Re: perfect tense vs. periphrastic perfect

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue May 20 1997 - 17:27:05 EDT

At 3:57 PM -0400 5/20/97, James H. Vellenga wrote:
>> From: "Carl W. Conrad" <>
>> At 11:26 AM -0400 5/20/97, Timo Flink wrote:
>> >Howdy!
>> >
>> >I'm a kind of a newbie on New Testament Greek and I would like to know
>> >how to best differentiate between the perfect tense and the periphrastic
>> >perfect. How much and in what way they differ? I know the perfect
>> >tense as being a complited action done in the past with result in the
>> >present time, but what about that periphrastic one?
>> Others may not agree with me but I would make two points in response to
>> these questions:
>> (1) I really do not think there's a whit of difference in meaning between
>> the periphrastic form HN GEGRAMMENON (for example) and the conventional
>> pluperfect EGEGRAPTO--or between the periphrastic ESTE SESWSMENOI and the
>> conventional perfect passive SESWSQE;
>> (2) Regarding perfect and pluperfect tense forms in Koin=E9, I don't think
>> one can lay down a hard and fast rule regarding what they must mean in
>> every context. Sometimes the perfect or pluperfect really do seem to be
>> emphasizing stative aspect in the present or in the past: ESTE SESWMENOI
>> ("You are in a state of salvation"); EGEGRAPTO ("It was in writing"--"It
>> was a document." On the other hand these forms may on occasion have the
>> same sense as aorists: EGEGRAPTO =3D EGRAFH ("It had been written"--in a
>> context where the verb indicates completion prior to some given point in
>> the past); ESTE SESWMENOI =3D ESWQHTE much like a Latin SALVATI ESTIS or
>> =46rench Pass=E9 ind=E9fini:"You got saved." One has to make a judgment=
>> based on
>> context as to which sense better fits in this instance.
>> >This in mind, how do you translate ESTE SESWSMENOI in Ephesians 2:8
>> >? Is it some kind of a statement about persistence of the salvation
>> >through present time?
>> I think that the context in this instance does indeed imply the present
>> state: "You are now in a state of salvation."
>What would you think of trying to draw the distinction between
> "you have been saved" (SESWSQE)
> "you are [people] who have been saved" (ESTE SESWSMENOI)
>In the English, too, there is no real difference in meaning,
>but a slight difference in emphasis. I'm banking here on
>the practice in NT Greek of often using a participle as
>a noun.

While I think there's a Semitist(?) usage of an anarthrous participle as a
noun (e.g. FWNH BOWNTOS EN THi ERHMWi), I'd be somewhat leery of
understanding SESWMENOI substantivally without its being hOI SESWSMENOI;
rather it seems to me that this is pretty clearly a periphrastic--and my
impression is that the periphrastic is much more common in the perfect and
pluperfect passive than elsewhere. So IMO the two forms would mean the same
thing but there's something of a preference for the periphrastic form, more
so, I believe, in the plural than in the singular (but this is an
impression that probably ought to be checked).

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

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