Re: Present tence copulative verbs

From: dan-ake mattsson (
Date: Tue Sep 01 1998 - 03:35:20 EDT

Kyle Dillon wrote,

>I think we need to forget any presupposed theologies. Let Scripture
>influence interpretation, not translation. We have to first understand
>the Bible says before we decide what it means. And in John 8:58, it says
>that Jesus is either eternally preexistent or just preexistent, and I
>it is obvious that it says he is eternal.

I agree that we should forget presupposed theologies, but your statement
above about the meaning of John 8:58 is purely theological and is not based
on grammar.

>True, but EGW HMHN is grammatically (and temporally) more accurate. EGW
>does not temporally agree with the imperfect subordinate clause PRIN
>GENESQAI. A literal translation of John 8:58 would read, "I am existing
>before the birth of Abraham" (temporally impossible, since Abraham had
>already been born when Jesus said this). The adverbial expression of a PPA
>idiom must be perfective for the present tense main verb to carry the idea
>into the present. John 8:58 is therefore not a PPA idiom, because the
>adverbial expression is not perfective but imperfective (i.e., you cannot
>carry the idea of being "before Abraham" into the present).

You CAN carry the idea of "before Abraham" into the present! Look at
Jeremiah 1:5 LXX. Here we have the stative verb EPISTAMAI ("know") in the
present. The state expressed by EPISTAMAI started/existed PRO TOU ME PLASAI
SE EN KOILIA ("Before I formed you in the belly") , and it continued until
speach time. The point is that before Jeremiah was formed in the belly
God knew him, and this knowledge did not cease after Jeremiah`s birth but
continued. The next clause confims this conclusion because here is the
perfect of hAGIAZO used. God "sanctified" Jeremiah PRO TOU SE ELQEIN EK
MHTRAS ("before you came forth from the womb."). To santify may be viewed
as a state resulting from a previous act, or, because God is subject, as a
state without a marked beginning continuing in the mind of God (Both "know"
and "sanctify" in the Hebrew text are perfects (perfective).
>Jesus could have said, "Before Abraham was born, EGW HMHN," or "Since
>Abraham's birth, EGW EIMI;" the former conforming the main verb to the
>adverbial, and the latter conforming the adverbial to the main verb. Both
>are grammatically and temporally acceptable, but "Before Abraham was born,
>am/have been" is incorrect in both Greek and English.

I would take the exactly opposite standpoint. As shown in the example from
Jeremiah, the Greek of John 8:58 adequately expresses a STATE existing
before a certain point in the past and continuing into the present. In
addittion, Jesus spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, and most likely, he would have
used a nominal clause, either just "Before Abraham "Ťani" (I "was/am/will
be")." , or "Before Abraham " Ťani hu" ("I was/am/will be").
My mother tongue is not English, but it seems to me that the translation
(RSV) "Before Abraham was, I am." is grammatically wrong, and the only way
to defend it, is to introduce a mystical element (which of course is not
based on grammar). The use of perfect would on the other hand be fine
English. Is this view correct?
>The sentence PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI EGW EIMI suggests, as some have said,
>omnitemporality, being an allusion to Exodus 3:14. There can be no doubt
>that Jesus was making a theological statement concerning his eternality.
>Jesus was simply implying preexistence, then either the subordinating
>should have been perfective, or the main verb should have been
>But an imperfective dependent clause cannot grammatically/temporally link
>a present tense main verb.

Where do you have this rule from that the subordinate clause must be

The view of most postings in this thread has been that the only thing we
learn about Jesus from John 8:58 (based on a strictly grammatical and
syntactical view), is that Jesus existed before Abraham and that he existed
at speach time. There is absolutely no way to construe an eternal existence
on the part of Jesus from this verse. To speak of an onitemporal use of
verbs is philosophic or theological and not based on language and grammar.

Dan-Ake Mattsson

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