Apocalyptic grammar (was: Participle problems)

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Tue Sep 29 1998 - 06:40:53 EDT

Upon completing my response to this question I see that most of it is about
additional questions arising in my mind upon taking a close look at the
verse which Craig has asked about.

At 11:44 AM -0500 9/28/98, Craig Cottongim wrote:
>I am teaching an adult wednesday evening class on Revelation, we are to
>chap 7 at the present. I have question on how one would translate the
>clause in Rev 7:14; "hOUTOI EISIN hOI ERCOMENOI EK..."
>My real struggle here is with the participle ;-)

Upon reading the question, this looked simple enough to me: hOI ERCOMENOI
EK THS QLIYEWS THS MEGALHS ... is obviously a substantival participle and
the clause functions as a whole as the predicate noun to hOUTOI: "These are
the ones who come out of the great tribulation ..."

But then, upon reading on, I see the remainder of the clause after MEGALHS:
ARNIOU, and I'm not sure I understand the grammar here rightly either,
although what the sentence means is not unclear. As a whole, the verse
represents the answer to the question posed in 7:13 by one of the elders:

My own grammatical question concerns the predicates EPLUNAN KTL and
ELEUKANAN KTL: should they be understood as predicates to hOUTOI? "These
are the ones who come from the great tribulation, and they have washed ...
and they have whitened ..." OR (which seems more likely to me) are they
hanging onto the substantival participle construction, hOI ERCOMENOI, as if
hOI ERCOMENOI were in fact, as we tend to translate it, equivalent to a
relative clause: not "the ones coming" but "the ones who come" so that the
whole clause reads: "These are the ones who come from the great tribulation
and (who) have washed ,,, and (who) have whitened ..."? If that is the
intent of the writer, then this would be another of those not infrequent
grammatical "irregularities" of this NT book.

Just another observation, while I'm at it: it also looks to me like the two
aorists here, EPLUNAN and ELEUKANAN, should be understood as instances of
the absorption of the function of the perfect tense by the aorist. Aren't
we inclined to translate them as perfects in English? "have washed" and
"have whitened"? I don't know that I'd want to lay down any hard-and-fast
rule here, but I rather think that the aorist is increasingly being used in
the Koine like the Latin perfect tense to cover both the aorist "simple
past" sense and the perfect "completed action" sense, while the Greek
perfect, whether simple or periphrastic, tends to be used more
fundamentally in a stative sense.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
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