Re: English perfect, Greek perfect

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Thu Jun 04 1998 - 13:51:26 EDT

At 10:47 AM 6/4/98 -0400, Mary L B Pendergraft wrote:
>Much of the time, the Grk perfect is slightly more meaningful than the
>English perfect, so that we could wish for a hyphenated translation: to
>take the Mark 6:14 ex., "John arose-and-is-still-arisen"--whereas your
>hypothetical aorists are just "he arose." Or Luke 5:20, "Your sins

But wouldn't the English "he has risen" also mean "he arose and is still
arisen"? Suppose John had arisen, choked on a piece of meat, and died. At
that point, to say "he has arisen" is no longer appropriate; "he had
arisen" would still be an appropriate description of reality, as would "he
rose". Similarly, suppose someone had been forgiven, then fallen into some
horrible sin. In English, it would no longer be appropriate to say "your
sins have been forgiven", though you could still say "your sins had been
forgiven" or "your sins were forgiven". At least in my intuition, these
sentences are grammatical:

1. He has arisen, and is now here.
2. He had arisen, but is now dead.
3. He arose, drank 5 cups of coffee without milk, belched, and died.
4. Your sins have been forgiven, and you are a child of God.
5. Your sins had been forgiven, but you returned to the ways of death.
6. Your sins were forgiven, but you returned to the ways of death.

The following sentences do not seem grammatical to me:

** 7. He has arisen and is dead.
?? 8. He has arisen but is dead.
** 9. Your sins have been forgiven and you are a slave to sin.
?? 10. Your sins have been forgiven but you are a slave to sin.

Actually, maybe 8 and 10 are heavily paradoxical, rather than strictly
ungrammatical. At any rate, I think this makes the point that the continued
state is part of the meaning of the English perfect as well. I think the
hyphenated translations may be justified for the English perfect just as
much as for the Greek perfect.

Similarly, the English perfect may be used only if a past event has
occured, resulting in the current state. So it seems to have both elements
of meaning that we ascribe to the Greek perfect. I'm not quite sure what it
means to say that the Greek perfect is "slightly more meaningful" - could
it be that we read Greek carefully and really chew on it, that we give it
more meaning because of the way we read Greek texts? (This really is a
question, not an assertion.)

>And the caveat applies here as well, that any verb will have its own
>peculiar nuances. My paradigmatic ex. is APOQNHSKW "I die"
> APEQANON "I died"
> TEQNHKA "I'm dead"
>where the perfect particularly stresses the present result.

Yes - and some of the verbs that Smyth points out are very significant for
the GNT:

EGNWKA (have recognized) know, OIDA (have found out) know, PEPOIQA (have
put confidence) trust, ESTHKA (have set myself) stand. It's important to
know that these are common idioms and to not overinterpret them.

Smyth also points out verbs of the senses. He gives the example PEFRIKA, to
shudder, and says that it can be seen as a strengthened present ("I
shudder"), but it can also be treated as a true perfect - "I have shuddered
and am now in a state of shuddering". Could this be relevant in
understanding 1 John 1 ff?

hO HN AP ARCH - that which was from the beginning
hO *AKHKOAMEN* - that which we "have seen and now see"
hO *hEWRAKAMEN* TOIS OFQALMOIS hHMWN - that which we "have gazed on and now
gaze on with our eyes"

If this were the right way to interpret it, it wouldn't explain why
PSULAFAW (we felt) occurs in the aorist, but it makes the phrase KAI
see and we witness and proclaim to you...").


Texcel Research

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