seriously ;->

Gee, you sure do live a hard life!

>> hESTHKA is exactly what the Risen Christ says in Rev. 3:20.
>"I am standing", meaning that he has reached the state of standing, or being
>risen, with the emphasis on the state which has been reached. Am I
>this correctly?

Well, I don't suppose that Carlton MEANT to be misleading or to suggest
that hESTHKA in Rev 3:20 has something to do with resurrection itself. This
is the familiar passage, "Behold, I STAND at the door and knock ..." I had
thought he was meaning to draw some link to what is the common later verb
for resurrection, generally used in the aorist as in the Easter greeting
and response: XRISTOS ANESTH--ANESTH ALHQWS. ANISTAMAI can mean any number
of things, including one of the most common, to pick all one's belongings
and move to another location, but it becomes the later Greek verb for
resurrection, always intransitive and used with Jesus as the subject; the
earlier verb is EGEIRW, used of God's action in raising Jesus, and we find
it often in the passive with Jesus as subject: HGERQH, "He was raised."

>> (1John 1:1,3)
>Thanks for choosing this passage, which I love, but I've clearly missed out on
>some of its richness...let's try digging into this...

I read through this whole post (believe it or not) before attempting to
respond to it; it's rather like Faust's meditation on how many ways one may
translate John 1:1a, EN ARXHi HN hO LOGOS ...

>> "That which was (impf) from beginning,
>In discussing imperfect, BDR #327 gives the example of Acts 21:20:
>EDOXAZON TON QEON, EIPAN TE, translating it, "they praised over a
>longer period of time and in various ways, until they finally said".
>My goodness, that seems like an awful lot to hang onto one poor verb!
>Is all of this really implied? (I notice that the translations are much
>sparser, e.g. NIV says: "they praised God. Then they said...")

Others might want to defend the NIV; the truth is that all versions are
much more successful at some points than at others. TO PNEUMA hOPOU QELEI
PNEI ...
So is that a "hypertranslation?" I think that the BDR version does express
the sense of those five words pretty well: continuous or repeated action in
EDOXAZON, and then EIPAN is conclusive; the linkage of the two verbs by TE
is eloquent enough to imply all those inbetween words in that translation.
Hardly would one think that a simple conjunction like TE could be so

>But if we *can* attribute that much significance to the imperfect, then
>I assume "That which was (impf) from beginning" stresses that it has been
>there ever since the beginning, and we see it there before us, waiting to
>be discovered, giving us a feeling of suspense...

There's a wonderful line (v. 11) in Hesiod's ERGA KAI hHMERAI with an
instance of what someone once called "the philosophic imperfect" or "the
imperfect of the recently-discovered fact":

        EISI DUO
        "There was not, after all, a single brood of Strifes, but on earth
        are two."

This is very similar; yes, the LOGOS was ALWAYS in existence, continuously
--STILL IS, in fact.

>> that which we heard (perf),
>> that which we saw (perf) with our eyes,
>Ah, now we have discovered it, both by hearing it and seeing it. The state
>of having discovered is stressed by the use of the perfect, not the process
>of hearing or seeing.

I'd make this "that which we HAVE heard ... HAVE SEEN ..." to underscore
that the experience is still vivid in the memory and understanding of the

>> that which we gazed upon (aor) and our hands handled (aor)
>Several different interpretations seem possible here. And that's a problem for
>me. As I understand it, terms like "culminative aorist" combine an objective
>statement, "aorist", with a subjective judgement about the interpretation of
>this particular aorist. I'm surprised that this is not stated clearly in
>any of
>my books. And it looks as though the process people use is to examine each
>possible interpretation of the aorist, and see which ones make sense in the
>given context. My problem is that almost every possibility seems plausible to

Considering the vividness of the verbs employed in the aorist tense in this
combo, I really think that the emphasis presented by the aorist is simply
factuality of the event (CONTRA any docetic view?): " ... what we REALLY
DID cast our eyes upon and what our hands ACTUALLY DID feel ..."

>Ingressive aorist stresses the entrance into an action. Examples given in BDR
>include Acts 15:12, ESIGHSEN PAN TO TLHQOS, "became still", Mt 17:6,
>SFODRA, "they began to be very afraid", Romans 14:9, EZHSEN, "came to
>life", and
>2 Cor 8:9, where Jesus EPTWXEUSEN, "became poor". So let's try applying
>this to
>"that which we gazed upon (aor) and our hands handled (aor)". EQEASAMEQA comes
>from QEAOMAI, which have several senses that are intriguing in this context.
>BAGD sense 1.b. is "come to see" as in EISELQWN O BASILEUS QEASASQAI T.
>ANAKEIMENOUS Mt 22:11. With the ingressive aorist, this could mean that we
>come into his presence, and come into contact with him. BAGD sense 2 means to
>see or behold in such a way that a supernatural impression is gained, e.g.
>1:14 EQEASAMEQA T. DOXAN AUTOU, "we beheld his glory", or came to perceive his
>Carlton mentions the culminative aorist: according to Young, "the
>completion of
>an action which issues into another action or state". My Robertson (the short
>grammar) does not seem to use the term. Is the other state the state of
>proclamation given below? It seems reasonable.

I don't think there's anything "ingressive" about the aorists in 1 John
1:1. "Culminative" seems right to me--in this sense, we could translate: "
... and we got to focus our eyes on him, and our hands got to enter into
real contact with him ..."

>Or could this be what BDR calls a complexive aorist, emphasizing that "we
>repeatedly beheld him and touched him with our hands over a period of time"?
>Or perhaps even a gnomic aorist, saying that the beholding and touching him is
>beyond time, not fixed in time.

Wie, bitte? At this point I get frustrated with this endeavor at splitting
the interpretative meanings of tenses into infinite refractions. At any
rate, I think that the VERY LAST thing the author of 1 John 1:1 wants to
say is that the beholding and touching of Jesus by the disciples is outside
of time and space; he is emphasizing the historical reality of that
contact, probably in opposition to docetic notions that the "historical
Jesus" wasn't really a human being.

>> we are declaring (present) also to you...
>Ah, this part at least is clear, and emphasizes the present process of
>declaring to "you".
>Well, I guess it is time to step back and wait for some responses to see how
>much of this makes sense...

As I said at the outset, you surely do lead a hard life!

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

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