From: Jonathan Robie (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Jun 04 1998 - 08:49:51 EDT
I am trying to get a more precise understanding of the Greek perfect by
comparing and contrasting the Greek perfect and the English perfect. The
Greek perfect "denotes a completed action the effects of which still
continue in the present" (Smyth, p.484). This seems to be true of the
English perfect as well, and it seems that many Greek perfects can be
translated with English perfects. Naturally, not all Greek perfects should
be translated as English perfects, but is there really a fundamental
difference in meaning between the English and Greek perfect? I'm trying to
get a feeling for whether the perfects which may not be translated this way
point to specific idioms or real differences in the function of the perfect
tense in the two languages. I'm not asking how the perfect should be
translated, but what the precise meaning of the perfect itself is.
Wallace suggests that the English present is often the best translation for
a Greek perfect if the resulting state is emphasized, and that the English
perfect is the wrong translation for these Greek perfects, because he feels
that the English perfect does not emphasize the results, but only the past
action. Here are some of his examples:
Mark 6:14 IWANNHS hO BAPTIZWN *EGHGERTAI* EK NEKRON
Mark 6:14 John the baptist *is* *risen* from the dead
But what is wrong with "has risen from the dead"? If I understand Wallace
correctly, he seems to be implying that "has risen from the dead" would
focus on the belief that John the Baptist "had been resurrected", not on
the belief that he is alive.
But I have some doubts here. To me, the English perfect could focus on
either the past event or the present state, much like the Greek perfect. In
his discussion, Wallace needs to turn to a past perfect to express what he
thinks the present perfect means. I'm also not sure how to know whether the
focus is on the past event or the current state in this example. Is the
Greek in Mark 6:14 equivalent to one of these two sentences? If so, which
one? Or is it a matter of interpretation?
IWANNHS hO BAPTIZWN *HGERQH* EK NEKRON
IWANNHS hO BAPTIZWN *NUN* *HGERQH* EK NEKRON
Even though the best translation of the perfect will depend on the meaning
of the verb and on the context, the perfect itself must have a meaning that
it contributes to the total picture. I'm trying to get a feeling for the
meaning of the perfect itself, not how to translate it in specific passages.
To me, the English perfect also emphasizes the results of a past action.
Wallace's text suggests that this is an indication that I don't really
understand the English perfect. How do y'all feel about these passages:
Luke 5:20 ANQRWPE, *AFEWNTAI* SOI hAI hAMARTIAI SOU
man, your sins *are* forgiven
man, your sins *have been* forgiven
I think that *are* and *have been* are quite similar in meaning, except
that *have been* is clearer that a past action was involved, and so seems a
better translation of the perfect. Either of these feels different from
"your sins *were* forgiven".
John 17:7 NUN *EGNWKAN* hOTI PANTA hOSA DEDOKAS MOI PARA SOU EISIN
now they *know* that everything you have given me is from you...
now they have come to know that everything you have given me is from you...
To me, it seems that using the perfect here maintains the nuance that a
past action was involved, which seems to be present in the Greek perfect.
It is not enough to say that they now know, but something has happened,
they have come to know. Am I reading too much into this? It feels like the
English perfect brings this nuance out nicely.
Rom 3:10 KAQWS GEGRAPTAI hOTI OUK ESTIN DIKAIOS OUDE hEIS
as *it is written*, "none is righteous, no, not one"
as *it has been written*, "none is righteous, no, not one"
When I hear "it is written", it reminds me of a law being passed or a
judgement being made in court. There is an authority associated with that,
what has been expressed now has the authority of having been written. The
phrase "it has been written" does not have the same strength - here, the
perfect implies that it has been written, and is now available for our
perusal. But the use of the perfect in phrases like this doesn't seem to be
a statement of canonicity or reserved only for the Jewish and Christian
scriptures - see Acts 17:28, where the perfect is used to express what
Greek poets have said (EIRHKASIN). Is there really a difference between
GEGRAPTAI and the English "it has been written"?
Is there a fundamental meaning of the perfect which is always there
regardless of the use? How would you contrast the English perfect and the
Greek perfect? Is my impression true that they are an awful lot more
similar than they are different?
Jonathan Robie firstname.lastname@example.org
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