Re: Present tense copulative verbs

From: Kyle Dillon (
Date: Tue Sep 01 1998 - 16:34:10 EDT

I also changed the "c" to an "s" in the subject. Sorry for the typo.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jonathan Robie <>
To: Kyle Dillon <>
Cc: Biblical Greek <>
Date: Tuesday, September 01, 1998 11:46 AM
Subject: Re: Present tence copulative verbs

>At 11:03 AM 9/1/98 -0700, Kyle Dillon wrote:
>>Grammarian A.T. Robertson said, "Undoubtedly here [at John 8:58] Jesus
>>claims eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God. The
>>between GENESQAI (entrance into existence of Abraham) and EIMI (timeless
>>being) is complete." (Word Pictures of the New Testament - John 8:58)
>That's a theological view of a grammarian (one of my favorite grammarians,
>incidentally). But there's nothing here but a conclusion, no data to
>evaluate so that we can come to our own conclusions.
>>I also read that Julius Mantey, in his letter to the Watchtower Society,
>>said that their NWT rendering of EGW EIMI as "I have been" in John 8:58 is
>Well, that's an opinion of a grammarian, but still nothing to chew on.
>>My initial conclusion was that Jesus may have been alluding to Exodus 3:14
>>(although that may be wrong).
>Was there a basis for this conclusion?

In the LXX Exodus 3:14, we read "EGW EIMI ho WN." I thought that Jesus was
alluding to the first part, and/or just the general tense of the whole
sentence. But as I said, I could be wrong.

>>Then I read of a "Past
>>of Present Action," or PPA idiom. In the examples that I have read (except
>>for LXX Jeremiah 1:5), such as Luke 15:29, John 14:9, John 15:27, Acts
>>15:12, etc., all have a perfective adverbial expression; that is, all
>>adverbial expressions allow the idea to continue into the present. John
>>does not follow this pattern, so I concluded that it was not a PPA idiom.
>I'm confused. Are you saying the existence of Jesus did not continue into
>the present?

Sort of. If you literally translate John 8:58, it reads, "I am/have been
existing before the birth of Abraham." This is confusing, because one cannot
presently exist *before* a completed past event. IMHO, this verse, as well
as Psalm 90:2 (and possibly LXX Jeremiah 1:5), expresses the omnitemporal
nature of God.

>>Recently, Dan-Ake Mattsson quoted the LXX Jeremiah 1:5, which says PRO TOU
>>ME PLASAI SE EN KOILIAi, EPISTAMAI SE, or "before I formed you in the
>>I knew [lit. "know] you." This is what I was looking for. Here we see a
>>similar grammatical construction to John 8:58 (an imperfective subordinate
>>clause and a present tense main verb). If this is indeed a PPA idiom, then
>>perhaps John 8:58 is as well. But I think Jeremiah 1:5 needs to be
>>more closely. I did a search at the Perseus web site, and I was unable to
>>find any example of EPISTAMAI in the perfect tense. We also have to
>>that this is in the Septuagint, a translation of Hebrew writings, and in
>>Greek New Testament writings, we never find PRIN or PRO modifying a
>>present/perfect tense main verb.
>I'm not sure what you are saying here.

In a PPA idiom, there is a perfective adverbial expression linked to a
present tense main verb. In John 8:58, Psalm 90:2, and Jeremiah 1:5, there
is an *imperfective* adverbial expression (that is, an event that was
completed in the past) linked to a present tense main verb. We have to
determine if the adverbial expression of a PPA idiom can be imperfective. If
not, then John 8:58 and Jeremiah 1:5 are not PPA idioms. That's what I was
trying to say.

I personally don't think that the adverbial expression of a PPA idiom can be
imperfective, because it doesn't make any sense. A present tense main verb
is incompatible with an imperfective adverbial expression. In other words,
"I have been existing before Abraham was born," "You have been existing
before the mountains were made," and "I have known you before I formed you"
don't make any sense. I think these verses were intentionally written this
way to show that God transcends time, and therefore they should be
translated into English using a present tense main verb in the independent

>>I do apologize if it sounded like I was putting my theology before
>>translation. But that is what happens when we discuss the theological
>>of a Greek text.
>Frankly, it *does* feel like you are putting your theology before
>translation. I don't see how this message helps me to know how to translate
>John 8:58, though it does tell me your conclusion, which seems to be the
>conclusion of some grammarians (including one very good one).

This message, as well as this entire thread, is about determining whether or
not John 8:58 is a PPA idiom. I personally don't think so. In English, a
present/perfect tense verb cannot be used with adverbials that describe
finished time periods (see The same
also appears to be true in Greek. Psalm 90:2, Jeremiah 1:5, and John 8:58
seem to intentionally break this rule, in order to show that God transcends


Kyle Dillon

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