Re: Present tence copulative verbs

From: dan-ake mattsson (
Date: Wed Sep 02 1998 - 11:32:24 EDT

Ben Crick wrote:

>On Wed 2 Sep 98 (08:00:32 +0200), wrote:
>> Can you quote any example from English prose of a construction similar
>> to:
>> "Before Abraham was (or, came into existence), I am."? If this is a
>> normal (or possible) way of expression, I am wrong. If there are no
>> examples of such constructions, the normal way of rendering John 8:58
>> in the versions is mystical rather than grammatical.
> Dear Dan-Ake
> Jesus' statement is deliberately enigmatic (IMHO); hence our difficulty
> in comprehension and translation. It was deliberately designed to promote
> contemplation and discussion: witness the inordinate length of this
> thread! "Mystical" implies "Gnostic" to my mind; hence my choice of the
> word "enigmatic". Genesis 32:29 is enigmatic; the "angel" answered
> question with another question. Jacob jumped to the conclusion that it
> God's face that he had seen (Peniel, verse 30). Manoah asked the "angel
> the LORD" for his name; again he was answered with another question
> 13:17-18): "it is Wonderful", reminiscent of the same root in Isaiah 9:6.
> The language of the Authorised King James Version of 1611 is certainly
> "standard English prose" of its period. Some modern translations which
> to pre-empt what Jesus "meant" are of course suspect. PRIN ABRAAM
> is an adverbial clause of time modifying EGW EIMI; that we have
> So we know where Jesus is "coming from": from "before Abraham happened".
> The Jews jumped to their own conclusion about what he was claiming, and
> reacted violently by reaching for stones to throw at the "blasphemer".
> With 20 centuries of hindsight, we are still unclear as to what
> Jesus was claiming here. Maybe he only intended this remark as a
> discussion-starter after all. YHWH's "Revelation of the Divine Name" to
> Moses at the Burning Bush has been rightly called an "encryption" rather
> than a "revelation": it begs the question "What does 'eHYeH 'aSheR 'eHYeH
> mean"? We can't discuss that here; even under colour of the LXX EGW EIMI
> hO WN which is secondary, not primary.
> It seems to me that the whole point of the pericope in John 8 is that
> "Abraham saw my day, and was glad". By the eyes of faith, Abraham foresaw
> the coming of the Messiah; he believed; and his faith was counted for
> righteousness. So, IMHO, let's focus on Abraham rather than on Moses!
> We cannot be dogmatic about the enigmatic!

Dear Ben and all others with an English intuition,

I realize that the words of John 8:58 are problematic, and I agree with an
earlier comment made by Carl Conrad that we cannot interperet the Greek
text in the light of English grammar. We therefore have two different
issues: (1) the meaning of the Greek text, and (2) the rendition of it into
English. These issues are connected, and they can be treated as one issue,
or separately as two. I think we have heard enough about the meaning of the
Greek text, and I would like to concentrate on (2) in order to get a
glimpse of the minds of modern translators.

There is room in any language for individual expression, but there are also
clauses which by the majority are viewed as ungrammatical, and other
clauses which are on the border of getting this stamp. I would appreciate
it if some list-memebers would express their opinion as to whether or not
the following sentences are ungrammatical or are border cases (the
judgement should be based on one`s intuition and/or similar examples from
English prose texts without using special cases such as historical

A mother speaks about her firstborn child:

(1) "Before his birth I love him."
(2) "From before his birth I love him."
(3) "Before his birth, I have loved him."
(3) "From before his birth, I have loved him."
(4) "Before his birth, I loved him."
(5) "From before his birth, I loved him."

The clauses being judged as grammatical, do they adequately express that
the love of the mother extended from some time before the birth of the
child and until speach time?


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