Re: John 6:29 & the Present Tense & 6.30

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Oct 12 1999 - 07:20:12 EDT

At 2:22 AM -0500 10/12/99, Joe A. Friberg wrote:
>But here goes for an explication of the nuance I was suggesting:
>If "that you believe" is present continuative, then by making the demand
>stronger/more pointed, it would be more limited in scope. Something like
>the 'uncertainty principle'--the stronger it is, the less broad it is, and
>vice versa. (That may not work, tho.) But note that a closer contrastive
>counterpart to "that you should believe" is "that you shall believe."
>Sounds rather like a legalism; but it does carry (IMHO) a stronger
>continuative notion than the "should" version. Because the "shall" is not
>natural in everyday language, I am suggesting that the simpler "that you
>believe" may replace it in continuative force.
>I have added "6.30" to the header, because the people respond back to Jesus
>with an *aor.* subj. This makes for an intersting contrast and a challenge
>to the translation process. Why did the people use the aor. after Jesus
>used the pres.? Either
>1. they were unwilling to make that big of a commitment/were seeking an
>entry level belief, or
>2. they failed to catch the nuance/import of what Jesus said.
>If it was the latter, we would do wrong to translate the distinction too bla
>tantly. If the former, should the translation grant them any grace at this
>point or let them stand clearly condemned by their words?
>Let me offer several alternative translations of these two verses and ask
>for feedback on which one people like/agree with the most:
>1. Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: that you believe in the one he
>has sent." They asked him, "What sign will you do that we may see and might
>believe you? What will you do?"
>2. Jesus answered, "The ongoing work of God is this: believing in the one he
>has sent." They asked him, "What sign will you do that we may see and
>believe a little in you? What will you do?"
>3. Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: that you believe and continue
>believing in the one he has sent." They asked him, "What sign will you do
>that we may see and believe you? What will you do?"
>Would you suggest something different?

Interesting challenge. Let me underscore something that's implicit but
perhaps should be made explicit here; in 6:29 PISTEUHTE is subjunctive for
no other reason that it is in a hINA clause; moreover, this is NOT a
purpose clause but a very common Hellenistic Greek substantive clause
answering to the introductory demonstrative TOUTO, and that's why version
#2 above can use the gerund "believing" for hINA PISTEUHTE ... I frankly
think that's the preferable way of conveying the "present" aspect of
PISTEUHTE. As for the aorists in the clauses in 6:30, it seems to me that
the clauses in which they appear really are purpose clauses and that the
force of the aorists is telic: they aim at end-result rather than
continuing process. Therefore I'd offer my own version as follows (Imight
just note that I tend to be impatient with English such as "that we may
see" to translate purpose clauses, although it's perfectly intelligible,
for the reason that we don't really talk that way in 1999, and we're only
likely to WRITE that way if that's the way we've learned to translate
purpose clauses from Latin or Greek.

My suggestion: "Jesus answered them, 'God's assigned task is your believing
in the one He sent.' So they said to him, 'What miracle then are you going
to perform to make us see and come to faith in you? What feat will you

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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