Re: Question on Present Participles

From: George Athas (
Date: Mon Feb 09 1998 - 17:17:54 EST

Hi Jeremy!

Sounds like an intriguing discussing that you're embroiled in. Here are
some thoughts:

V10: Correct, there is no present active participle in this verse.
The verb ESTIN is a present indicative 3rd person singular. As the
grammatical term suggests, it simply indicates something. The verse
should be translated, "There is no righteous person, not one!" The "Most
Literal Translation" has missed the mark by a long shot on this one.

V11: The two present active participles in this verse (SYNIWN and
EKZHTWN) are both substantive. That is, they stress not so much the
action as the one who is performing the action. Hence, there is an
article before both of them. That is, the present participles are here
treated as if they were nouns, not verbs. The fact that the participle
is present shows that the action being performed is ongoing, never
ending. There is no end to the action, or as Wenham would put it, the
action is "linear". Thus, a "most literal translation" would be, "There
is no understander, there is no God-seeker". A more idiomatic
translation would be, "There is no one who ever understands, there is no
one who ever seeks God."

V12: We have a similar substantive use of a present active participle
here, also. POIWN takes an article, thus demonstrating this. Thus, it
indicates the performer of the action rather than the action itself. So,
a "most literal translation" should be, "All deviated as well as became
worthless. There is no doer of goodness, [there is not] even one."
Again, the present active participle indicates ongoing action.

These verses indicate to us that the action itself is not under
scrutiny, but the performers of the action. Thus, if there is no one to
do the action, the action can never be done. Therefore, what is implied
here is that righteousness, understanding, God-seeking, and goodness are
never peformed because there is no one who ever performs them. Instead,
everyone has turned away and become worthless, or good for nothing. The
original Hebrew also implies this, and the LXX uses the same present
active participles in substantive usage. There is no doubt as to the
gist of the verses. It seemes like this "most literal translation" that
your colleague used is actually out in the cold when it comes to
grasping the essence of the text.

Hope all goes well. Best regards!
George Athas
 PhD (Cand.), University of Sydney
 Tutor of Hebrew, Moore Theological College
Phone: 0414 839 964 ICQ#: 5866591

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