Re: 1 John and epistolary aorists

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Thu Apr 24 1997 - 10:57:15 EDT

Phillip Brown wrote:

>Also comments on whether the aorists in 1 John 2:14 should be considered
>epistolary would be welcome. I've read the comments of Robertson, Turner,
>and Wallace on these considerations.

Epistolary means that the aorist is used because the writer is viewing it
from the standpoint of the person receiving the letter. Even though the
writer is currently in the process of writing the letter, which would seem
to require the present, the aorist is used because when the letter is read,
it will already have been written. Epistolary aorist is quite common,
especially for the word EGRAPSA, and also for EPEMPSA. In English, the
phrase "I have written" is sometimes used in this way: "I have written this
paragraph for those who do not know what an epistolary aorist is." (Of
course, Phillip *does*, but I wrote it anyways.)

If the EGRAPSAs in 1 John 2:14 are not epistolary, then they would have to
refer to a previous letter; if they are epistolary, then they could refer
either to the entire letter, or to the verses John was writing at that
moment. Some people argue for a previous letter because John shifts from the
present GRAFW (verses .12-.13) to EGRAPSA (verse .14).

Personally, I think that it *is* epistolary, and that he is probably
referring to the verses he was writing at that momement. My reasons for
thinking this are (1) there is no explicit reference to another letter, and
without it, there is nothing that clearly points to an earlier letter; (2)
throughout .12-.14, John uses hOTI + Perfect (hOTI AFEWNTAI, hOTI EGNWKATE,
hOTI NENIKHKATE, hOTI EGNWKATE, hOTI EGNWKATE), which focuses on the present
state of those who are forgiven, know the father, and are victorious; and
(3) John likes variation, and uses it when it does not necessarily introduce
new meaning - c.f. the change from TEKNIA to PAIDIA in the same passage,
which does not, IMHO, have a lot of significance beyond stylistic variation.
I think we can get into trouble if we over-interpret every change in tense.

Of course, not everybody will see it this way, and I may change my mind
before this exchange is out...


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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