Re: Present tense copulative verbs

From: Kyle Dillon (
Date: Wed Sep 02 1998 - 02:20:22 EDT

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From: <>
To: Biblical Greek <>
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Date: Tuesday, September 01, 1998 9:48 PM
Subject: Re: Present tense copulative verbs

>> 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
>> a
>> "mistranslation." My initial conclusion was that Jesus may have been
>> alluding to Exodus 3:14 (although that may be wrong). Then I read of a
>> "Past
>> of Present Action..."

Sorry, that should have said "Present of Past Action," not "Past of Present

...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
>> 8:58
>> does not follow this pattern, so I concluded that it was not a PPA idiom.
>I do not often post, but since Kyle introduced the subject of Mantey and I
>have some knowledge of this, I will take this opportunity to add some
>clarification. Some quote Mantey but omit the response given to Mantey.
>Therefore, citing Mantey's remarks about "I have been" being a
>"mistranslation" but omitting the response leaves partial information. An
>individual living in California answered Mantey's comments about
>"mistranslation." I enclose only the first page of two pages of the
>The letter is dated Feb 6, 1979. Mantey never broached the subject again,
>although he wrote to the author again on October 19, 1980. The author
>to Mantey in response to Mantey's comments about "I have been" being a
>mistranslation and 'What Greek scholar ever translated EGW EIMI as "I have

I am not quoting Mantey as an authority on the subject. Neither do I claim
that EGW EIMI, in certain contexts, cannot be translated as "I have been." I
only claim that EGW EIMI in John 8:58 does not mean "I have been."

In English, there are two types of present perfect verbal expressions:
simple and progressive. The simple present perfect is what we would use to
translate the Greek perfect tense. For example, GEGRAFA would be translated
as "I have written." Then there is the progressive present perfect, which
would only be used to translate the Greek present tense. For example, GRAFW
could be translated with the progressive present perfect "I have been
writing," but GEGRAFA could not (cf. John 19:22). The difference between a
simple perfect and progressive perfect is that, in the simple perfect, only
the results of an action continue into the present, while in the progressive
perfect, the action itself still continues into the present.

In a PPA idiom, as some claim John 8:58 is, the main verb is a progressive
perfect, which means the action is still continuing into the present, rather
than simply the results of the action. This is why we find Greek present
tense verbs where a perfect verb should have been used instead. The emphasis
of the present tense shows that the action itself, rather than just its
results, continues from the past into the present. So this is how we would
translate the following verses:

Luke 13:7 - "...three years, since which I have been coming..." (not "I have
Luke 15:29 - " many years I have been serving..." (not "I have served")
John 5:6 - "...he has already been having much time..."
John 14:9 - "...have I been existing so long a time..."
John 15:27 - "...since the beginning you have been existing..."
Acts 15:21 - "...since ancient generations Moses has been holding..."
2 Cor. 12:19 - "...have you been thinking all along..."
2 Peter 3:4 - "...since our fathers fell asleep, all things have been

John 8:58 is a different case, because we cannot make sense out of the
translation "I have been existing before Abraham was born." This is because
of the temporal subordinate conjunction PRIN. As in English, a progressive
verb cannot be used with an adverbial that describes finished time periods.
This would cause me classify John 8:58 (and LXX Psalm 90:2) as examples not
of Present of Past Action idioms, but of something like "Present of
paratemporality" idioms. The main verbs of these verses would therefore be
translated as present tense verbs in English, but with a paratemporal

My position is just an opinion, and may be swayed if further evidence is
given to support the other side. But the evidence seems to currently point
toward my position.

[deleted the letter]

>The letter then quotes Luke 13:7; 15:29; John 5:6; 8;58; 14:9; 15:27.
>"See also: Acts 15:21, 21:11; 2 Cor 12:19; 2 Tim. 3:15; 2 Peter 3:4; 1 John
>3:3; and the translations of Moffatt, Stage, Pfaeffin, Schonfield, Lamsa,
>Murdock, Delitzsch (I have been), Ginsberg (I have been), A.S. Lewis (I
>been), The Twentieth Century New Testament, Beck, Living Bible, Kliest and
>Lilly, New American Standard, margin (I have been). All these render EGW
>at John 8:58 in a form of the perfect tense, in keeping with the Grammar
>noted by Grammarians.

(Some of the verses just quoted are perfective present idioms, not PPA

I hope that I have established that EGW EIMI in John 8:58 cannot be rendered
in a perfective tense, as it is in the translations you listed. IMHO, the
grammarians you listed are misguided, and perhaps motivated by their
personal doctrines.

>Mantey never responded on the subject. Instead, on October 19, 1980, he
>invited the author of the letter to read the new light on translations in
>new book, which had nothing to do with the subject at hand.
>I add this comment for clarification since Mantey's quote was introduced.
>Kyle, I hope this helps.
>Mark Johnson

Just to clarify, Mantey's claim, that "I have been" in John 8:58 is a
mistranslation, is not a basis for my opinion. The basis for my opinion is
found in the GNT and LXX text.

Kyle Dillon

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