1 John 3:9 (was: hINA, this time in 1 John 1:9)

From: Dale M. Wheeler (dalemw@teleport.com)
Date: Sun Sep 14 1997 - 22:42:21 EDT

Rolf Furuli wrote:

I really wish I had the time to get into this (and a lot of other things)
with you and Paul, but alas, I don't; so I'm probably not going to be
able to answer every question you'all have, which is why I pointed at the
end of my post to some commentaries/articles which take the same approach
as I do.

A few other things I'll respond to in my reply to Paul...

Reply interspersed...

>Dear Dale,
>I always find your posts very instructive and because of your long
>experience with biblical languages I always read your comments carefully.
>Your explanation of 3:9 takes away much or all of the apparent
>contradiction. In the Anchor Bible,however, R.E.Brown lists 7 different
>viewpoints as to how the contradiction can be resolved, so how can we know
>which is the correct one?

I'd have to say that I enjoy your posts as well...

While its not in vogue in some circles, I still believe that it is possible
to recover the orginal intent of the author with a reasonable degree of
probability... In another context I mentioned the use of Biblical/
authorial theology; I'd add to that authorial (grammatical) style; it is
my impression that the NT writers don't all use Koine in the same manner
at all times, so one must look at how they write as well (Turner's volume
in MHT, is a good place to start). When *I* look at this passage/problem,
I come to a certain degree of probability in my own mind as to the various
issues involved and when those probabilities are added together it results
in my mind in such a high level of probability that the other options are
reduced basically to a logical zero (BTW, that is exactly what we all do
in discourse today, it just happens so fast in our brain that we aren't
aware of the process; if you learn to speak another language fluently,
you are aware of this process at first and then it gradually receeds into
the sub-conscious). As one venerable Prof once told me, the real problem
with different interpretation revolves around that fact that different
people weigh different pieces of evidence differently; as a result I
started telling my students a long time ago that I didn't care whether they
ended up thinking like me...I just insisted that they *think* !! Thus,
I doubt that I will be able to persuade you or Paul that my position is
correct...you'll probably just have to accept the fact that there are
some folks out there who know the language and text who hold this
position... (-:

>The central structure of the Greek verbal system is aspect, and I believe
>that aspectual differences in the biblical text is much more important and
>can solve many more problems than is appreciated. The problem is that only
>after Porter and Fanning have the old erroneous Aktionsart-view of aspect
>BEGUN to be cleared away. In my view aspect must always be the governing
>factor in understanding and translation of the biblical text.
>I therefore was surprised by your suggestion that Greek present need not be
>imperfective. It seems that you by this view disagree with Porter, Fanning
>and Mari. It is true that Fanning (p 202) lists "Instantaneous Present",
>but he says that "there is such stress on the action occurring at exactly
>at the moment of speaking that the "internal viewpoint" of the present is
>compressed and any durative sense is thus reduced." He says "reduced", but
>not "done away with". With my definition of the imperfective aspect as "a
>closeup view from the outside" it is even easier to explain the
>imperfective character also of "Instantaneous Present". I doubt if there is
>any example in the whole NT which clearly shows an imperfective verb which
>is "aoristic".

I've not read Mari's work (sorry Mari...its high on my list of things to
do as soon as I finish the current revision of the MorphBHS and MorphLXX
texts which I'm buried in), but this is one area of Fanning and Porter that
I've never been comfortable with. The reason, as I pointed out in my
previous post, is that if the Present is always imperfective it means:
(1) Greek has no way to indicate "undefined" (traditional) or "external"
(Fanning) aspect normally in present time (a few aorists used that way
don't solve the problem for me); and I read them all the time; (2) the
Greek present *always* overrules the Aktionsart of the verb its being
used with...as far as I'm concerned "I hit the ball." is not imperfective
in any language I know, since the verb is a punctual, and the way I go
at the aspect thing is to always start with the action portrayed by the
verb (which is what Fanning recommends as well). BALLW in John 15:6 is
an example; its not "instantaneous", "aoristic", "future instans", or
anything else...its just the normal use of the present. It is *my*
impression that the present tense is the most aspectually transparent
tense...it just lets the verb say what it says, unless the writer
wishes to override the Aktionsart of the verb.

