Re: "At Hand"

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Sat Oct 18 1997 - 10:28:48 EDT

At 09:05 AM 10/18/97 -0400, wrote:
><< If you asked the list about whether the perfect tense in HGGIKEN here has
>temporal force (i.e. "has arrived") you would probably get a fairly full
>explanation. >>
>SO, I'm asking. I once asked a translator why he had John saying "The
>kingdom of heaven has arrived!" (Mt.3:2) He replied that this was the
>literal Greek, and should be understood as guest, pulling into the driveway,
>and a child running through the house saying "They have arrived!" when as yet
>they were not at the door. Is this "has (already) arrived" or "is drawing

This is a good illustration that the grammar conveys a lot of meaning! The
perfect "looks at" the current state the results from a completed event. If
EGGIZW meant "to arrive", then "they have arrived" would be a good
translation - the car has come, and they are now sitting in the driveway.

I think that the translator got the perfect tense right here, but was
inaccurate about the basic meaning of the verb. EGGIZW means "to draw near"
or "to approach", either in time or in space. Matt 26:45-46 uses this with a
perfect tense twice:

CEIRAS hAMARTWLWN - "Look! The hour has drawn near, and the son of man is
betrayed into the hands of sinners." This uses EGGIZW to mean "draw near in
Matt 26:46 HGGIKEN hO PARADIDOUS ME - "the one-who-betrays me has drawn
near". They can't yet see Judas, but he is there, close at hand, waiting to
burst in. This uses EGGIZW to mean "draw near in space".

The perfect "looks at" the current state the results from a completed event.
If EGGIZW meant "to arrive", then it really is near. But the perfect also
says that this is the result of a past action: it has drawn near. "Is at
hand" nicely conveys the sense of abeyance: it has drawn near, and is there,
just about to arrive. And the driveway analogy also conveys this nicely. But
I don't think that the phrase "has arrived" conveys this very well, since it
implies that the kingdom is now here, instead of just out of reach, ready to
break in.

>And if anyone knows, where did the English idom "at hand" originate.
>Was this an invention of the translators, or an expression already common in
>old England?

The Oxford English Dictionary shows this expression going back to at least
1300 AD or so, and German has the expression "zur Hand haben", which means
to have something "at hand", or "handy". I don't see anything in the Greek
that suggests hands, so I suspect this came from the English, not from an
attempt to find a term to translate the Greek.


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

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