Re: EIMI with Temporal Clauses

From: Wes Williams (
Date: Mon May 11 1998 - 01:32:03 EDT

>Williams, Wes wrote:
>> Your exegesis of the adverbial temporal phrase PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI is
>> roughly equivalent to mine. My question is not what the phrase means,
>> but in the sentence PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI, EGW EIMI, which verb does the
>> adverb PRIN modify? It cannot modify GENESQAI since GENESQAI itself is
>> part of the adverbial phrase. And then, how does the phrase modify that
>> verb?


>EGO EIMI is the independent clause, and the construction PRIN ABRAAM
>GENESQAI answers a particular implicit question "PRIN TI?" in
>subordination to it. 'Modify' is a misleading grammatical term here,
>in the sense that to modify is to delimit or restrict something.

Dear George,

I do not believe it is misleading. Let me explain why. First, PRIN is an
adverb, a subordinating conjunction (I believe I accidentally said
coordinating earlier, but it is subordinating).

What is an adverb?

Webster's Third International Dictionary: "adverb 1: a word belonging to one
of the major form classes in any of a great many languages typically used
as a modifier [note "modifier"] of a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a
preposition, a phrase, a clause ... ."

The Little, Brown Handbook, 1995, by Fowler, says on p. 173: "Like adverbs,
*adverb clauses* modify [note "modify"] verbs, adjectives, other adverbs,
and whole groups of words. They usually tell how, why , when [our special
interest], where, under what conditions, or with what result. They always
begin with subordinating conjunctions."

So, the statement that an adverb modifies a verb is not misleading. It is a

However, you bring up a different issue, that of whether or not the
adverbial phrase "delimits" or "restricts" the verb. More on this below.

>in 'This is a PRE-'60's car.' Or, giving the car its own voice, 'I AM
>a pre-'60's car.'] Instead, this construction is one in which the
>prepositional phrase 'pertains to' [is true of], but does not 'modify'
>the independent clause. It states a truth that exists in virtue of
>the independent clause.

Your example here uses AM as a copulative and thus you make an assertion
about "I." We are interested in AM as a verb of existence, and then a
temporal clause that modifies that verb of existence. When we have the
example, we can consider whether or not the adverbial clause is restrictive
or nonrestrictive of the independent clause.

>The alternatives to PRIN are 'during' and 'after', and they would, on
>this approach, be true as well, given the time-transcending force of
>this statement of the EGW EIMI.

Yes, temporal adverbs "during" as in "I am during Abraham's birth" or
"after" in "I am after Abraham's birth" have a similar effect as PRIN on
EIMI. It tells us something further about the TIME of the existence. The
"time-transcending force" of EIMI is something you need to prove. I do not
believe that "eternal unboundedness" is a natural property of a stative verb
of existence. An appeal to Parmenides' metaphysical usage as a true example
is true because the context of Parmenides explicitly reveals that the verb
is to be viewed as unbounded IN THAT CONTEXT. Further, the usage by
Descartes "I think. Therefore I am" simply tells me that I exist. Is this
unbounded? If I believe Carl thinks I would not naturally associate
unboundedness [i.e. eternity] with the statement.

If we view EIMI by itself as unbounded, then we have Jesus "EIMI so long a
time" with Phillip (John 14:9) from eternity past. Mary '"was" at the
wedding' in John 2:1, but certainly not from eternity to eternity. So,
considering that other alternatives exist for an explanation, we would need
further proof of an eternally unbounded EIMI at John 8:58.

>In effect, [but not in
>translation!!], this construction is saying EGW EIMI, and that means,
>in this particular case, for instance, even PRIN QBRAAN GENESQAI!!
>[Got a problem with that?? Well, the Jews sure did! They tried to
>stone Him!]

Well, the claim to have been in existence for over 2,000 years is quite a
staggering claim, and I believe is quite enough to provoke the mob's ire, as
did the allegedly blasphemous words of Stephen in Acts 6:13; 7:56-58. If we
are to read anything more into this simple statement, I believe it must be
imported from elsewhere.

>So your question 'which verb does the adverb PRIN modify?' would seem
>to be a tad misleading. It modifies Abraham and it modifies 'to
>birth', both separately and together, and the entire prepositional
>phrase illustrates [gives an instanciation of], but does not modify,
An assertion. Let's see how the proof holds...

>But then how can this be determined by the grammar? This construction

<snip for brevity>
>The other thing about this sentence is the aorist infinitive. I spent
>some time driving and worked with this English phrase: "Before
>Abraham to birth". It gets interesting. The infinitive adds
>additional sequencing, you see... The abstract idea of birth, [which
>is the aorist], in the infinitive, involves a 'slipping into' the
>action of the verb, a kind of incipience and vergence upon the idea of
>the action. He COULD have said, 'Before Abraham was born' [perfect
>passive], or even 'birthed', [perfect active], or 'was being born'
>[imperfect passive] or 'was birthing' [imperfect], or 'births' [aorist
>active] or 'is born' [aorist passive], or 'is being born', or 'is
>birthing', or even 'will be born' or 'will birth', but He does NOT.
>WHY??? Why the aorist Infinitive? Why 'to birth'? And the answer
>lies, I believe, in the additional sequencing that the infinitive
>affords, for implicit in it is the idea that 'even before Abraham
>BEGAN 'to birth', I AM. And it does so without telling HOW LONG
>before. Theologically, of course, the 'length' of the incipience or
>interval is eternal. It is an awesome construction and use of the
>infinitive!! And the present [ongoing] tense of EIMI simply smothers
>it! Such is the power of tenses in John... And the need to
>rigorously keep them clear in translation.


I see no need to read much into the aorist infinitive GENESQAI. The aorist
infinitive is a common enough construction with PRIN and other adverbs, cf.
Mt 1:18 before they were united [SUNELQEIN]
Mk 14:30 before a cock crows [FONHSAI] twice ...
Acts 7:2 before he took up residence [KATOIKHSAI] in Mesopotamia

The word EIMI in itself says nothing about how long someone existed.
Duration must come from context. The adverbial phrase PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI
tells us at the most that Jesus was in existence before Abraham's birth and
the EIMI reveals that his existence continues unbroken from that point of
reference to the time of speaking. It says nothing about how long the one
who became Jesus existed prior to Abraham. Theologically, I believe the one
who became Jesus existed for long times prior to Abraham's birth, but I
cannot honestly use John 8:58 to prove that since at most it tells me that
he simply existed prior to Abraham. If I were to try to press beyond this, I
would have to import something into this text from elsewhere.

Wes Williams

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