In fact if you look at the section in Fanning where he discusses 1Jn
3:9, he agrees in principal (though not totally) with Hodges, that when
the Present is used to indicate imperfective aspect with verbs which don't
have some sort of linearity to them, Greek does something (eg., extra
words) to indicate that.

>The basic difference between the perfective and imperfective aspect is
>whether the end is included or not. The imperfective aspect of fientive
>verbs (action verbs) never includes the end except in resultative instances
>(the end is reached but the resulting state is open).All Fanning`s
>"Instantaneous" examples readily lend themselves to a resultative
>interpretation. (Josua 7:6 is a good Hebrew example: "Joshua (..) fell
>(imperfective) on his face (..) until the evening." (compare Mari`s example
>40, p 215) The aorist of LXX does not convey the force of the Hebrew).

I agree, though I'd say that there are more aspects than perfective and
imperfective, ie., I'm more comfortable with thinking in terms of the
various subcategories of these things, ala Fanning. I don't agree that
the use of NPL in Josh 7:6 is a good example, however, because it seems
to me that as soon as you have an idiomatic use of a verb or phrase, it
should be excluded from discussion of setting normative categories (sort
of like giving examples of the use of the article and citing passages
which are in an Apollonius' Canon or after a Preposition as examples).
The Hebrew idiom means that he prostrated himself; he didn't fall at
all, and certainly he didn't strike his face when he touched the
ground. This idiom does special things with several parts of the
language used in the phrase and thus renders it, from my perspective,
an invalid example of anything but the idiom.

>I agree that we should not use "continually sinning" in 1:8 and 5:16, but
>an imperfective view of Greek present does not require it, the only
>requirement of an imperfective present is that the end of the action is not
>reached, or in the cases where it is reached, that the resulting state is
>open. "Continuing to", "practice", "carry on" and the like are allowed by
>the aspect, but not required. What is important is whether the Aktionsart
>of English conveys the imperfective force or not. Let me again stress the
>view that aspects are subjective viewpoints on the same semantic level as
>modality, thus not influencing the action.

My (and the examples were not original with me) purpose with the other
passages is that you've go the same verb, in the same book, in similar
conceptual situations, and so the likelihood is that they are going to be
nuanced the same way, unless there is some overriding reason not to; and
I can't see any.

As I see it, hAMARTANW is a punctual act; when put into an imperfective
semantic situation what you are talking about is repetition, thus
"practice sin", "continue to sin", etc. Thus I'm predisposed without
contextual clues to read a present tense of hAMARTANW as a punctual use
unless the writer gives me clear clues that he wants to communicate
repetition. I see no such clues in the 1Jn 3 context. I know that some
say that the imperfective idea is communicated by POIEW, but I don't
think so. If you look at the use of POIEW with an object in John you'll
find places where it is used to indicate a simple action (John 6:30;
7:19; 10:33; 1John 1:10). And the use of POIEW with DIKAIOSUNH in this
passage is not in my view to be translated "practices righteousness"
either. Unfortunately there is no English verb to capture the sense
like there is with "to sin", but I take it that John is thinking the
same way as with "to sin"; ie., to do a righteous deed, probably to
love the brethren in some specific way. Check the commentaries for a
detailed discussion.

This again is why I'm more comfortable with having a greater number of
semantic situations/aspects portrayed; I think your distinction above
between perfective/imperfective applied to the 1John passage creates a
false dicotomy. "To sin" is a punctual, which is technically neither
perfective (since there is no antecedant action) nor imperfective
(unless it contextually indicated to be repeated).

>Look at the modal examples:
>"Let Mari sing at the reception tomorrow."
>"Let Mari be singing at the reception tomorrow."
>"Let Mari sing a song at the reception tomorrow."
>"Had I let Mari sing at the reception yesterday."
>"Had I let Mari be singing at the reception yesterday."
>"Had I let Mary sing a song at the reception yesterday."
>The subjective nature of modality prevents it from affecting Aktionsart or
>tense or any part of the verbal action. It is an additional factor playing
>together with the others. And similarly with aspect (except that some Greek
>"tenses" may also signal time). Modality are a subjective viewpoints of an
>irreal worl,. Aspect are subjective viewpoints of the real world.

Unless you are using "modal" in a way I'm not familiar with (and the above
doesn't seem to indicate that), I can't see what that has to do with the
1John dicussion; there's nothing modal in John's statements (they are
neither commands, requests, contingencies, etc.).

>Then what about sin? 1 Cor 6:9-10 lists acts excluding one from the kingdom
>of God. However, the acts per se do not exclude anybody, but the opposition
>is "WAS (doing)" and "IS (doing)". According to 6:11 the Corinthians HAD
>done these things, but those who should be excluded from the church (5:13)
>were those BEEING Hi fornicators (..). Applying the imperfective aspect to
>1 John 1:8 we may read it as "If we should say that we don't have sin".
>Because of the Aktionsart of "have" in English the imperfective force is
>adequately conveyed. But this is not the case with the verb hAMARTANW
>alone. It can refer to one sinful act, several acts or a perseverance in
>sin. Just to translate this verb as "to sin" may therefore be misleading.
>All agree that John`s words about sin seemingly are contradictory. But we
>have an aspectual difference in 2:1 (aorist) and 3:9 (present), even a
>difference which may be crucial, because the difference between the two is
>the position of the end. The sin in 2:1 is seen as complete, the end is
>included, the sin of 3:9 is seen as incomplete, the end of sin is not yet
>reached. To convey the imperfective force of POIEI (present) and
>hAMARTANEIN (present infinitive) of 3:9 we cannot just use ordinary English
>present which is different from Greek present. So the reason why I suggest
>a translation into English using words such as "keep on sinning" or
>"practising sin" is that normal English present cannot convey the force of
>the Greek imperfective aspect in this verse. By marking the contrast
>between 2:1 and 3:9 this way, we get the same picture as in 1 Cor 5,6,,
>namely a difference between past sins and a perseverance in sin. Is there
>no contrast between 2:1 and 3:9?

The use of the subjunctive aorist, it seems to me, proves the point I'm
making. When a writer is faced with a non-temporal situation (ie., non-
indicative) he chooses the aorist to convey the punctual nature of the
action. I think 2:1 says the same thing as 3:4ff, and is consistent with

>The basic differences between us seems to be whether the context should be
>interpreted in the light of the aspect or vice versa, and whether all Greek
>presents are imperfective or not. I appreciate your references, but we must
>keep in mind that the works written before 1990 did not make use of the new
>aspectual insights given by Porter, Fanning and Mari. So they did not
>discuss the aspectual side adequately.

I would have to disagree with you here for a couple of reasons; Dodd and
Marshall (as representatives of this view), Carl Conrad, Edward Hobbs,
et.al. understand these issues implicitly I would say, even when they
don't use the terminology; I see it demonstrated in things they say/write
all the time. Moreover, the idea that Aktionsart, aspect, etc., are new
concepts circa 1990 is not true; Louw (who wrote an article on this passage
as well, holding the same view as you because of the use of POIEW), Nida,
Beekman & Callow, etc., have been discussing these ideas for many many
years. I even find commentators who are sensitive to these things wrote
wrote back in the 1800's (eg., Ellicott), albeit not using the terminology.

I think this brings to an end my time availability to discuss this passage...


Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail: dalemw@teleport.com

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